Book Review: “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn

9 Aug

I have been wanting to review this book for a long time! “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn is the best book I have read in a long while, and it completely changed my views on teaching, classroom management, and motivation in general. The reason it took me so long to review this book is that I literally read every word of it – every endnote, every appendix – I even went through the bibliography and read some of the articles referenced in this book. I renewed it from the library 3 times so I could fully digest everything. I know that’s silly and I should definitely just purchase this book, because I will undoubtedly reference it in the future.

Throughout my teaching career, I have been encouraged to constantly praise students, offer rewards for good behavior, and “catch them being good”. Behaviorism has been pushed in all areas of education, parenting, and even corporate management. Especially in special education, Applied Behavior Analysis is often stressed as the only method for getting students with disabilities to behave in productive ways. I know that I relied heavily on token boards, sticker charts, and my classroom “treasure box”. However, there have been times that these strategies just didn’t sit right with me. Sometimes I felt like the students were being treated like trained seals. At other times, it felt like they were only working for the reward and not putting forth their best effort on the academic task. In addition, I discovered that many members of the Autism community openly shunned the use of Applied Behavior Analysis and other behaviorist techniques. The discovery of this book by Alfie Kohn was a major eye-opener for me. Kohn outlines five major reasons for why rewards are actually harmful. I created an infographic in Canva to illustrate these reasons:

Summarized, the main harms caused by the use of rewards is the fact that they are inherently controlling, they create power imbalances which damage relationships, they ignore the reasons behind behavior, they diminish creativity and risk-taking, and they decrease intrinsic motivation. For people who disagree with these assertions, keep in mind that Kohn’s arguments are based on a wealth of research. His bibliography spans the length of 35 pages in the book, and I encourage skeptics to dive deeper into the source of his claims. Kohn includes several references to Edward Deci, whom I had not heard of prior to reading this book, but have definitely become a fan of since. Deci’s research informs best practices in corporate and adult learning settings. I will definitely be diving deeper into his work after this!

Many critics of Kohn will ask – “what’s the alternative?” The thing is, this question does not have an easy answer, because we need to consider the nature of this question. When we are asking for an alternative to behaviorism, we have to consider our motives as managers, teachers, and parents. When it comes down to it, the goal of behaviorism is to control and to force compliance. When we are striving to control others, we are ignoring aims to understand individuals in order to help them develop and grow as human beings. That being said, Kohn offers the alternatives of collaboration, content, and choice to replace behaviorist strategies. When we invite individuals to collaborate regarding their behavior, performance, or development, we are giving them agency to actively participate in their learning and growth. When we provide interesting content, whether in work, at school, or at home, individuals will be intrinsically motivated and will not need external reinforcement to continue activities. When we provide choice, we are not forcing compliance. Individuals will be more likely to continue in a certain direction if they believe they have some choice in the matter.

Kohn also addresses the harmful effects that praise can have in work, school, and home environments. I know that as teachers, we are encouraged to constantly praise students. But what if this incessant praise actually harms students? On the one hand, according to Kohn, praise is often a control tactic. Imagine a classroom in which several students are off task. Many teachers (myself included) have resorted to the following: “I love how [pause…looks around the room] Brian is working so quietly!” and have watched as seral students in the class scramble to sit still and stop talking. This has always felt to me like a passive aggressive method for achieving behavior results, but it is so popular, and so easy. But is this praise genuine? Would it embarrass Brian or cause his peers to feel some form of animosity toward him? It is manipulative? Aside from being a control tactic, praise can also lead students (and people in general) to become oriented toward working for approval rather than being invested in the work itself. Additionally, praise passes a value judgment which can feel condescending or disrespectful to some, and diminish intrinsic motivation for many. Instead of praise, Kohn recommends providing specific feedback that can be informative to a person but that does not include a value judgment.

Kohn’s book is not only a guide for teachers and parents for child-rearing practices, but it is also a useful resource for managers in the workplace. Kohn provides a helpful critique of employee evaluations – when we evaluate an employee, we are learning more about the evaluator than the person who is being evaluated. Specifically, we are learning about the evaluator’s personal standards as well as the relationship between the evaluator and the employee being appraised. To some extent, we are even learning about the organization’s values and the extent to which that employee has been supported. Kohn suggests that employee evaluations are not only not informative in the intended areas, but they are harmful to the extent that they should be discontinued altogether. He also provides a compelling argument against the use of pay-for-performance incentives.

At this point, I run the risk of giving away all the important details found in this book, so I will let readers decide at this point if they would like to read the book for themselves. I cannot recommend another book more than “Punished by Rewards” for managers, teachers, and parents. This has certainly been an eye-opening experience for me, and I look forward to reading many of the articles referenced by Kohn. I especially look forward to learning more about promoting collaborative environments at work and in the classroom, and about encouraging intrinsic motivation in learners.

While “Punished by Rewards” does give me inspiration to change everything I’ve previously done in terms of classroom management – at this time, I feel inspired to throw away the clip charts, the gold stars, the token boards, and the treasure box – I have to wonder how this change will be received. Kohn points out that behaviorist systems are deeply ingrained in our society from the workplace to the classroom to the home. Many individuals and institutions are strongly attached to these systems and do not react well to the criticisms addressed in this book. After reading the research, however, I don’t see how anyone could continue to adhere to these practices that have been proven to not only not work, but also to have harmful effects. I think it will take a lot of mindset shifts before Kohn’s theories are truly embraced. Also, I don’t know the implications for teachers who try to live by his teachings in their own classrooms. I anticipate that there might be significant resistance to these changes across many settings. If you are an individual who has left behaviorism behind, I would love to hear from you to learn about the changes you have implemented and the results you have seen.

Adult Learning Principles, an Introduction

2 Aug

I mostly created this post to try out 7taps. This is an awesome site that allows you to create microlearning courses that are intended to be accessed by mobile devices. I wanted to give an introduction to adult learning principles, because my focus has somewhat shifted in that direction, but I also have plenty to say regarding this topic and which I will address in later posts. For now, I want to post a preview to this course. I think mini courses catered to mobile devices are great because they’re fast and easily accessible, which boosts completion rate. You can also track learner progress in a variety of ways. If you’d prefer to take this course on your mobile device, I will post the QR below for you to scan. Enjoy!

How to Collect IEP Goal Data Using Google Forms

19 Jul

Prior to virtual learning, I had used Google Forms to create surveys and the occasional quiz, but never to collect data for IEP goals. I decided to give this a try, and I am never going back! This is such a great organizational tool and time saver. It is so much better than the methods I had previously tried, and I want to share it with other special education teachers. Please let me know if you have any questions or need clarification on how to do any of this.

If you’re not able to view the video at this time, you can click through the slideshow below to get step by step instructions!

Elf on a Shelf – Zoom Style

18 Dec

Even though we did not attend school in person this holiday season, Fred was still able to join our Zoom meetings! He surprised the students every day with his antics.

Here is Fred showing off our wreath that we use for expressive and receptive language activities.
Fred is reading a story to all of his animal friends.
Fred made a snowman with all of the toilet paper he stocked up on last Spring!
Oh no! Fred is all tangled up in the Christmas lights!
Fred is waiting for a treat in his stocking. Careful, Fred! That fire is HOT!

As it turns out, there appeared to be a wider variety of interesting activities for Fred to participate in at home. The students were certainly surprised to see a new student in their class!

How to Screen Share on Zoom (For Beginners)

7 Sep

This is the first video training I created for staff. I’m looking forward to publishing more content to demonstrate how my presentation abilities have improved! I created this presentation in response to staff members wanting to know how to share their screens to present lessons to students. This presentation does have more relevance in the context of the class I was teaching at the time, as well as the specific questions and concerns frequently brought up among staff, but hopefully it will still be helpful to beginners in any context.

Video Transcript

0:00 Okay, so this is how to share your screen. So I’m in Zoom right now, and then there would be other people in the Zoom but I’m by myself. And I want to make sure I also have the thing open that I want to share. So see how I have a lot of stuff, like if my email was open, maybe I have to get the thing I want to present ready so I’m going to be able to click on it. Go to Zoom and see at the bottom the green arrow “Share Screen” so I click it and this opens. It says “what do you want to share?” and it has a lot of different options, but I’m going to pick the one that says ‘Google Chrome: Math’ because that’s the one I want to show you, and I select that, and then I click the blue button that says “Share”.

1:01 So now whatever is here, that’s what the people can see, and I can see the people in the Zoom in a little small window in the corner. And when I share it to them, I want it to be full screen, so I click ‘Present’, and it’s full screen. And I can still kind of see the person that’s in the Zoom with me, they’re in a little small box, but mostly I’m seeing this thing that I’m sharing to them. So when you want to go to the next slide, you just click on the screen. Sometimes you have to click it a few times. It might not respond right away, just click it again. This one I’m at the video, I’ll click the red ‘Play’ button. If I want to pause it I can click the video or down here I can click play or pause. 

2:06 And so I just click the screen to go to the next one. I have this one animated. so first the finished thing is not there, I click it again and it shows up. And then click to the next screen. Practice counting, click, click, click. I’m going to just click through all of them, and number 2 is finished. Number 3, I have that animated, too. So the first time you click, you only see the ducks so I’m not giving away the answers, you see the ducks, and you have them count it, and they’re like “oh there’s 7” and you click, “oh look, the 7 showed up”. Also a way you can know if you’re screen sharing, do you see that green thing that says “you are screen sharing”? And if you want to see if somebody’s in the waiting room, you can click “Participants” and it will open. 

3:06 So I’m going to finish my presentation. If I want to get out of full screen, I can hover my mouse down at the bottom and this little black window comes up. I can click ‘Exit’, and it will make the full screen go away. Or I can touch on my keyboard the ‘Escape’ key and it also makes it go away. So I’m still screen sharing, they still see whatever is on my screen, and then if I want to stop, I’ll click ‘Stop Share’. Another one you could do, oh I can’t do it because other people are not here, but again if I want to share it, I click share screen on the green one, click the one I want to share, click share, 

4:00 and then once it says ‘you are screen sharing’ and you can see the thing that you want to share, then you click ‘Present’ and make it go on the whole screen. Oh yeah, for a second it turned yellow and it said “your screen sharing is paused”, so I don’t think you want that, it has to look like this one. Ok, and that is [how to share your screen].

Zoom School = New Rules!

22 Apr

Before Covid-19 school closures, it never occurred to me how different school would look in an online setting. In just a few short days, teachers scrambled to re-create everything they do! I must say, I have been impressed with what I’ve seen. Here is a slideshow I created to communicate our new rules for learning in a Zoom setting.

Constructivism: Allowing students to create their own learning experiences

6 Nov

A major part of my teaching philosophy centers around the Constructivist Learning Theory.  I believe that people create their own understanding through their own experiences. Therefore, I believe that struggling can be very beneficial to students, and if we help them too much, we are actually causing them to be overly dependent and not teaching them how to learn. When students struggle, they learn independence, confidence, emotional perseverance, and problem solving skills.  They also gain a higher mastery of academic skills because they have the personal experience of gaining the knowledge through their own efforts and persistence. I believe that it is crucial that we allow students to struggle and even fail sometimes. The goal is not for them to finish every worksheet and answer every question correctly, or even to get good grades; the goal is for children to gain knowledge, independence, and confidence.

I advise anyone working with my students to allow them plenty of time to think about problems and figure them out before stepping in to help. Be careful not to jump in too quickly to help or to correct mistakes. Instead, allow the child to think it through and encourage them to ask questions and talk through their thinking.

Photo by cottonbro on

Math: For students to learn how to solve math problems independently, we follow an I DO, WE DO, YOU DO approach.

I DO: 25% 

WE DO: 25-50%

YOU DO: 25-50%

Depending on the pace of their learning, students may need more “WE DO” (structured guided practice) time in which the teacher walks through the problems with the student. We should never, however, demonstrate every single problem on a page. We also should always have some opportunity to work on a problem without any adult assistance.

Photo by Monstera on

Reading: Allow plenty of time for students to think about words they do not know and use strategies to read unfamiliar words. Wait 3-5 seconds if a student does not know a word. If, after 3-5 seconds, the student is not able to figure out a word, use prompting about letter sounds (phonics), segmenting, and other word-reading skills.  Allow the student another 3-5 seconds to use these techniques to read the word. If the student still cannot read the word, assist the student in sounding the word out. Do not tell the student the word he or she does not know, because that takes away the opportunity for the student to figure it out. This will take a lot longer than simply giving the word to a student, but it is a much more valuable learning opportunity. It is less important to finish the reading activity or for the student to read the word correctly on the first try than it is for the student to discover that he or she can learn with persistence.

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Spelling/Writing: Allow students to spell phonetically. It is less important for students to spell words correctly than it is for the student to start expressing himself or herself through writing.  If a student is unable to write letters correctly, it is okay to highlight some of the writing, but do not highlight everything. The student never learns to write independently if highlighting is provided for 100% of the writing. For written responses to questions or sentence writing, ask the student to dictate what he or she wants to say and then provide highlighting or lines for the student to write the words on.  You may provide sentence frames for students who have difficulty writing complete sentences, but encourage students to come up with their own responses.  If a student makes a mistake, ask guiding questions. For example, you could ask “what goes at the end of a sentence?” and many students will realize that they need to put a period at the end of a sentence.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Wait time: Wait about 5 seconds for a response after asking a question. Let the student think in complete silence without verbal prompts or cues. Students with disabilities need more time to process teacher questions and then to formulate their answers in their head. Wait longer than what feels comfortable to you, but not long enough for students to lose focus. If a student pauses in the middle of an answer, wait 3 seconds for them to gather their thoughts rather than cutting off the student or prompting.  When presenting an independent activity such as a math problem, give the student as much silent time as he or she needs to figure out the problem. Avoid giving prompts during this time. Students with disabilities need more time to process information than we, as adults, realize. Only provide prompts for attention if the student is looking around or daydreaming.

Photo by Jordan Benton on

Gradual release: When we provide support to students, we can start out by showing all of the steps and explaining everything, but we need to gradually release adult support so that they can start to work independently. Regardless of the severity of a disability, all students are able to do some portion of an academic task independently.  Many students are not even aware of the extent to which they are able to do work and solve problems independently, so we need to provide plenty of opportunities for independent work in which a student can experience healthy struggle and realize that he or she is able to succeed through perseverance.

Photo by Feedyourvision on

Co-Teaching Presentation for General Education Teachers

15 Jun

I created this slide show and presented it to general education teachers during the 2016-2017 school year in order to promote inclusion, enhance student support, and facilitate collaboration among co-teachers.

Please help my students to get their own flash drives!

9 Mar

I have never done a project like this before, so I am delightfully surprised at the response I have received to my first Donors Choose proposal.  People who live on tight budgets have reached out to help my students, and I am eternally grateful.  We still have a ways to go, however, before reaching our goal of providing flash drives to 100 students with IEPs who are enrolled in general education classes.  By donating just $5, you will be providing a flash drive for one socioeconomically disadvantaged student who has a disability.

Here is the link to my Donors Choose project.

*If you decide to donate, please type in the promo code “SPARK”, and Donors Choose will double your donation.

My Students: For those who don’t know, the Resource Specialist Program (RSP) provides support to students in their general education English and mathematics classes. Students come to me for individual assistance, goal setting, and progress monitoring.

My students live in the socioeconomically disadvantaged area of South Central Los Angeles. Many students do not have access to computers or the Internet in their homes. I provide additional support in English Language Arts and mathematics to students who are enrolled in general education classes. My students need help in self-management and organizational skills in order to be successful in the general education setting.

My Project: Students are often required to produce typed essays or technology-based projects, even though they might not have access to a computer or the Internet in their homes. My students encounter difficulties on a daily basis with having a platform on which they can store their work and take it everywhere with them. Many times, my students are able to write an essay at home, but need to print it at school. A flash drive would be the perfect solution. Another common situation is when students are halfway finished with an assignment, but then they need to go to their next class. Having flash drives would allow students flexibility to take their work anywhere. In addition, a flash drive would increase organizational skills by providing a place for students to store and organize all of their work.

Donations for flash drives will undoubtedly change my students’ lives for the better. Flash drives will help students’ academic progress by allowing them to archive their work and take it wherever they go, increasing opportunities for productivity. Flash drives will also help students to become more organized and responsible for their own work.

My students need flash drives so that they can save their work and access it from multiple locations.

Click here to support my RSP students!

*If you decide to donate, please type in the promo code “SPARK”, and Donors Choose will double your donation.

Spring Break is Almost Over

18 Apr

Anyone who is a teacher understands how Spring Break can be like an oasis in the middle of a barren desert.  March can be a long and grueling month; 31 days and (usually) no holidays. We’ve already lost our sparkle and vigor that we came back with after Winter Break. We are yearning for the long summer days, but they loom far in the distance. Spring break is a much-needed reprieve from the stresses of being a teacher.

Now that I’ve had a week away, I can step back from the minutia and admire the grander view. Sometimes getting intensely into the grind of routines can be like staring at a pointillist painting up close. So many dots; infinite, overwhelming, and impossible to categorize. But take a step back, and you view a beautiful landscape.

I realized I had (finally) relaxed today, when I noticed that my biggest worry about my career was not: “Oh my gosh, I need to get this done ASAP”, but rather: “How can I be a really great teacher?” I began to brainstorm professional development possibilities: classes, books, webinars, Internet resources, etc. I began to see the bigger picture. I began to wonder how I could make a real change.


The rest has been refreshing, and I hope I am able to retain some of the realizations that I have come across during this period of rest.

Today’s Learning Objective (reached): reflection and rest can be incredibly powerful rejuvenators.

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