The teacher has the power to reward accomplishment, provide authentic praise for effort, etc. 
Art teachers have a definite advantage here:
ART IN ITSELF IS a privilege!

Do you have a tough group of students at the end of the day? Are they disrespectful, rude, undisciplined, noisy, and constantly fussing with each other? 

The BEST course of action with one of these groups is to figure out a way to motivate them, to focus on their good behavior as much as possible instead of all the ridiculous antics they've been up to. 

Still hold them accountable, of course, but focus YOUR mind on the good things that are going on. Here is an article about an awful 6th grade group I had one year at the end of the day, and here is an article about the incredible power of positive attention, the most powerful reinforcer in the classroom. 

According to some experts (including Michael Linsin), it is NOT a good idea to reward good behavior because there is some research showing this method kills intrinsic motivation. Michael Linsin believes it is wonderful for a teacher to surprise students with a “free gift” every once in a while as long as it is not “earned” by good behavior. In his opinion, extrinsic motivators should be used to recognize and honor achievement, excellence, persistence, etc. and should never be in the form of trinkets or candy. He makes a good case for never using tangibles.  

On the other hand, many classroom management programs emphasize the use of rewards for good behavior (PBIS is one example). Here at Managing the Art Classroom we believe that teachers know what is best for their students. If you believe that rewarding good behavior will help your students, go for it. If the idea makes you uncomfortable and you feel like you are "bribing" your students into behaving, don't do it. 

Extrinsic motivation has been studied at length, and researchers have found that random, unpredictable rewards really do work to improve motivation in the short term, especially with young students. This effect fades the older the student gets and will back-fire if used too much. Scroll down to the bottom of the article to see a set of empirical articles about using rewards in the classroom. 


  • "Good Job" Is Poor Praise, artedguru.com, Eric Gibbons
  • letters home praising students’ accomplishments or good character
  • Call parents just to “brag on” a student – this helps teachers’ morale, too!
  • Verbal encouragement and acknowledging hard work, kindness, creativity, ideas, helpfulness, etc.,
  • Write an encouraging note to a great student and leave on his/her desk (Michael Linsin)
  • Non-verbal encouragement through eye contact, nodding,  praise with a smile
  • A Reward System That Works - using the "ticket" system to quietly encourage good behavior
  • "Punk Your Parents" by Daphne Draa (click on the link for more details)

  • first to leave class (middle school) or “line-leader” in elementary school
  • extra privileges such as sitting by friends on Friday (middle school)
  • homework passes, bell-ringer passes
  • visit a “Choice Center” or “Free Art Day”
  • getting to run errands for the teacher
  • Play music
  • Field trips
  • Extensive list of ideas for privileges and rewards from PBIS
  • Mannequin Challenge: "Are your kids wound up on Fridays? ...I told my kids that we would do the mannequin challenge the last 5 min of class as long as they worked hard and kept their noise under control. I wrote NOISE on the board, and erased E, S, and I if they were too loud or off task. I told them if we got to NO they wouldn't be able to do it. Each class was able to do the mannequin challenge, and they were so focused during the whole class." Brett Owen, from the Art Teacher's Facebook Group

Handmade awards; gold spray-painted palettes, paintbrushes, mannequins, wooden candle sticks, and wooden plaques by Francisco and Janell Matas (for high school outstanding student in photography, ceramics, sculpture, drawing, painting, digital art, AP studio, adapted art artist, adapted art, jewelry/metal, and outstanding senior)

Certificate Designs by Leanne Godbee:

Abby found these plastic party favors in the party supply section of Hobby Lobby. She painted them gold and added the jewels.

Catherine uses this trophy as a motivator for her students to clean up faster! 

Click on this link, Art Award Template, to download a DIY paper template to make this nifty art trophy! The design is from Leslie Gould at heythatsmyartteacher.blogspot.com

  • Games
  • "Mystery Artist" ... this system encourages all students to behave because they do not know which of them will be awarded the special "Mystery Artist" prize at the end of class. They do know that the teacher is watching specific individuals to see if s/he will get the prize! 
  • Class Awards and Unique DIY Awards, Create Art With ME; Michelle East
  • Make Your Own Free Certificates at 123certificates.com
  • “You Did It!” stamper on practice work
  • Gold Star (I like smiley faces, too!)
  • Use the "Ticket" system (click on the link to read more)
  • Have a TASK Party, Oliver Herring...How To TASK...
  • Former “National Teacher of the Year” Ron Clark (author, The Essential 55) had pizza parties to motivate students
  • www.classdojo.com
  • Draw quick portraits of students (Sarah Dougherty, www.theartofed.com)
  • Trophies/medals at end of year for “Art Excellence” - art teacher Valerie Frazier mentioned the idea to spray paint a small wooden maniken gold to look like an Academy Award!
  • Secondary school – awards for achievement atschool art show – 1st, 2nd, 3rd place ribbons/prizes, etc
  • School-wide reward systems – PBIS, “Wampum” traded in for free dance/game tickets, school supplies, etc. at Casey Williamson's school
  • artwork on display (school, libraries, businesses, online, etc.)
  • free certificate from www.123certificates.com
SCHOOL WEBSITE: Certificates for achievement if the students’ artwork chosen to be displayed – at our school we have a “no-media” list of students who did not turn in their release forms so I know whose artwork I cannot display online.

DISPLAY CASE for art excellence by the front office – students get a certificate for work displayed OR  have empty frames in a prominent hallway that get filled with the best pieces

ARTIST OF THE WEEK” easel by the front office – it is announced during morning announcements at my school - I choose girls for 3 weeks (one 6th grader, one 7th grader, one 8th grader) and then I choose boys for 3 weeks so all the recognition doesn’t just go to 8th grade girls. This idea is from the book A Retired Art Teacher Tells All, by Marlene Johnt.

    Here is one more idea about creating a little competition among students from the Art of Education: Make Your Display Case Competitive With a Championship Belt, by high school teacher Luke Nielson

    Note about elementary rewards:
    Michael Linsin admits that elementary “specials” have a greater challenge due to seeing much higher numbers of students less often and there is not as much opportunity to develop “leverage.” Although he discourages rewarding good behavior, he admits that it can be beneficial for the elementary art classroom. He recommends that specials teachers set up whole-class reward systems. Also, he does not believe in tangible rewards at all, only intangible things such as “bragging rights” such as; “We have the best-behaved class this week,” etc.  Check out this article at theartofed.com: "A Classroom Management Strategy Elementary Art Teachers Can't Live Without" 

    "Systems of recognition for expected behavior (which can include verbal, non-verbal, and tangible acknowledgment) are present and necessary across our society as a whole – in personal relationships, in business, in the community, in sports, and pretty much any other setting you can think of. Recognition increases the likelihood the expected behavior will occur again in the future. It should be part of a larger system which includes developing environments to increase the likelihood the expected behavior will occur in the first place (like clear expectations, developing relationships, and using structure and pre-corrects to prompt desired behavior).Token economies are one strategy to increase the likelihood students will perform expected behavior. Tokens should ALWAYS be paired with positive specific feedback. Conversely, all inappropriate behavior should be responded to with specific corrective feedback. Ignoring the inappropriate behavior and just giving someone else positive feedback and a ticket is a misrepresentation of the use of this strategy. Teachers should be giving super-high rates of positive specific feedback for behavior that meets expectations throughout the day, every day – whether paired with a tangible or not. By attending to expected behavior at a high rate, the likelihood of problem behavior is reduced. That’s the science of behavior.Recognition, tangible or intangible, does not decrease motivation. That’s a misunderstanding of the continuum of motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic.
    Almost nothing a person does in the course of the day is 'intrinsically motivated'. Intrinsic motivation means a person does something purely for the sake of finding joy in the activity – no additional outcome. Some examples might include children swinging on a swing set, a person singing in the shower, or stepping outside to watch the first snowfall. These are not comparable to the behaviors we need students to use in the classroom. No student is standing quietly in line or completing math homework for the pure joy of it. To some degree, there is an external motivation (a grade, pride, pat on the back). Then there are some things for which we are purely extrinsically motivated, and there’s no problem with that. The reason we pay our electric bills is because we have to do it to keep the lights on. Sure, we get entertainment, heat, ability to keep food fresh, and a host of other benefits from the electricity, but we only pay the bill because it’s required. Purely extrinsically motivated behavior.Pretending that all behaviors related to school need to be “intrinsically motivating” is just nonsense. Students will be somewhere on the continuum from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation for all manner of things during the day. Extrinsic motivation can be employed strategically to change behavior, and that can be a good thing."  
    Deanna Maynardcommenting on the article, One of the Worst Classroom management Strategies I've Ever Seen, by Michael Linsin 

    List of Reward Ideas From CanTeach 

    Extensive list of ideas for privileges and rewards from PBIS

    List of Reward Systems That Work; What To Give and How To Give It, Cara Bafile, educationworld.com

    Carrots or Sticks? *Alfie Kohn on Rewards and Punishment, by Cara Bafile, educationworld.com
    *Alfie Kohn is a prolific author and speaker about social issues, he has written many books about education, including Punished By Rewards, but is not a trained educator himself; his credentials (none in the field of education) do not give his writing merit, in my opinion. He was a teacher for a short time, in an independent high school, teaching a class on existentialism. He has many interesting ideas that align with constructivism.

    Alfie Kohn Is Bad For You and Dangerous For Your Children, Daniel Willingham, blogs.britannica.com 

    *Empirical research about extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation: 

    Pervasive negative effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation: The myth continues, Cameron, Banko, & Pierce, 2001, Association For Behavior Analysis International

    From Using Rewards Within School-wide PBIS, Rob Horner & Steve Goodman
    Lewis, T. J., Powers, L. J., Kelk, M. J., & Newcomer, L. L. (2002). Reducing the problem behaviors on the playground: An investigation of the application of schoolwide positive
    behavior supports. Psychology in the Schools, 39(2), 181-190.

    Skinner, C. H., Williams, R. L., & Neddenriep, C. E. (2004). Using interdependent group-
    oriented reinforcement to enhance academic performance in general education classrooms.
    School Psychology Review, 33, 384-397.

    Lohrmann, S. & Talerico, J. (2004). Anchor the boat: A classwide intervention to reduce problem
    behavior. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 6(2), 113-120.

    Metzler, C. W., Biglan, A., Rusby, J. C., & Sprague, J. R. (2001). Evaluation of a comprehensive
    behavior management program to improve school-wide positive behavior support. Education and Treatment of Children, 24(4), 448-479.

    Crone, D. A., Horner, R. H., & Hawken, L. S. (2004). Responding to Problem Behavior in

    Schools: The Behavior Education Program. New York: The Guilford Press.

    Editor's note: Managing student behavior involves far more than discipline techniques. In order to create an environment for student success, the teacher needs to provide quality instruction as well as appropriate motivation. Most importantly, the teacher needs to have the right attitude for leadership in the classroom. Finally, having a solid classroom management plan with rules and procedures set up from the beginning of the year is also extremely important - students need to be very clear about what the teacher's expectations are.

    disclaimer: These are a set of ideas about being proactive in teaching based on classroom experience as well as various education authors. Many times there are circumstances in the classroom that are beyond any teacher's control, especially when serving at-risk populations or in environments where those in administration fail to provide effective leadership in a school. Sometimes, regardless of the prevailing theories about teacher responsibility, the teacher is not to be blamed for out of control students. Finally, we do NOT recommend that you put any of these strategies into practice if your administration disagrees with them. 

    article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

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