Thursday, 26 May 2016

Golden time and school rewards.

Every class my son has been in, from reception to year six, has had a reward system.

In reception to year two, there was a whiteboard with happy and sad faces. A good deed or some excellent work meant a happy face, two happy faces in one day earned the child a small toy from the happy faces box.
Unkind behaviour or poor effort in work was rewarded with a sad face. Two sad faces in one day meant the child had to sit outside the headteacher's office. Good behaviour cancelled out one or both sad faces.

For some children, this was excellent, at least twice a week the same children would have the opportunity to rummage through the happy faces box.

On the other hand, every week the same few children would spend time sitting outside the headteacher's office. Feeling crap about themselves.

After the happy/sad faces system, in year three Golden Time was introduced. Golden Time was an opportunity for each child to choose how to spend their time on a Friday afternoon, reading books, playing games, the choice was theirs.
To start off with, each child had an allotted amount of time, half an hour. Any bad behaviour or times when the teacher felt a child wasn't working their hardest, they would lose minutes off their Golden Time. Outstanding behaviour could earn back those lost minutes.
After some complaints from several parents, this was changed from losing time, to earning time, so each child accrued minutes over the course of the week.

The result was the same whether time was knocked off from the start of the week, or added over the course of the week. The same children enjoyed a full half hour of Golden Time. The same children ended up sitting with their work, the teacher standing over them giving them disapproving glances every so often.

Now, in year six, my son's class has an online reward system. Points are given for good work and thoughtful behaviour, points are removed for careless work and bad behaviour. Prizes and treats are handed out when a child has reached 25, 50, 100 points and so on.
And once again, the same children reap their rewards, the same children struggle to gain points.

In my opinion, the children who flourish with rewards will flourish without them. School is generally a positive experience for these children.

For some children though, this system is downright damaging. For these children, school is a difficult place to be, particularly if they also have autism and/or sensory difficulties to contend with. Many children with ASD do not respond to reward charts at all, so the whole process, instead of encouraging good behaviour is simply punishing children over and over again for behaviour they often aren't in control of, but not only that, there is a visible way to track their failures, making sure it is as humiliating as possible.

I've often thought that it's very short sighted of teachers to continue rewards, when it is patently clear that, for the children whose behaviour they wish to modify, it's simply not working. The same children who struggled in reception are often as not the same children struggling in year six, despite seven years of rewards and discipline.

There is always an argument from the parents of those who find school easy that their children respond well to the rewards, that we can't pander to the children who find it difficult, that they need to up their game and learn not to behave badly. It's nice for their children to be rewarded for their work and behaviour. If only it were this simple.

Not all children are the same. I know some people find this difficult to believe. But not all children have the same academic capabilities, not all children will have the same reactions, not all children can regulate themselves.
One child's sitting quietly is another child's pacing around the room.
One child's celebratory jumping around after a football tournament is another child's excitedly running out of the school gate.
One child's being a bit annoyed about something is another child's meltdown.

For my son, impulsive and giddy behaviour is a sure sign that something is going on, sensory overload or anxiety. He controls this in school as much as possible, but every week he has points removed for such behaviour.
I'm certain that if his way of showing anxiety was to cry, he wouldn't be punished for this.

All children will do well if they can (reference to Dr Ross Greene's The Explosive Child - an excellent book!). By using these reward systems, huge numbers of children are being set up to fail, because developmentally they cannot reach the expectations set out for them. But because they are in the minority and are so often not considered valuable members of a class, their needs are so often ignored and overlooked.

It would be good if our childrens' years in education could be geared up to suit everyone in the classroom, as much as possible, instead of using neurotypical methods that suit neurotypical people.

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