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Oct 20

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Am I a Hypocrite?

Some rights reserved by Will Lion

Some rights reserved by Will Lion

Sometimes I feel like hypocrite when I denounce extrinsic rewards. I’ve been vocal at my school about my discomfort rewarding students for things they should be doing. Things that many of them do anyways. We even abolished our monthly awards ceremonies and student of the month award ceremonies last year. But now we have become a PBIS school. Both our new principal and new counselor are leading us in rewarding students for doing the right things. We have adopted the Peace4Kids curriculum to teach kids all sorts of wonderful traits. We are teaching them about traits such as responsibility, perseverance, and cooperation and we are supposed to encourage such traits by giving students a slip of paper with the corresponding trait they are showing. There will be regular drawings of those who turn in their trait slips so they can win cool prizes such as a pizza party.

Some of the staff in my school feel that this is good and will help students learn and/or practice the traits we are teaching them. They also feel that rewarding kids will acknowledge them for having the Peace4Kids traits. I don’t know though. Reading any of Alfie Kohn’s works makes me wonder if rewarding good behavior is the right way to go. Dan Pink shows that if we offer incentives for basic, simple tasks then rewards work as they should. You get more of what you are rewarding. Are behaviors simple or complex?

Personally, rewarding kids for doing the right thing makes me very uncomfortable. It is because of that discomfort that I don’t hand out those slips of reward paper. I want to keep from embarrassing kids therefore making them think twice before doing the right thing again or making kids want or look for rewards the next time they are thinking of doing the right thing or having kids wonder why I don’t notice when they do the right thing and then feel, “why bother?” All these things happen when we reward kids. Here’s a conversation – see comments, too – at John Spencer’s blog of what to do when you don’t give rewards but your school does. It’s worth reading if you’re in the same boat or even if you’re not.

But now that I’ve been using gamification as a strategy to engage kids in their learning of Science I seem to be rewarding them for doing their work and completing assignments. I use a gamification LMS called 3D GameLab to keep track of experience points and badges that my students are earning. Before using 3D GameLab I had gone completely gradeless in an effort to remove all extrinsic rewards from my classroom and my students’ learning. It didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Our kids are too well trained. In 24 years of teaching I have found for certain that nothing I do will fit all my students all of the time so I now work towards helping and benefiting as many of my students as I can for as much of the school year as I can.

When my students get experience points it’s for completing an assignment successfully. If they do not complete it successfully they get the assignment back with written feedback from me as to what they can do to resubmit it so that it will be approved. So they get points for work they actually get done. The badges are tied to groups of assignments so I feel that those are also earned. Experience points and badges serve as evidence of work done and lessons learned. Is that any different from handing out slips of paper for seeing students show responsibility? Am I a hypocrite for denouncing the giving extrinsic rewards when I give out experience points and badges to my own students?

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