The Zombie Grinch: our new points system

We had just read the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day by Judith Viorst. The kids loved it, and I think most of them got the main message: we all have bad days, all around the world. We talked a little about what caused Alexander to have a terrible day and how this book applies to our classroom and our lives.

So it should seem fitting that the very next day, I had a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good day. And I mean really terrible, really horrible, very bad.

I’m only in this classroom for three months, so a couple weeks ago I caved and started a points system. I don’t agree with points systems; they don’t match my philosophy of “classroom management”. I think that if we’re bribing kids to do things, we’re expecting them to do unreasonable things. If we have reasonable expectations, then kids will do things for other, natural reasons (read Punished by Rewards, Beyond Discipline or really anything by Alfie Kohn). Against my philosophy, I decided to do this points system because I simply don’t have the time I would normally have to illicit a growth mindset, to work on creating a caring, loving community of learners, and so on. I thought, well maybe it’s okay to give them a little motivation for certain things. So we started an ongoing game: Me vs. Them. It was super exciting at first. But I found that they wouldn’t do things if they knew they weren’t going to get a point for it. And then, one day, they wouldn’t do things even when they were going to get a point for it. The points had gotten boring. That day, they just didn’t care. And that was a huge problem because that was the day we were to count the points and decide how they’d reward themselves. I allowed them to be a few behind, knowing that they’d catch up at the end of the day. I tried my darnedest to give them those extra points and let them win… I just couldn’t do it. I would be sending the message that I don’t mean what I say. They just could not get the points.

I was able to bring them to a tie, but I knew the system had to go. The next day, during morning meeting, I told the students that I had a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good day yesterday. I explained to them why I felt that way and was very stern about a few things that need to stop so that we can all have good days. I made a couple changes – things the students had been doing that they shouldn’t be (based on safety rules and classroom agreements), and warned about the effects of certain behaviors (for example, breaking, losing, or otherwise not caring for materials would result in fewer materials to use). Later that day, I told them that the point system was gone. I told them that it didn’t make sense to me that I should be against them because I’m always rooting for them, and I really am a part of their team. If I don’t give clear instructions, that affects their ability to get a point. Who gets the point if they don’t follow instructions because the instructions are unclear? If they are goofing around, then we’re all unsuccessful in our learning goal. The entire community – including me. So I told them I’d like to be on their team – because I’m a part of the learning community, too.

We pondered what system we could implement instead (at this point I thought it’d be more damaging to completely remove the system than to modify it – even if it doesn’t match my philosophy). The students came up with two ideas – zombies and the grinch. The grinch because he steals things – in this case learning, cooperation, time, etc. And zombies. I don’t remember exactly where that one came – I think something to do with us being like zombies when we’re not being good learners. So we put the two together and came up with the zombie grinch who steals good things and prevents us from learning. Throughout the day, students would say, “Hey, we’re all following instructions, we should get a point!” or “Uh oh, they’re not cooperating, the zombie grinch is stealing their learning!”

I feel like they’re really starting to see the purpose of being in a classroom. It’s not to blindly follow directions, it’s not to sit idly and pretend to listen, it’s not to be “good” when the teacher is looking and be “bad” when the teacher has turned away. It’s not about trying to please the teacher, or feeling threatened to behave a certain way. It’s not about what grade goes on the report card, or feeling disappointed when the teacher talks to your parents. It’s about learning. Learning to get along with others, learning to think. It’s about being curious, asking questions, and finding answers! It’s about finding your passion, what you’re good at, and what you might one day be good at. School is about creating amazing human beings! And with our new system, I think they kids are really starting to see this.

Now I have to decide if this counts as bribing or if this system meshes with my philosophy. I’m not yet sure. What do you think?

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