How About Punishments & Rewards?
When I first started teaching ELLs, I often thought of classroom management in terms of punishments and rewards.
I have changed my views dramatically since those days.
The trend nowadays, at least as far as I can tell, is to focus more on internal motivation rather than on external, which means more communication and mutual understanding and less carrot and stick. I’m all about the communication and the mutual understanding. These are incredibly important to the success of your classes.
I’m also absolutely opposed to rewards or punishments if they are arbitrarily aimed at forcing compliance or implemented mechanistically with little thought to context, appropriateness, motivation, relationship, or even effectiveness.
Punishments and rewards used in this way are counter-productive and will unlikely get you the results you want anyway.
They may even make a bad situation worse.
But there is 1 word I’d like to hold on to.
1 Word That Will Help Ground Your Classroom Management
I’m happy to throw out the word punishment, and the word rewards could go in the bin as well if you’d like.
The word that I would like to be careful not to lose is the word outcomes.
I find the word outcomes incredibly helpful.
It’s a word that our children need to learn in order to thrive in the world.
It’s a word that draws attention to the consequences of the choices our children make, both positive and negative, whether that’s in the classroom, or in life.
There are two different ways of thinking about outcomes:
- natural & imposed outcomes
- positive & negative outcomes
Classroom Management: Natural vs. Imposed Outcomes
Let’s take a look at some examples of natural and imposed outcomes first. If other children catch you cheating in a game, they get angry with you. That is a natural outcome.
When the teacher kicks you out of the game for cheating, that is an imposed outcome.
If you jump off the roof of your house, breaking your leg is a natural outcome.
When the doctor puts a cast on your leg for a month, that is an imposed outcome.
Both natural and imposed outcomes are important. Every decision we make has natural outcomes. If we eat at Pizza Hut then we are unable to, at the same time, also eat at Mcdonald’s.
It is currently a scientific impossibility to do both at the same time (and it is gastrointestinal-ly ill-advised to do one right after the other).
By the same logic, a child cannot both doodle in the margins of his worksheet and also finish it at the same time.
An unfinished assignment is a natural outcome of spending the time sketching Spiderman slinging webs onto the worksheet’s instructions. Many decisions we make also have imposed outcomes. If you do not do your job, the job is not finished. That is a natural outcome.
The imposed outcome is when your boss fires you.
An incomplete assignment is a natural outcome of not having done it in class; the teacher may impose the outcome of having to finish it at home. Life is full of natural and imposed outcomes and we do well to prepare our children for them.
Well-intentioned parents and teachers who protect children from experiencing the negative outcomes or consequences of their behavior set them up to fail in school, work, relationships, and life in general.
That brings us to the second way of thinking about outcomes: positive vs. negative.
We may wish the world would reward us for doing little and withhold consequences when we’ve messed up, but that is not the way things work. By confusing children about the outcomes of their decisions, we negatively affect their ability to navigate the world when they get older.
By drawing attention to the consequences of our students’ decisions, not in a mean or angry way, but as a way of helping them understand how to get what they want, we set them up to succeed.
Too often though, as parents and teachers, we have the natural tendency to try and mitigate the negative outcomes of a child’s behavior because we don’t want to see them hurt. We also try to provide positive outcomes that are disconnected from their decisions because we want to see them succeed.
Consequences of No Consequences
I had a mother once argue with me that her child hadn’t realized he had been cheating in Go Fish, and that I shouldn’t play games like that since her son had been quite upset by the other children getting angry with him and my asking him to sit out of the game for a few minutes.
She was right about one thing: he was really upset.
He knocked the cards off the table, kicked a chair, and started to cry. I take suggestions like this mother’s very seriously which is why I gave serious thought to how well I had demonstrated the rules and whether I had judged fairly.I don’t think the mother took very seriously the possibility that her child behaved like he had because he rarely had to experience the consequences of his behavior.
Teaching a class is like refereeing a soccer game. In soccer, if you kick the ball out of bounds, the other team gets it.
If you fight, you get thrown out of the game.
If the ball goes into the other team’s net, your team gets a point.
The team with the most points wins.
If not for these outcomes, there would be no game.
We understand this easily when it comes to playing a game; we somehow forget this when we are teaching.
Without clear outcomes, there is no class.
There need to be clear consequences if a student’s behavior is out of bounds. There need to be clear rewards when a student does the classroom equivalent of putting the ball into the net.
4 Tips for Using Outcomes in Your Classroom Management
Here are some tips for how to use the concept of outcomes to ground your classroom management:
- Discuss goals and possible outcomes of an activity with your students.
- Make outcomes clear before starting any activity.
- Don’t get angry when students fall short. Focus their attention on the outcomes of their decisions.
- Use it as an opportunity to build your relationship with the student, to connect with them, not distance yourself.
Here are a few examples:
- Goal: Finish your worksheet. Bring it to me when you’re done. If everything is correct, you are finished. If there is something wrong, I will circle it and you will need to go correct it.
- Reward: When the worksheet is correct, you can play a board game with anyone else who is finished.
- Consequence: If you do not finish, you will continue to work while everyone else is playing.
- Goal: Practice making sentences about a series of pictures with a partner.
- Reward: If you are working hard, I will give you two dice and a game sheet and you can make it a game.
- Consequence: If you are goofing off, I will give you some paper and you can write the sentences instead. I just need you to practice, and if you can’t practice verbally together with a partner, you can practice individually on paper.
- Goal: Read the long-a word-family words on the board together as a class. I will come around and listen to everyone to be sure you are reading along.
- Reward: Everyone who reads together clearly can go have a break.
- Consequence: If you don’t read along with everyone, you can stay with me and read them again while everyone is on break.
As a teacher, you don’t have to be angry about following through on the outcomes, even if the child is angered by it. You simply have to make the rules, consequences and rewards clear before the activity and then follow through.
What are your thoughts?