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Mike Willmarth

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How do we get students to adopt specific classroom procedures without the use of negative consequences (punishment) or rewards?

This is the continuation of a discussion I posted previously. In response to the initial posting several respondents suggested changing the system to involve more student choice in terms of what is studied. Others suggested that the classroom model is the root of the problem. While we could debate both of these issues, the fact remains that the system in which my students and I work is one that requires students to show a given level of mastery in a given set of skills that neither they or I select. Students who do not show the required level of mastery will still be moved on to the next course in the sequence, however they may also be required to concurrently take a support class to help them acquire mastery in the previous set of skills. This support class comes at the expense of taking an elective which they would probably find more interesting. Given these conditions, it is my goal to help as many as possible acquire mastery of the required skills during the initial class.

With that clarification in mind, I would like to again pose the initial question: I have an interest in having my middle school students use a particular organization system for their class materials. Having a uniform system allows peers to more readily help each other stay organized, allows parents to more easily check on their child’s progress, and allows the class to more efficiently move through our daily transitions. The question, how do I get all students on board without the use of if-then rewards or punishments? I know from my experience (12 years at middle school) that some students will be oppositional and some will be unmotivated. While these represent the exception, not the rule, they are often the students most in need of the organizational structure. Additionally, it is the parents of these students who most often need a simple to follow structure for supporting their child’s educational process.


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  • Aug 3 2012: I am sure your system has it's merits and is quite a reasonable approach, however, many of your students would probably prefer to find their own system.

    When reading your explanation of what the students need I immidiately felt myself become one of those "oppositional" students.
    I went through most of my middle-school and high-school years without ever taking notes at all. And the idea of having all that stuff was just revolting to me. Whenever a teacher came up with one of your ideas I'd flat out reject it.
    That of course lead to some frantic scrambling for notes just before exams BUT:
    Me and my friends always proved to be quite ressourceful in organizing ourselves in that time.

    Now surely, my option isn't the way to go but realize that your students most likely are capable of getting themselves organized. But if you impose a system which might work for you, you will antagonize your students. Why not take some more time and help your students come up with their own system? Personalized, suited to their behaviour and way of learning.
    Because all these tests and reports you've thought up sound horribly annoying. It sounds like one of those tight run businesses straight out of employee's hell. And in my puberty I'd have been the first to draw a dick on those "what I am thinking about now?" papers and chuck them in the bin.

    I can see you have only their best interest in mind and never meant for your system to generate such a reaction but I thought it might help to hear the most antagonistic opinion. No offense ment.

    In the end, and here I totally agree with you, what counts is that the students learn their skills, hopefully enjoy them and get more personal freedom in choosing what they eant to do next. They way they go about it shouldn't matter.
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      Aug 5 2012: Paul - You're right that I don't want students scrambling at the last minute to get organized. While I know that may work for some students, it usually doesn't work for the ones least inclined but most in need of organization. These students need role models for how to be a successful learners and the best role models are their peers.

      As for the horribly boring tests and reports, those are not items I've "thought up". Those are tests required by our district and reports that outline students' success on the required tests. I can have whatever opinion I want to about the tests, but I don't get to decide not to give them.

      Finally, the goal behind the "What I am thinking about" paper is to help students gauge their level of engagement. Whatever they learn in the future will take engagement. If they can become more self-aware as to how well they engage, they will be better able to avoid the things that become distractions.

      The most important skills these students need to learn is how to be learners. It seems professionally irresponsible to have a set of standards for language arts, math and science, but to leave the fundamental skills of how to be a successful learner for students to discover of their own.

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