Speaking French (or any second language) at school is like learning a new habit. We are in the habit of speaking English. We need to learn the habit of speaking French. It isn't easy.
Incentive and reward programs are a bad idea. They don't work. Just fire up Netflicks and watch "Freakanomics" (or read the book) and you'll hear the reasons why. Some quick reasons are the following:
- there is no credible data that shows that they work
- they set up internal competition
- people always (always) find ways to cheat the system
- reward programs undermine teamwork and cooperation
- they create cynics and losers
- they don't create a lasting commitment, they are temporary
Who's really up for arguing with Alfie Kohn, author of the article I got the above statements from? Certainly not this little 'ole teacher.
How do we get them to speak French? I think the REAL answer might be AIM language training, but we'll need to put that aside for now (I don't have it but I plan to).
You are in a French Immersion class now, you know your shoddy award program isn't working, what do you do?
Enter the Button Game (grade 1 January):
- Each student gets 10 buttons in a container with a lid (the ziploc bags were a nightmare)
- The focus is to use the words we know. By this time in the year there is an understanding among the class about what might be the words we know.
- If a student hears someone using an English word, and they are pretty certain that it is a 'word we know' they have to provide the French word, "Non Shannon, ce n'est pas je walked à l'école, c'est je marche." and then politely say, "Donne moi un bouton s'il vous plaît."
- You can only take away a button from the same person once in the day. It was my son who proudly proclaimed I LOVE sitting beside so-and-so, she ALWAYS speaks in English, I got 7 buttons from her in 10 minutes. Yeesh.
- We play for a week frantically exchanging buttons.
- Button taking is not allowed during a lesson, a student presentation, or carpet time, that just got crazy, it was mostly for during group work, independent work time, snack, lunch.
- At the end of the week we counted buttons and students recorded their personal button count.
- Is there a winner? Sort of. Whoever has the most buttons at the end of the week is now a button GIVER, they can't TAKE buttons the following week, now they can only reward with a button. If they hear their peers speaking in French during those independent times, in the hallway, in groups, at snack and lunch they can give them a button.
- The teacher gives and takes buttons too. The button GIVER can count up their buttons but if they still have the most buttons at the end of the next week we go down to the next highest button getter and make them a GIVER"
- By the end of several weeks there are lots of GIVERS and still some takers. We only play for a month or 2, otherwise it got distracting and we all lost our zeal for the whole idea.
Oh the problems.
- students will take buttons from some classmates and not others (ie: their friends)
- students will bring buttons from home to beef up their stash (this never happened that I know of but, it totally could right?)
- students will reward only their friends
- students will argue
- students will lie (I didn't know pencil was "mon crayon")
- some students decided not to say anything for fear of saying an English word, there were a few quiet weeks, they eventually got over it . . .
So shoot me now terrible teacher but my partner teacher and I did do this game in grade 1. We dealt with the problems. We talked to students about self-regulating, that the goal was to get in the habit of speaking French and to remind them that they do know lots of words, not all the words, but lots.
- everyone knew about and was talking about the button game, the students, the grade 2s, the parents, the mailman, buttons were all the rage, it was exciting, it really was
- students were hyper mindful about the 'words we know' AND heaven forbid we do a unit about animals and learn some new words, MADAME WE KNOW THOSE ONES TOO
- students spoke more French, it became a habit, do I have any data, ummm, er . . . no Mr. Kohn I do not have data . . .
But is it really a reward? Can we call it a gentle reminder program? A habit inducing idea? A button bonanza? I know, probably not, let's consider this post more a documentation of what happened rather than a suggestion of best practice (I am so the worst teacher ever).
Hopefully this post will generate some ideas, feedback, very few scathing comments, and maybe some button excitement just to spice up those dreary cold January and February months.
Safe to say Alfie Kohn probably doesn't subscribe to my RSS feed so let's say we keep this between us and our few hundred twitter followers hmmm?
What other language teachers are doing:
Madame Milou uses class Dojo - check out her post!
Sylvia Duckworth, the Queen of AIM and second language teaching (check out her blogs)