Oh, Look! TICKET!

Found in a blog comment here.

“I think the problem is that we ask, “What do we want our kids to learn?” from this assignment, strategy, etc., but we often fail to ask “What do they actually learn?”


Do I want my kids to focus on actively getting involved during a lesson or do I want them focused on earning tickets for sitting still, not calling out, keeping their eyes on their own paper, doing their work, etc.

I would have included “paying attention” on that list, but as soon as a “reward” ticket is dropped on someone’s desk, the ticket becomes the focus and attention is gone. I dare you to show me the excited kinder who can ignore a ticket placed on his/her table or that of a friend.

As soon as the focus is on the ticket, the lesson learned by the kids is not “Hey, if I don’t call out or if I sit still or if I do whatever that kid did to get a ticket, I’ll get one, too!” The lesson really is like a dog and a squirrel. “Oh, LOOK! TICKET!!! TICKET! TICKET! TICKET!”

The lesson this teacher learns is “It’s not worth disrupting my lessons and/or creating some convoluted procedure to teach little kids what-to-do-if-teacher-puts-a-ticket-on-my-table-that-does-not-take-my-mind-off-the-lesson-even-though-TICKET!!!! because:

1. I want an involved, excited, participatory, focused group of kids.

2. Praise and attention trump tickets every day of the week.

3. Tickets make kids crave more tickets, not more learning.

4. Alfie Kohn


This is a test

Choose which student scored higher overall on their End of Year (EOY) mClass benchmark tests. 

Student 1

Book level C (benchmark goal for kindergarten is level D)

Retell: 3/3 points

Sight words: 39

Letter identification: 27/one minute

Phoneme segmentation: 27/one minute (goal 40)

Nonsense word fluency: 31 sounds/one minute (goal 28)

Student 2 

Book level: RB (equivalent to level A – tests “reading behaviors” She can indicate title, use left-right directionality, use return sweep, maintain language pattern and use of picture support. She cannot track print with 1:1 matching).

Retell: Not a task at this level.

Sight words: 1 – the word I

Letter identification: 47/one minute

Phoneme segmentation: 12/one minute

Nonsense word fluency: 41 sounds/one minute

Your score

If you chose student 1, you failed this test.

Student 2 had a composite score of 100 and student 1 had a composite score of 84. Student 2 ended the year in the yellow zone (The Composite Score indicates the student will likely need Strategic Support). Student 1 ended the year in the red zone (The Composite Score indicates the student will likely need Intensive Support). The parenthetical statements are direct quotes from mClass/Amplify.

What the tests don’t tell you.

Student 1 has spoken English his entire life. He has been in my kindergarten class since the first day last August. He hasn’t missed any school days, nor has he ever been tardy. He has a huge vocabulary, but he has difficulty with processing his thoughts. Student 1 works on these issues with a speech therapist on a weekly basis. He takes his time when he sounds out words. He thinks before he speaks. He is a careful, capable, excited reader. Student 1 gets very confused by phoneme segmentation task due to his processing issue. He seems to be unable to remember the word as it is told to him. The word “metal” might be segmented as /m/ /ar/ /k/ /er/. When the task is slowed down and the words are repeated to him several times, he is fully capable of segmenting each word correctly.

Student 2 speaks very little English. Her native language is Hmong and that is the only language spoken in her home. She enrolled in our school at the end of January after attending kindergarten in a different district. She has missed many days of school and is significantly late at least 2 out of every 5 days of school. Student 2 has very little English vocabulary. She has much difficulty articulating her needs and responses to questions, even with lots of help. She is happy student, but does not like doing any school work. As an aside, she can only count to 5 despite working extensively on counting for the past several months. Student 2 does know the sound that each alphabet letter makes and this has helped her to succeed at letter naming and nonsense word tasks. She does not yet attempt to sound out words. Segmenting is impossible for this student even if the task is slowed down. She hears first sounds and nothing beyond the first sound. This is typical of the early emergent stage of reading development.

All of those things that the tests don’t tell you is what I know about my students. I didn’t need mClass tests – benchmark and/or progress monitoring – to tell me any of this. I know these things because i know my students. I talk to them. I watch them. I talk to them some more. I try strategies with them. I adjust what we do to meet their needs. And we read LOTS of books together.

Is Student 2 a better reader? Not yet.

Do both these students need support as readers? Of course, they do!

Is this a contest between my students? Not at all.

Do these scores say anything about me as a teacher when the results are so utterly ridiculous? My state says, yes, they define me.

School improvement 

The school Improvement plan (SIP) at my school has a major section about communication. We are trying to improve the ways that we share information with the parents of our kids and with other members of the school community at large, collectively referred to in the SIP as “stakeholders.”

I think this whole communication thing went awry the minute we co-opted that term from the business world. We are a school family, not a board of directors and a group of stakeholders.

But we are a dysfunctional family. Most of the staff mistrusts and maligns parents at every turn. And it’s likely that the reverse is also true. Can’t say that I blame them. 

Do we really believe that robo-calls, even if they are delivered in cheerful voices, will unite this school family? Do we really believe that classroom newsletters and the rare newsletter from administration will override the deeply rooted divide between the school and parents? Do we really believe that parents are unaware of the disdain with which most staff treat parents out of earshot?

If we do not trust our parents we will never unite this school family. If we disrespect them behind their backs, our school will never improve our relationships with the people who we need to have standing with us.

The prevailing attitude is that parents don’t care.

The reality is that our kids’ parents, grandparents and guardians care deeply. They may forget to sign planners, to pull papers out of book bags or to read newsletters. They may not be able to attend school functions or join the PTO. They may send a sick kid to school, forget a bagged lunch on field trip days or drop their kid off early. They may be working two jobs or weird hours or who knows what is going on in their home or the shelter in which they are living. 

I met a mom earlier this year who described her reality to me. She happened to walk in on a home visit I was making to a family living in a housing project. When I told her I was a teacher, she said that her child had attended our school and had moved onto middle school. Then she erupted, “I know they think we don’t care about our kids and about education over there, but we do. We don’t have cars, we don’t have school supplies at home, we have trouble helping our kids with homework that we don’t understand and some of us can’t read.” She was eloquent and passionate. And I apologized to her on behalf of our staff.

Why can’t we give parents and others caregivers the benefit of the doubt? Why can’t we begin with trust? Why can’t we use compassion instead of accusation? 

We must believe that each member of our school family is doing the best s/he can with what s/he has available and that each individual cares deeply about the success of each and every child in our school. Only then will we be able to effectively communicate with our school family and work toward the united goal of improving our school.