Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Day in the Classroom

This past week, theory met practice:  I taught for a day in a friend’s classroom.  As is often the case for a substitute, not knowing the regular classroom teacher’s routines, chaos occasionally ensues when the sub, me, does something which “violates” normal classroom practice.  

Today, I ran across an article which I downloaded so long ago that I had no idea I even had it.  How I wish I had read it last week instead of today.  It described “The Teacher/Student Game.”

In short, the piece pointed out that positive reinforcement is far more effective than punishment.  Reinforced behaviors become habit.  Punished behaviors tend to be avoided mostly when the “punisher” is present, but are practiced with relative impunity when the fear of discovery is minimal.

The game is played by the teacher setting out the expectations/behaviors that he/she is looking for.  For example, for Math class, the teacher may want students to (1) keep their eyes forward during instruction, (2) attempt to solve every practice problem, (3) raise their hands to volunteer or ask questions, and (4) be helpful to their classmates.  The list should be relatively short, and it’s a good idea for the teacher to keep a copy of the list close as hand as a visual reminder to frequently “catch” students practicing those behaviors.  Students get points on a tally chart it they’re “caught” demonstrating those behaviors, and the teacher gets points if students are “caught” failing to do so.  The authors of the article added that the teacher can make the “game” more fun by being dramatic almost to the point of being silly.

It’s important for the teacher to be vigilant in catching the requested behaviors and name the behavior being rewarded.  Every time students earn a point, they are reinforced for that behavior.  The authors assert that the teacher need not be shy about awarding teacher points for students who forget, though, in general, student points should exceed teacher points.  I would guess that the first few times the game is played, the list of expected behaviors should be very short, maybe only one or two.  In the classroom I taught in this week, I’d start with raising hands and waiting to be called on before talking.

What are points worth?  If it was my class, I’d total up the net (great way to teach net/gross concept) points daily and when students hit a magic number, they’d earn a class reward like extra recess, an art/craft activity, or something of their choosing as a goal.  To make the points relevant, I’d suggest that the point goal be achievable in no more than a week at first so that the points are meaningfully rewarding.  The point goal could likely be increased a bit when students have bought in to the premise of the game.

I’m quite confident that, had I played The Teacher/Student Game last week, confusion could have been reduced and helpful behaviors prevailed.

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