Notes from Tools for Teaching Part 3

May 5, 2005

There is a dynamic tension between diligence and excellence. If students work too fast, quality suffers, but if they obssess and dawdle, quantity suffers. By pushing ourselves, we learn that we can accomplish much more than we might have thought possible. But we must want to. Without a good reason, we will effortlessly slip back into our comfort zone.

Incentives or reinforcers produce work. While you may offer a person a reward for doing something, until at least some of the work has been done, you cannot say that this reward functioned as a reinforcer. A proactive incentive system is an exchange that is established in advance. A reactive system is established in the heat of the moment — i.e., a bribe.

Simple classroom incentive systems are applications of the rule that you have to finish your dinner before you can have dessert. The first activity is the task; the second is the preferred activity, which is the incentive.

Any learning experience needs a working definition of when mastery has taken place. This is typically stated in terms of consecutive correct performances, most often five out of five and ten out of ten. Note that these criteria are not stated in percentage form. Since the mastery criterion is stated in terms of consecutive correct performances, the student is encouraged to work both carefully and quickly. For this to work, the teacher must be able to check the work as it is being produced.

“If you don’t have time to build it right the first time, when will you have time to fix it?”

The standard of excellence on any job is defined by the sloppiest piece of work that you will accept.

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