All schools I have been to have a rewards system in place, the yin, to the sanctions system’s yang. I think it’s about time school rewards were dragged into the 21st Century, and I have a few thoughts…
My current school is doing what most schools do every few years and discussing how we deal with behaviour: good and bad. The focus, as usual, has been mainly on the bad and associated sanctions rather than the good and their rewards. We currently use Capita’s SIMS as our information management system, within this is a behaviour module. Through this we can assign good and bad points to students. We call the good points ‘merits’. At present these count for little, a certificate at the end of the year if the pupils are lucky. Although not valued by many pupils, many will still strive to earn these merits, despite the fact they rarely even see the total they have earned. This has always puzzled me, I guess these merits also represent my approval of pupils, and this in itself is enough for some pupils. But still, I felt I was missing something.
I have been reading ‘Everything Bad is Good for You‘ by Steven Johnson. In the book Steven goes about explaining why much of popular culture, so often derided as increasingly vacuous, is in fact good for us, particularly the complex mental challenges it demands.
When discussing computer games, Steven looks at the seemingly dull, repetitive tasks we often complete within them and wonders why we bother at all. Steven puts the case that games tap into the brain’s natural reward circuitry. The small rewards that usually make up each step of a game, stimulating a dopamine response in the brain.
This got me thinking about the role of games in education, I’ve had great success with the wonderful TutPup last year. Starting a craze with our younger pupils. TutPup was bought out by the team behind Moshi Monsters earlier this year, I believe it will be integrated into the Moshi Monsters world some time soon. If you’ve not seen Moshi, check it out, filled with games and puzzles it encourages you to complete these in return for points which can be spent on customising your monster and it’s house. Mathletics operates on a similar principle, successful completion of the maths games give you points to spend on ‘pimping’ your avatar.
I consulted my faithful Twitter network about rewards systems and during the discussion Greg (twitter.com/futurebehaviour) pointed me towards the ‘Stanford Marshmallow Experiment‘. This fascinating study put 4 year olds in a room with a marshmallow. They were told if they waited until the person conducting the test returned they would receive an extra marshmallow. Those who ate the single marshmallow straight away, demonstrating a lack of impulse control were found to do considerably worse in their SATs 14 years later! Doug (twitter.com/dajbelshaw) asked whether reward systems on the micro level were pointless and counter-productive. We discussed long and short term rewards. I think that a majority of pupils who I teach would probably have taken the first marshmallow. Many of them are impulsive and do not have the natural patience to wait for delayed gratification. I think this is down to many influences, their background and social situation will have a large effect, as will their media and entretainment. The computer games, instant messaging, reality TV and mobile phones that our pupils live with have, I think, made us more used to instant gratification.
If this is the case, then this is something we should take advantage of in schools. Let us make more of the micro level rewards, in conjunction with longer term ones such as reward trips, and of course, the more intrinsic rewards of succeeding and doing well.
I would like to see a reward system linked to online monsters/avatars as described earlier, or even a system like that found on current consoles: PlayStation Trophies or X-Box Live Achievements. Staff would be able to award ‘points’ to pupils for whatever good behaviour the school decides is appropriate. This could be all electronic or via codes/stickers in a system like this one. The pupil could then see these updating on their electronic system. Imagine either your own, in-school ‘reward monster’ or a trophy list like the one above but with games swapped for good deeds.
This would allow pupils to quickly get gratification and feedback from their rewards, and would hopefully foster competition between pupils. The system should also be able to total points by different pupil groups, e.g. Form Class, Year Group, House System etc., this would allow competition on a larger scale.
Longer term rewards could be rewarded for those with the highest points score, biggest improvement, best Form, etc. etc..
Finally on my wishlist would be the ability for pupils to embed their rewards in other websites. The use of ‘widgets’ is increasingly common across the web. If pupils could display their rewards on their personal VLE page, Facebook or their own blog it would only add to the value in the system.
So what do you think? I am sure our school would pay a modest fee for a professionally done system like this. Should we be focussing on such short term rewards? School Stickers, Mind Candy, do you think something like this is easily doable? If there is anything in the pipeline I’d love to be involved.
I think this would work well at Primary School, and at KS3 in Secondary School (11-14) after that pupils tend to have developed more intrinsic motivation and can work for deferred gratification.
A final thought: