May 19, 2015: I is for incentives.
Incentives at school are now part of a required behavior “curriculum” – the acronym is PBIS, which I believe stands for Positive Behavior Intervention System. At the beginning of the year, students are explicitly taught expected behaviors for different areas of the school – in the hallway, in the classroom, in the bathroom, on the bus, in the cafeteria, etc. These expected behaviors are posted in each of these areas and generally there are two reinforcement rotations or “reteaching” sessions, when students are once again taken with their classmates to each area to discuss these rules.
Within PBIS, schools can implement any type of behavior plan they want, as long as it can produce measureable goals and results. Students are taught that whatever they do is a choice, because they have learned the rules or expected behaviors for that time and place. While the emphasis is on positive motivators, negative consequences come out of it too. Some teachers are very good at managing behavior in their classrooms through a firm but fair application of the system they put in place; others (like me) are either not firm enough or not consistent enough; some are simply unjustifiably strict.
Here are some examples of positive incentives:
• Individual sticker charts (this works well for small groups) – when the chart is filled up, the students gets a prize.
• Stickers or little prizes such as a cute eraser or a bright colored pencil. These are great especially for kids who need just a little extra motivation.
• Fake money or tickets which can be redeemed periodically at a classroom “store” .
• Group points: students’ desks are normally arranged in groups, and each group has a name or color. Points are given to groups when all of the kids in that group have worked well independently, or done something exemplary.
• Schoolwide cards or slips of paper that use a theme: in my current school, the mascot is an eagle, so these slips of paper are called “Eagle Wings”. Students get them for various things, at the staff member’s discretion. At one school, each staff member had their picture on a card, and the kids tried to collect them all. These can either be accumulated for some sort of reward – either a prize or their picture taken as part of a “rock group”, say, or entered into a raffle with winners every week.
• Classroom behavior or clip charts – it’s good when this same incentive is used by all classrooms in the school, as it is at ours. Each student has a clothespin with her name on it and these are all placed on “green” at the beginning of each school day. The “clips” can be moved up or down. Up for good behavior or great participation: first to blue, then purple, then pink. Down for inappropriate behavior or bad choices: yellow, then orange, then red. When on red, a student’s parents are called or he might be written up to see the principal. The kids carry their charts around to their other classes – gym, art, music – that they go to as a whole class. The first graders even bring them to lunch!
• Eat with the teacher.
• Classroom “party” – this could be ordering pizza for the whole class, or bringing popcorn, popsicles or ice cream bars, and if the weather’s nice, going outside to eat them!
• Whole school rewards – everyone participates in a special activity when a particular goal is achieved, such as low numbers of detentions or office referrals.
• End of the year rewards – often these are given out for physical education feats, attendance, etc. There’s usually a rewards assembly at the end of the year.
• Students having input in making up the rules for the classroom – if they have a personal stake in the rules, they will more likely follow them.
All of these are examples of “extrinsic rewards/motivation”, that is, working or behaving correctly to earn something special.
But when you think about it, don’t we all work for extrinsic rewards, or incentives? Companies might institute certain incentives to achieve a particular target or goal that all employees work toward.
Even getting paid for one’s job is a type of extrinsic reward, as well as something we have a right to. How many people would honestly go to work every day if they weren’t rewarded with a
paycheck? However, when one’s pay is low compared to the work they do, the employee may find more reward in helping others on their job or getting recognition or even cooperative and friendly co-workers.
I currently work as a program assistant (PA) – assistants are notoriously underpaid. One knows this when accepting a job like this, because there are other rewards: free time outside of school hours (unlike teachers, who must take work home), being treated with respect at work, or the chance to work one-on-one with students. Seeing the progress these students make is a great reward. However, it is very easy to lose one’s motivation if the PA gets a negative score on their evaluation, or isn’t treated with respect. No wonder these jobs have high turnover!
I think volunteers are more likely motivated by intrinsic rewards. Their reward is to see something accomplished, to see someone they’ve helped to succeed, to gain recognition for their own effort or for their organization, or to further a social or political cause.
Kids are no different than adults in this way. Some need more incentives than others; some will work hard because they want to learn or to feel pride in a job well done; and some just need a little recognition: a high five or a complimentary “good job”!