Ways to Celebrate Student Progress

It is a basic human trait for us to feel good when successful. Studies in neuroscience have shown that various chemicals within our brains are produced and/or released to give that good feeling of accomplishment. Students need to be rewarded for their hard work. Some schools hold award ceremonies at the end of the quarter or school year. Some parents reward their students for every A they get on a report card. But what about the students who don’t earn those awards or get even one A? Baby steps in the right direction are as important as the final destination. So, how can we celebrate their efforts and achievements also? The following ideas are ways to celebrate student progress: 

  • Notes to students: A simple note from you as a teacher can mean so much to a student. While verbal praise and encouragement are also important, a note is something tangible they can keep at their desk to look back on when they need a reminder of their accomplishments in the future. Perhaps you have a student who usually shuts down when they make a mistake, but today they were able to calmly correct their mistakes. You could give a note that says, “Great job! You stuck with it even when it was hard!” Another note could say, “I can see your hard work paid off. Amazing!” Smiley faces or stickers are great to add to your notes.
  • Phone call and note home: Parents often hear what their child has done wrong, but they also need to hear about what their child is doing well. So pick up the phone and call them. Additionally, send home a written note in the child’s agenda or folder that the child can see. Don’t mention to them that it’s there; just let them find it on their own. It’s a reward for both your student and their parents to know that progress is being celebrated. 
  • Display student work: Have a board within your classroom to showcase student progress. Some fun names are the “Wow Wall” or “Hard Work Hall of Fame.” Student work displayed can be from their classwork as well as graded assignments. This celebrates and shows off their hard work including revisions and mistakes, which emphasizes the importance of perseverance. To keep it fair, be sure to only display one item from each student. In celebrating their own progress, we don’t want students to start comparing themselves with others and feel bad because others had more work displayed than they did. 
  • Prizes: While some debate about the effects of extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation, the truth remains that we all need extrinsic motivation at times. As adults we work towards the reward of the paycheck, right? Kids like being rewarded with prizes too. These can range from stickers and little toys to larger items. For larger items, they could earn points or play money to be able to buy the item at a class store. Prizes don’t have to always be an item to take home though. Create a list of prizes for your students to choose from like sitting in a special seat or with a pillow in their chair, getting to skip the odd-numbered problems of an assignment to enjoy a fun activity like drawing or legos, listening to instrumental music with headphones while they work, bringing a stuffed animal to sit on their desk, taking a card or board game to recess, etc. All of these are great ways to celebrate student progress. 
  • Classroom awards celebrations at the middle and end of each quarter: Find something about each student’s progress to celebrate. Again, it doesn’t have to be getting an A. It can be celebrating how they improved by one letter grade on a recent quiz. It can be how they now ask for help instead of shutting down when they make a mistake. Remember, baby steps are worth celebrating! Your awards can be fun too, like the “super eraser” for someone willing to erase a mistake and try again or the “level up award” for improving by a letter grade. Send a copy of the awards home for parents to display and showcase them outside your classroom for others to celebrate their success too. 

For tools to help your students make progress in math, check out our supplemental resources. These provide activities for your students to practice various math skills, leading to both little and big successes to celebrate. 

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