Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reinforcement or Reflection?

The interventions we choose reflect our view of children.

 If children are just the sum of their behaviors, motivated by rewards and punishments it makes sense to use reinforcements and rules. But if children try to make meaning of what happens in their lives, reflection will foster not only intrinsic motivation and dynamic intelligence but also help them become ethical people. We need to help them ' construct' moral meaning, figure for themselves and each other – how one ought to act.

Problem solving requires the ' executive functions' of hindsight – to reflect on past solutions and their outcomes and forethought to predict the likely outcomes of potential solutions. This type of reflection and anticipation relies on ' episodic –personal memory. The construction of  personal meaning of an action is more important than the details of the actions themselves and this is what kids take from experiences . When kids are rewarded for compliance, the personal meaning is converted into economic norms , factual information – static intelligence. If I do this I will get.

 Rewards or even non-verbal rewards like praise may help in the short term to get compliance, but in the long term instead of reinforcing behavior, their intrinsic motivation is undermined and they loose interest. Instead of promoting ethics, dynamic intelligence, thinking and brain growth , rewards  promote the most primitive moral thinking. Brain research shows that when kids are promised rewards they use less of the area of the brain responsible for creativity and initiative.

Collaborative problem solving does more than ' reinforce'. It involves the kid in anticipation and reflection, fostering dynamic intelligence and learning.

 ' The ultimate goal of engaging in any kind of learning activity is to create, elaborate, or reinforce the specific synaptic connections in the learner's brain. This can only occur through creating memories that support the types of connections we wish to make. '  - The RDI – relationship development book ( autism spectrum)

In order to support personal memory , dynamic intelligence and moral development we need according to Alfie Kohn 

 to maximize the opportunities for kids to make choices, to discover and learn for themselves

to create a caring community in the classroom and family so that kids at school and within the family have the opportunity to do these things together with others.

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