Okay, Chapter 1, here goes…
There’s a lot of emphasis these days on “data-based decision making” and “data-informed instruction.” The process of collecting and sorting through data IS valuable, simply as one facet of getting to know your kids and to make sure you can locate relevant baseline data for students. Using data is a jumping-off point. It should not be thought of as a substitute for building positive and educationally-appropriate relationships with students.
This chapter discusses the “classroom economy,” by discussing what “currencies” kids bring to the classroom environment and how they choose to “spend” them. A classroom currency can be thought of as a student’s resources. (Some may like to call them a student’s resiliencies.) The author defines them as, “any behavior that students use to acquire the knowledge and skills important to your grade level or subject area.” (p. 31) She also states that these resources & behaviors are, “actively negotiated and traded in every classroom interaction.” (p. 31)
So how do kids acquire the currencies that are needed for success in the classroom? Simple: We give it to them. We teach them what our classroom expectations are, we show them what they need to do to be successful, we reinforce positive and accepted/expected behaviors (see – gaining classroom currencies is like getting a paycheck), and we stop and reteach when the expectations are not met. Through building relationships with kids, you discover what currencies they have or need to build. (You can’t find that stuff on a spreadsheet!)
Here’s an interesting point: Sometimes kids choose not to “spend” their classroom currencies. When we were kids, we viewed doing homework like adults view taxes – it is an expected and non-negotiable expenditure of currency. Kids today, especially older students in high school and middle school, view homework more like a trip to the store – they’re not buying it. Some may chose not to spend their classroom currencies on doing homework or participating in class activities because those things hold no perceived value to the student(s).
So, how do you create the perception of value to the student? Well, how do stores and businesses do it? They may have focus groups examine a product and gather feedback on how to improve its marketability. Through advertising, they explain the benefits of the product to the consumer. Some develop rewards programs to encourage consumers and build a strong customer base. They constantly improve and update products to keep buyers coming back for more.
What does that mean for the classroom? Build relationships with kids to find out what they want and what they need. Explain how important the activity is to kids. Show them how the activity relates to the real world. Develop classroom incentive plans, and consider individual incentive plans for the more reluctant students. Don’t settle into the rut of complacency – constantly look for ways to make so-so lessons better and ways to make good lessons great. Most importantly, ask yourself if the activity is relevant to kids’ personal experiences – past, present, and future – and make sure you develop assignments that have meaning to kids for more than just a grade in a classroom. Make them want to spend their classroom currencies on the activities you lay before them.