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Vonda Reed


For ten years, Vonda Reed had taught advanced computer electives for eleventh and twelfth graders. She had just accepted a new position teaching a predominantly freshman-level course at Warren High School in San Antonio, Texas. She knew the change would be a big one for her, so she needed a way to motivate the younger high schoolers she would soon face.

"My thoughts jumped back in time to my children's early years," recalls Reed. "I was always trying to provide ways to increase their learning and creativity as they were growing up. I remembered making a feely box for Tracey and DJ, an idea generated from a child development article I read. The purpose was to increase their sense of wonderment, creativity, and imagination. I decided to make a similar feely box for my students as a reward system. I knew students would enjoy guessing what their prize selection was by feeling around in the box and making a final prize selection."

Reed distributes tickets to her ninth through twelfth grade students when they display positive behaviors and keeps the stubs from each class in a separate coffee can. The students are responsible for keeping their tickets throughout the school year and sometimes brag about the number they have accumulated. By the end of the year, every student has received some tickets and can be part of "Reed's Random Raffle."

Vonda Reed keeps ticket stubs in coffee cans and prizes in the "feely box."

"Tickets are given out for various reasons, such as participation in class discussions, answering questions, completion of work on time, attending tutorials, offering expanding ideas on the topic discussed or examples of the application in their lives, showing acts of kindness toward others, peer tutoring, or for any behavior I see as a positive addition to our class environment," Reed explained. "Sometimes, the act may be very minimal, but in many cases, it is a giant leap for the student. The ticket is a way of saying to my student, 'I appreciate that you are trying in class, and here's a reward for your actions.'"

The "random raffle" is so named because it is not held on a set schedule. In fact, it is not just one event, but several. At times, Reed has held her raffles once every six weeks, and other times they have occurred every three weeks or only on holidays. During a raffle, Reed selects a few tickets at random from the coffee can, and students who have matching tickets select prizes from the "feely box." The prizes themselves and the number of winning tickets that Reed pulls from the coffee can also vary. When her budget allows, she fills the "feely box" with prizes and has a raffle. Students never know when to expect a raffle, and the element of surprise heightens their interest.

A lucky student chooses a prize from the "feely box."

"My students love the feely box," Reed told Education World. "It breaks up the routine a bit, but it only takes about five minutes at the end of a class. Students stop and watch with anticipation to see what will be brought out of the box."

An obvious favorite prize of the students is two movie passes to a local theater, but they always have fun with their selections. When Reed placed a pair of Groucho Marx glasses from a dollar store in the box, the student who pulled them out was greeted with laughter from his peers. Over the next few days, all the students used a digital camera and had their pictures taken in the glasses. They used the photos later as part of an autobiography assignment.

A student models one of the most popular recent raffle prizes -- Groucho Marx glasses!

"They never know what will come out of that box!" said Reed. "I think they like getting the tickets the best because the prizes are, in most cases, not that important to them. The fact that they were recognized and given a ticket is very important to them; they work for that recognition."

When Reed had a student who would not participate and wanted to sleep during class each day, she tried to intervene through usual means, to no avail. One day another student dropped her notebook as she entered the room, and he stopped to help her. Reed gave him a ticket and complimented him.

"It had nothing to do with class curriculum or content, but it had a lot to do with understanding," Reed observed. "I recognized him for his actions. He continued to want to sleep, but when prompted to work, he did. One ticket led to another until he was trying to participate and do what was expected of him. I am not sure if it was the act of giving him the tickets or the fact that he realized that I was watching his every move and wanted him to participate and be successful."

Reed believes that reward systems work well with any grade level, even high school students, and they help to develop intrinsic motivation. She purchases her small prizes from Oriental Trading Company, student organization sales, dollar stores, booths at summer professional development conferences, and other store sales.

"One of the major influences on a child's success is the rapport a teacher is able to establish with that child as an individual," surmised Reed. "Great teachers know their students well. Because students are so different, it is hard to determine what might or might not open the door to a child's heart. I try to accomplish a solid rapport by taking interest in their extracurricular activities, attending their functions, visiting with them, and so on. I also use this reward system to touch the individual."

The key to Reed's raffle with her "feely box" is the fact that it is random. Students know that the raffle is something done in appreciation for their actions. They work because they feel motivated and take pride in what they can do, not to earn a prize, and the real reward is the ticket itself. It shows that she recognizes their effort.

Reed has noted that while it takes only a second to drop a ticket on a student's desk or work area, without a comment or production, even the most unresponsive student will do what it takes to earn that ticket stub. She adds, "Let's face it -- everyone likes to be recognized for good work!"

Photos provided by Vonda Reed.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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