I hate stickers.
I don’t like using them to reward a student for high achievement. I don’t’ like using them to reward good behavior. When I was in elementary school, I remember getting stickers for all of those things and I don’t remember what I had accomplished to get them. Going to school and doing well in something wasn’t so that I can learn a skill, gain an understanding or remembering some facts. I wanted the stickers to see the large collection of stickers on my folder (that I so carefully transferred).
My motivation to behave and do well was to get the stickers to increase my collection of things. The more I had, I felt like I had achieved more and that led to a sense of accomplishment. Not to mention, showing off my sticker filled folder to my classmates.
In that way, do I love stickers?
I am a gamer. I play all sorts of games. Video games, card games, board games, you name it, I’ll play them. Specifically with video games, I’ve been playing them since I was in 3rd Grade with my first GameBoy system that I was glued to for an entire summer. I distinctly remember when I accomplished this that summer:
I remember figuring out the pattern that the final boss attacked, figuring out how to dodge them, and finally defeating the boss. That gave me a huge sense of accomplishment. Then, being able to share how I beat the boss to my friends who are stuck. Why is it that I can remember exactly what I did to feel that sense of accomplishment in a video game, but I can’t remember what I learned to achieve stickers?
With a little bit of introspection, I think there are three key factors: the sense of play, internal motivation, and social recognition. Playing is fun. If you can couple that sense of fun with additional internal motivation to achieve, and a level of social recognition for the accomplishment, that might be a tri-fecta for learning.
How can we bring that sense into the classroom?
I don’t think everything needs to be a game. But, I feel like students should always feel like they are playing when they are in school. When you’re playing, you’re not worried about making a mistake or failing. What if you can have a classroom environment where it’s okay to be wrong? What if the response when a student makes an error is, “Cool you got something wrong! What are you going to do differently next?” Won’t that lead to being motivated to try again so that you can reach a goal?
Play also involves exploration. Understanding what you have to work with and manipulating them so that it works for you. I often talk about math in the classroom as playing with numbers and shapes. We get to mess around with them to see how many different ways we can do (solve) something. That, can also lead to internal motivation. It’s the sense of accomplishment that the students crave. Different students seek this in different ways whether it’s teacher approval or something else that’s external, but leading the kids to start feeling accomplished themselves for what they have been doing would be key.
Finally, some level of social recognition. Being able to teach what they have done to someone else, to become the resident expert, or naming some sort of reading, writing, math strategy after them in the class can accomplish that. In addition, awards that allows an individual to be recognized for their achievements (Microsoft’s GameScore, Sony’s Trophy System, Foursquare Badges) can make the sense of accomplishment even sweeter. (Oh no, I might be back to stickers again).
So, how can stickers be used? As a badge. Not for one accomplishment, but as a way to show an increasing level of expertise. It probably shouldn’t be given often because the “badge” itself will lose meaning. Let it be a way for students to show that they are an expert at something and they can become “go-to” people for helping others.
I’m okay with stickers.
Sorry that this post became so long! Thank you for reading!