Thursday, 3 July 2014

What would you do for a sticker? Some thoughts on behaviour management and motivation.

Do you love stickers? I do, I have a huge collection of them! But they are problematic for me.

Over the years of working in schools I have heard some concerning statements from students, and staff talking about their classes. Things like when I have thanked a five year old for sitting on the mat when asked and her response is "do I get a sticker?" or secondary students who before undertaking a task or participating in a lesson ask "do we credits for this?"

The problem for me is that in both of these examples (and many like them) the students are looking for external motivation to participate in the learning opportunity or do what they know is the right thing. So what happens if there is no sticker or credit or shiny reward to be given? Do they give it less of an effort or switch off completely or decide to ignore instructions from now on? And if so, is giving the stickers and rewards really working out the way we would like them to?

I see that the use of external rewards is a strategy to help students manage their behaviour in order to get more from the learning opportunity. But I also see that it can become a bit of a game at times, a power play in the classroom. If we are working with students with difficult behaviours we may use external rewards to help them identify when they are demonstrating appropriate behaviour, and as a short term strategy this might work but I feel that long term reliance on external motivators is a risk.

The risk I feel is that if we keep strengthening the pathways for external reward/motivation and ignoring the need to enhance internal motivation we may be affecting the individual's sense of self efficacy, their sense of can-do-ness, and this may impact on their levels of resiliency. How will they cope when there are no stickers or when they think they have done enough for a sticker but it goes unrewarded? If I feel incapable without external validation then how will I cope when other things go wrong, when I have a bad hair day, when I fail an exam, when I don't get that job I apply for?

So should we be changing our approach to behaviour modification in the classroom?
Or should we expect our children to work it out?
Or should we look at our whole approach to teaching?
Or do we continue with our current system and keep on buying stickers?

John Shackleton in a presentation to school leaders talked about changing behaviour (he was talking about staff) and suggested in order to meet goals we need to have consequences both for if we meet the goal and if we don't meet it. I figure that there are some aspects from goal setting theory here that could work for our students...
  1. Find out for individuals what switches them on and what switches them off... what they love and what they don't like. If there is an opportunity to get more of what they love then that is likely to be motivating and they are in charge of whether they get more of it because they choose the behaviour (largely!) As Nigel Latta says "how can we make it their problem and not ours?"
  2. How clear are we about expectations and who owns these expectations? Is it us imposing something or can we find a way to share the ownership?
  3. Is there a way that we can use consequences that are individualised rather than one size fits all? For those children who need support to manage their behaviour then we set up an approach that works for them, for others who don't by all means keep recognising it and praising as need be, after all they are being super role models for their fellow students, but again make sure it is appropriate.
  4. How are we constructing our lessons, our daily routines and planning to best reflect the needs and motivations of the individuals that make up our classes? Does our school timetable allow for any flexibility? If it does, how can we best use it?

See, I think that behaviour modification is just one part of all of this. I wonder if some of what we see with behaviour relates to the needs of our digital natives and that if they go unmet then they will react. There are certainly a whole lot of factors that influence behaviour like diet, sleep, emotional wellbeing, illness, homelife, personal history etc. I don't mean to sound flippant, it can be extremely complex, so please consider this as a suggestion of one factor that we may be able to address when there are so many we are up against.

Clearly I am talking about more than just stickers, and I am not suggesting that we do not offer praise or reward or recognition when earned or needed. Timely, appropriate feedback is really useful for learners (old and young). What I am suggesting is it could be useful to review our behaviour management systems to ensure that what we are hoping to achieve is reflected in what we are seeing in our classrooms and that we are thinking about the big picture, rather than just the short term fix.

Below is a video of a summary of John Shackleton's presentation- there are a lot of really great gems in here for everyone and that's well worth the seven minutes viewing I reckon.

For more of John's videos check out his YouTube Channel here

No comments:

Post a Comment