Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sticker Shock

Long, long ago in a galaxy not so far away, some educational theorist or early child development specialist or what have you proposed that we modify children's behavior not by punishing them when they do wrong but by rewarding them when they don't. While this "catch them being good" theory was the object of my derision back in Ed. school ten years ago, it today helps to explain why I've just spent 20 minutes sitting on the floor of the Dollar Tree scrutinizing their sticker selection and then devoted an additional hour and a half to sitting on my couch cutting sheets of 1000 stickers into easy-to-distribute squares of one sticker.

I've never been big on behaviorism. Sure, it works fine for training dogs and toddlers and the like, but for more highly evolved beings a behaviorist approach has always struck me as insulting. Of course, this was before I began teaching tenth graders, so I couldn't fully appreciate the beauty of behaviorism. Nor, as a fairly anti-establishment and perpetually late student myself, was I able to appreciate the importance of being on time for class. But both behaviorism and punctuality have grown on me (which I'm pretty sure makes me the man, but that's another story for another time) and I have found my pedagogic bliss in stickers.

Actually, I can't take credit for the sticker approach to classroom management. It was my colleague and friend Steve's idea. (Steve, I bought you some stickers at the Dollar Tree! They have monkeys on them! And ducks!!!) Steve teaches next door to me, and a few weeks ago I noticed him handing stickers to students as they came into class one morning. "Uh, whatcha doin' with the stickers?" I asked him as I prepared to make fun of his answer. But then Steve explained that the stickers represented bonus points and that he was giving them to his kids for being on time, which reduced my witty retort to a lame, "Huh. That's a good idea." And the next day I totally stole it.

You would not BELIEVE how into stickers 15 and 16 year-old kids can be. Even before today's visit to the Dollar Tree I had a decent variety of stickers -- apples, stars, George Washingtons, and Abe Lincolns -- but kids are fussy about their stickers, asking, "Can I have a pink star instead of a green one?" or "Can I trade in this Abe Lincoln for an apple?" Some even ask for an extra sticker to WEAR.

More importantly though, this sticker thing seems to be working, at least a little. The other day a frequently tardy young lady was chatting with her friends at the end of the hall just before class. I had merely to raise my eyebrows and wave a sticker in her direction to send her scampering in mine. "Oooh, I gotta go," she said seriously to her friends.

And this afternoon, another student who is ALWAYS late stopped by after school simply to tell me, "I'ma be on TIME tomorrow." "Oh? What's the occasion?" I teased. "I gotta get me that sticker," she answered emphatically.

Damn. And she doesn't even know about the brand new SPARKLY stickers! Or that tomorrow I plan to award stickers not only for being on time but also for not bitching about everything.


lulu said...

ooooooooooooooo sparkly stickers! I would totally not bitch in exchange for a sparkly sticker!

I use stickers for checking journals and the like, much easier than having to sign off on each book, and my kids also have specific sticker wants and desires, usually for the smiley faces wearing sunglasses, which are much cooler than the plain smiley faces.

Flannery Alden said...

I think I would need real money to stop bitching. :-)

You should write a book about your students. I find your school stories very entertaining.

Melissa said...

I can't wait for stories like this of my own!

Coaster Punchman said...

I'm thinking this sticker approach would work in office settings as well. As soon as I start managing people (yeah, like I really want to do tha) I'm going to institute it.

But why not give Mr. Yucky stickers and the like when the kids are bad? Hmmm, maybe not such a great idea.

Valerie said...

Didn't Amy (Mish Mash) have a post about those scratch and smell stickers awhile ago? Those would really get your kids excited.

I agree about the book of stories...I'd buy that.

Anonymous said...

mein gott...

Well, the one thing I've not tried so far, I need to try...

GETkristiLOVE said...

You should have seen our captain walk into our locker room this past Saturday night with sparkly Shamrock stickers, and the mobbing that took place to get one. 15 or 16 year olds? Hell, try three times that age and we all wanted to skate with a sparkly shamrock for St. Patty's day. Most people stuck them on their helmet or jersey, but I placed mine on my crotch. I'm gross, like your boyfriend.

RandyLuvsPaiste said...

When I worked on the adolescent psych unit, you never knew what they were gonna like and what was gonna be "totally gay".

Aren't kids a hoot?

Tenacious S said...

Megan, speaking as a behaviorist, let me tell you, it really does work. Anyone who has a job that they get paid for is following behavioral rules. Someone asks you to do something, you do it, you get rewarded (I like money personally, satisfaction is a close second). You hope that as people grow and change that the reward becomes intrinsic in nature as opposed to extrinsic. Go Skinner!!!!!!!

Anon. Blogger said...

Yep, I'm totally into rewards. My kids take great pride in being the super fab kids they know they are. However, (see the comment on the following post) consequences still have their place!

blueblanket said...

How about sparkly UNICORN stickers? Oh, I would have died for one of those. Hmmm... I'm a little too excited about this idea myself. I wonder if that'll work on employees too?

vikkitikkitavi said...

Here's my lame-ass response to this post: can't you get perforated stickers that you don't have to cut apart?

Anonymous said...

Yeah... I talked about the smelly stickers :) I loved those. They aren't the same anymore, though. I'm sure the good ones from days gone by cause cancer or something.

Perhaps you should save the sparkly stickers for using correct grammar?? Like saying "I'm going to be on time tomorrow", instead of "I'ma be on time tomorrow". Or, is that too much of a stretch?

Professor said...

I use stickers with my high school kids all the time and they love them. They also complain on days when I don't put stickers on papers. They also COMPETE for stickers. High school kids. whoddathunk it?

Megan said...

Lu - I had a kid on Friday who came back out of the classroom to me in the hall and handed me his sticker. "I keep getting the SAME one every day," he pouted. Admittedly it was one of the lame ones.

Flannery - Thanks! Maybe in my spare time?

Melissa - Indeed, it will rock.

CP - They'd probably LIKE Mr. Yucky stickers. It would be a novelty.

Valerie - They'd go crazy for scratch n' sniff stickers! Especially if they were marijuana scented and you could actually catch a buzz of 'em.

Orange - Silly, but somewhat effective. Enjoy.

GKL - I can tolerate a certain amount of grossness. Especially if it's funny.

Randy - And it's all about what the other kids think too. If the first few kids had thought it was the wackest (yes, they actually say that) thing ever, you can bet your ass the rest of the kids would have followed suit.

TenS - I know it works, I just kinda wish it didn't. I'd like to think I can't be bought for a mere sticker. :-)

AB - Your kids are awesome.

Blue Blanket - Um, the boys would hand the unicorn stickers right back. Well, most of them would.

Vikki - I'm not sure they make such a thing, and if they do you probably have to pay an arm and a leg for them.

Amy - That would be totally hypocritical of me, as my way of saying "I am going to. . ." ("I'munna")is not much better than "I'ma."

Professor - Thanks for stopping by. Kids are funny, no doubt about it.

allie said...

Hi all,
I was so happy to read this blog. I used to love smell stickers so much when I was in 1-2nd grade that I collected them and still have them today. Now, I've even created a new line of them! They are selling well and many of my customers are teachers. The students love these Smell Stickers! Check my story out and my stickers at www.smellstickers.com. =)