I was not planning on posting a new blog today since most people are busy with family, friends and holiday preparations. The reason for this post is that I realized today that I am a hypocrite. I have always been an opponent of incentives and rewards systems in class. I have tried to even downplay grades in my classroom with standards based grading and make learning the goal. In addition, I have always had a problem for rewarding students what they should be expected to do anyway.
With that being said I am currently potty-training my two year old son and this is where I have had a bit of a change of heart. About twenty minutes ago he finally went potty on the toilet and I rewarded him with a few M&Ms. My wife and I did the same thing with our older son when he was potty-training. I can tell you that both my boys are only going on the toilet initially because of the M&Ms dangling in front of their nose. They are not going on the potty because of some intrinsic motivation or self directed learning. I know there are kids out there that just decide to use the toilet, but for the rest of us that is not how it works.
So, here I am using rewards to get my kids to go on the toilet and I am wondering how this theory would work in my classroom. While my 5 year old no longer gets M&Ms to go on the toilet, it was those little candies that got him started on the road to potty-training. The key was to get him started and then gradually pull the reward away.
In my Social Science class, I recently did a concept map with my co-teacher and we had these left over yellow star cutouts. For the past week when we noticed kids doing something good we wrote their name on the star and gave it to them. While this is such a small “reward” the kids loved it. It encouraged other kids to pay more attention, get their books out quickly, engage in the activities, etc. Now, we don’t hand these out regularly and try to pace ourselves so it doesn’t lose it novelty.
Again, I am not all for rewards or a full blown incentive system, but for some kids a little reward or recognition can get them on the right path that should/will ultimately lead to a love a going on the toilet…and learning!