To Badge or Not to Badge: A Matter of Preference

Badges like all rewards aren't necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing. In life we have rewards, incentives and 'points' we earn from just about everything we do whether it is buying gas, airline miles, BOGO deals, coupons, even if you switch over to....get three months free. Every where you look we are being enticed by advertising. Many classrooms are using some sort of reward system in their design. Earning a trip to the mystery box is always a good motivator for younger children and older alike. I see why they can be successful. I choose not to use them however, because I feel a student-centered classroom operates best not from compliance but from community. I do not reward for what is expected. Students write the rules and goals. They enforce the behavior by making good choices. Of course they make mistakes but peer pressure keeps the community running smoothly most of the time. A little pressure and modeling of mindful strategies for both joy and personal motivation. We want to work and do our best when we know the outcome is not what matters most but the journey. Journeys are individual, you get what you get out of each adventure because you choose to commit and enjoy the experience. Even the grumpiest of spirits may lose out on a roller-coaster ride if they are not willing to have fun.

Badges work for some people. I have never given incentives in my classroom in the form of candy or a sticker. But after they have done a fantastic job I usually give them some token of my appreciation. They do not always get it, rarely in fact but the anticipation that they might be free to go outside for a bit or play on their phones is enough to keep them motivated. But what truly engages them is not the off chance of free-time but rather not having homework. If they work hard and stay on task they never have any homework and this badge of accomplishment means more to my students then anything. Knowing that they didn't earn anything but accomplished a goal, a task and they feel good about that. Many authors I have read recently have explained this phenomenon as desensitizing or devaluing a task. Once we as teachers put a value on something it makes it seem like work. In our classroom we complete many tasks that are not graded. Students create their own activities that are used to demonstrate knowledge not add to their grade per se. So early on I instill a sense of growth over grades. Knowledge over reward. It may sound like a cop out but students buy into it quickly when they know that everything in our student-centered classroom is based on choice, self-determination and pride rather than a letter in a grade book.

Rewards can be motivating. But for me, student-centered achievement is the reward. The ability to choose and design their own learning does not need a rewards program only my patience, their freedom and our community support.

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