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Big Bucks, No Whammies: Classroom Management via TV Game Shows?

Rich Mehrenberg

Assistant Professor, Special Education
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Many of my fellow teachers share stories about "playing school" growing up. I never did. Instead, I used to play "game show host." It may seem odd, but I have come to realize that the two careers have a lot in common. Both game show hosts and teachers ask challenging questions of others. They are both largely responsible for the energy and momentum of their workplace. Furthermore, they must both display great and sincere enthusiasm for the victories of others.

What follows are some specific lessons that I have learned about how to be a better teacher using classic game show analogies. The examples all apply to classroom management, which includes some of the most important yet least understood skills within our profession. Let's put 60 seconds on the clock. Ready . . . set . . . go!

Reward Often

The Price is Right is a game show offering numerous opportunities for contestants to win cash and prizes over the course of a single episode. Everything from breath mints to a brand new car is up for grabs. Players can win on prizes while in Contestants' Row, pick up additional booty playing various pricing games, and spin the Big Money Wheel; and two of them will eventually make it to the Showcase Showdown.

Almost all game shows rely heavily upon prizes as part of their structure. These prizes (or rewards) are a type of positive reinforcement, which is defined as receiving something desirable after performing a desired behavior. This behavior management technique has a long and effective history in public schools. Classic examples include putting a sticker on a perfect test, or verbally praising a student for raising her hand. The effective utilization of positive reinforcement in the classroom increases the probability that a child will repeat the desired behavior in the near future.

What makes The Price is Right an especially ripe source of inspiration is the frequency of opportunities for reinforcement. Contestants (and viewers) know that there are numerous chances to win something. If a player doesn't get the furniture, it's not a big deal, because they will probably have a chance to win a moped a few minutes later.

Teachers should also operate on a generous schedule of reinforcement. In other words, students should have numerous opportunities over the course of a school day to be praised, recognized, and rewarded for doing the right thing. When teaching a new skill, it is recommended to reinforce frequently. This is especially important when working with kids who have a low tolerance for frustration, such as the very young or those with a disability.

Provide Choices

Deal or No Deal is a game show that's all about making choices. The contestant selects one of 26 briefcases with an unknown amount of money inside. He is then required to make a series of choices, deciding whether to hold on to his original briefcase, or to trade it in for a particular cash amount proposed by the show's banker. The contestant is never really sure what the future holds, and therein lies the allure of the game. His level of success or failure is directly connected to the choices made during the course of the show.

Similarly, the successful classroom manager understands the power of student choice. Choice holds the potential to positively influence motivation, achievement, and behavior. Teachers who provide choices in academic and behavioral decisions demonstrate the idea that students' interests and preferences have great value. They are much more likely to be committed to rules that they helped to create. They are therefore significantly more invested in a particular outcome.

Establish Routines

Host Pat Sajak and puzzle mistress Vanna White have been celebrity icons on the game show Wheel of Fortune since the early '80s. For over 30 years, they have stood alongside thousands of contestants who played the world's most glamorous version of hangman. Even if you haven't seen this show in many years, you may be surprised to learn how little has changed. Contestants are still spinning that enormously clunky wheel, buying vowels, and going bankrupt courtesy of that descending slide-whistle sound effect. Well-established routines built into the show make it extremely easy for viewers to follow along and know what to expect.

Routines are also extremely important for the classroom teacher. Common examples include passing out papers, establishing how to ask for help, obtaining school supplies, and gaining student attention. Familiarity and consistent rehearsal of such procedures have several advantages. Routines maximize instructional time, restore order to the classroom, and enable students (especially those with disabilities) to feel more comfortable and secure because of predictable expectations.

A Final Word From Our Sponsors

Classroom management is not an easy task, and it's certainly not all fun and games compared to a television quiz show. However, it is very important. It allows you to teach and allows students to learn, both with maximum efficiency. By reviewing and implementing the strategies discussed in this post, teachers have the potential to be the grand champions in their own classrooms.

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Rich Mehrenberg's picture
Rich Mehrenberg
Assistant Professor, Special Education

Does anyone have any experience with gamification of classroom management? Share your thoughts and questions.

Patryk Wernicki's picture

Do you think that a teacher can gamify everything? Is it possible to make every single activity or part of a lesson a game? I would like experienced teachers to share their thoughts.

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