Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What's Your Reward?

I had the opportunity to catch last week's middle school Twitter chat.  The topic was increasing student motivation.  As many middle school teachers will tell you, motivating eleven to fourteen year old students on a daily basis can be a tough nut to crack.   Many teachers will appeal to students to become more intrinsically motivated,  yet others will gladly turn to extrinsic reward systems to encourage positive behavior, class participation and homework completion.

While relying on students' intrinsic motivation can be time consuming and at times frustrating, I do not believe in external reward systems.  You will not find a sticker chart anywhere in my classroom.  I believe that the keys to motivating students to reach academic goals are outstanding teaching and relationship building.  If the class material is made accessible to all students, their confidence to master it will increase, leading to a feeling of success.  If students struggle with the material, the relationship between the students and teacher has to be there for the students to seek clarity.  The teacher has to be able to check for understanding whether it is through students' reactions to the presentation, the formative assessment or students flat out telling her that they need additional assistance.  Even my toughest classes have recognized my willingness to go back and re-teach material as they have sat in far too many classes where the teacher put the blame for lack of understanding solely on them.  These efforts have led to students putting more effort into my class.  I can happily say that in twelve years of teaching, I have only issued failing grades to one student (who refused to come to school despite a court order to do so).

As far as motivating students to display outstanding behavior, again you will not find a sticker chart or even the use of Class Dojo anywhere near my room.  I have read The Essential 55 by Ron Clark and while I do not have fifty-plus rules, I did take away one thing from him: students will do what is expected if you are explicit and consistent.  I am crystal clear about my expectations from the beginning and am relentless about modeling and enforcing them.  Doing what they are asked to do by a person with authority (without arguing), treating others with respect and using polite language such as "yes" (as opposed to "yeah"),"please" and "thank you" may be my classroom expectations today, but they will lead to far more rewards in life than any piece of candy that I could possibly provide.  In fact, most of my students have already experienced those life rewards while still in middle school and have happily reported that their use of polite and respectful language has resulted in favorable treatment.

Of course, my students are recognized on a daily basis through praise, smiles, pats on the back and positive reports home.  I even bring in rewards such as candy to recognize my students for doing something particularly outstanding.  However, this is extra and is not expected from the students as a condition for contributing to a positive classroom culture.  Of course, this sometimes encourages enterprising students to figure this out and go above and beyond on purpose.  After all, deep down I really am easily impressed and the Takis trick-or-treat bags are available at my local bodega this time of year.

No comments:

Post a Comment