Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Caught Being Good

If you're a Harry Potter fan, you've probably noticed that classroom management at Hogwarts isn't much of an issue. Sure, they get to fly around and do magic all day. And parent involvement seems quite strong. But what else do they have that keeps the young'uns in line and focused on getting to a four-year wizard college? An entirely hassle-free incentive system. I'm talking, of course, of the Hogwarts' House Cup, and the constant cries of "10 points for Gryffindor" and the like.

At DCP, we've only formally developed negative consequence systems (detentions, referrals, contracts, etc.). These work to an extent, but not for all students, and not in all cases. For a while now, I've wanted to get a positive system put into place as well. I thought that this would help increase student buy-in, especially for the freshmen making the transition to DCP and becoming a college-prep student. So, combine this need with our students' love of getting points, use Hogwarts as a model, and presto-hey you've got the "Chalice of Pride"!

I got some other teachers together, and we made a plan for this at the beginning of the year, but we haven't been able to get it off the ground until now (time, time, time...). We originally had a more complicated setup, but the lack of magic wands put a damper on our plans - the system had to be totally easy for the teachers, or it wouldn't fly. So here's how it works: each freshman tutorial class (there are 5) is competing for the Chalice of Pride. Students can earn a Ganas Point (i.e. a "caught being good" ticket) for any behaviors that really demonstrate one of the school values. This is simply handed to the student by the staff member. The student then must put the slip into the clear plastic locking drop-box that is assigned to his or her tutorial (these are attached to the wall in a central location). At the end of each month, we tally up the slips in each box, and the winner gets to display the "Crest of Community" and claim bragging rights. At the end of the year, the tutorial with the most total points earns the "Chalice of Pride" and a field trip (like a day at the beach, or whatever floats their collective boat). We're in day 3 of the system, and I'm starting to see slips in the boxes already. I'm looking at this as a kind of experiment in positive incentive systems - clearly, it can be done more effectively - but we have to start somewhere.

Continuing on with the positivity trend, we've also updated our homework checker system for the new semester. For the past few years, students have had to carry a homework checker with them to each class; it got marked each time they didn't have their homework, and then the checker would be looked at by the tutorial teacher and the parents. Of course, this would cause students to "forget" their checker on days when they did not have their homework. Therefore, we gave detentions to students for not bringing their checkers (to force them to produce them), and this really never led anywhere good. So, we made a simple switch to stamping their checkers when they do have their homework, with some simple rewards attached to getting a certain number of stamps over the 6 weeks. The rewards and reward-levels were created by the student council: 85% = prizes like stickers, candy, etc.; 90% = a free homework pass; 95% = free dress day and double lunch. We also started this on Monday, and so far, it seems to be working well. Students really want the rewards, and they are making sure to get their stamps. Even if they miss a homework, they will still be more likely to produce the checker the following class period so they can get the next stamp (in the past, they knew we would just mark all missing homeworks when they finally brought out the checker, so some students never would).

Who knew how effective stamping and stickering could be in high school?


jd2718 said...

Stamping and stickering are wildly effective, at least through senior year.

Last term I once forgot stickers (not in my room) and had a test to turn back. I polled the class for what to do. They wanted the tests back, but the margin was just 3:2, and this was a senior class.

My service aides who help out in class? I give them a sheet of stickers to give younger kids (especially those that are receiving help. I want to reinforce that asking for help is a good thing). But I didn't want them indiscriminately stickering every freshman piece of work they saw. So I told them they could keep the leftovers. These seniors are now so 'careful' to give, but not overgive...


Liz Ditz said...

Over at Kitchen Table Math, CJ has been talking (a lot) about positive reinforcement.

It is hard to change one's own behavior from passively accepting good behavior to actively noticing it, and (in whatever way) rewarding it.

You get more of what you notice

Making effective complaints about a student's behavior: There's the Open the Front Door In approach.

So good work, Dan, in instituting a program to notice and reward kids meeting the standards!

Dan Greene said...

Thanks for the support, Liz. You're right about the difficulty of actively noticing good behavior. I've actually been giving out fewer positive points than I think I should be... But it really is a good feeling to be looking for the positive behaviors that kids show, instead of just defending against the negative behaviors.