"I have always hated the idea of rewarding children with food as if they were laboratory animals, or bribing them with stickers and pencils and material things to get them to behave," Angela Powell told Education World. "Even though I am a young teacher, I have always been very 'old-school' in that regard. I believe students should follow the rules because it's the right thing to do, not because they will get a reward."
Powell also dislikes elaborate reward systems that detract from learning time, preferring to focus her attention on making sure her students are learning. While teaching in the urban school system of Prince George's County, Maryland, she developed what she calls The World's Easiest Token System for behavior management. She continues to refine her system in her present third grade classroom at Sawgrass Elementary in Sunrise, Florida.
"Many behavior management systems require the teacher to either keep track of each child's behavior in order to penalize or reward, which is very time-consuming, or rely on the entire class to behave in order to be rewarded, which punishes the students who routinely make good choices," Powell explained. "There are some students for whom a regular behavior management system (such as flipping cards) would never be effective -- the kind of kids who every day go from green to red before 9:00. The token system I developed doesn't require the same behavioral standards for everyone -- all students have equal opportunities to be rewarded for their own accomplishments."
In Powell's system, the teacher creates 10-20 tokens for each student in the classroom and places the tokens in an organizer. Each time a student displays a behavior that warrants special recognition, the teacher puts a token with that child's special identification number (or code) on it into a drawstring bag. When special jobs arise or when there are prizes to be given out, the teacher draws a token from the bag.
In this system, both the expectations and the rewards can vary by child and by situation. "The teacher can choose to reward behavioral improvements and small victories for students who struggle with self-management; students who consistently follow the rules can be rewarded more often as well," Powell observed.
"The system also doesn't require any money to be spent on candy or prizes or demand the staging of elaborate rewards -- and it doesn't use up class time that should be spent on academics," Powell noted. The system simply correlates to regular classroom helper procedures; when specific tasks need to be done -- such as calling students to line up, choosing a book to read aloud, or writing on the board -- students are selected at random through the tokens in Powell's glitzy purple bag. She has turned helping out in the classroom into a reward!
Powell even has permitted students to recommend one another for tokens during class meetings, encouraging students to be on the lookout for kind and respectful behaviors in their peers. "Having students nominate one another for tokens was a really neat process," offered Powell. "I could tell students were observing one another's behavior very carefully, looking for the positive. And they took cues from my modeling, recognizing that not only the 'good' kids should be nominated. They loved catching the most defiant and rebellious students walking quietly down the hallway or sharing the playground equipment -- they couldn't wait to report what they'd seen!"
Powell's students know better than to ask for a reward for good behavior. She expects them to recognize that good deeds sometimes go unnoticed, but that they still must make the right choices. She seeks to fuel her students' internal motivation by rewarding self-discipline with opportunities to make the classroom run smoothly and to feel part of the community of learners.
"The children who exhibit behavior problems rarely respond to the traditional management plans we set up; they simply are not capable of success under those plans," said Powell. "That's why I stopped using traditional behavior management systems and came up with this token system. Because something as simple as staying in his seat or raising her hand before asking a question can earn a token, the system allows me to provide occasional rewards to students who have earned them, while focusing on the students who need the most help, behaviorally speaking, and providing the positive reinforcement they need."
Article by Cara Bafile
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