I’m always surprised and disappointed when educators I respect support the use of rewards and punishments to control student behaviour.
Whenever I feel like my students are “misbehaving” or not behaving as expected or agreed, it’s usually because I’m “misbehaving” or not behaving as expected or agreed. Sound odd? Perhaps, but think about this for a minute. When something goes wrong, i.e. not according to plan, it’s usually because the kids have responded in unexpected ways to what I’m teaching or presenting to them. Unless I’m prepared to handle these contingencies I can lose focus of the lesson and the children. I find that the best way to deal with these “disruptions” isn’t to control behaviour through carrots and sticks but rather to take a deep breath and think about what may be causing the problem. Often the cause has to do with one or more of the following: how I’ve presented the lesson (it’s confusing, not challenging enough or too difficult, not relevant to what they’re ready or interested in learning), something is buzzing among the children that I’m not aware of, sometimes they just need a shift (same ‘ole, same ‘ole mentality has kicked in), or everyone is tired, including me.
Children respond to us and we, in turn, need to respond to them. Instead of looking inwardly (at ourselves), we look outwardly (to our students) and react by imposing discipline charts, or tokens that must be earned/taken away depending on the behaviour of the students. Yes, the behaviour may improve for a while but so did behaviour improve when children were taught procedures and the lessons were inviting and relevant to them. Behaviour improved when the children were taught, through modeling and identifying noteworthy examples, the value of respecting and treating each other with kindness. Behaviour improved when, as adults, we took the time to examine what was not working and took teaching steps to change it. Using tokens or rewards and punishments only sends children the message that they need to be controlled by someone else rather than teaching them how to regulate their behaviour depending on the circumstances. I tell my students that it’s when I’m not around that doing “the right thing” counts.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? Why? What are your thoughts on rewards and punishments?