We took students to the Chinese buffet for lunch. Just a few of them because that's all who brought signed permission slips and were willing to go. We invited every kid in the program (a pretty small number, ours being an alternative school for at-risk kids) and were prepared to take all of them.
Shouldn't such a trip be a reward?, you ask.
First, they had to come up with the money. It was too much hassle to have the school pay (though my supervisor tried her best, bless her). If kids have to pay, that's no reward.
More important, rewards are a stupid educational ideas. Here's how to tell: they are done all the time and accepted as a matter of course. Anything at school that is just the way you do it is probably wrong. Also, consider the kid barred from going. It's a punishment and if you're into that, fine, but I'm into teaching and learning. The "bad" kid is taught that she/he sucks and thus learns to be worse in order to reciprocate.
Exasperated, you say, so it's a participation trophy!
If the trip was a reward and we then let every kid go, it's a participation trophy and bad lesson. If instead this is something to which every student is invited because there is a lot to learn from it, then it's just like a class, only tastier. We invited kids, set up a structure for participating, and let them learn from the experience.
Yeah, what did they learn from eating at a Chinese buffet?
- Swearing in public is a mark of bad manners, disrespect, and idiocy.
- Take small portions and go back for more.
- Saying please and thank you makes everything better.
- Try new things and talk about them.
- Not everyone likes the same things.
- We like each other.
- There's more to learning than four core subjects.
- Learning is better when it's not graded.
- Teachers do their best work when they seem like they're doing none at all.
- Eating too much is uncomfortable but unavoidable at a buffet.
- There's always room for sugary coffee drinks.
One kid learned that "bring a signed permission slip or you won't go" means just that. He wanted us to call Mom for permission. I said no and when he asked why I told him tennis is best played with a net.
To recap: school trips are good, rewards suck, and remember your signed permission slip if you want to eat at the buffet. Class dismissed.