In my first year teaching, I remember having one of the BEST ideas (in my head).
What I was going to do with the kids was really encourage them to be “good” in the classroom, and I was going to reward them by having a “sticker chart” in the classroom. Everyday that they went through my class without incident or behavioural issues, they would get a sticker, but if they did something bad, the sticker would be replaced with an “x”. If they lost three stickers at the end of the month, they would miss out on the class party where we would bring junk food in and watch movies.
As I write this, I can’t believe I used to do that.
This came up during the week at ISTE where we were talking about a behavioural management app that basically is the “sticker chart” on your phone. It allows you to do things like anecdotal records, but there are many elements that are essentially the same.
Here are a few things that I remember from this practice.
Some of my students (grade 4) would have a tough time making it through the month and at some point, that third sticker was gone and they were crushed. It led to more tears than improved behaviour. In the way that I used to try and “manage” my students, if they lost those three stickers in that first week, I was going to have a really long month with that student. Why be good? The reward was no longer attainable. It kind of reminds me of when sports teams know they won’t make the playoffs, so they just kind of pack it in for the season.
Even when a student was acting up, all I had to do was point to the chart (why talk to them when I can solve the problem by pointing to a chart!). I would remember making side deals with students to do anything for them to NOT lose that third sticker, so if they only were a bit of a problem, that sticker would stay. The problem was, the students that were acting up (but only a bit), were now held to a different standard than other kids. If the kids that were always good had one slip up, they could lose that sticker and they would be devastated. They would still make the party, but it was the black mark on the record. I remember students crying profusely from this happening once. Looking back, I am ashamed that was the way I dealt with students.
I really believe that we don’t turn a blind eye when we have incidents in the classroom, but there are much better ways of working with students to understand there are consequences for their actions than making it a totally external reward/punishment that is visible to others. Obviously we all grow as educators and I would NEVER do anything like this again. Talking with students and trying to understand what is going on in their lives, building relationships with them, helping them to solve their own issues as opposed to using the “carrot and stick” to correct behaviour, are much better ways in working with students as opposed to trying to control their behaviour with some external reward. I may have been able to have an easier time that year because of the “sticker chart”, but I wonder long term, what they did to those students.
With the new technologies that promise to “award” students for improved behaviour, it is pretty easy to see that they are the new “sticker chart” but have some of the same consequences. If I am using an external award system to manage the behaviour of the students, am I serving myself or the students? I think there are much better ways to work with our students to help them be good people.