So Why Don’t You Give Me a Sticker?


Passive complacency costumed in bright colors and fun shapes!

An actual exchange from this week:

Me: “Nice job getting over to the meeting area quickly.”

Student: “So why don’t you give me a sticker?”

Me: “Why do you need a sticker?”

Student: “Because I did what you told me to do.”

Me: “Yes, and I gave you a compliment. You know I don’t give stickers just for doing the right thing.”

Student: “Well, you should.”

Me: “Does it make me a bad teacher if I don’t?”

Student: “Yes.”

Clearly there are people out there who are going to read this and say, “Why does he feel the need to give a compliment anyway? Can’t the kid derive affirmation from his own knowledge that he did the right thing?” Let me just say that this particular student greatly appreciates that kind of approval. That’s just how it is for him.

The better question to ask is “What is with this lunacy over the sticker?” Plenty of teachers give out stickers based on a system. You did your homework? Here’s a sticker. You have a sharpened pencil? Here’s a sticker. You sneezed into your elbow? Here’s a sticker. You’re behaving today and I’m in a good mood? Here’s a sticker.

Well…okay.

Sticker systems are a last resort for me. When one student last year needed a behavior intervention plan, he bought into a system in which he earned a sticker each time he did what he needed to do. Totally different scenario than using stickers as a classroom management technique, and, after a couple of completed sticker charts, I weaned him off without him even noticing. The stickers stopped coming but the appropriate behaviors didn’t.

Desired behaviors in my classroom come about because students perceive that I respect them. They enjoy coming to school because our room is comfortable and safe. By and large, knowing that fun, challenging work will be provided motivates my students much more than a sticker that will last on their hand for, at the most, an hour.

I am staunchly opposed to any form of bribery in my classroom. Passive complacency in a classroom is quite different than active investment in learning.

I’ll take my often noisy, sometimes unruly room with students’ natural enjoyment of work and learning over a room in which kids blindly “work” and “learn” only because the promise of a sticker awaits.

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6 responses to “So Why Don’t You Give Me a Sticker?

  1. I suppose a similar discussion occurs around grading. When to give an A, B, or C? In some classrooms an A is the average and it others it’s reserved for exceptional work.

    I like the idea of presenting lofty goals for kids to strive to achieve.

  2. Pink’s book, Drive, supports this post. I support it too though I still use stickers from time to time, and the reward of extra recess. Have a great day.

  3. Pingback: Remainders: Pepper spray again, this time at Banana Kelly HS | GothamSchools

  4. I’d also check out Kohn’s “Punished by Rewards”. He speaks to this beautifully.

  5. “There’s a theory for that” too: http://cognitioneducation.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/seriously-whats-it-gonna-take/. Self Determination Theory of motivation is my favorite and it doesn’t come up nearly often enough. But it should. It should be at the top of every teacher-training curriculum list. Sounds like if you haven’t studied it you have an intuitive grasp nonetheless – that’s fantastic.

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