Every school does it. At the end of each academic year, your school recognizes and rewards the cream of the crop—the brightest students who earn their straight A through hard work and determination. Students are given crystal awards to recognize their outstanding achievements in front of all of their classmates, But do awards really matter?

Studies suggest that awards can be a powerful tool for motivating students only when used effectively. Not all awards are effective. The good news is there are ways to award your students effectively and eventually reinforce their intrinsic motivation. Here’s how to get started.

Awarding Your Students - How Can It Be Effective?

Help Students Understand the Relationship Between Effort and Achievement

Most students usually see grades as a “given” or a representation of their academic ability or even self-worth—but not as their level of effort or investment. So when a student gets a C, he or she will likely consider it as a reflection of his or her aptitude. The student gets so used to getting Cs and won’t strive to improve in the future.

There is clearly a strong relationship between effort and achievement students ought to understand. Show them that such a relationship exists through stories of famous people. Encourage them to think about the effort necessary to achieve a desired outcome. It’s not easy, of course, but a well-narrated story can reveal the nitty-gritty of finding success and inspire students at the same time.

Know When and How to Award Students

Rewards and recognitions are effective if and only if students value them. Otherwise, extrinsic motivators such as certificates, ribbons or medals will only backfire. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure that students understand that they can only earn the rewards depending on the quality of their investment, including time and effort. Remember, students should value the reward for it to be effective. Otherwise, they won’t care about the reward at all.
  • Give awards when students meet performance standards on a skill that require constant practice, habit formation or repetition. The point is to reward them for achieving specific goals, not for mere participation in an activity.
  • Awarding students is much more effective when you’re able to give them constructive feedback about their performance.
  • Be careful about praising students verbally for small or easy tasks. Students may think that they don’t deserve such praise and may eventually decrease their motivation. So be authentic in praising and rewarding students. Award them only when they’re able to achieve a predetermined standard of excellence.
  • Be careful not to over-award students. It will only backfire since they will come to expect a reward or recognition for almost everything they do. Once you stop giving them carrots, they’re likely to lose their motivation to accomplish a task.

Recognize Students Individually

Every student has a unique, personal set of academic goals and expectations. So there is really no single motivational tool or force that applies to all learners. That’s why you need to recognize students individually to reinforce motivation in the long run. A personal face-to-face evaluation of a student’s performance is a good start.

Make Sure Your Award System Support Students in the Long Run

Most reward systems are only effective in a short period of time most likely because they depend too much on extrinsic motivators that are not sufficiently attached to the necessary intrinsic rewards students need. The truth is that intrinsic motivation isn’t a goal. It’s a process.

You have to start with your role as a teacher or instructor. Be approachable and genuinely care about your students. Also, you have to create an ideal environment where students feel valued. Standing in front of them and talking for hours won’t work. But encouraging students to actively participate in their own learning will boost their motivation.

There are many more ways to award and recognize students effectively. The lesson here is that students have personal needs to be satisfied. How you reward them today will affect their performance in the future.