Friday, September 18, 2015

Threats and Bribes

This summer I'm reading and commenting on the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica.

Chapter 27: Bribes and Threats Work, But...

Have you ever been in a position of doing something that just doesn't seem quite right but you're not sure what else to do? Or it's the norm in the surrounding environment and you are expected to do the same? That's been my experience with some classroom management strategies. I've used a behavior chart; it didn't really work. My school has used "behavior bucks" (not their real name but close) that kids could use to "buy" prizes; the same kids always got the bucks and behavior didn't really change overall. Why do teachers, administrators, and schools use these methods? Quick fixes and purchased compliance.

In this chapter, Rae stresses that, even though teachers/schools use these types of "tools," they are mainly ineffective and have been shown over and over to be ineffective. "Neither...are effective in the long-term for either behavior management or building character and fostering intrinsic motivation," she writes. Rae notes that these types of tools don't work for adults in the workplace either except for simple tasks over a short time frame.

Which is more important, Josh Stumpenhorst asks in the chapter, to have compliant students or engaged learners? I want engaged learners, students who are interested and involved in the classroom. How? Give kids meaningful and worthwhile tasks, provide choice, and create enjoyment in what you are doing.

As I thought about this chapter, I remembered the book Lost at School by Ross W. Greene. In that book, he writes that all students know what is the right thing to do and want to do the right thing. Kids that have challenging behavior either have a unsolved problem, a lagging skill, or both. Our jobs as teachers is to help kids solve their problems and develop their skills. These bribe/threat tools reward kids that would have appropriate behavior in any case and cannot help kids who are challenging. (It's a great book; I recommend it.)

I remember one POOR day in my second grade class (poor for me). My most challenging kid was absent as the day started. The morning had been going pretty well. Then my challenging kid came late. At the restroom break, things were a little difficult. As I spoke to get my challenging kid for the fourth (fifth? seventh?) time about hallway behavior, I said (a little exasperated), "Earlier this morning were better." He said, "I know. It's all my fault that now things are bad." 

I had to stop and pull him aside. I apologized. I told him that it was not his fault and I was sorry that what I said sounded like that. But I think I was trying to manipulate his behavior through my words. My heart stings even now as I think about that moment. I will not be that teacher again.

Links from the book---

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