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    When positive reinforcement turns into bribes
    By Doni

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    I was not talking about praise or the positive reinforcement used as a means to initially reinforce desired behaviors. I was talking about when it reaches the point that students EXPECT/DEMAND a reward, bribe, payment, however you wish to phrase it. We have instituted so many reward systems in my school that students now decide which reward is worth the effort of their participation.

    For example, when you tell your students that the classroom AR goal is 10 points per student this six weeks and someone asks, "What are we going to get if we get 10 points?" You reply, "Everyone who meets their goal will get to come to a pizza party." The student then says, "What kind of pizza? If it's Pizza Hut, I'm not doing it. I only like Papa Johns." This happened in my class.

    Another example. Today we were practicing writing for the writing assessment. I gave the students a prompt and told them to write a good introduction. One student asked, "Is this for a grade?" I said that we would share our introductions with our groups. Later we might wish to publish the stories for a grade. The student then replied, "Well, if it's not for a grade, I'm not doing it."

    Positive reinforcement does work when it is not over used. The problem is these children are so conditioned to expect rewards that they will not do anything without one. When my youngest child was potty training, I used M&Ms as a reward when she went potty. Eventually, though, I no longer had to give her the M&Ms. Imagine how expensive it would get if she now 3 years later still expectedd M&Ms each time she went to the can? Imagine an adult that still expected an M&M when she went to the bathroom. All adults know that there are some things we do because they need to be done or are the right things to do. Children must learn this as well. Some things (reading for example) bring their own rewards. We are setting these kids up for a big fall if we reward too much. I teach 5th grade and I used to teach middle school. These kids are in for a HUGE culture shock next year, because middle school teachers don't dole out unmerited praise, nor do they bribe students to work.



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