Rob's Rambling

So There I Was (part 2)

Posted by Rob February 25, 2009, under Nothing Much | 2 Comments

So there I was in the classroom.

Thirty-three expectant faces peered myopically up at me, something other than total boredom crossing their faces. Could it be a hunger to learn? A deep-seated need to find some way of improving themselves?


Simply put, they wanted to know if they were going to have a free period. Since I had at no point hinted (obliquely or not) that they would be enjoying a little RnR during my English period, I asked them why on earth they imagined they'd be getting a free.

"Sir, we've been very good. We've done our work and been quiet during class."
"Sir, because you're a kind teacher." (hah!)
"Sir, we thought maybe if we asked you'd say yes. No pain, no gain."

Now these three responses may seem cute and quite well thought out (in the case of the first anyway) but let me tell you they're not - it's something else to be at the receiving end of a child's immovable logic, not terribly different from being slowly cross-examined by a star lawyer really. One misstep and everything would have been lost, normal thought processes twisted into strange new shapes that indicated a free for my clutch of students.

While I hedged and attempted to fob them off with muttered imprecations, I realised the chances were quite good they'd get the free they were so desperately wanting. They had been good, homework had been in on time and classwork had been exceptional. Settling on the lesser of evils, I told them they'd get one period free.

Oy. What a mess. Ragged cheers, sporadic clapping and general grinning abounded. Heartwarming and annoying at the same time. After they'd quieted down I happily told them they'd have to get through some prepared reading first before we could trundle outside and have some fun in the sun.

Groans, moans and "But sir!"s replaced the earlier celebration. Lovely. How is it that kids in Grade 7 don't yet know that life is all about balance? You can't have everything good and nothing bad, it leads to a skewed perspective. For that matter, where were the angel kids who wanted to stay in class and work - desperate to make sure they were adequately prepared for their lives ahead?

I reached for my last resort - the HappySad.

(Perhaps at this point I should explain. The HappySad is a cardboard cutout of a Happy Face and a Sad Face side-by-side and a scale for each between 1 and 8. End the day with a higher sad than happy and you get homework. End with less and you don't. Simple really.)

As is always the case - the HappySad quieted them right down. Absolute silence. The kids knew what was at stake. HappySad isn't limited to mere homework - the system has the potential to disrupt their wildest dreams for a homework free weekend, class parties and even ensure the lack of free periods for all time.  Their number from yesterday 4:7 (Happy:Sad) I'm sure seemed daunting to them but my little troopers just sat and listened while I explained what was going to happen. Half an hour of prepared reading, as fast as we could go and then out for some glorious sun and air. Not too bad and since I'd already spent 5 minutes explaining that meant only 25 minutes worth of good behaviour. Easy.

As you may have already guessed, we ended up having our free period. The kids loved the outside and with the exception of two who decided they would try their luck signing on to mxit, they all behaved perfectly.

I think for me, this reinforced the idea that I've been forming that Kids (and probably people) respond much better to positive reinforcement and anticipation of reward than they do to threats and punishment. Something to mull over with our own kids perhaps. The knowledge that they're "playing" for something worthwile often keeps us in line with much less resistance than fear of punishment.

Of course, sometimes this doesn't work. When that happens and I reach the end of my tether, I lose my rag. But that - if you're still reading - is for next time.

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Currently have 2 Comments

  1. Little bastards. D'you want my workbook From Behaviourism to Constructivism - mainly about lesson planning? OK, I guess not. You know all about Piaget and Bruner.

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