The Sticker Generation

I had an interesting chat with a group of Grade 7s in my building this week.  They were giving their French teacher some grief and so I decided not to intervene really, but rather to have a conversation with them about what was going on.

Through this conversation I discovered that the kids had some definite ideas on what would make French class better.  It caused me no end of concern when they said things about stickers, suckers, and earning points so they could watch movies.

“Really?” I said to them.  “So what you’re telling me is that you’re only going to do what’s asked of you if you get something out of it?”

“Pretty much!” is what they told me right back.

If you know me, and many of you do, you can probably imagine my reaction.  I smiled at first, nodded because I had heard their words….and then promptly told them they better change that attitude because when they come to me in Grade 8 there are no stickers or suckers anymore.  In fact, I outlined for them exactly how I teach.   They asked me a few questions that I answered very bluntly.

1.  How many textbook questions will you give us?  So I told them my answer, practically none.  And they cheered and cheered, until I told them why.  The text book is too easy.  It gives you the impression that you only need math to answer some questions someone in a room thought of and put into a book.  I’m going to make you show me how math functions in the real world.  You’re going to be wishing you had a textbook when you see what I will expect from you.

2.  Do you assign homework?  Nope, I said.  Again…more cheers!  I assign deadlines.  And I expect that you will meet them to some degree of consistency.  I will expect you to manage your own workload.  If I give you a practise assignment and you choose not to do it, I will assume that means you obviously know what you are doing.  When will we both find out if you do or don’t?  Well that’s the interesting part isn’t it.  Because I will find out.  But will you be proactive and try to master your own learning?  Or will you be reactive when you get the bad grade and now need to scramble to make up for what you should have learned the first time around?

My expectations are high and I will expect you to learn what is being taught not because I’m going to give you a sticker, but because at the end of the day it you will acknowledge that there is some value in learning for the sake of learning.

“What is the NATURAL reward of learning?” I asked them.

“We get smarter.”

“We know more stuff.”

“It helps us get jobs or into university.”

“Because it makes us better us people…..”

Wow, imagine that came from a kid in Grade 7, a 12 year old???  It makes us better people.

So we wound this back to our conversation about French class.  One kid said he didn’t understand why he had to take French if he hates it.  I told him, to truly know that you hate something, you have to understand it first.  And the only way to truly understand something is to immerse yourself in it, give it a chance (with an open mind) and let it run its course for awhile.

But here’s the kicker…..

You can’t be in it for the stickers.  Or you’re going to wind up hating everything.  Because eventually, the stickers stop coming.

This topic is of particular interest to me and I have been motivated to speak about it (run a discussion group about it) at a fabulous conference in Calgary, Alberta in May of 2013.  It’s called Connect Ed Canada.  It is probably the best conference I’ve been to in a long time.  The quality of the educators you will meet is high and the discussion you will engage in will be rich and meaningful.  I encourage you to come join us!  You can also find the hashtag #connectedca on Twitter.

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About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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