Even more pointless points

Points Facebook photo

What does going to school have in common with Leysdown seafront? The idea that points win prizes it would seem. I say this as the mum of a child with 1130 house points accumulated in just five weeks. No, I am not proud. I am angry.

mum with quote about house points being like seaside tokensLet me take you back to the 80s when I attended primary school. There were four houses; York, Balmoral, Richmond and Gloucester. I was in York. I was proud to be in York. I might get one house point every couple of weeks. Maybe I had opened a door for a teacher without being asked or had really excelled in a piece of work. There were extra opportunities for earning house points on occasions such as sports day or by being a teacher’s helper at lunchtime. Getting a house point felt like owning a piece of gold and I would colour in the square on the sheet in the classroom with pride as I watched my house points accumulate alongside others.

At the end of the term the house with the most points throughout the school was awarded four points, the third, three, the second, two and those in last place, one house point. These were added to the main chart in the hall for all to see. At the end of the year the house with the most points won the house point trophy and the house captain went up to receive it in assembly on behalf of their house. I am hoping this sounds familiar to some of you.

21st Century house points

Scoot back to 2017 and now it’s all about how many house points you need in exchange for a building set, cinema ticket or afternoon tea with the head teacher. And we are talking big numbers. Hundreds and hundreds of house points needed. But that’s ok, because just doing your homework will earn you 20 points. Putting your hand up in class, five points.

It makes me wonder where the time is to teach the children if the teachers are dishing out house points every time a pupil breathes in or out successfully.

Beyond the points, there seem to be countless other motivational incentives. In a world where we can’t have winners or losers at sports day, it is beyond me why we can dish out pupil of the week, top table, stars in their eyes, spelling star and a prize for the kid at the top of maths mountain. Don’t even get me started on 100% attendance (No don’t, I tried to include that here…it has taken on a life of its own for another post!).

Scream time

Then there’s carrots on sticks. And this is where the materialistic nature of these incentives has taken an astounding turn. Currently, my son informs me, if he gets all his spellings right this term, he will be put into a prize draw with other children from local schools to win…. a digital reading device akin to a Kindle. That’s right people. A couple of hundred pounds worth of tech that to be quite honest I would rather my son didn’t own. This is wrong for several reasons…

  1. The odds of Mini Cooper 1 winning are slim considering how many kids will be in the ballot.
  2. He doesn’t understand this.
  3. He believes he will win.
  4. When he doesn’t win – he still wants a tablet.
  5. We aren’t going to buy him one.

Meme asking the question 'what happens if parents decline high-tech prize' from school incentive schemeIf he has a tablet at the tender age of 7, the four year old is going to start on about when does he get one and slowly but surely the screen-free buffer zone becomes less. I may as well buy 10 month old Mini Cooper 3 her own iPhone now.

Pointless

While I am on the subject of screens, these house points have to be banked. Not by picking up the nearest half decent yellow felt tipped pen as in my day, oh no. This is the era of online reward points. There is a website dedicated to storing the house points.

The kids log in, they tap in the 16 digit code on the house point voucher that has been screwed up in their pocket all day and it adds the points to their total. They are supposed to put in the reason why they were given the points. Mini Cooper 1 can never remember (so clearly there’s an incentive working right there yeah?!) They can check how many they have against their classmates. There are class leaderboards, year leaderboards, school leaderboards (no gold medals at sports day remember). It’s a joke.

My son sits for 20 minutes trying to remember his password, then I sit for 20 minutes reading out digits on slips of paper for points he doesn’t even remember why he was given. Meanwhile Mini Cooper 2 could do with some help with his reading book (an actual book) and Mini Cooper 3 has given up learning to clap and gone to sleep

Flawed rewards

I will admit I have been of the parenting camp against reward charts. I did not want the children to do something just because they would get a reward. I will also admit that when it came to trying to get a decent night’s sleep, we relented and created our own sleep charts complete with stickers chosen by the boys. I will also say, they worked… for a while. I say that, because after a few nights of getting stickers for staying in bed Mini Cooper 1 decided he would fill the chart with stickers for just about any reason he could think of. Suffice to say, the reward/response link didn’t really work for him there.

So, who are all these incentives really for? Let’s face it the schools are going to a lot of effort to put these systems in place, build them up and sustain them. When we boil it down it’s all about educational targets. Getting the children to achieve so the school isn’t seen to be failing by the all-seeing eye of Ofsted. The children don’t care about Ofsted. The children care about which little toy they might get if their name is called for top table on Friday. The children care about why they weren’t Star of the Week when they tried so hard with their reading. The children care about what they will be given in return for doing something. Our target-driven educational system is promoting the 21st Century materialistic lifestyle. It isn’t promoting the idea that you might want to learn something purely for the love of learning.

Good enough?

memeAnd while these incentive schemes are building up schools and Ofsted, are they actually building up our little ones? If this is all being done to please The Powers That Be, where are our children learning to please themselves? How do they work out their own threshold for having done well? We live in a world of people who don’t feel ‘good enough’. It’s something to do with expectations and the bar we set for ourselves. Should the system really be motivating children to reach blanket-all targets or would realistic individualised goals be more beneficial? Rewarding achievements that mean something to that one child. Shouldn’t we be focussing on the rewards of self awareness, self motivation, self confidence and self esteem? The effect of any one of which on a young person is certain to last far beyond the plastic stationery set my son can get in exchange for 600 points.

Badge of honour

So, while I am giving these rewards a hard time, I realise there is a place for them in learning. As a student myself I am guilty of chasing the reward (Read more here: “Getting the Bit of Paper“). When I first logged on to the dashboard of the web design course I am currently studying with LearnDirect, I was met with an achievement pie chart and a league table. Further investigation revealed various digital award badges for different achievements; number of days you consecutively log in, number of hours you have studied, number of assignments in on time. Logging in three times in a row before 7am gets you the cutest little early bird icon on your profile, while logging in after 11pm three days on a row wins you the night owl (squeeee!).

Who needs those?

Dashboard screenshotAfter scoffing to DH ‘who do they think they’re kidding, we are adults, I don’t need these silly little games,’ I of course got totally and utterly sucked in and had to earn as many of these digital badges as I possibly could. I currently sit top of the leaderboard (although there’s no explanation as to what I am the leader of; students in the region, country, on my course, the last five people to log in….who knows). That’s not the point, the point is the motivational rewards here have helped me to scoot through the course at the pace I have wanted and, I will admit, have given me little confidence boosts along the way.

So what am I moaning about then? Well, the difference is, I am an adult. I know I am being persuaded and manipulated to get my work done. I understand what incentives are and I already had the self-motivation and the self-confidence needed to learn. My fear is that a child knows none of this and they are being lulled into a short-lived land of bribery and materialism that merely promotes a ‘what are going to give me for that then?’ attitude. It’s education not a seaside sideshow.

Right, I am off to check Mini Cooper 1’s pockets before popping his uniform in the wash. It is no longer the paper hankie that I fear. It is the house point. Those tatty slips of paper turn to reward confetti in the twinkle of an eye. I wonder how many I would need to get a new washing machine or tumble drier?

 

*Thanks to the mums I have quoted along the way here. Read more about what mums think about primary school reward schemes here.

Further reading?

LINKS

Believe me there’s a heap of stuff out there. Here is just a selection of the stuff I have read this week while preparing this blog post…

https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/092011_incentives_fryer_allen_paper2.pdf

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/6833871/School-reward-culture-is-harming-education.html

http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/small-nudges-can-push-students-in-the.html

 

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October 20th, 2017 by