Saturday, February 2, 2013

The problem with reinforcement and scripted lessons

One of the topics brought up in class this week that really struck me was the idea of scripted lesson plans. I had no idea that there were schools that were so strict. I could not imagine going into the classroom each day, opening up to a page, and reading the script from it. Those schools might as well hire actors, substitute teachers, heck, assembly line workers. Granted, there are obviously some advantages to scripted lesson plans or they would never have been implemented. However, scripted lessons leave less room for innovation and student-teacher relationships. Further-more, what then happens to those students who need modifications and adjustments to the lessons? How can those teachers possibly meet the needs of all their students if they must read from a script each day?

 The worst teacher I can ever remember having was one who, even in high school, had us open our textbook each day while she read word-for-word the textbook to us. Then we would do the questions at the back of the book and occasionally watch a video. I cannot even remember one thing that I learned from that teacher, besides how NOT to teach. The best teachers I had were the ones who kept us engaged, who used a variety of different teaching styles, and could listen to our ideas and change their plans day-to-day.  Scripted lessons go against every-thing I have learned about teaching so far, and it is scary that this is the direction some schools are choosing to go.

Another suggestion that got me thinking was the idea of using less reinforcement in the classroom. This idea is so completely different than what I've seen in the schools, and in books, and online. I've seen positive reinforcement work, and work well. However, when I stop and think for a moment, it’s funny, but I’m reminded of the research I did when I was training my new dog. Some websites swore by positive reinforcement to teach, do a trick, and get a treat. We all know that works. Some other websites swore by negative reinforcement, don’t listen and get locked up. Granted, I can tell you that will work too. But the website that made the most sense was the one that explained the idea of simply getting to know your dog, and establishing a role where you’re respected. Teaching the dog to understand the appropriate relationship you want to have with them, one where you are the leader and they follow.

Now, I’m not suggesting we seriously compare children to dogs. The concept is that although treats and reprimands work, even with animals, you don’t learn anything from them. Besides that,we aren't teaching animals, we are teaching people! If we teach children to rely on extrinsic motivation, where does that get them in life? Instead of just doing something because it’s right, they will constantly be asking, “What’s in it for me?” Is that really the type of people we want to raise?

The students that I teach will be expected to do more than retain information to regurgitate on test-days for a good grade. They’re going to learn about the world because they live in it and want to know about it, because it matters to them. They’re going to help each other, and be responsible and hard-working not because they will earn a sticker, but because that’s what people do. Children do not go to school to learn how to “be good at school.” They go to school to learn how to live a good life; how to be good people, and so that is what I will teach. 

Obviously, that is the goal of all teachers, and even of parents. To have their kind WANT to learn, and have good work ethic, be kind, and good people in general, for no other reason than that's what they should do. There ARE some kids who can and will achieve that. However, having worked with children, I'm finding it a challenge to NOT use these types of reinforcements. Frankly, because they work, and sometimes are the only things that work. It's something that I think may come with time for me, and for the students, but is a goal that I want to try to accomplish.