Friday, February 21, 2014

Applied task 1: Extrinsic Rewards

     Since the beginning of the course I've been rethinking my teaching. Is everything I'm doing right? What can I do to help my students? What type of activities can help my students have more control over their own learning?
     The texts say students should have the control over learning and that they shouldn't feel that they are in a dangerous environment. The amygdala is a part of the brain associated with emotions, mostly bad ones. The brain tries to survive no matter what, and the amygdala is responsible for identifying threatening situations and acting accordingly. Once the amygdala is triggered, it gets on the way of learning. Therefore, students should feel safe and in control in order to learn.
     I've never been the kind of teacher that spends two hours talking, but it doesn't mean I have been doing everything right. From everything I've read, one thing called my attention the most: Intrinsic rewards are better than extrinsic rewards. 
I've been using extrinsic rewards in my classes all the time and I thought they were helpful. Actually, they ARE helpful, just not in the way I thought. The great problem with extrinsic rewards is that they take control from the student and give it to the teacher. Whenever students feel they don't have the control, their brains assume they are in a hostile environment and learning doesn't happen as expected. The teacher is the owner of the happy faces, the stickers and the grades, WE decide who is learning or not, we have the control. According to the text, that can do more harm than good. What I usually do is: If the students do their homework, they get a sticker, by the end of the semester, they can trade stickers for pencils and erasers. That alone wasn't helping my students learn, but it was encouraging them to do their homework. Making sure my students are doing their homework is something really important. First because homework is responsible for consolidating everything they've done in class and second because some parents simply don't have time to make sure their kids do their homework, so some kids simply don't do it. Junior students are too young to understand that doing homework is really important, if you ask a student why they have to do homework they will say something like "so we study even more", "so we can't play", "I don't know". So, as incentive to start doing something, my extrinsic rewards can really help. If the student opens the book to do the homework because they want a sticker, it is a good thing. However, once the student starts doing homework, there should be something else, they need to WANT to do their homework, and that's where the problem begins. How do you motivate kids to want to learn? I don't have a magical answer for that question, but I've been trying to come up with a solution. I've been trying to find students' motivation and to make sure they have the control over learning.
   This week I sat with my Teens 5 students to find out what is already motivating them. I thought I was going to hear "I'm just here because my mother told me to" or  "One day I'll need it for Vestibular", but their answers really surprised me! They said: "I want to learn English because I want to understand the stories of the video games I play",  "I want to learn English because I want to watch sitcoms without subtitles. I have to wait one week for the subtitles and I want to watch the episode as soon as it's released", "I want to travel and be able to do everything by myself", "I've lived in the US for 3 years when I was younger, so my English is "immature", I want to improve my English" and, finally, one student said "I want to learn English so I can show it to my friends". What did I get from all that? They DO want to learn English! There is something already motivating them. Theoretically, all I have to do is use their motivations to help them learn. I don't know if it is going to work, but I'm most certainly going to try. I'm going to bring more practical activities to class, things that they can use but that are also related to the content; maybe I can also give them homework related to what they like. In class, I'm going to make sure students feel comfortable. If the student thinks the classroom is a dangerous environment, his/her amygdala will be triggered and learning will not happen. I will also make sure I use more eliciting and more activities in which the student can produce knowledge.
  That is all very interesting, but what about my sticker rewards? Well, they are not the center of the class or the most important thing, and they were helping students get started on their home assignments, so for now they stay, but I'll try to make sure, once they get started on their homework, that they have their own goals in mind.