Inside a kindergarten classroom with Augustana students

## Adding Small Incentives Goes a Long Way

We have begun to chart the progress of our students, specifically their ability to rote count, this week. Each individual student’s progress is marked by stickers that we let the students add to the chart themselves. Although the goal, as of now, for the students is to count up to fifty, we have included increments of five on the chart to track their counting progress from 1 all the way up to 100. If the students can count to fifty, we encourage them to count further. Some of our students can count to 100, and in this case we have a separate chart to challenge those students to count by tens, fives and twos.

Along with the excitement that the tracking of progress with stickers bring to the students, we have included incentives of 3-d object erasers. An eraser is given, based on each student’s counting ability, when the student reaches either 50, 100 or achieves counting by tens, fives and twos. We found that in many cases, students were not pushing themselves to count as high as they really can. Since rote counting is very tedious and seemingly irrelevant to a few students, after reaching a number near twenty some students stop counting. They no longer see the point. Although we know that rote counting is an essential skill in mathematics for several reasons, it is hard to explain this understanding to a Kindergartener who is mostly practicing word problems, number recognition and various other math skills with the numbers 1-10.
Our hypothesis that extrinsic rewards would improve the counting skills of our students, was proved to be accurate for a few students after analyzing the progress of each individual. One of our students would refuse to count higher than 28 after working with her for four weeks. We were under the impression that this was the highest the student could count. However, after including the extrinsic award, and after asking her if she could count further than her normal 28, instead of saying, “no”, she kept on counting and reached 78! A few of these pleasant surprises have begun to appear with the addition of the progress chart in our group.
We will continue using this method of positive reinforcement. Although we really would like learning to come from intrinsic motivation, some skills are not yet obvious to students as to why they are important in the future. Therefore, young students may feel they are unnecessary. Next week we will be sending home notes for parents to help their students reached a specified goal that we have chosen based on the individual student’s rote counting abilities. Hopefully parental guidance, in-class and out of class practice, as well as our addition of positive reinforcement will help and encourage the students to improve on their rote count abilities.

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