The plus point system: a trial run.

Let me tell you a secret about kids: My parent's were right -- they do actually love to be controlled. They do. I've talked about it before, in the sense that, while they may look forward to an "easy" teacher's class, they will actually grow to resent those same teachers, as teachers. Why? Because it's in human nature to desire to be dominated and roam the earth as pre-programmed automatons? Maybe, but I don't think so. Because control, when instituted as a caretaker, implies two things: 1. A greater knowledge and 2. the desire to guide, which presumably comes from a place of concern. It's why we have gods and kings and presidents, whose authority we accept, even though we don't really have to. Because the world is a huge, scary, complicated place, and we like the idea of someone who knows better than us laying out guidelines for us to follow, for our own well-being.

Over the course of the last year, I did a lot to improve the structure of my classes, as far as our daily routine goes. Once I figured out how to actually teach the material I was meant to be teaching, it became time to learn how to be a better leader of the class. This included breaking down my classes into set groups, which are the same every time, which was mostly brought on by the headaches I got every week I decided to do any activity that involved a group in the first place. It was just too much free choice for those boys to handle, and they spun out of control with it far too often. No, you cannot have ten people in your group, when I said four, and no, you cannot name your group "Ukkikki", because that kid over there resembles a monkey. Ukkikki is not English, and for the last fucking time, your team name must be in English.

Getting all of that out of the way up front solved a lot of drama for the rest of the year. One group, with set members and a set name, which are recorded and instituted in the same way every single time. I also did what I could to make sure we were following more or less the same routine every single class, so that the students always knew what to expect. Things went a lot more smoothly, there was a lot less chaos and pushing of boundaries, and I had a lot more patience left in my reserves by the last class on Friday every week.

This year I've decided to try something I swore I would never do.

See, I was not raised in a rewards-based household. You did what you were supposed to be doing, because you were supposed to be doing it, and your reward was not being punished. And for the most part, that's how I've run my classes up to this point. "Teacher, present?" after games, proposed by the winning team, has always been met with, "Your prize is your pride." The students have gotten used to that, and for the most part, it has worked well.

But I'm just curious. I just want to try this for a year, see what it can do for my classroom environment to introduce a plus points system.

The problem with a plus points system is that it takes a fair amount of consistency and organization, especially when you are dealing with over 30 different classes. That's a lot of information to keep in order and on top of, and when you stand up in front of your students and claim you are going to do something, and then it unravels, you lose a huge amount of authority. I know, because I remember being a student, and I remember thinking, the first time a teacher slipped up and didn't follow through on something, that I could officially start taking the declarations of that teacher with a bigger grain of salt. And I wasn't ever the only one.

Part of the reason why I haven't done it up to this point is that I've been too overwhelmed getting other things in order -- improving my teaching techniques and classroom activities organization, learning how to run the classroom in general, and getting my authority as a teacher established (learning how to establish it, and maintain it). Now, I feel like I've got all of that pretty much under control. So I just want to give this a shot for a semester, and see how it goes.

Today was my first day introducing the system, and so far, the students have responded really well. We're doing the teams in the same way, and the plus points will work on a team basis -- your team gets points, and your team loses points. This helps in two ways. The first is just that it's much easier to keep up with the points for six groups in each class than it is to keep up with the points for 36 students. The second is that it also relies on peer pressure, which is especially effective amongst teenagers -- if you fuck up, it's not just you who suffers, but your whole group. Even the worst behaved students have a tendency to fold, when five of their friends are going to be pissed off if they don't.

To me, I don't even think it's the idea of eventually getting a prize that's going to do the most good, so much as the feeling that the class now has more structure and accountability. I still don't see myself ever getting to the point of carrying candy around in my pockets and tossing it out to the kids like trained animals who have successfully preformed a trick -- that just feels demeaning to both me and the students. But I think the idea of acquiring a set amount of credit and making good on it could go a long way. The students now have more a goal that they are working toward, and everything feels more organized and settled.

I don't know if I will stick with it after this semester or not, but I figure it can't hurt to try.


Katherine Koba said...

I'm by no means the model of classroom management, but when I do reward with candy, I try to make it rare or for something exceptional (like a fully-articulated English sentence from a kid who usually says fuck-all in class).

The downside is that I end up munching on the bag of candy I bought for the kids during breaks and inevitably eat half of it myself.

Gomushin Girl said...

Back in the day, I had pretty strong philosophical reasons for rejecting the point system - after all, my kids were going to learn because of the value of knowledge, right? And for the most part, things worked out ok in the end, and my boys did end up getting something out of class. But I will say that after a year or so, I started to really envy my friends' success with point systems. Particularly in schools where we're not involved in evaluating and grading, point systems give students a very real and graspable goal to strive for. Some students are naturally motivated out of a pure love of learning, but point systems also help engage students who don't really have confidence in their abilities or interest in the subject. I kind of wish I'd used one.

matt said...

You did what you were supposed to be doing, because you were supposed to be doing it, and your reward was not being punished.

Damn right. But yeah, as Gomushin Girl notes, point systems can be useful, but only if (in a co-teaching environment) both teachers are doing it. My first year I had one co-teacher who was well-organized and scary and one who was the opposite of that, and neither used point systems. You can imagine how the discipline played out. (A class of 6th graders all talking and not paying attention and my co just shrugging her shoulders and making a 'what am I supposed to do' face? Not a high point.) Two brand new teachers started in the second semester and used reward systems which worked pretty well.

Last year my cos didn't use the point system I tried to set up, so it was a bit pointless (ahem) to use it. Hopefully this year it can be made to work (with the grade 6s, at any rate), because if it doesn't, my brand new co is going to be eaten alive. It's a bit strange having worked with so many co-teachers who have less experience than me - especially the cases in which I've been the person more in control of the class.

matt said...

That first paragraph should be in italics....

kawaii_candie said...

i like the idea of making the group collect the points. the peer pressure would be soooo strong and it might actually help with discipline.

my "point system" that i use is that i give them stickers if they win a game or get a perfect score on something. then they collect those stickers on their namecards and if they collect them all (20) they can get a prize. usually some stationary or a character phonecharm and whatnot. nothing ovre 5$... i've been doing it for 3 years and every year only about 5-10 kids manage to collect enough stickers, so it's not like it sets me back by that much... but damn, they love those stickers.