Stars and whistles

In my job, I have to work hard to reward the student in my online classes. That means that I have to come up with rewards that they find motivating without actually being anything that they can touch and use. The company has some up with a system of stars to be awarded throughout the lesson. The stars zoom in on the screen and make a little twinkling sound. We are limited to five stars per lesson, so there need to be other rewards along the way. The company has helped with all sorts of suggestions, most of which I thought were pretty silly when I began. There are drawings to use as reward systems, and things like ringing a bell and cheering and dancing were all encouraged, but I was pretty skeptical. I mean, what kid will be motivated by a drawing of a path to the zoo on which I move a little person closer to the entrance?

It turns out, a lot of them.

I’ve been at this job for over six months now, and I am getting more and more students each week. What I’ve discovered in my time is that it isn’t so much about the stars that twinkle for them or the train whistle I blow. It isn’t the idea of seeing animals in the zoo or even their teacher being weird and silly and dancing in her chair. What it is about is someone making a big deal when we accomplish something. Thousands of miles away, some lady in her house is making a fuss over the fact that I can say “I see a banana.” Someone acknowledged that it was hard for me to learn to wrap my lips around these completely foreign sounds and make them come out right.

The kids have helped me realize that it isn’t so much about what the reward is as much as it is about the fact that someone recognized their effort. Isn’t that all any of us want, really?


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