31 May 2014

(How to) Start A Classroom PBIS Lottery

"Menos cinco," I heard my Spanish teacher call out time and time again after I was talking or otherwise off task. My teacher had started a behavior point system because of a handful of us sophomores with impulse control issues. I don't know if there was a set list of behaviors that warranted "menos cinco," or if it was just anytime we were disruptive, but if the tactic was aimed at me in particular, it was quite unsuccessful. 

I heard recently on a +Freakonomics  podcast about a recent trend by economists to attempt to modify behavior using lotteries that participants "paid" into with appropriate behaviors. (http://freakonomics.com/2010/11/18/freakonomics-radio-could-a-lottery-be-the-answer-to-americas-poor-savings-rate/)
A bank offered "Save to Win" savings account and attempted to get owners to put more money in their accounts by giving them a ticket each time they made a desposit. Whatever money they deposited was still theirs to keep, (as opposed to traditional lotteries that aim to raise revenue from profits - education in my home state of Missouri), and anyone that entered the lottery by saving into their account had a chance to win. In the study, there was a statistically significant increase in deposits during the lottery period.

On the heels of one of the least motivated group of students I've had in class, I wondered, "Could you get the same effect in a classroom? Could I provide incentives to get more students to do the things they should be doing anyway (completing homework, helping peers, bringing materials, staying on-task, asking questions, etc.) that would cost me nothing?

What do your students most often ask for or want? Here's a quick list for my band of brothers:
Hall passes
Homework passes (assignment excused)
Free time
Supplies (paper/pencil/calculator)

There are a few things you'll have to decide:
How will students get tickets?
What will you use for tickets? (Ready-made raffle tickets? Handmade and photocopied? Digital entires via a Google form?)
Who will keep track of tickets?
How long will you go between pulling winners? 
Could an individual student give his "winnings" to another student?
Can students operate "office pool" style and split the winnings (assuming the incentive is something that could quantifiably be broken)
Is there anything a student could do to lose tickets? (If you're doing this true PBIS style, this would have to be "no, there are no punitive consequences")

Some kids are going to find ANY reason to sit and do nothing (and drag their peers along with them) but for the kids that need DAILY feedback or praise, and the kids who are less motivated by "get a good grade on this week's quiz," a PBIS lotto to give out something that may not even cost you a cent is worth a try.

It will probably look rather similar to a currency-based system, but with at least one distinction. When  I was trying to earn Mole Dollars in my Chemistry class, once I got the notion that what I really wanted was going to be out of my reach of my potential income, I stopped caring about earning mole dollars. I would either give them to friends or just shove them into my chem folder without thinking about them any more until the next stray mole-earning event.

Granted, even in a lottery system, those that earn more tickets have a higher chance of winning, but anyone with a ticket still has a shot. If you follow the NBA draft lottery, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers could tell you that even the improbable happens sometimes. (They were recently awarded the first pick in this year's draft while holding the least probably of winning the lottery of all the teams participating.)

The same trait of traditional lotteries that makes otherwise rational people spend money on a chance instead of saving it to buy tangible goods will give some of your student who might otherwise check out that day a chance to win. 

Who doesn't like feeling like a winner? :)

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Thanks for sharing!