Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prize Patrol

One thing I've found true about middle school kids from all walks of life is that they feel like they deserve prizes and rewards for everything. EVERYTHING. Walk with me, if you will, through a few scenarios that led me to make this generalization.

Let me set the scene. It was mid-September and I had to attend an all-day conference 3 days in a row. I knew in advance. The students knew in advance. We prepped for my absence - expectations, consequences, procedures, etc. All the bases were covered. I came by after school to check out the sub notes, and what did I find? A list of "problem students" 25 kids long and a 2-page description of the shenanigans that had occurred. Examples of shenanigans, you say? Why, certainly!

  • student claimed that chewing gum was part of his IEP
  • students claim that they were allowed to use the teacher's computer
  • student threw a text book at me
  • student tried to take the Kleenex box with them on their way out
  • student left the room before I could take attendance when he found out you were gone and the rest of the class wouldn't tell me who it was
  • student changed my name from Ms. ___ to Ms. Fart on the whiteboard
And on and on and on. So I won't get into how that got dealt with, but in October I missed school again and got a fair (not good, fair) note from the substitute when I returned. I told the students how pleased I was and they suggested I reward them with... a pizza party. 

"Guys, do you really think a pizza party makes sense as a reward for doing less than I expected of you just because it is better than when you did WAY less than I expected of you?" I'll spare you the dialogue, but the answer to that question was YES. 

My other examples are much less involved. For example, the other day:
Me: Ok, lets take a break from this intense discussion and try a little review game. 
Student 1: What do we win?
Student 2: Is it candy?
Me: Who said you win anything? I said lets take a break from this intense discussion to play a quick review game. I didn't say anything about giving you anything.
Student 1: Yeah, but still anyway, what is the prize? For winning in the game?
Me: Wait wait, I'm still confused. Why do you assume there is a prize?
Student 3: Because why would we play if there wasn't? 
Student 1: I hope it isn't a pencil. A pencil is NOT a prize. 
Student 4: If there isn't a prize, can we just watch?
Me: Forget it! Get out your science journals!
ALL the students: Noooo! Boooo! Whine! Sigh! Groan!
Me: So, ladies and gentleman... what do you say to playing a little review game?
Scattered students: Fine. Ok. Alright.

Or,
Me: Wow, this class did great - everyone is secure on this skill!
Class: What do we get?

Or,
Me: Look at this amazing list we just compiled. Who knew we were this smart?!
Class: What do we get?

Or,
Me: Thanks for coming in so quietly!
Class: What do we get?

OR, just today:
Me: Hey Jim, thanks for picking up Danielle's books just now. That showed awesome character.
Jim: Sure. Can I pick something out of the birthday box?
Me: What?
Jim: Since I showed good character?
Me: ... Nope?
Jim: Oh. See ya later Miss B. 

One more related but different example...
I choose a male and female student of the week for my science class and I put their picture up on a stage-like bulletin board with lights all around it and give them 5 of those "caught you being good" cards which can be redeemed for desirable items on the Reward Cart once a week. This is the process. So, I chose my new students of the week, swapped their pictures with last week's students, and carried on with the day. 6th period roled around and in came Danny. He saw that there were new students of the week, one of whom was in HIS class. He started getting very teary and asked me why HE wasn't student of the week.
"Miss... Borzo... I don't... understand. D-d-d-d-didn't I... do good, too? I always do good. Why... why... why didn't you ch-choose me?"
"Danny, what is the deal?! Of course you do a great job, and I notice it! But you know what? Lots of students do a great job and I only pick TWO a week. Don't worry, you'll be student of the week too, just keep up the good work!"
"Why b-b-b-bother, no one notices anyway."
"I'm sorry that you feel that way, but I promise you I notice, and I know that you'll be student of the week very soon as long as you keep up the great work that you do."
"O-o-ok. I just wish... that..." ... and he walked off to his seat, got his act together, and class started normally. The things that happen before the bell even rings...

Next up: the story of the squirt gun. Stay tuned! 

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