Potty-Training and Rewards

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!

Change or Innovation?

Recently, I posted about being an agent of change, and I would like to clarify and change some of my previous statements. The word change sometimes freaks people out because it implies that we are doing something wrong and need to change. While there are cases where this is true, I like to think that in most cases we are just evolving. Take what we are doing and finding ways to do it better and more effectively for our students. To me this is innovation and I have had a lot of recent questions in response to me video post. The question I get is, “what does innovation look like?” Here are a few tangible examples from my classroom over this past two years.

Grading: I have changed my grades to be more specific and based on learning standards. I no longer grade based on participation, compliance, or general school related behaviors. A student’s grade in my class is directly related to their mastery of learning standards and nothing else.

Assessments: My assessments are now directly related to the learning standards and not just a photocopy out of a textbook resource book. I also have multiple versions of assessments that offer a variety of options for showing mastery. Some are pencil and paper tests while a majority are project based and individualized to a student’s needs. In addition, students are given multiple opportunities to show mastery which removes the test and performance anxiety.

Homework: I no longer assign homework…on the rare occasion that I do, it is not a part of a student’s grade. I view homework as practice and preparatory work. You are not judged on how you practice in basketball; the game is all that counts. In class, the practice or homework and class activities prepare you for the “game” which is the assessment activities.

Technology: The use of technology in my class is varied, routine, and hard to predict. Most people by default think you are being innovative and forward thinking just because you have a SmartBoard in your room or kids are on laptops. I disagree with that and strive to make sure the technology is pushing the learning further and not just a “cool thing” in the room. I use technology to offer another outlet for different learning styles and as a resource to push learning past the lecture and textbook.

Again, these are just a few examples of things that I have done to evolve my teaching and continue to be innovative. I try not to be innovative just say that I am…there is no value in that. I try to innovative to simply make the learning experiences for my students richer and more valuable.