Last year I had a Year 9 Business Studies class that were, shall we say, challenging. I spent much of the first term tearing my hair out trying to find ways to engage them in a subject that they not only had no interest in, but really couldn’t access curriculum-wise. It wasn’t just me; there were discussions at Subject Leaders’ meetings about this group of students and how best to go about providing an alternative curriculum for them. Given that some of that group no longer attend my school, having either been permanently excluded or shifted to the PRU, and several more heading down that path, what happened after I tried the following was pretty remarkable, and has given other teachers in my school a profound sense of relief at being more able to manage the group after trying what I did.
Our school has been using the Vivomiles programme since September 2011. Instead of earning merits, which used to be tallied up and at the end of year the top three students won prizes that were sometimes purchased and sometimes donated, students earn Vivos throughout the year and can choose their rewards. They can save up for something more expensive, or they can purchase cheaper items whenever they have enough Vivos to spend. The Vivo shop is linked to the Argos catalogue, and one Vivo is the equivalent of one penny – so V100 is equal to £1. I’ve supplied a lot of other items for the school section of the shop, from chocolate bars to footballs and thumb grips for games consoles – mostly taken from what students have suggested.
Our students really like this programme; they are provided with regular league tables to keep their competitive spirits up and students who have earned at least V1000 over their time at the school are eligible for the Vivo Gold Club. These Gold Club members have special lunches throughout the year, as well as other privileges – their favourite is to simply jump the queue in the dining room!
Somewhere along the way I discovered ClassDojo. It’s a free behaviour management tool, and whilst it appears to be more primary-orientated than secondary, I can attest to the fact that secondary teachers will get good use out of it. Basically, you register for it, load in your class list, and each student is given a monster-themed avatar. You can stick with the default positive and negative behaviours, or edit these to add your own. Leave it displayed on the screen during lesson time, and students have a visual reminder of how they are doing behaviour-wise. Adding a positive behaviour to a student makes a little ‘bing’ noise (sometimes this is distracting – students’ heads pop up like meerkats to see who it was for!), and a number is added next to their name. Adding a negative behaviour also makes a noise, and a number is subtracted from their total. Positive overall numbers are shown in green and negative in red. You can also run a variety of reports to collate the data over a period of time, and parents can access this as well.
You are not tethered to your computer in order to run this. ClassDojo (like Vivomiles) have an app so that you can reward remotely, and still have it flash up on the screen. I particularly like being able to wander around the class, keeping an eye on what students are up to, and still reward them. Sometimes they’re so focused on their work that they haven’t realised I’ve walked by and clocked what they’re up to, and so get a nice surprise when their name flashes up on the screen.
To combine the two apps, all I did was let my students know that if they had a positive overall number a the end of the lesson, they would receive that number of Vivos. I also did not place a limit on how many Vivos could be earned in any given lesson (full-load teachers at my school have a weekly budget of V150, but as the admin for it and because I often award for things outside of my responsibility, my budget is V400). Suddenly students who were loathe to answer questions were putting their hands up, begging to be selected. We were doing some money maths work, and students who would previously communicate their feelings by either ignoring me or being aggressive, were desperately converting Victorian money into modern amounts. It was such a change in behaviour that I invited the Year Leaders in to witness it, having spent week after week telling them how proud I was of my students. They were as stunned and as proud as I was.
Some people may consider using the Vivo system to be nothing short of bribery. In a way, it is. But then again, so is offering them merits in order to be in the running for a prize at the end of the year, so is giving them stickers or sweets for good work, and so is sending home praise postcards or phoning home to tell their parents about it. Using the Vivo system allows students to work towards their own rewards and helps to teach them a little financial responsibility – if they want something, they have to earn it and save for it.
If you have a particularly difficult class, I suggest you try combining ClassDojo with your school’s reward system to see if it works. It’s a combination I’ll certainly be using again in the future.