There are many ways to control a classroom. One such way is through a direct cost approach. Marzano defines this as a technique that focuses on controlling through consequences rather than acknowledging a student’s success (2003). This use of direct cost was one of the earliest memories I have of a teacher use disciplinary interventions. Unfortunately, for me this was an incredibly traumatizing experience. My teacher Mrs. Fitz (not actual name) was prized as being an incredible teacher at my elementary school. She was always happy and excited to meet you and her students usually had the best test score. However, when things did go wrong in her class she would use something called the widget system. Each student had their names written on a chart with a series of empty boxes following it. The idea for this was that whenever a student’s misbehaved, they had to go and put a widget or pushpin in the following box. Each number of widgets corresponded to a consequence. One widget meant no recess, a second widget meant they had a written warning, the third widget meant you would go straight to the principal’s office, and finally the fourth widget meant suspension. This system may have worked better in a classroom with older children, however this was a first grade classroom and the escalation of consequences seems rather skewed when I look back at it.
I remember the sense of horror when I had to watch my friend go and put a widget by their name. I was so proud of myself for not receiving a widget until the last month of school. A boy named Michael (not actual name) was a huge trouble maker. He was always receiving widgets and Mrs. Fitz thought it would be beneficial to partner us up. On this particular day, I was wearing my favorite little mermaid sweater. Michael proceeded to color all over it with marker. Afraid that the ink would set in, I walked over to the sink in the room to wash it out. Mrs. Fitz saw me stand and gave me a verbal warning to not get out of my seat again. However, Michael proceeded to continue to color not only on my sweater but also my face. I raised my hand to ask the teacher if I could wash my sweater. Mrs. Fitz ignored me and sat at her computer. Not wanting to ruin my shirt, I walked over a second time to clean my sweater. It was at this point that Mrs. Fitz made me give myself a widget. She was not interested in hearing my excuse and proceeded to get furious at me.
Looking back on this situation, I can see why Mrs. Fitz was upset with me. From her perspective, I was one of those students that were disrupting work time by walking back and forth from the sink. Now that I am more aware of teaching practices, I think that the way she handled this situation could have been improved. If I were her, I would have made an effort to see that Michael and one of my good pupils were getting along during a group learning exercise. It could have been beneficial to Michael to be partnered with someone who was rarely in trouble. However, I would then keep a close eye on this set up rather than sit behind my computer. Another thing I would change is losing the widget system. Even after these widgets were removed, there was a permanent hole by the students name so there would be a constant reminder that you misbehaved. If I were to use the direct cost technique, I would use something that wasn’t so permanent, maybe dry erase markers, or magnets.
Looking back at Mrs. Fitz’s classroom, I think was an excellent example of the need for positive affirmation. Her class was one that was run with fear, and I think she could have made this experience one that was much better if she used both positive reinforcement and consequences. This further supports the saying that you can catch more flies with honey then vinegar. If there would have been a reward, maybe Michael would have been less prone to misbehaving and I would not have been so distressed when receiving a widget.
Marzano, R.J. (2003). Classroom management that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.