Weekly Reflection – 9/30/13 – 10/4/13

 *Please note that in order to protect the privacy of my collaborating teacher (CT) and my students, I will not mention the name of the school, students or the teacher. I will also avoid mentioning the grade level of my classroom. This is done to protect the rights and privacy of everyone that I work with.*

            One issue that is particularly important to my educational beliefs is the idea of a reward and punishment system. Many people argue against this system, claiming that “if powerful extrinsic rewards are provided to induce students to engage in a particular task, students will explain their engagement as being driven by the extrinsic reward and ignore or downplay and intrinsic value in the activity” (Levin 95). I disagree with this principle, referred to as the “discounting principle,” for a variety of reasons, which will be mentioned throughout my reflection.

Before I begin my reasons for disagreement, I would like to clear up what I mean by a “reward and punishment system.” I am extremely in favor of verbal praise for students rather than tangible rewards. I do believe that tangible rewards can have a place in the classroom; however, this should be done moderately. Levin and Nolan noted that, “verbal rewards (e.g., praise) that are linked to success on a task or obtaining or exceeding a performance standard do not seem to negatively affect intrinsic motivation” (95). They do; however, state that “tangible external rewards (e.g., stickers, candy, free time) seem to undermine students’ intrinsic motivation for engaging in the activities for which they received the rewards” (95). I believe that students must receive recognition, even if it is a tangible reward, for performing a variety of tasks that they may dislike or not understand the reason for because students may not (or simply do not) have the intrinsic motivation to inspire them to perform the tasks. One example of this took place in my collaborating teacher’s (CT’s) classroom this week.

My CT has talked with her students multiple times about the importance of keeping their desks neat. She has mentioned the benefits of easily finding papers in their desks, which leads to students being able to get ready for the day and lessons faster since they can find their books, folders, and other supplies quickly and easily. If a student does not keep his or her desk clean, it will take longer for them to find papers and sometimes these papers will be crushed or ripped from being shoved into the desk. Although my CT has mentioned these benefits and drawbacks, she noticed that very few students listened to her. Therefore, the other day, my CT decided to reward the students who followed directions.

My CT did a “desk check” to see which students had organized, clean desks. She called out the names of these students and rewarded each student with praise and one piece of candy as. The other students saw the rewards that the other students received and to clean up their desks; however, my teacher told them it was too late and that we needed to begin our next lesson. I personally believe that there are many tasks and concepts, such as keeping your desk clean or doing homework, that students may not understand the benefits of, even after it has been explained to them many times. Students; therefore, need extrinsic motivation, because they do not yet see the value in the task or concept. Now, I will concede that students should not be given tangible rewards in excess; however, the students do need to receive recognition for following directions.

I believe a reward for a clean desk should be allowed because every student has the capability of maintaining a clean, organized desk. For a system of rewards and punishments to work, each student must have an equal opportunity to complete the task and be rewarded. In my opinion, teachers should never actively punish their students.  I believe that if a teacher has a reward and punishment system should focus more on rewarding good behavior, and less on punishing bad behavior. The system should also not work against students who simply cannot complete the task, for reasons outside of their control.

Every day, the students in my CT’s classroom must take their reading logs home and read for at least 20 minutes a day. The students then write a quick summary of what they have read, the title of the book, how many pages they have read, and how long they read (they can read for over 20 minutes if they would like). Parents are supposed to sign the reading log each day; however, this just is not possible for some parents. As long as the students complete the reading and document their reading, the students are given credit for their work. If a parent did not sign the reading log, students are not punished because there are a variety of reasons why a parent did not sign. Perhaps he/she forgot, or maybe he/she was tired from a long day of working. There are too many variable involved; therefore, a lack of a parent signature does not lead to a punishment. However, if a student left his or her reading log at home or did not complete the reading log (actions that are in the student’s control), then he or she will face consequences.

If, when checking the reading log in the morning, I notice that a student has read for a significant time over 20 minutes, I always praise the student. Why? Because this student went above and beyond the task. Some might disagree with my praise, believing that students should act on their own intrinsic motivation and that my praise could be construed as a bribe, which may be harmful to their own motivation (as quoted above): “If powerful extrinsic rewards are provided to induce students to engage in a particular task, students will explain their engagement as being driven by the extrinsic reward and ignore or downplay and intrinsic value in the activity” (Levin 95). As mentioned before, I have to disagree: “Tangible rewards and positive recognitions have been criticized as ‘bribes.’ Assertive discipline provides a good defense and a clear response to this criticism of rewards. It states that a bribe is given in anticipation of a behavior, to entice a person to do something that is not in his best interests, while a reward is given as a result of behavior. A reward is given in recognition for a behavior that is in the best interest of the student” (Canter 86). My CT told me in the beginning of the year that the purpose of the reading log is to build up the student’s ability to read for long periods of time in preparation for later reading assignment, and. of course. FCAT. I praise students whenever they read above the 20 minute mark. It is definitely in the best interest of the student to read for long periods of time because reading is extremely important and will be required for the rest of their lives.

By rewarding a student, I am encouraging him or her to continue that behavior. “Behaviors associated with good consequences are more likely to occur again in the future, whereas behaviors associated with bad consequences are less likely to occur again. For example, when a child is praised for class participation (good consequence), he or she is more likely to participate in the future. In contrast, when a child is laughed at or humiliated by the teacher or by other students when he or she attempts to participate in class (bad consequence), the child is less likely to participate in the future (Bohlin 161). This “law of effect” is exactly why I prefer a reward heavy system over a punishment heavy system. I believe that by rewarding a student, I am telling him/her that his/her actions are good and that they should continue. If I punish a student, then he/she may stop the bad behavior, or he/she may continue to act out.

If a teacher is going to use a reward and punishment system, then he or she needs to understand the guiding principles for using consequences effectively, which include: “Knowing the developmental level of the individual,” “knowing the individual’s likes and dislikes,” “understanding the function of attention,” “knowing when and how often to provide consequences,” “using reinforcement more than punishment,” “and that some punishments should not be used” (Bohlin 164). (Since many of these guidelines are self explanatory, I will simply include the chart from Bohlin’s textbook that provides some tips for these guidelines.) See chart below, taken from Bohlin 164:

Using Consequences Effectively

Due to the criticism of tangible rewards, another system, called the Premack principle, can be used: “Using the Premack principle, a teacher may increase one behavior of students by providing an activity as reinforcement (e.g., playing a game, socializing with friends, drawing) rather than giving tangible rewards (e.g., stickers, smiley faces) (Bohlin 167). I believe that this system can work very well in a classroom. One of my favorite rewards is allowing students to read at the teacher’s desk. This reward is technically tangible; however, since it includes an important task in the classroom (e.g., independent reading), the student is still learning and therefore this reward is in the best interest of the student. A reward like this could be given to a student who has read over the 20 minute mark. Students who see this reward will be motivated to read more and since the reward still contains reading, as well as the task necessary for receiving the reward, students are really encouraged to read and learn to read for long periods of time.

In conclusion, I believe that a reward and punishment system has a place in the classroom. For this system to work, a teacher must moderately use tangible rewards and focus on praising students for going above and beyond in their work. The teacher should not focus on punishing students for bad behavior because students typically react harshly to punishment. Instead a teacher should praise students for what they have done correctly. The teacher should make sure that the rewards are appropriate for his or her students, depending on their grade level and interests.

***

            While reading Classrooms that Work, I came across a quote that I think would be useful in the classroom. The quote is: “Writing is a very complex process. No matter how good we get, there is always room for growth” (Cunningham 214). I think this would be a great phrase for a motivational poster to put up in the classroom. I think that it is important for students to know that learning is a continuous process that will happen to them over the course of their lifetime. One of my students asked me if I knew everything and I told her that was not true, that I was still learning just like she is. She was amazed at my answer. I think it is so important that students realize that they will make mistakes and that everyone makes mistakes.

A student in my classroom, Ciara* (pseudonym), was upset the other day because she did not answer a math problem correctly. When she was talking with her tablemates about the math homework, they both figured out that 36 ÷ 6 = 6. Ciara had put down 5 as her answer. She made a negative comment towards herself for her incorrect answer. I noticed this remark and so I walked over to her to ask what happened. The students told me about the situation and I bend down to Ciara’s level and talked to her. I told her that I make mistakes all the time, especially in math. I let her know that it is okay to make mistakes, that everyone makes mistakes, even me. I told her that the best thing to do when you make a mistake is to learn from it. I repeated this twice in my discussion with her. She did not really respond to me when I talked to her, perhaps out of shyness or nervousness, but I wanted to make sure that she knew that it was okay to make a mistake and that it just provides us with an opportunity to learn. I think that it is so important that students know that mistakes happen. The quote that I mentioned above would work well in a classroom because it lets students know that mistakes will happen and that each and every person can continue to improve and learn for the rest of their lives.

***

            Another topic that I wanted to discuss in my reflection is the Blue-Eyes, Brown-Eyes experiment. In these videos, a teacher explains discrimination to students by having them segregate themselves by their eye color so that they can truly understand what it means to be discriminated. The videos are very powerful and I believe that they could leave a lasting impact on the classroom. The experiment would of course be considered unethical today; however, showing the videos to the class and talking to students about the implications of the video could be an important discussion about how we should treat other people.

I had to watch these videos for a class assignment and I had seen them before in the past. It was amazing to see how easily the students picked up on the teacher’s prejudice and discrimination. The students were not bad people in any sense. They just imitated what they saw the teacher do and then they took it a step further.

The behaviors recorded by the students were so interesting. It amazed me that students would actually take on the behavior of what an “inferior” student would be “expected” to do. For example, the “inferior” students performed poorly on their work. The students took a longer amount of time to solve the phonics cards and they missed more questions when they wore the collars as compared to when they were the “superior” students. One of the groups actually performed the best out of all of the teacher’s students on the day they were considered “superior.” I never realized just how much negative attitudes and actions towards students affect them. Now the statistic about dropout rates makes more sense: “Limited-English-proficient students drop out of school at a rate five times as high (51%) as their English-speaking peers, citing lack of English language knowledge as the primary reason for leaving school early” (Diaz 159). “You didn’t even want to try to do anything,” was a comment from one of the students in the video. This is all about confirmation bias. If the teacher expects the students to underperform, he or she will ignore every instance of the student doing well and will focus on the student messing up by misbehaving, not following directions, etc. On the other side, the “superior” students began discriminating their peers even if they had been nice to the other students beforehand. This reminds me of a famous quote that from Denis Leary, “Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.”

Another article that I read this week discussed “white privilege.” While I do will admit that “white privilege” does exist in a sense, I think that as an educator, I cannot ever assume what “privileges” my students have. Some people experience benefits and privileges that others do not but we must always remember that everyone comes with different “baggage” when they enter a classroom. Although a student may be white, and therefore have “white privilege,” he or she may come from a lower socio-economic household. A lower SES can lead to disadvantages such as a lack of school supplies or technology in the household. As a teacher, I should never make an assumption about my students based on their race, socioeconomic status, gender, or other factor/feature. Each student should be valued equally; however, the students should be treated equitably. Each student should have a chance to participate and share. Some people may come with experiences that are beneficial such as having a variety of appropriate books at home to explore reading; other children may not have that same experience. Therefore, my classroom should have a variety of materials for students to use for learning, especially books.

I always want to make sure that I am not judging someone based on stereotypes of their gender, race, socio-economic status or any other factor even if I am using “positive” stereotypes. Each person has their own experiences, all of which should be valued by the classroom as a whole.

Acknowledgements

  • Bohlin, Lisa, Cheryl Cisero Durwin, and Marla Resse-Weber. Ed Psych Modules. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.
  • Canter, Lee, and Marlene Canter. Assertive Discipline: Positive Behavior Management for Today’s Classroom. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  • Cunningham, Patricia Marr., and Richard L. Allington. Classrooms That Work: They Can All Read and Write. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson Education, 2011. Print.
  • Díaz-Rico, Lynne T. The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook: A Complete K-12 Reference Guide. 5th ed. N.p.: Pearson Education, 2014. Print.
  • Levin, James, and James Nolan. Principles of Classroom Management. a Professional Decision-making Model. 7th ed. N.p.: Pearson, 2014. Print.
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