Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reward Systems

As a teacher, I have used extrinsic reward systems within my classroom, weening as the year progress, to help foster intrinsic motivation. This year, in my son's school, a school-wide reward/consequence system was put in place. As a parent/observer here is what I have noticed:

~The entire building has a set of expectations that are reinforced and expected everywhere.

~There are opportunities for children to earn individual "dollars" for displays of good behavior and choices.

~The dollars can be spent on school supplies and also on intangibles, such as extra recess and lunch with the teacher. Dollars can be "banked" and used for larger events called "Monthly Blowouts."

~Children earn bracelets/bands each month for displaying good behavior.

After three marking periods with this system, here is what I noticed, again, as a parent:

~My child strives to earn the "dollars."
~He has a very clear understanding of "saving" as he only spends a small amount of dollars, while saving up for the monthly blow-outs.
~The kid can make change (in dollars) like a pro.
~Obviously, money talks to my child.
~The bracelets are a great sense of pride. They are worn for a day then stashed together in his backpack.

This last month, my child did not earn his bracelet and he was quite upset. It offered his teacher and I an opportunity to talk with him about good behavior choices that he obviously not taking. In other words, it was a teachable moment.

In the many discussions that followed, my son commented on one particular child... she has never earned a bracelet. He empathized with her and thought that was not fair. As a parent/teacher I really gave this some thought. What about the child dealing with behavioral issues that are not always in his/her control? What about the child that shows improvement, but not enough to earn a bracelet? Are we showing some sort of discrimination against that child. Let's face it, that child already knows that he/she is different from the others. Are the bands just an "in your face" way of highlighting that? I am not sure. Thoughts?

Keeping Kids Safe Online

I was recently involved in facilitating online safety sessions for 9th graders followed by assisting a fellow teacher set up a moodle course about the cyber communication dangers (teachers as the audience).

In both cases the internet dangers were certainly highlighted. In my experience kids are going to be online and connected. To try to stop them would be futile and, well, pointless. Instead, here is what I would suggest... if fact, this is the approach I take with my own son.

1. Tools (internet, social networking sites) are NOT evil.
2. Not all people using these sites have good motives.
3. It is up to us, teachers/parents, to teach our children how to be safe online.
4. As teachers/parents we must monitor the internet activity of our children and make them aware that we are doing it.
5. Open dialog with children is important.

Here are some resources that I have found helpful:

and there are many more.

Comments or other resources?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

State Testing

This has been a very stressful month in our household. It started with my third grader going ballistic about having to take state mandated reading tests, math was just fine, but reading was a totally different story. The child did not simply cry, whine, or fake illness, he screaming, cried, hung on to me, and went into a fit of hysterics when it was time to get on the bus. Since he did not get on the bus, I drove him to school. When I tried to pull him from the car, he entered into a fit, the likes of which I have never seen! He was beyond reason.

This happened twice in a week.

While I refuse to let my child get away with such behavior, I still have to wonder how much emphasis was placed on the test in school. When I teach third grade and come upon the yearly exams, I have the kids set up "offices." We move desks into private locations in the classroom and I allow the kids to bring in a few pictures to place on their desks. We talk about the fact that the state wants to make sure kids are learning. Since they can't come sit in our classroom to hear the kids read, watch the kids to math, reading their writing workshop pieces, and so on, they use this test. My pep talk includes something like... "It is time for you to show all of the exciting things you know!"

I know my child has entered into a "contol" period where he is trying to see just how much he can control, test, and push. Another thing that I am absolutely certain about is that my child's halo is held up by horns. I am just wondering how the testing environment is "set up" in his school. I will find out next year when I return to third grade I suppose.

High stakes testing, right or wrong, is a sign of the times.

Do I want to do away with testing completely? No. The concept is a very good one.

Would I like to see their value put into a different perspective? Yes. Data is important, however, it is one piece of the puzzle that determines a child's progress.

Ok, rant over. If you have any cool tips or tricks to help relieve test anxiety for your students or own children, please share.