Prizes Demotivate? Since When?

Well, since FOREVER. Really.

I am not fibbing here. I am not exaggerating either. I know I can get a bit overzealous and rabid about the whole behaviorism topic. It’s only because it is something I am very sure about.

You all know by now that I cannot tolerate poor methodology and practices that either do nothing or cause harm. It is more than time to take a critical look at what we have been doing and objectively, systematically decide if it is really effecting change or causing more stress (or worse yet… making things worse). Is what we are doing hurting or helping relationship building? Instilling a sense of well-being or increasing insecurities? Is it allowing for learners to take risks and dare to explore or is it shutting the learners down?

And this does not mean we just turn the behaviorism dial to a more positive approach. PBIS. Mark my words, there will come a day when the research shows no behaviors were really improved, that whatever data has beeimages-1n collected is flawed. Because all data can be tampered with, skewed or inappropriately collected and interpretted. Schools spend lots of money on PBIS and the last thing they want is for the data to show ineffectiveness. You know the game.

I spend lots of time reading and rereading a great ponderer and questioner of all we have considered holy in education.

From Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards

“rewards do not require any attention to the reasons the trouble developed in the first place.”

Can I get an AMEN?

Not staying in your seat? No points for you! Smart ass comments? No points or recess for you! Assignment not started, completed or done right? No points, no recess, and add to that lunch in isolation for you!

Unknown-1Or we could do this the PBIS way. We model, teach and practice how to sit in a chair, walk down the hallway, use the bathroom. We reward in excess all the kiddos doing this stuff ‘the right way’. Those not catching on get retaught and have to practice again and again. Finally, that handful of resistant buggers get IEPs.

The behaviorism theory (based on experiments done with animals) assumes our students will do all they can to avoid loss of points, recess or having to eat lunch in isolation. This assumes that humans are enough like animals to jump to this conclusion. Well, I think that is way too big of a leap and ignores all the parts of us that make us human, different from the animals this theory was tested on.

The discomfort ensures undesirable behaviors diminish. Right?

Well, folks….it just ain’t so. But why not? Surely if you are more persistent and more stubborn than the acting out student the behavioimages-9rs will be corrected. You can outlast this kid.

Well, no, you most likely cannot. But if you do, good for you. You have successfully bullied a kid into submission. Proud?
So now we have a power struggle. Yep, the perfect storm for an ODD kid to get behind the wheel and take you for the ride of your life. And he will win. HE. WILL. WIN. He would rather sit in isolation from morning bell to dismissal bell than be manipulated by you and your point system.

So, let’s see what is lost here. A lot. And I am not even talking about the beating your ego is going to take if you persist. Losses on both sides are big and sometimes permanent. Relationship building stops, much needed and highly valuable peer interaction opportunities cease, and often times learning stops dead in its tracks.

Oh yeah, this is good. Let’s keep it up. Surely this kid will break soon.
Unknown-3Nope. You will break before him. You will get sick of isolating yourself in that room with that kid. Your anger will grow, you won’t be able to take a punk kid refusing to do everything you ask of him. You will start to find even more ways to make this kid feel uncomfortable. You will just hit harder with your big old hammer. How can a kid sit all day and do nothing? Really? Isn’t he going crazy yet?

Our students are great at disassociating. They are hyper-sensitive to others trying to control and manipulate them because they are all about survival and self preservation. They need control somewhere in their worldimages-7s as they have suffered any number of degrading, humiliating, hurtful things already. There is NOTHING you can do that is worse than what they have already endured. The most important thing for them is to have some control over their destinies. In their minds, this is life or death. Fight or flight.

And do you actually feel better? Do you come to work feeling empowered?

No, you come to work angry, armed with a bigger threat and ready to take away more of what your student needs so he will give you what you need.

images-5Sadly, that is what happened to two of my former students after I left the program I had established in an elementary school. My replacement rebuilt the program around tokens, points, and levels (behaviorism). The students went into shock. They regressed and started to do the maladaptive things we had extinguished. My replacement removed Aunt Sally from the room. The very thing the kids relied on to self-regulate. These students stopped learning, they found no joy in school, they further internalized their identity as being trouble makers/losers/bad seeds. They became runners, were suspended in excess of 20 days each. They became marginalized, disengaged, disconnected. Their behaviors cost the district money when another paraprofessional was hired to babysit. They were assigned shortened days (oh yeah, that’s a great solution!). And all of this helped them feel more empowered by the control they had over others.

The next year and all years after they were placed in even more intensive/restrictive programs……that use tokens, points and levels.

And to date, they are both adjudicated, angry and about to become legal adults.

What a loss.



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