Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Classroom Management for a More Peaceful World

CLASSROOM Management
Pre-K Teachers: Beware of Gold Stars
5 ways preschool teachers can reinforce positive behavior without bribes, for a more peaceful child and world
March 22, 2017

As educators, we know students learn better when we inspire good behavior. But how do we get our preschool students to that point? From the plethora of classroom management strategies, it can leave a new teacher dizzy with possibilities for rewards systems and tiered consequences. In his popular books 
Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting, education author Alfie Kohn explores the behavioral science reasoning for avoiding rewards and punishments altogether. Kohn promotes a radical but researched philosophy of classroom management: inspiring the child’s own intrinsic motivation.
We identify five essential strategies for developing intrinsic motivation in the preschool child:
  • Offer specific observations
  • Listen more
  • Guide the child to express feelings
  • Model self-assessment of my own actions
  • Give students opportunities self-assess behavior

Many teachers are already using a version of these principles for improving student behavior—commonly, by offering observation. Here’s how I implement the five key strategies for building intrinsic motivation.
What Should A Teacher Do?
The first principle is to offer specific observation. Maria Montessori said that a child is disciplined when she is a master of herself. The young child develops the capacity to behave through positive social and practical activities. Adults can support the child by offering descriptive observations of behaviors or events. Instead of praising a child with that famous gold star, a stamp, or a sticker, we describe, “You cared for your space by picking up every snip." Or, “You showed kindness when you offered your friend a tissue.” Rather than gain positive feelings from my response, the child associates the positive feeling with the behavior. They will then be more likely to repeat the practice.
The second principle is listening to a child discuss what has occurred. Offering observational language is one way to help the child. Often, staying present while the child considers what happened is enough. Children accustomed to praise will seek adults for validation, a habit which makes independent work and exploration challenging. In the opposite effect, children accustomed to punitive-focused discipline will wait for adult reprimand before correcting misbehavior. Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Desi, educational psychologists on motivation, identified supporting the child’s notion of exploratory and playful joy as a primary intrinsic motivator. As I improve at asking a child what has occurred, then listening, I can lead the child to a habit of reflection about what brings joy.

“You completed many kinds of work today,” I begin, then become quiet. The child fills the silence with a grin of satisfaction. One child commented to me, “Yes, and I feel strong.”
What Does Intrinsic Motivation Look Like?
The third principle of inspiring intrinsic motivation is to guide the child to express.  In our language-rich early childhood environments, we work to scaffold a vocabulary for feelings. We discuss determination, satisfaction, and pride. While other children are at work, planned conversations in small groups allow four or five eager children time to share their own stories. We focus on times they felt an accomplishment or disappointment. Planned social conversations modify the children’s perspectives about justice and kindness over time. We also role-play scenarios. Each week, we plan social presentations on the basis of emerging behaviors, routine themes, and observed needs. In Montessori pedagogy, these presentations comprise a core component of social cohesion, called Grace and Courtesy. Yet, grace and courtesy encompass more than manners. Instead, the practice of grace and courtesy role-play gives children experience considering the feelings and needs of others. 
The fourth principle is to model self-assessment for the child. This principle requires adult vulnerability. The adult narrates a scenario for the child to consider the teacher’s own actions. I discuss what I have seen myself do. Then, I follow with how I feel about it. I close with a comment about what I would do differently next time. For example, when I knock an object over or forget my keys, I narrate a description. Sometimes this is with a group, and other times it is “to myself”. Children are fascinated to see what happens when an adult makes a mistake. Likewise, as I organize my plans and tidy my table through the day, I faux-soliloquize on my pride in finishing my work and caring for my space. They are listening.

What Tools Do Students Need?
The final principle of inspiring intrinsic motivation is to lead the child to develop her own compass. Our larger goal in teaching is to prepare the child for life. In discussing character, I reminded students that some days I will be absent, and they will have to decide the right thing to do. Some of the youngest looked nervous. But an older boy piped up, “Yes, but we have an inner voice now!”

We help the child find the internal compass for kindness, gentleness, and responsibility. We support with 
books, songs, and real-life storytelling. We create nonjudgmental space for a child to assess that she could have done things differently. We always support learning how to make one’s own amends. Saving space for social lessons has many benefits in academic areas: namely, comfort with error and confidence with complexity.
When I discuss these approaches to developing intrinsic motivation with more traditional teachers, I hear that the standard fare of stickers and time outs successfully modifies behavior. Children do enjoy treats and goodies as incentives. However, we plant seeds of more in these sensitive, early years. Intrinsic motivation helps children feel confident appraising and monitoring their own behaviors. Critical thinkers approach finding their own solutions. We could go the easier route and tick off a “Good job!” and dole out a prize. Ultimately, behavioral approaches that center intrinsic motivation give the opportunity to present kindness as the child’s native language.
Johnny Boucher is a public school teacher at Eduardo Mata Montessori in Dallas, Texas and a doctoral student of education policy and leadership through Johns Hopkins University by distance. Boucher advocates for high-quality early childhood programs, best practices in literacy, and closing achievement gaps with Montessori approaches for the public sector. Tweet @jonteboucher

Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes (2nd ed.). Mariner Books.

Montessori, M. (2007). Education and Peace the Montessori Series. Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company.