Confessions of a Former Rewards Addict

When I moved this blog to WordPress some posts did not survive, so in an effort to move some of my favorite posts with me, I will be republishing them here.  This one was from 2010, as I first started my in my no rewards classroom.

I admit it.  Gold stars, super duper stickers, sticks, names on the board; I have done it all.  And when one reward system failed, another one took over.  Never one to sit and reflect that perhaps it was the system that was faulty and not just that the students grew tired of it.  After all, that carrot at the end of the stck was essential to my teaching success.  Those stickers meant I cared.  That Awesome board where A+ work was proudly displayed gave students something to strive for.  That certificate if you got an A on your math test meant that you were smart and that other students should look up to you.  Right?  Wrong again.

Oh, I thought I was clever.  I thought I knew how to motivate students and after all, what could a little reward do that would possibly hurt the child?  Well, after reading Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards,” I realize just how wrong I have been.  Those papers on the awesome board did nothing to improve unity in my room.  Instead they acted as the great divide, highlighting the students that could from those that could not.  Those stickers I doled out for anything above 90%; not a cheerful way to celebrate achievement, but rather a glaring marker showing which students did the best in the room.  Those great “You did it” award certificates stapled to their math tests, not great posters of pride but instantaneous feedback on where a students falls within the grade hierarchy.  And yes, the students knew exactly where they fell within the classroom.

So this year I am throwing it all out.  Well, most of it anyway, I do like those stickers and will use them for good rather than evil.  And I am petrified.  After all, this is how I was taught to teach.  If a student does something good they should be rewarded and nothing says “Great job! I can tell you worked so hard” better than a smiley face sticker.  Except when it doesn’t.   A smiley face sticker says; “If you work hard, you will get a smiley face sticker.”  And when in life does that ever happen?  This year, I plan on talking to my students even more.  Telling them what was great, asking them what they thought was great and then peeling apart things that didn’t quite get there and figure out what went wrong.  We shall learn from our supposed mistakes, those will be our rewards.

So while I am excited for this new no-reward agenda, I do shudder a little bit at the implication it has.  No longer will I be the cool teacher with the Awesome board, the one you get to have pizza with if your stick doesn’t get moved, the one that doles out classroom parties as if they were clean socks.  Instead, I will be the one that shouts the praise the loudest to every kid.  The one that talks to all my students and highlights all the things they did right.  The one that creates more work for herself because talking rather than just placing a sticker takes more time, more effort, more thought.  And I can’t wait.  Will you join me?

H/T to this post from George Couros “The Impact of Awards

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

8 thoughts on “Confessions of a Former Rewards Addict

  1. Absolutely. I have never put a sticker on a paper. And only display pictures students draw for me or poems someone wrote for fun. My habit has been to put hearts around my favorite parts of writing assignments–vocab words used in context, a great metaphor or simile, a phrase that made me laugh or gave me goose bumps. There’s a favorite part to every paper. The most in depth comprehension responses get smiles; but it’s each student’s most in-depth response.

  2. I’m with you. I am giving up the colored behavior chart (and can’t wait!), working on community, and focusing on celebrating and encouraging all. I appreciate reading posts like this because it give me reinforcement to stick to the path that I know will work for me. Thanks!

  3. I have already been thinking about giving up my clip chart when I found your blog. My main hurdle is what do I tell the parents about my discipline system, and how do I communicate with them regarding their child’s behavior? I teach 2nd grade, and parents still expect a daily quick note or log describing behavior.

    • I think then it becomes our job to gently ease them out of the habit of a daily note and that means not starting it from the first day of school. Instead, explain to parents what your classroom management philosophy is and then reach out when needed for good or bad. As a parent, I would not expect daily updates unless the teacher explicitly told me to expect it, does that make sense?I also found that maintaining our classroom website with all things going on greatly helped parents stay in the loop. I hope this helps, otherwise, let’s look for other ideas as well.

      • In 5th, I found a very thorough Friday letter (The Weekly Word) in narrative style, 1-3 pages long, told parents all they needed to know. I always included “Ask your favorite 5th grader about….” I’m hoping that works for first. I’m sure not starting a daily thing–that’s just not necessary unless there’s an extreme situation. Just my thoughts.

  4. Pingback: Resources for Ditching the Behavior System | mattBgomez

  5. Pernille I use Class Dojo – I’d love to know what you think. I use it with 13-14 year olds and they seem to be really enjoying both the specific praise, and the competitive aspects.

  6. I noticed you really don’t detail exactly what you do in your classrooms. If you could get a little more specific about what you do, it would be much more helpful.

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