Saturday, January 28, 2006


Recently, we had try-outs for our basketball teams. We play in a charter school league - even though we aren't a charter - because that way we face similarly small schools. The kids are psyched. They show off their jerseys, grinning. They mention basketball every chance they can get...

Ms. Frizzle, do you come to watch basketball games?

Sometimes, it depends on when & where you play. Let me know when the games are and I'll do my best to come...

A few minutes pass...

Can I go to Ms. S's room? I need to ask Christian a question about basketball practice.

No, you can ask him after school or in the last few minutes of class when you finish your work.

Later, in the hallway.

Why are you out of line?

My leg hurts.

What kind of hurt? And how long has it hurt for? It wasn't hurting a few minutes ago?

I think it hurts because of basketball practice. We practiced really hard. I'm on the basketball team.

Darnell, you just want a chance to talk about basketball! Your leg is fine!

He grins.

No, it really does hurt!

Do you need to see the nurse?

I don't want to go home, I'll miss basketball!

Adorable, and hilarious.


Both teams are pretty much all-star teams of kids who are often in trouble at school, for not doing homework, for disrupting class, you name it. So we decided that they cannot play in the week's game if they don't maintain a certain average on their behavior "paycheck" for the week. And that meant that a LOT of kids were not going to play this week, in the first game. And that is how they turned into point-grubbing monsters and sparked a debacle and a debate.

The debacle:

When the single most-disruptive, horrendously behaved student shows up in my doorway not once, but twice during the day bowing & scraping and offering to wash my board, it's easy for me to say, No, thank you. If you need points on your paycheck, go to class where you belong and do the right thing all week. And to their credit, most of the teachers in my school were not taken in by the kids' new-found interest in helping with classroom chores. Unfortunately, one or two made the mistake of agreeing to hand out points for various chores. Then, realizing their mistake, they tried to take back those points. This all happened at the very end of the day on Friday, and so some kids kept the points, while others had them revoked, which caused chaos. In the end, they were all allowed to play this week, due to confusion and in the interest of fairness, but with the understanding that they will not be rewarded in this way in the future.

The debate:

What IS the purpose of the paychecks? Do they work? When and for whom do they work? How do they square with the research on praise and rewards? Why should we reward kids for doing what they should do anyway? Does it desensitize them in a way, making them less likely to do the right thing if they aren't rewarded? I've always had these questions about the paychecks, but a few people in my school were really strong proponents of this system, and it does seem to work for many kids in many ways... but... I'll write more about this one as I give it more thought and my school discusses it (whether that will be next week or next year, I couldn't tell you).


Blogger Coach Brown said...

I like that paycheck system, especially at that age. You just need to make sure it looks more like a real life situation, not an incentive program.

2:01 AM  
Blogger Alexis Walker said...

We don't do paychecks because the boys work for it so nakedly. I don't like tying athletic participation to something else, either. However, because they wear uniforms, we nominate kids for dress-down days and there's nothing prouder than an officially out-of-uniform kid when everyone else has to wear jacket and tie. We are experimenting with a "casual Friday" when all-school behavior is good, but that's meeting with mixed success.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I think giving them points is a valid way of supporting their achievements. I compare to employees who get bonuses or commissions, or tips even, for doing stellar work for their company. It's totally relevant to the real world and sometimes, kids need all the reinforcement they can get if they don't get it at home. Tying athletic performance to academic performance teaches the lesson of time management and the idea that you should be able to balance everything. It'll come in handy later when they are in college and/or grad school, when you have to work and go to the school at the same time. You can't shun one for the sake of the other, if you want to succeed.

9:50 AM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

I have great respect for coaches who demand academic performance for their kids, and outright disdain for those who help them avoid the consequences of failing in school.

Our school soccer team, for years, was run by a guy who'd get athletic scholarships for talented athletes, ignoring the fact that they had no chance whatsoever to fraduate.

Kids with good coaches learn more than sports. Also, if you have a kid passionate about sports who's not doing well in your class, there's no motivation quite like a talk with that kid's coach.

10:08 AM  
Blogger graycie said...

There needs to be a mixture of doing things for rewards and doing things because they are right or because they are what a kid should do.

If everything is rewarded, the rewards become meaningless and kids (anyone, really) won't do a thing without a specific reward. If nothing is rewarded, there's no point in doing anything -- especially to a kid who truly can't see the long-term benefit of (for example)analyzing sentence structure.

How to balance doing things for a reward and doing things because they are right is difficult. It may be one of those things that works one way for one teacher/kid combination and another way for another combo.

Any thoughts?

11:45 AM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

We have something sort-of-similar at my school, but it's pure rewards. The kids don't HAVE to have it to do anything. They are vouchers and the kids can turn them in for prizes.

6th graders go TOTALLY INSANE for them, and 8th graders couldn't care less. So I don't know.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Chaz said...

Ms Frizzle;

"Why should we reward kids for doing things that should be doing anyway"? I also coach high school teams in the spring and fall and I think rewarding students for doing what they should be doing is terrible. I give my players a conduct sheet that must be signed by all teachers showing that their doing their academics. Any player not doing what is expected, does not play period!

I hope your school made a girls' basketball team as well as a boys' team?

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some thoughts on athletic involvement... I am a great supporter of the idea that sports actually help kids behave better and do better in school. The more support you show for where they are doing well, even if it is the basketball court (passing the ball to others, being a good team player), the more they will want to achieve and gain your recognition in the classroom.
I think if you link their being able to play to their classroom behavior, they may get frustrated and that could cause even more problems with them. No kid is going to change over night, but there is a lot of change possible within this team sport environment that could easily translate to the classroom as well. I discourage you from taking something they love and making it something they need to earn, instead, watch and see if some of their good qualities from basketball just begin to show up in the classroom .

1:22 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...


You are dead wrong! Extra-curicular activities is a privilage not a right.
In high school, for a student to participate in sports, they must be academically eligible, not have too many absenses (<8 per semester), and not be suspended in the last year. Your idea not to link student behavior is academically unsound and sends the wrong message to the student. If they cannot behave in class, then the consequence of that action is playing on the team.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Alexis Walker said...

We believe that boys need to be active, and that sports are a good way to do that, especially in middle school when they can barely stand to live in their skins. If we find we are keeping a kid out of sports more than occasionally due to academic or behavior issues, we need to start meeting with the kid and his parents, we need to recommend the boy for counseling or tutoring, and we need to put him back into sports while we are dealing with the issues in some other way than by behavior mod.

We do tie behavior to sports to a certain extent. I'm the detention monitor this term, and it meets during sports. I use the time for problem solving so they don't have to be there again during team practice or during games.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...


Your school has parents paying tuition and there are consequences with misbehavior. it's not the same in the public school where kids can commit violent crimes, go to jail, and come back to the same school! A zero-tolerance policy for sports is a must!

6:01 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

The kids don't get kicked off the team - they can work off their energy at practice. But they don't get to represent the school in games unless they are good representatives of what we stand for during the school day.

A good PE program - which I will be the first to admit my school does not really have (we have PE, but it's a little catch-as-catch-can) would seem to be a place where talented athletes and all kids can work off steam and get recognition for their talents.

Of course we have a girls team, Chaz!

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yes, in public school a minimum level of academic achievement and beahvior must be attained in order to play sports. I'm familiar with that, I went to public school.
I don't believe that one should dictate the other, however. I agree with Alexis, some linkage is necessary, and that is meeting the minimum requirements, but not allowing a kid to play sports because of some behavior problems is going to leave that kid more free time for those problems to fester.
I think it's important to have a better and more personal sense of what the behavior problems are, before either of us can make a judgement call on whether the child should still be able to play sports. Different behavior problems are the impetus for different reactions, and for some kids, constant support in one area, where they CAN achieve is more important than punishment from the one place where they can stand out for behavioral problems that aren't going to resolve themseleves quickly or through the withdrawl of "privileges".

Ms. Frizzle:
Sports teams and gym class are two completely different concepts and achieve two different things. One self-selects to sports teams for the most part, but one is required to take gym. As an athlete myself, I hated gym class, despite the fact that it was a chance to exercise, because of the number of apathetic students who would have rather been acting or writing and merely stood in the middle of the floor during hockey or basketball, unmotivated participants of a "forced team". I guess I just feel that gym class is not in fact usually an environment that really supports the true athletes. Rather, it is an system aimed at reducing obesity where everyone is supposed to be encouraged to participate, whether they like it or not and which can be a very uncomfortable environment for non athletes and athletes alike, in middle school, as their bodies are dramatically changing and their abilities are far ranging.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...


I guess you have never coached a sports team. There always must be a consequence to an action. As a science teacher and high school coach, it is important that one get their priorities right. Without the stick, to ensure academic performance & good behavior, the carrot is useless.

Too many people ignore the stick and give them the carrot anyway. Little wonder our students have a problem respecting the system.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The research on rewards in school is mixed. What seems to upset some people is that in some experiments, students who were doing a certain activity without any reward, before rewards were started, were less likely to do it when the rewards ceased, after a period of being rewarded for that activity. That's an effect well-known to animal trainers, who avoid these consequences by using random instead of predictable rewards, in which case the desired behavior will continue for a very long time without being rewarded (as in gambling). The lesson here is that if you want rewards to be very, very effective, make them contingent on the desired behavior, but random. To get back to the research, it seems focused on the effects on students who are doing something anyway. For students who are not doing something, rewards can be very effective in encouraging them to do it, even in experiments carried on by critics of rewards. The big caveat is that the students need to view the reward as a reward, and that changes with their age, experience, personal motivations, etc. As for why we should reward kids who should be doing something anyway--because they are not doing it and we can't find any other way to make them do it, but we think they ought to do it. Many of the kids who are doing what we want are probably responding to a reward system, or avoiding a punishment system, of which we are not aware (at home). If you think about rewards in a general way, then praise, esteem, and respect given by others for academic success are also forms of rewards, and would we suggest that teachers and parents stop using these rewards?

8:27 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...


Are you by any chance related to Leo Casey? After reading your comments three times I think I might understand your point. Well you believe in what you believe in and I believe in what has worked for generations. Consequences for inappropriate actions!

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the anonymous posts aren't the same person, the last one was not written by me, but the first two were.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a college undergraduate education major who HAS in fact coached two sports teams. All I am saying, and we are all entitled to our opinions and approach children with different demeanors, attitudes, levels of respect, and faith in their potential, is that we have to be really careful to know a situation well enough before we remove the carrot and apply the stick. I'm think out-technologically, but should the first consequence for problem behavior be removing extracurriculars, or should we explore deeper where the problems are stemming from and try to find alternative solutions or solutions that will get to the core of the real issue. Knowing that so many behavior prolbems stem from problems at home, it would seem cruel to punish a child by taking away what might be their oasis from a messy home life, when a better solution might be to find the real problem and deal with that.
Okay, I can admit that I am not the biggest proponent of "punishment" and "discipline," because from experiences, we "punish" and "discipline" ourselves in so many ways as consequences of actions, unknowingly that it seems there needs to be a better initial solution.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...

college anonymous;

I believe you need to spend some years in the classroom for you to realize your college professors theoretical presentations don't work in the real classroom. In the public high schools to play on a team the student must be academicaly eligible, have no long term absences, and not be suspended! These rules are citiwide and are enforced by the PSAL. If a player violates those conditions, the player is thrown off the team.

Many of my players & students have real issues and I do consul them. However, they know the rules and will try their best to meet the requirements. Sports are a great motivational tool and if the student can't follow the rules then that student's consequence is not playing for the team.

In my many years of experience in the classroom and as a coach, you must have consequences for the child's actions. Not try to determine the cause of the actions. That is what school social workers are employed for.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great adventure... i prefer hadnball..

5:32 AM  

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