Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Prize Box Solves Everything

Every day I have students who come to class carrying clipboards, tickets, popsicle sticks in a cup, charts and other means of tracking and or modifying their behavior. It's not uncommon to have three or four students in a class who have some sort of a behavior plan. Yesterday afternoon one class had two students with popsicle sticks in a cup, one loses a stick every time he blurts out, another loses a stick anytime they are not paying attention, two other students have charts where they are scored on various behaviors either positive or negative. At the end of the day, remaining sticks are counted or score sheets tallied and if the score is within a certain range the student gets a reward. All of this makes me wonder if the estate of B.F. Skinner collects royalties on the use of his basic theories, or does Pavlov get a cut as well?
We talk a lot about 21st century learners and curriculum designed for the digital learner and yet there is much in schools that looks the same as it did in the early 20th century. Behavior modification practices are especially noticeable. Should we consider how much more work we expect students to do, or how much more time is given to testing and test prep? Should we consider student's lives outside of school, the increase of planned activities such as sports, drama, dance, etc.? Perhaps it's worth considering the increased time spent on laptops, video games, cell phones or watches. Is it possible that with all these changes to student's lives, that the same old ideas about how to alter behavior, especially when there are legitimate questions as to whether those ideas work in the long run.
Is it possible that we, in schools today, are in such a headlong rush to do more faster, test more, finish more and so on that we grasp at what appears to be the easiest answer for a child who can't or won't sit still, finish math, stop screaming, play nice or have a positive attitude?
When I observe teachers and administrators still waiting for students to line up quietly before going outside for a brief recess repeating the same "We'll wait here until you're all quiet, you're wasting your recess" lines in May, after having spent the entire school year on the same routine, I have to ask if the methods we're using to alter behavior work. Of course it's also fair to ask if these expected behaviors really line up with our overall goals for students.

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