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Teacher, Writer, and Artist

NAILING THE RIGHT REWARD

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Anytime scientists poll teachers on what makes them so happy to perform the most dangerous work on Earth, I think the scientists are always amazed that being paid a load more money is not at the top of the list. What’s at the top of the list of any profession is being recognized by your superiors for the good job you do.

I think that crazy notion goes for students, too, especially when they’re trying to figure out the whacky meanings of the short stories of J.D. Salinger, especially a story he published way back in the last millennium, “Just Before the War with the Eskimos.”

When I asked Clutch what he thinks is the real reason Ginnie and Selena bicker like a couple of crows … he got the answer right. I tossed a beautifully wrapped piece of Godiva chocolate at his head. I’ve never seen him smile so wide, but I had to look away when he started gnawing on it.

When I asked Peetie why he thinks Eric reached into his bathroom trash can to pull back out a dang razor blade … well … Peetie pretty much got it right. He got a Godiva chocolate thrown at his head, too.

I had nine chocolates left, and the class discussion deliciousness that teachers dream about went on for so long all the chocolates got eaten. I scrambled around in a couple of drawers. I found a paper clip and a nail.

Clutch answered correctly the question of why do you think Franklin seems like such a dandy. Clutch caught the paper clip I lobbed at him and observed it in his hand, with wide open-eyed delight, as if it were his first Varsity chili dog with onions.

Then came Kells. About why do you think Selena kept that dead chicken for so long, he told us what he thought. It wasn’t correct. It was way far from correct, but he tried and he had been listening hard all week and I appreciate that. I tossed the heavy, four inch-long nail at him.

Kells missed it.

The nail clanked around on the top of his desk and then it fell onto the floor. Kells juked out of his desk after it. A dang nail. You would have thought he was chasing after a winning Powerball ticket.

www.adixiediary.com

Life Skills Support Teacher

The other day I brought a big

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The other day I brought a big smile to the face of an at-risk student by giving them a piece of candy they earned for completing an assessment they originally didn't want to take. You see, some kids live in environments where pieces of candy are rarely offered, so this benevolent gesture on my part proved to be effective.

The "no rewards" theory may sound good in the relative netherworld of the university classroom, but in the real world, i.e., "in the trenches," it is quite the opposite. Scholars need to keep in mind the disconnect between what's posited in the safe and secure confines of the classroom and what actually works in reality. There is a distinct and perpetual "grad school student" mentality within segments of academe that has difficulty creating the necessary distinctions.

Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia

deep breaths!

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It's always good to see articulate and respectful disagreements here. It's another thing when people start down the path of name-calling and petty swipes. If you all want to continue in this discussion, please keep it civil. If you don't, I'll delete. Thanks in advance.

Teacher, Writer, and Artist

Good Heavens!

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Hi, Richard!

Complex issue? Teach on!

www.actionjacksonart.com

Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College

Hi todd, I sense a bit of

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Hi todd,

I sense a bit of desperation in you because rather than talk about a very complex issue, you choose to denigrate a highly respected and accomplished educator, who you should have studied in college. I'm sure you would not tolerate your students behaving in a similar fashion.

I do understand. Being a new teacher teaching autistic children is an overwhelming responsibility and every day is difficult. It's logical to support anything that "works," and gets you through the day. I felt the same way when I taught severely emotionally disturbed 7th grade children. I even had to deal with a suicide attempt right in my classroom when a child hung himself in my closet. I was able to find him before he died, but he had severe brain damage for the reminder of his life. I think about him often and hope somehow he is living a decent life.

Did you know that teachers of autistic children do not go to heaven. They go to a place even better. I teach my students that, because of the wonderful and difficult work of these heroes.

While there are overwhelming reasons not to use rewards on most students, the most important to me is that it removes the ability to make choices free of manipulation, and live a responsible life. However, I also teach that if students are not able to live independently, to marry, raise children, or hold a job requiring decision making, Then rewards are a helpful tool because they can do no harm. If your students fall into that category, as many autistic children do, then I agree with the use of rewards.
Francis Fuller of the University of Houston did a critical study on the progression of teachers through their development. Teachers in stage one, years 1-3 are more concerned with self (their need to succeed) and how they are viewed by students. After three years there is a gradual trend to stop looking at self and start looking at students. It's like learning to drive a shift car, you can't look at the road until you master the clutch and shifter. I predict things will change for you as you move through these predictable stages.

Thank you for taking on such an important and under appreciated task and I hope you learn that denigration of a source is contrary to the goals of educators

Life Skills Support Teacher

In my opinion, Alfie Kohn is

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In my opinion, Alfie Kohn is a fraud. He writes books on topics such as how paying money to people for doing their jobs robs them of their intrinsic motivation to perform. You would think someone with such a horrible aversion to rewards would actually live up to their own ideals?

Wrong.

Mr. Kohn earns a princely sum for writing which is why he and his family can live rather comfortably in a leafy suburb of Boston where the Kennedy family used to live (Brookline).

It reminds me of another hypocritical Bostonian, an MIT professor named Noam Chomsky, who is well known as a vocal anti-capitalist. Despite that, Chomsky not only also lives comfortably in the Boston 'burbs, but he also owns a multi-million dollar home on Cape Cod !

It reminds me of why I hold other so-called education "experts" like Sir Ted Robinson or Seth Godin in utter contempt. I've written to both men over the years admonishing them for profiting handsomely from writing the epitaph for public education in their books and on TV talk shows. I offered them a challenge: If they are so concerned about the state of public education and the youth of America, earn a proper certification and teach in a K-12 classroom for 190 days per year and REALLY make a difference, instead of just yakking about it to bobbleheads on daytime TV.

Teacher, Writer, and Artist

OH, BOY. THIS OUGHT TO WORK REAL GOOD

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After she passed out a five page handout, our school psychologist with three degrees at the end of her name was the first to speak. She said she’s been reading a lot of research about how it’s bad to tell children they did a good job on something.

My common sense/BS detector went off so loud I looked around the conference room to see if I was disturbing anybody. Our psychologist said it was recent research, but I looked at the first page of the handout and it was dated September, 2001. That’s pretty much a whole long time ago. The kids are five days away and it’s already insane around here—and it’s even in writing.

On my laptop, I did a sneaky Google search on the article’s author, a person named Alfie Kohn, figuring this guy must be a booger-eating nerd and come to find out he looked like a booger-eating nerd. I looked at his bio. If he went to college it didn’t say. And it didn’t say he ever taught in a classroom full of Asperger’s teenagers, either. My common sense/BS detector was going off even louder. I stuck four pieces of bubble gum in my mouth to relieve the pressure.

A new teacher, Miss Ozooz, looked at me dumbly. She whispered … How many pieces of bubble gum did you just put in your mouth?

I answered her back, dumbly. Uh, four.

Why did you do that?

I said to Miss Ozooz in my best hick voice … Because bubble gum tastes real good.

The handout, by this eminent expert on education and parenting, said that there are five reasons why you need to stop saying “Good job!” Alfie believes you’re manipulating children when you say Good job! He also believes you’re creating praise junkies and that you’re stealing a child’s pleasure. Alfie says kids will lose interest in whatever they’re doing when you say Good job! And finally, while my BS detector was about to explode, Alfie says praising kids will eventually barf on their will to continue to achieve. The whole time we’re going through this recent research I was handing Miss Kentucky to my left, and Coach Hank to my right, little stickers I had brought with me to the meeting for giggles. The stickers said “You did well!” and “Great job!” and “Way to go!” and “Keep up the good work!” I had even brought a bunch of scratch-and-sniff Thanksgiving stickers that smelled like cinnamon and apple pie. Miss Kentucky said they smelled like her childhood ... in Kentucky.

Everybody kept looking at us. They were wondering why we were giggling so much while we were talking about ancient research, newly embraced by our school psychologist with a PhD. She ought to add DA to her title. Dumb ____.

While I’m smacking my gum I’m thinking … We’re supposed to help these kids ... right?

www.adixiediary.com

Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College

Todd Sentell, Thank you for

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Todd Sentell,

Thank you for your comment about my post. I looked at your blog and found it full of energy, compassion and creativity. You sound like a fine new teacher who really cares about children and learning.

I have some problems with your analysis of rewards. Without rewriting what is in so many of my posts, books and articles I have written over the years, here's my main objections.

1. You say they work, but at what price/ You never mention that part of the equation. The costs of addiction, satiation, working for candy and teaching to do what is told, rather than to think for themselves are overwhelming even if rewards did work.

2. The brightness of your students eyes is certainly wonderful, it's the same look a drug addict or alcoholic has in their eyes when they see their drug of choice.

3. Being a favorite teacher because you give kids stuff is a new teacher's heaven, but after three years of teaching, you will discover that thinking you are a favorite teacher is because you challenged students to learn, held high standards, didn't give up on them and made learning more important than trinkets. You are too bright not to discover this in a few years.

4. Whether or not it works depends on different definitions of working. I think we disagree on this definition. For me, it's learning to be responsible, to make good choices when no one is watching or there to give a reward and academic success, all things that are the opposite of a reward based program.

5. If you disagree with me and proven ideas about how children learn, then at least do 1 thing differently. Stop using candy as a reward. In a country with obesity has the major health issue, giving candy is not only dangerous, but life threatening. Use free time or favored activity instead.

Good luck, young man and keep your energy and creativity flowing for the good of children.

Teacher, Writer, and Artist

GLOBAL SUCCESS

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And in the back, near my desk in the back, I said, is not a globe. It’s “The Globe of Happiness.” After you push the northern hemisphere up you will see that inside The Globe of Happiness, in the southern hemisphere, is a whole bunch of candy that I discovered is real expensive to buy. Do good deeds. Say good things. Work hard, I said, and you’ll get candy, and lots of it.

All eyes were now on The Globe of Happiness. Four of five of them, especially Spike, were already lurched forward, ready to leap out of their desks for an inspection.

I walked back there and lifted the northern hemisphere on a globe on a stand with wheels that’s actually a bar. The southern hemisphere holds ice for adults who drink cocktails.

Three kids, at that special moment in the early history of The Cozy Room of Learning, said that I was their favorite teacher. Spike said he’d catch a bullet for me anytime, and at this school, he said, it could be any day.

I think bribing kids with wads of Snickers, Butterfingers, Smarties, Twix, Milk Duds, Milky Ways, Blow Pops, Gobstoppers, and Chupa Chups, Twizzlers, Swedish Fish, Dum Dum Pops, M&M’s, Sour Patch Kids, Tootsie Rolls, and bubble gum cigarettes, to do and say nice things is fine because it works.

www.adixiediary.com

Life Skills Support Teacher

What's missing is that we

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What's missing is that we must look not only at the benefit of the strategy but also at the cost, and decide if the gain is worth the price. When it comes to educating and raising children, at school and at home, there is always a cost, no matter what solution is selected. Some of the costs are obvious, many are hidden, but they must be considered whenever we determine if something works.

If you truly believe that, Dr. Curwin, then you need to extend that belief to scrutinize this sickening push to use video games and cell phones in the classroom environment.

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