Let’s ban the sticker, stamp and star

22nd February 2017  |  by Greg

Enough is enough

I’m really angry and I’ve been angry for a while. Every time I explain the reason for my anger to anyone “not-in-education”, they literally can’t believe it. They can’t believe we’d treat children and young people like this.

I tell them that it’s true.

Now, either I am wrong (and that Daniel Pink and Alfie Kohn and all the masses of psychological research I read to come to my conclusion are wrong too) or lots of my esteemed colleagues in primary and secondary education are accepting something they simply cannot continue to accept.

I’m talking about www.classdojo.com and www.vivomiles.com and any other dim-witted, counter-productive and actually really damaging contingent reward system. It might be a sticker chart on the wall or a fancy-pants computer program. The result is the same. Peed off kids.

What’s bad for the goose

How would you like to be publicly (de)graded? Imagine a cute little avatar that represented you. If it would make you feel uncomfortable at best, or plain angry and resentful at worst, then why would children feel differently? If you wouldn’t do it for adults, don’t do it for children. Wouldn’t they also be less able to rationalise it?

And if you’re against performance related pay, by definition, you have to be against contingent reward systems, because performance related pay is just a contingent reward system for grown-ups.

The thing is, if we really want children to grow up we have to treat them like adults and we actually have to treat them like adults before they’re adults. They learn how to be well-rounded adults by being treated like well-rounded adults.

Don’t we measure children enough already?

Babies are born and the first thing we do is measure their weight. That’s just the start of it. Can they tie their shoe laces and write their name? Can they add, subtract, use connectives and design experiments? And the rest.

Do we really have to try and measure their goodness too, and then put it in a chart? Can’t we just smile, or give a thumbs-up, just to let them know we’ve seen the efforts they’ve made. Often it’s all that’s needed, but we don’t think about the subtle, when we have so many rewarding sledgehammers at our disposal.

(Note: A word about the little ones.

I’m not against giving reception children a sticker; of course I’m not. I’m just suggesting that as soon as we can recognise their efforts and achievements in a more subtle way, we should do so.)

The problem is, they work (a bit)

These (hopefully) well-meaning companies wouldn’t sell any subscriptions for their electronic reward thingies (or big glossy sticker charts for that matter) if they didn’t work. Of course they work. You are much more likely to improve your performance in specified areas when they are linked to a reward. This is perfect for motivating salespeople but really bad at encouraging ethical selling. Vivo miles are really good at encouraging children to complete a certain task but it actually demotivates them to complete tasks for which they are not rewarded. We rob them of any desire to be self-motivated.

Contingent rewards are great for teachers and sales directors. They’re terrible for children and sales people.

“Used fairly, Class Dojo is fine.”

I hope you’re right but I think you’re wrong. Firstly, I think you are wrong on a practical level. We actually demotivate children with extrinsic rewards. It’s also morally wrong. It just can’t be delivered fairly. How would you feel if your child was in a class using Class Dojo and they came last or close to last everyday? What about a child that comes first every day? Do they appreciate it? You could fix it I suppose, share out the rewards, but really, what’s the point in that?

With these well-meaning sledgehammers, what do we communicate about our genuine desire to value each child equally?

We’ve banned the cane, now let’s ban the sticker, stamp and star

Corporal punishment was only banned in 1986. I hope to see a day very soon, when, if not banned, the age of the equally clumsy and damaging contingent reward comes to an end. What we accepted as just “normal” less than three decades ago, seems monstrous to us now. If we stop to think about www.classdojo.com and its friends, I think we’ll look back in a similar way.

Recognise instead of reward

Most schools and teachers just need to make very subtle changes to their practice:

  1. Stop giving any form of individual reward that can be counted. This includes: www.classdojo.com, Vivo Miles, stickers, stamps, good behaviour awards and certificates. Stop it and stop it now.
  2. Concentrate your efforts on the subtleties of building relationships.
  3. Celebrate and recognise great effort and achievements in the same way as great schools have always done. Namely, celebration and sharing assemblies, “Golden Books”, show-and-tell and displays. Add to this the use of blogging and social media to share the good stuff and you’ll find you don’t really need your sticker book.

Your reward will be happier and intrinsically motivated children.

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