Saturday, July 27, 2013

Icky Incentive Program

Now that I'm home, unpacked, and have slept off some of my time change jet lag I'm catching up on some of the work emails I missed from the week. As I'm sorting though, I discovered this email:

Good Morning,
Teacher A is putting the incentive that is attached in place for this school year and wanted to share it.  I think it would be great if the entire 4th grade adopted it.  Fact fluency is huge in Common Core in the primary grades but we will not be reaping the benefits of the focused instruction for a couple of years, so this is a great way to get our students actively involved in their learning!  Thanks, Teacher A!

Here's the attached incentive:

Dear Parents,

Welcome to fourth grade math! Students are expected to enter fourth grade knowing their basic multiplication (0x0 – 9x9) facts. Basic fact tests are timed and are a part of the math grade for each marking period. A fun classroom incentive is in place to encourage students to study and/or review these facts at home. Students will earn a sundae as well as other incentives as they master their facts.

Fact Quiz - Date - Sundae Piece

0’s and 1’s - Fri. Sept. 6 - bowl
2’s - Fri. Sept. 13 - Ice cream scoop
3’s - Fri. Sept. 20 - Ice cream scoop
4’s - Wed. Oct. 2  - syrup
5’s - Tues. Oct. 9 - syrup
0’s – 5’s - Wed. Oct.16 - Pick a treat 
6’s - Fri. Oct. 25 - candy
7’s  - Fri. Nov.1 - sprinkles
0’s – 7’s - Thurs. Nov. 7 - Pick a treat
8’s - Fri. Nov. 15 - cherries
9’s - Wed. Nov. 20 - whipped cream

Sundae Party – Thursday, November 21!

1. Students must earn all parts of the sundae to receive the sundae. (My note - in a separate email we received a coloring sheet that is to be hung up in the classroom for each student. Students will color in their Sundae Piece when they pass the test.)

2. Most of the above quizzes will have 20 problems. However, both 0’s – 5’s  and 0’s – 7’s will have 40 problems. Students will need to earn a 90% to earn their sundae part. They will have 2 minutes for 20 problems and 4 minutes for 40 problems. (Note - When students begin the district tests in multiplication, they will only have 3 minutes for 50 problems.)

3. “Pick a treat” day is a choice of a candy or a prize from the classroom bucket.

4. Students will be allowed to take the test more than once. However, students will need to stay on schedule and continue with the next fact even if they have not completed the previous one. Makeups can be done anytime.

I'm not even sure where to start with my concerns. I've never used incentive programs in my classrooms for anything with the exception of those students who had behavior plans in their IEPs so this whole situation is making my eye twitch. Then, we're going to publicly put everybody's achievement, or lack thereof, on display. And then there's the part I bolded in #4. If this is a program to learn and master math facts, why are we moving students on before they have actually reached mastery?

So I'm reaching out to all of you for some help.

First, I need resources that will help the people on my grade level team understand that rewards like this are not the way to help our students meet high expectations. 

Second, I know I need to have high expectations for my math students, and I know that part of having a growth mindset is being willing to understand that you can learn and grow when you have an area of weakness. But the whole idea of participating in this incentive program (which seems more like a requirement and less like an option) is leaving me with a pit in my stomach. If I am required to participate, how do I make this more of a growth minded, learning opportunity for my students as opposed to a "oh look, you didn't pass another test and you can't color in another part of the sundae" situation?

Third, I could use some words of advice. Am I over reacting? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Is those one of those times where I shouldn't pick the battle? 

I know so many of you have written about this on your blogs so I'm hopeful that you will chime in with some suggestions, ideas and advice for me.


Matt said...

We had a similar multiplication sundae incentive program a few years back with third grade. Some classes participated in the program, but mine didn't. I think you're right to stand your ground on this issue. Even though my class didn't participate in the 1s = ? topping, 2s, 3s, etc., my students were still invited to the sundae party at the end of the program. I just used a different measure to demonstrate mastery. I didn't focus on the sundae and toppings. Instead I emphasized the importance of setting goals, monitoring progress and reflecting on progress made. The students didn't mind and when the time came they were able to eat the ice cream with the rest of their peers.

Becky Bair said...

Hi Matt,
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and your support. I really like the way you focused on setting goals and the kids' progress rather than the incentive program. Did you use other assessments to measure their mastery or did you have another plan in place?

Unfortunately, because of philosophies on very different ends of the spectrum, I know my students would not be able to join in the ice cream eating like yours were. But should that be a big deal? How can I help my students see and value the growth they've made as enough of a reward?

In my mind, I see rewards as something you get when you go above and beyond, when you do something that's not part of your regular job, whatever that job may be. Learning math facts is just something a 4th grader does. And this is where I'm stuck. They're 9 - big whoop if they have some ice cream, but really, do they need it?

Trever Reeh said...

Personally, I think that the incentive might work for some students and its worth exploring if some students can benefit from it.

I think if you earn a scoop by mastering the 1's and others than a student should be able to attend. It doesn't make any sense to deny a student what they earned by saying the didn't complete it all.

That being said, I am all for incentives and rewards in the classroom when they motivate students.

Matt said...


Yes, I used a different assessment plan that didn't really align with the team's timed test approach. I used many math-based projects/games to provide authentic situations where multiplication was required. I had many brief formative assessments and one summative. All were untimed as I found that many students had anxiety issues related to these types of tests. The students/class used self-reflection strategies and journaling to connect their effort and growth. My administration at the time didn't seem to mind as I was covering the same objectives. The next year a district-wide wellness program basically nixed the multiplication sundae incentive.

L. Hilt said...

One-size-fits-all approaches to anything on the team level really are to the detriment of individual student needs and do not take into account the important personal philosophies and skill sets of each teacher. When something like this is expected in all classes, if a class like yours chooses not to participate, regardless of the reasons why, the kids are going to miss out on something "fun," and they're going to feel like they're being punished (even though they are being better served in the long run!) But, they are kids, and ice cream is ice cream! So that is very unfortunate and unfair of your colleagues to put you in that position. I'd have a conversation with your administrator sharing the research you've found and the reasons why you would like your children to pursue a different method of fact mastery.

And #4 is absolute idiocy.

In our school we used a program called Rocket Math to help kids learn their facts. They set goals, as Matt describes, based on their own mastery and progress through the program. They're not up against anyone else and they have multiple chances to demonstrate that mastery in their own way. I'm not saying it's a perfect system, and I know a lot of schools do attach incentives to it, so it's all in how you approach it with kids.

Do I think SOME students benefit from incentives attached to learning and reaching goals? I do. I think there are some that are highly motivated by this extrinsic process because they've not yet internalized the importance of learning for learning's sake. I think when students view their progress on a chart or graph, it can be motivating. But it certainly shouldn't be publicly posted. Talk about soul crushing for the students who are progressing at a slower pace.

Do I think whole class and whole system incentive programs, for learning or behavior, are effective? Nope. They're unnecessary drains of time and money. Every child needs to be treated and respected as an individual. Systems like this do nothing to change behaviors in the long run. And they don't "teach responsibility" either.

I'd stand your ground and find another way to make all kids feel valued and special for their efforts and achievements. I know you can do it!

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

You are absolutely right to say no to this for all of the reasons listed. Plus, kids learn at different rates because of how they are wired, this incentive program totally dismisses that. My niece did this exact program and while she said she got her whole sundae there were kids that didn't. Not only did she feel bad for those kids, but she also thought they struggled with math. Some of my best students in math struggle with regurgitation of facts when it is timed, and yet they know them. What would a program like this teach them falsely about their math skills!

Becky Bair said...

Thanks for your input, Trever. I agree that the kids should be able to get what they earn if we have to participate. By not allowing them to participate we are instilling a fixed mindset of all of nothing in our students, and that is a huge problem for me.

Becky Bair said...

Lyn, you hit on many of the concerns I've been mulling over in my mind. If I have the choice and don't participate then it's almost like my kids are being punished and I don't want to put them in that position.

It's funny you brought up Rocket Math. My teammate and I use Math Baskets, but the person who developed this has actually used Rocket Math in the past. This teacher wants to get away from that program because it takes too much time in class and takes to long for the kids to learn their facts. Hence this new program. But setting timelines and deadlines aren't going to make kids learn if they aren't ready for it, and that's the key here. "Students are expected to enter 4th grade knowing their basic multiplication facts." And unfortunately, if you don't you're going to be punished for it. :(

I will figure out a way around this, but being the bad guy (according to many people on the team) sure is starting to take all of the fun out of teaching.

Becky Bair said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Pernille. Your niece hit the nail on the head. Our school is supposedly focusing on a growth mindset, yet this type of program flies in the face of that. Not only will it teach the kids false things about their math skills, it will also falsely show them that unless you can do everything the rest of the process is worthless. Not the message I want to send!

Chris Wejr said...

Hey Becky - I am hesitant to engage publicly as I think this is a private discussion that should occur within the school before a public discussion regarding a colleague (although I completely understand your concerns and value the fact that you are reaching out to your network - I just worry that this could lead to other problems within the department/school). I have some very passionate thoughts on this that align with your concerns so will email them to you. I have written about my issues with rewards here as well:

Lyn Hilt said...

Some of our teachers expressed similar concerns at the start of using Rocket Math. It IS a lot to organize. However, the teachers that took the time to organize well and teach explicit procedures found that the whole process didn't take longer than the 5-7 minutes as the program states.

Becky Bair said...

Thank you so much for sharing your link, Chris. I will definitely check that out. And I look forward to your email and talking more with you!