Placing Stickers on Student Papers for Positive Reinforcement

Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 in Teaching Anthropology | Comments Off on Placing Stickers on Student Papers for Positive Reinforcement

John M. Coggeshall
Clemson University

March 2, 2015

As a senior male professor with grey hair and a beard, I have no trouble presenting an image of gravitas in the classroom; I also have a relatively low percentage of A’s in my classes. Thus, I need to find ways to appear “friendlier” to my undergrads without compromising academic rigor or modifying my own personality. I have discovered a simple but effective way to inject a little brevity into grading.

My wife and I donate to several charities (e.g., Nature Conservancy), and we get an overwhelming amount of “free” mailing labels and stickers from these groups, piling up in a desk drawer at home. Several years ago, I decided to peel off one of these stickers and place it on each A paper I return, for all classes. I’ve also found some old Hallmark “gold crown” stickers that I place on the best paper or test in each batch. One may also purchase “smiley faces” or similar stickers in craft stores. By the way, students who admit they did not do the reading that day get a boring mailing label rather than a colorful sticker (I’m in the telephone book anyway, so I thought it wouldn’t matter). I also explain the “sticker system” on the first day of class, and then remind them periodically.

The impact has been overwhelmingly positive. The expressions of amazement and pride on their faces as I return the papers still surprise me even after three years. No matter what kind of sticker I use – an animal, a flower, even “To” and “From” gift labels with Santa on them (especially popular during the holidays), all seem to work equally well. For obvious reasons, I avoid anything personal, religious, or “creepy” (e.g., “Thinking of you”) but sometimes I try to match a sticker to a student’s interest (e.g., a dog or a sea shell).

Occasionally, students do mention the stickers on evaluations, but of course that is not their primary area of comments. I did hear from one of my advanced students that her roommate, in my Intro class, burst through their apartment door one afternoon shouting “I got a sticker!” The paper was posted proudly on the refrigerator door for all to see.

Even though undergrads are of course young adults, and we faculty should treat them as such, it is also enjoyable and a little heartwarming to me as a teacher to see them sometimes as still being children at heart.