Someone was telling me about how inconsistent reinforcement might be the best way to get someone to do something (he was complaining about an ex, but I thought it might be relevant here).
I'm glad you brought this up, too, jennarenn. As I was looking over what I'd written yesterday, I found that I should clarify that Cheerios alone aren't the reason I quit wanting to be a SpEd teacher. The "societal expectations" probably had a lot more to do with some specific folks I was working with, and things might have changed since then (I'm less snarky now, for one thing).
Well said. The gold star system can be overused. I tend to use reading, writing, and learning games as my rewards of choice. That being said, it is important to note that the adult world also runs on extrinsic motivation to some extent. As much as I enjoy teaching, I write report cards, go to meetings, and participate in "compulsory volunteer opportunities" for my paycheck.
Hi jennarenn! This topic is dear to my heart. Thanks for bringing it up!
As I'm sure you know, rewards and punishments constitute "extrinsic motivation". My two cents about extrinsic motivation is that people tend to appreciate its (very real) benefits without appreciating its (very real) dangers.
Extrinsic motivation is an excellent method for getting people to do things that you want them to do. For example, if you want a child to read books, give them a gold star for every book they read. It will work -- the kids will read more books to get more stars.
But extrinsic motivation kills the natural intrinsic motivation, so if the extrinsic motivation ceases, you're left with no motivation at all. For example, if your kids have been reading books in order to get gold stars, then they'll forget about the intrinsic appeal of books, and then once summer vacation (or graduation) rolls around, they'll stop reading.
Now, I don't think we should stop using extrinsic motivators altogether, but I do think we should use them sparingly, especially with young kids. Instead, we ought to be finding and supporting the intrinsic motivations that the kids already have.
Every ten years or so, education seems to think that we need to teach kids THIS interpersonal skill in isolation. RESPECT! SELF-ESTEEM! etc. Well, what we don't think of is what that entire generation will look like 30 years later. The self-esteem generation has plenty of self-esteem, but that's created new problems. Like people feeling entitled to lots of stuff they can't afford. I look around my classroom and worry that I'm raising a new generation of dysfunction. We just won't be able to pinpoint how for another 20 years.
Dontcry, I hear what you're saying about controlling the environment vs. controlling the people in the environment. I like safety, I like pleasant discourse, and, yes, I'll admit I like group shame as a form of policing.
I think I would've made a bad SpEd teacher because I would have been questioning stuff outside the realm of what the kids needed to get along in society--why can't we reward him for recycling the paper instead of throwing it in the garbage, etc.
I think there is, should be, a difference between controlling the environment in a classroom (or office or subway car, etc.) and controlling the people in those venues. I think nearly everyone appreciates a safe, pleasant atmosphere but almost no one appreciates being controlled... I like the sort of old-fashioned idea of reward and punishment being a group activity (when the group is homogenous, such as a class at school) - in that the group is only as good or bad as the best or worst of them. This encourages a group to police itself and the leader can take on the role of moderator.
When I went to college, I was certain that I wanted to be a special ed. teacher. This typically caused folks to say, "Oh, you must have a lot of patience to deal with people like that." I would try to explain that the need for patience came from having to shamelessly promote all of the societal expectations that are fundamental to most mainstreaming efforts, etc. I remember working with a kid who hated to throw away any piece of paper--gum wrappers, etc.--so we'd give him Cheerios whenever he'd throw paper into the garbage can. Pavlovian and to the point. Then, when I'd go talk with my professors, I'd see the papers and books strewn about their desks... and instead of actively listening to my professors' advice, I'd find myself wondering whether anyone had tried using Cheerios on them. I ended up switching my major.
"Gradually, though, I began to wonder whether even this was the last word. Rewards and punishments are instruments for controlling people, and the real problem, I began to suspect, was the belief that the teacher should be in control of the classroom. If all these discipline programs disappeared tomorrow, a new one would pop up like the next Kleenex in the box if teachers were determined (or pressured) to remain in control and needed methods for making sure that happened." - What to Look for in a Classroom, by Alfie Kohn