Monday, April 26, 2010

Sticker-palooza Part 2

Missed Sticker-palooza Part 1? Read it here.
I arrive the next day forewarned and forearmed, an arsenal of recognition stickers at my hip, ready to reward hard work and acceptable behavior with a flick of my wrist. Channel yourself back to your kindergarten years and you can imagine the anticipation this created. Alisha is more wide-eyed than usual. It is at this moment when I realize that this could go either way: success would bring elation; failure, devastation. I take a deep breath and signal Alisha to do the same. We'd chatted before class. She knew what she needed to do.

"T, top, /t/." I start the echos off with a phonics review, flashing cue cards as I go. Everyone stays on task. I figured they might. This part's easy. We finish off with a circuit of stickers on their incentive card. When Jamal raises his hand to ask a question he gets a sticker, too. My sense of fairness makes me want to recognize all of them, not just Alisha. Suddenly the rest of them are raising their hands, too. Alisha is shaking in anticipation. I call on her earlier than I might have otherwise, hoping to bolster her success and lessen her anxiety. It seems to help. She smiles down at her card as she counts her stickers.

A half hour later they've nearly drained me of ammo, and Alisha's reached her limit. The crayon box is out of reach when she bellows, "I want a crayon." Tears are in her voice. I don't react, instead continuing to work with Tyrone on his letter 'b' formation. A second later I hear a sweeter version of Alisha's voice, still tight with tears. "Miguel, can I have the crayons, please." I stop what I'm doing and slap a sticker on her card. "Great words, Alisha." She wipes her eyes and smiles. Her card's almost full.

I'd say the process was a success in many ways. I was consistent in my recognition and clear about what I was looking for. I also got some important information: given the right circumstances, Alisha can reign herself in and Tyrone and Marques can stay in their chairs. There were, however, a couple fatal flaws:
  1. This was clearly not sustainable. Eventually stickers would loose their effectiveness, not just on Alisha, but everyone.
  2. Were they developing self-awareness and self control? Yes and no. Jamal, who raised his hand to ask an on-topic question got appropriate feedback. On the other hand, Marques, who raised his hand just to get a sticker, had found a loophole I hadn't anticipated. Some kids are just too smart for their own good.
  3. Would they repeat this behavior in other environments without the presence of reinforcement? Perhaps, but not likely due to this single session.
I suspect, as usual, I learned more than they did. Clearly they could control themselves. The question was how to set up a sustainable environment where they could work toward their success without draining the Midwestern Sticker Reserves. Hmm... Stay tuned.

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