Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Going back to carrots

I'm thinking of going back to positive participation tickets. Instead of giving my students actual things in the draws though, I'll try for less tangible prizes, like having a group in for indoor recess, or taking a small group to the gym or getting first choice of responsibilities.

My reasoning? Well I've been trying for the past three and a half weeks to get my students motivated, not only to learn French, but to be respectful and supportive in our classroom. I'm trying to create a classroom environment that is conducive to learning and at times I'm struggling. I feel bad for the students in our class who are trying very hard and I would like to reward their struggles with more than just words. I feel like I shouldn't have to. I feel like they are doing what they are supposed to and they should feel wonderful about themselves because of it, because they're meeting their learning goals that we set, but I'm also starting to feel like it isn't enough.

I'm also finding that quite a few of my students are hesitant to try, hesitant to make a mistake. I hope this is not because of anything I've done. I model that I make mistakes all the time and have to fix them "Madam a fait une erreur!" I exclaim and fix it, or look up a word I don't know on Google Translate. But learning a second language is tough and it's put them out of their comfort zone for sure. I get that. I've been there. After all, French is my second language and I didn't learn it until I was 12.

So my idea is to start off using the tickets and then gradually use them less and less frequently in hopes that the external motivator will help build some positive habits that will become internal motivators. Am I foolish in thinking this? Am I opening up a can of worms that I won't be able to close or am I doing the right thing here? Really looking for some advice on this one.


  1. I think your heart is in the right place, but I think you might be misguiding yourself. I don't personally believe the external motivators will eventually translate to internal ones. If all they are working for is the token item, eventually the novelty will wear off.

    This is a difficult topic to handle and one in which I'm certainly not an expert. My best advice would be to be relentlessly positive in the way you frame things. You can do it, we're learning together, we can learn from our mistakes, all that good stuff...

    Good luck!

  2. We are doing this as a group in our French hallway at CSS. Every day the students can earn up to 2 points for speaking French in the hallway. When every class reaches the goal (40 points for immersion, 20 for IF and grade 3) we are having a "Francofolie party".
    Maybe each student can set a personal goal, and when they all reach their goal there is a celebration of some kind.
    Bonne chance! :)

  3. Photomatt7 - I agree with your sentiment but I'm hopeful that if I use this reward system, with a focus on group rewards rather than individual, that I can get more teaching done and they can get more learning done.
    Heather - sounds like a great idea. I hope it works well. Can I come to your Francofolie party? After all, I am a francophile :)

  4. I encourage you to read Daniel Pink's "Drive" or Alfie Kohn's "Punished By Rewards". The research done by Deci and Ryan (and others) confirm that the use of extrinsic motivators actually inhibit intrinsic motivation. Do we want kids speaking French because they are forced to, they are rewarded to... or because they actually want to? We need to go a little deeper here and determine WHY the students are misbehaving or not speaking French. Focusing on the intrinsic and answering the why questions is much more difficult and takes more time but is WAY more effective in the end. I used to rely on rewards but do not anymore... here are some posts on my thoughts on rewards (ie. tickets) if you are interested (one includes a parent perspective on using rewards to get students to speak French)



  5. Chris - I value your perspective and thank you for the links. I feel that if it was a choice for the students to take French or not then I would agree with you more and I don't believe I would need to use a reward system in a French Immersion setting. However, where I teach Intensive French, which is province wide mandatory for all students not in Immersion, I feel like a reward system, at least for now is helpful in building good habits. And it's not just about having them speak French. At this point it's building habits like listening to each other, respecting the classroom expectations, building a classroom culture that is supportive rather than being toxic.

  6. So my question for you is: are they doing all of this because they believe it is the right thing to do or are they doing this for the reward?

    We often give up on trying to foster intrinsic motivation because we don't see immediate results. Rewards work... in the short term... but create an environment where kids become skilled at... well, getting rewards.

    I notice you have already implemented the point system so my only advice is: question what they are learning from the point system and if you see this working for the long term. Every day spent on rewards is a day that cannot be spent on intrinsic.

    Thanks for responding... great topic!