Gold Stars & Other Fine Rewards – By Cynthia Beach


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  1. Miss Sorenson had me at “Hello, class. Welcome to fourth grade.” She was kind, not like that other teacher, who once rapped my knuckles at recess. Even more importantly to my nine-year-old values were Miss Sorenson’s suede pumps. These pumps were the color of purple crayons.

Her glamour fascinated me. Purple shoes? But Miss Sorenson motivated me another way: her glittering gold stars. Like many teachers, she topped good homework with a five-point sticker. Was her approach original? No. Thousands of elementary teachers place gold stars on noteworthy assignments. Why? Because it works. Think B.F. Skinner.

This spring, I purchased a packet of gold stars from Spring Grove Variety. Now these stars glimmer on scene cards that hold good writing and on book titles I’ve read for class. Each time I award myself a star, positive memory surges through me. Fourth grade accomplishments. Miss Sorenson. Purple suede shoes. Well done, I think, you did it!

My reward system isn’t limited, however, to literal gold stars. An ice cream cone, a walk, a day off will do. Giving me a gold star helps quiet the Critic’s voice and keeps me heartened. I achieved my goal. And I notice.

And what will be my gold star for getting a book contract? I have no doubt. Purple suede shoes.



Excerpted from Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process & Creative Soul Care (2019)

Cynthia Beach is the author of The Surface of Water and the writing book Creative Juices. She is a longtime professor of creative writing at Cornerstone University. See