Emotional/Behavioral Disorders

Explanation of Group Rewards

Posted on July 6, 2007. Filed under: Attention/ADD/ADHD, Emotional/Behavioral Disorders, Uncategorized |

I answered a question on Yahoo! Answers about positive reinforcement in a kindergarten classroom. Training behavior at home can be a little easier in some ways at home, but in other ways more difficult. We do know that children in whatever setting respond most to praise and encouragement, then to positive reinforcement, and punishment in whatever form (time-outs or spanking) are best served when they are in direct relation to willful disobedience and administered in a pre-determined method rather than during the heat of emotion—especially anger.

I will try to update my post regarding using rewards at a later time; however, this post is regarding the use of group rewards either as a whole family or as a classroom with students. My original statement about group rewards was that group incentives are typically not very effective with kindergarten children for 2 main reasons: 1) they don’t understand why they are left out when others get the reward, and 2) they typically don’t have the logic and planning skills necessary to pull their weight in achieving a group oriented goal.

Children at ages 4 to 6 are still quite ego-centric and are just learning to be cooperative in their play. To expect them to work cooperatively to achieve a larger group task is beyond where most  4 to 6 year-olds are in their social development.

Now the explanation of group rewards and how best to utilize this method at the kindergarten level:

Group rewards are when you do something like a popcorn party for the whole class on Friday. But in order to be in the popcorn party, everyone needs to contribute by having a marble put in the jar/so many tickets that have been handed out during the week/so many stars on the incentive chart, etc.  for whatever the expectation was, such as turning in work on time/writing your name on your paper/raising your hand and waiting to be called on, etc. Then if someone doesn’t contribute to the “plan,” either the whole group loses the group reward or that person(s) is banned from participating.

Book-It from Pizza Hut does a great job of the individualized rewards, but when they first came out with the Book-It program in the 1980s, there was an end of the 6 months group reward, so that all the students who had reached their reading goals for all 6 months would go as a class to Pizza Hut for a group pizza party. There were always 1 or 2 kids out of a class that didn’t make it and had to stay back at school. NOT a great motivator to read more for those kids who already lacked motivation to read independently!! Pizza Hut has removed that component–perhaps for the motivation factor or perhaps for the cost factor, but either way, it’s good that it’s gone.

In a kindergarten setting, group rewards are best as spontaneous, unannounced ahead of time, and include everyone. An example may be–if you want to reward good clean-up time at each transition, watch for a few days to see if everyone is participating. Don’t announce it as an incentive or “payment” plan, but on the day of the reward, say something like: “Class, I just happened to notice that EVERYONE did such a super job on clean up this week!! Everything in the stations were put where they belong and you did it so quickly!! Because I’m so proud of ALL of YOU, I’ve decided that before you go home today (last 1/2 hour/45 min./hour), we will all…(state the reward). extra recess, extra computer lab time, popsicles, nature walk in the neighborhood, extra music time with favorites only, visit from the principal, etc. I have found that whenever the reward is time spent with you, parents, or someone else important, or if the reward is strange and goofy, kids tend to remember and treasure the meaning of the reward as well. Like the girl with the olives–weird reward, but her favorite.:o)

One other comment about any type of reward, including group rewards. Food is a powerful motivator, but it is also one that is difficult to draw away from using and replace it with a different plan. Using food as a reward also can sabotage the teaching of healthy eating habits, including snacks. It also becomes similar to Skinner’s Operant Conditioning and reduces a resourceful child with cognitive skills to the level of an animal in obedience training. We want our children to obey knowing that we are keeping them safe, healthy, and happy—not just because we give commands and want them to blindly respond for a reward. Whenever possible, avoid food rewards such as candy, pop, junk foods, etc. If using food for a reward, tie it to an event that includes interaction—the event with the family or class then becomes the reward and food is included in the event.

Just remember that you only need to reward for the things that you are trying to train. Enjoy your students–they know if you enjoy being with them–and by nature, most kindergartners want to please YOU. Therefore, time spent with YOU is the most powerful reward.

For those of us who are training our children from a Christian world-view, we want our children to be aware of the hierarchy of authority and to love God because He first loved us. There are so many examples of rewards, punishments, and substitutionary atonement in the Bible. What a great manual for behavior training and how God deals with all of us—which is mainly individual, and not usually group oriented. 

So, in conclusion, group rewards can be very good for bonding, encouraging working together cooperatively as a group, and be a fun way to celebrate accomplishing goals. However, groups rewards should not be used often and need to be planned carefully in order for the children who need the most encouragement to be protected from harmful emotional experiences.

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