The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.


One of the great secrets of teaching is knowing when to offer incentives for positive behaviour and when to simply wait for students to make the right choices for the right reasons. My class has spent the week focusing on expectations and they have done a phenomenal job with following them when they have been with me.

However, there are typically two times during the day that the students are not under my direct supervision: fine arts (or library on Tuesdays) and lunch. After reviewing the expectations all week, I felt like today was a day to offer an incentive for improving behaviour. Such incentives are referred to as “boosters” among teachers.

The first booster I offered the class was for meeting expectations in fine arts. I explained that I knew that they were capable of showing the art teacher that they could listen to directions and work under her direction, but they needed to know they could do it. We have P.E. on Mondays and Thursdays, which means we will not typically have recess in the morning on those days. (Officially, I have not planned for a morning recess anyway, but because we are still transitioning back into the school week and the weather has been so awesome, I want my kids to have as much time outside as I can give them.) The booster, therefore was simple: a great report from the art teacher would result in a fifteen minute bonus recess immediately after.

When I went to pick up the class, I heard the art teacher saying things like “excellent,” “great job,” and “much better.” She told me that it seemed like an entirely different class was with her today. I was incredibly pleased with the result and was glad to have offered the booster.

The second booster was related to lining up at the end of lunch recess. The two fourth grade classes have one lunch supervisor who is responsible for getting them ready to enter the building. Both classes have struggled with lining up quickly and quietly and entering the building in a quiet manner. I’ve practiced this with my students, but they were still struggling. So I offered a second incentive: if they followed the supervisor’s directions and were waiting quietly in line when I came to pick them up, I would give them ten minutes of free-choice activities in the classroom. I have a collection of games, such as chess, checkers, Connect Four, and other such games that encourage thinking, and I usually only allow these games to be used on Friday afternoons. But I offered this time as an incentive for showing that they could follow the lunch expectations.

I was again pleased to see my class lined up by the door waiting for me. Our principal was outside with them and told me that they had done a wonderful job following the directions they were given. I gave my class the free-choice activity time as promised and made sure to tell them how impressed I was with their behaviour today. I also reinforced that I know that they can do it, and now they know that they can, too.

The key to using boosters is using them in moderation. I’m not sure when I’ll use them again, but I think I will start using the mystery student a couple of times next week. I really am very impressed with my class this year and hope that they will continue to hold themselves to a high standard of excellence each and every day!


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