Thursday, January 17, 2008

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

One of the big topics of conversation a few weeks ago at our in-service was ways to motivate our kids. A lot of our students come from families where education is not a priority. Many of my parents are high school drop outs themselves. A lot of these kids (and parents) just don't see the point of doing well in school so, consequently, they don't. They're more interested in becoming football players, hip hop artists, or rock stars. (Or drug dealers...)

Some of the better, and more successful, ideas that were presented had an element of competition involved. I love this idea because real life is, after all, competitive. I spent fifteen years in the corporate sector and I saw competition that makes reality TV seem downright tame. I worry when I see educational experts (and teachers) doing their very best to remove competition from kids' lives because that's going to ensure that they won't have the skills to deal with competition and failure. Both of which are very, very real.

So Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I were knocking around some ideas the other day to come up with ways to motivate our kids and we realized that, for the first time, our class periods were all very similar. Usually one team was designated as the inclusion team so they got a lot of the spec ed kids, one team got all the band kids (which tend to be better students), and another team got the trouble makers. This year, however, with all the seventh graders on the same schedule, things were more evenly distributed. And even stranger, all our first period classes were very similar, all our second periods were very similar, and so forth and so on.

And we got to thinking...why not let each of the three seventh grade class periods compete against each other to see which of them ends up with the highest grade point average at the end of the grading period?

I presented the idea to the kids and they absolutely loved the idea. They weren't even all that concerned about what the prize would be, although they suggested a pizza party to the winning classes. (Which was kind of what we were thinking although we'll need to find a way to pay for it...fundraiser anyone?) They just loved the idea of beating the other teams and having bragging rights. Adding pizza to the mix just made it better.

So we put together some charts to track the weekly class averages and I posted the current week's results on my whiteboard.

And my fifth period class has an average grade of 68%.

70% is passing.

My fifth period, which has my biggest group of behavior problems and which is my loudest and most talkative class, was stunned.

"We suck," they said.

"I'm not going to disagree," I responded. "Although I might have phrased that a bit differently."

"That's embarrassing," they said.

"This is stupid," Sickly Girl said. "I'm getting an A this nine weeks. I got an A all year in sixth grade and the only reason I'm not getting an A now is I'm not doing anything and I got an F!"

Many heads nod in agreement. "Yeah, we can do better," a few others said. "We just need to study and do our work, and it's really not that hard."

"And shut up!" Hip Hop Boy declared. A stunning declaration considering that this child speaks at a yell most of the time.

"Well," I told them. "It's up to you. You decide where you want to be on this board. Winning or Losing."

"We want to win!" they scream. "We want pizza!"

The result? Kids who have never, ever turned in a single homework assignment all year....turned it in early this week. Even Shrek Boy.

Perhaps a little competition is all they needed...

Update!!!! This week's class average has risen!!! They are now at 70.2%!!!


Kim said...

Isn't it amazing what a little healthy competition does for kids?

The three 5th grades at my school have a friendly competition in math. We compete to see which class will make the most growth from one math test to the next. Our kiddos have taken it a run. We even have a triple line graph up in our room to compare all of the average test scores.

You go, Girls!

ms-teacher said...

I have two blocks of Language Arts that I teach to students who need a little bit of extra help. Today, we were learning a new grammar rule and one of the things they hate to do is read. This particular assignment required just that; they needed to read.

There were ten sentences that my students had to work on. The first group, only a handful got 9 out of 10 and quite a few barely got half right. When my second group came in, I challenged them to do better. However I told them that in order to do better they would need to read.

They blew the other class out of the water. Half of the students received either a ten or a nine, while just two or three did as poorly as the earlier group. The difference really was that they took the time to look at the sentences, look at the example in the book and then apply what they read.

They were so excited that they had done so much better than the first group. I think in some situations competition is a good thing. Many of my students are involved in some type of sports outside of school. It just makes sense to tap into that!

Karen said...

Very Interesting! We just ended our 2nd quarter so I have final grades. I teach three 7th grade reading classes and our state tests are coming up. I might adapt this idea for use in my room to get the kids motivated to think more and work harder.

Mrs. T said...

As a person who is rather non-competitive, I sometimes forget that a little healthy competition is just what some of my students might need. I'll have to remember that! So many times my kids ask how the "other" class did on a particular project or test. I'll up the ante next time!

Mr. Pullen said...

I simply must chime in with my own post about the virtues of competition:

Darren said...

When kids do better than they think they can do--that's what makes our job worth the hassles.