In one of my favorite TV shows, Dr. Gaius Baltar is called in to help with questioning a prisoner. He says, “You’ve tried the stick; it’s time to try the carrot.”

That was me two months ago.

But, you know... without the creepy smirk.

But, you know… without the creepy smirk.

Not just sick of detentions, tardies, phone calls, and discipline, I was sick of the time and energy I was giving to the students who earned it the least.

Outside the frame, 29 obedient students are NOT getting the teacher's attention.

Outside the frame, 29 obedient students are NOT getting the teacher’s focus.

It took my wife to point it out. The conversation went like this:

Vaudrey: I have six students that are consistent behavior problems. If each one gets a warning, a conference outside, and a detention, that’s 18 things.
Hot Wife: Why just send them out right away?
Vaudrey: Well, that’s not fair to those kids. I have to go through my steps.
Hot Wife: Well, it’s not exactly fair to the rest of your students that their education is interrupted by distractors. Also, those rotten kids are getting all of your attention.

Truth Bomb.

Truth Bomb.

So I went to observe another teacher in the district who has SDC students for math support all day. These are students who ALL struggle with math, and a myriad of behavior issues come with it.

She awards her students with poker chips when they are on task.

Let’s just stop there–that’s the change that I made.

Yes, I know that Alfie Kohn wouldn’t be a big fan of a rewards-based system for discipline. Sorry, Alfie–this worked.

Also, not a mathematician.

Also, his understanding of causality is a bit suspect.

A roll of tickets is cheaper for me than poker chips, so I went with that. I prepped each class on how the tickets would be awarded  and jumped in.

  • The bell rings, I do a round of tickets for those already on the warm-up.
  • I play the Notes Song, I do a round of tickets right when it ends to students already noting.
  • During classwork, I do a round of tickets to those focused.

I started noticing signs of on-task-ness that I hadn’t before: A pencil in hand is the best example.

Fast forward four weeks to today, a minimum day before winter break. Auction Day.

Like this, but with less Levis.

Like this, but with less Levis.

I printed a list of auction items, brought in a cowboy hat (don’t all auctioneers wear those?), and displayed the items attractively on the wall.

Auction Display

I laid down a fairness rule: One item per student.

Then we went to town. This was the highlight:

  • Ryan (yes, that Ryan) proclaiming, “I’m finna git that Gatorade!” Then, after a student bid four tickets, Ryan screamed, “Thirty-nine!” Then he drank the entire 32 ounces in about 3 minutes. Pointing to his distended stomach, he boasts, “Look! I’m all pregnant!”

Improvements for the next Auction (which will probably be in six weeks):

  • Use Poker Chips instead.
    • Which means: Buy individual student bags and one bin per period for those bags to be stored.
    • Assign a Banker to collect and pass out the bags at the beginning and end of class.
  • Multiple auction items per student? Maybe.
  • No poker chips changing hands during the auction. Savvy students who wanted two items gave their tickets to another student and said, “Get those glowsticks for me!”
  • Kick out students that disrupt. I wanted so badly for this to be fun for everyone that I just spoke louder and louder. I know–I realize how silly it is. But it’s the day before winter break; they were probably going to be difficult anyway.
  • Some kind of activity to keep those busy who already bought an item. (See previous bullet)

In case anyone is interested, here are the coupons I used.

Pick Your Seat Pass
Potty Passes
Coupon – Eat In Class
Coupon – Excuse a Detention
Coupon – Pick Your Group
Phone Call Pass
Homework Pass

And, because data matters, here’s the cost dispersion:

Item Pd. 1 Pd. 3 Pd. 4
Coupon – Pick your Seat 17 3
32 oz Gatorade 23 16 39
Two (2) Homework Passes 20 2 8
Coupon – Positive Phone Call from Mr. Vaudrey 16 1
$5 Gift card to Starbucks 34 24 40
Glowsticks 10 1 64
X-presso Monster Energy Drink 36 23 5
Coupon – Eat In Class 15 13 1
Three fancy mechanical pencils 18 19 38
Coupon – Excuse a Detention 9 10
Reese’s or Skittles Candy Cane 9 20 65
Vitamin Water-flavored Lip Balm (like chapstick) 6 17 3
Coupon – Pick Your Group 1 6
Flamin’ Hot Chee-tos 25 24 70
Three Bathroom Passes 1 3
Surprise Item: Ring Pop! 16 23 7

Happy Holidays.