"The Privilege of Giving" program is a unique reward system with educational value. When students deserve a reward for their effort, they are rewarded by being given the privilege of helping others in the school building. By using "active learning", we are hoping to instill in our students a love for helping others.
Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten
– BF Skinner, American psychologist and philosopher
What is “active learning”? According to Bonwell and Eisen (1991), active learning is “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (p. 2). Some of the general characteristics of active learning include students being involved in more than just listening, students being engaged in activities, and students being able to explore their own attitudes and values (Bonwell & Eisen, 1991, p. 2).
Active learning is built upon the tradition of English philosopher John Locke, American philosopher John Dewey and others. This approach explains that experience provides a rich resource for learning, or in other words, learning by doing. Learning by doing involves active participation in a planned event that applies the principles that the students are learning in school.
The Privilege of Giving
In our school, we have introduced a program called “The Privilege of Giving” based on the theory of active learning. This program includes second grade until sixth grade and uses the physical environment of the whole school. When we teach Judaic studies, our emphasis is always on the middot, positive character traits, we can learn from all our subjects, whether it is Torah (Bible) study or the study of Navi (The Prophets). In most schools, it is common to have “kindness week”, however, in our school, with this new program that was introduced last year, we don’t just have a week in which kindness is emphasized, we emphasize it the whole year long.
The teachers in our school regularly talk about working on one’s character, including telling stories about people giving to others, bringing in speakers (such as a mother of child that lived through a serious illness and how she benefited from the kindness of others), we also encourage giving (such as, donating toys to children in the hospital for Hanukah). Last year, however, we decided that this was not enough. Not only should the students learn about giving, but in order to internalize it and actualize it, we realized that we needed to make them active learners and not just leave them to passively absorb the message.
We decided to take a unique approach. We wanted the students in the elementary to be involved in acts of kindness, but that was not enough. We wanted them to feel the privilege in being able to be givers, instead of takers. In most schools, including our own, it is common practice for teachers to reward students for specific positive behaviors using a prize box filled with a selection of toys and accessories. When the students earn their prizes, they can select their reward from the items in the prize box. Alternatively, some teachers use “privileges” to reward their students – such as, winning a privilege to have a pizza lunch, a fun outing, or extra recess time.
We approached the positive reinforcement ideology in an entirely novel way, using the powerful gifts of our Jewish values to tap into our universal need for meaning and self-actualization. Upon first hearing about it, one may be easily tempted to think that it would never work, particularly with children. But the excitement and enthusiasm associated with this program has been so surprisingly overwhelming, that it was introduced into five grades of the school.
Our idea was that instead of a prize the students should win a privilege, but not a privilege where they will be “taking” (such as extra recess time, or receiving a toy), but a privilege where they will be “giving”. We explained to the students the concept of being “takers” and “givers” and opened the reflection on what they would rather be in their lives. The students all unanimously and excitedly answered that they would rather be givers. So in lieu of prizes, students win the opportunity to help others. The “giving” can take many forms, using the complete physical environment of the school. The students can volunteer in different classrooms to help teachers, can do tasks for any of the secretaries, and can even help administration with tasks that need to be completed.
Every single detail of the program was carefully thought out and crafted to emphasize the importance and the privilege of giving. When the students earn their privilege, they receive a special pass that reads “The Privilege of Giving” which they present to the principal in her office as part of their reward. The principal formally inscribes their names in a special book reserved for the “givers” in the school, the “Book of Givers”. Whenever help is needed in the school, the principal looks through the “Book of Givers” and chooses a minimum of two winners to help. When the principal arrives in the classroom, the children are almost begging to be chosen to help. To them, the opportunity to do for others has become the best reward they could possibly dream of receiving.
What impact does this program have on our students?
This program promotes social, emotional, and spiritual growth in out students. To begin with, we always make sure to pick a minimum of two students at a time to help. We do this, because we want to give the students a chance to bond in positive social environments. For example, the third-grade teacher noticed that one girl in her class was always ignoring another girl and she felt that it led to other students ignoring this other girl, as well. So, we purposely chose these two girls to do an activity together where they would have to work together to get the job done. It was an amazing way to see the barriers break down between them. This program also affects our students emotionally, because as we know from Howard Gardner, an American developmental psychologist, that there are multiple intelligences. The school environment, unfortunately, usually only focuses on the linguistic (word smart) and logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart) intelligences. What about the other intelligences? This program focuses on the existential (life smart), interpersonal (people smart), and bodily-kinesthetic (body smart) intelligences. This is one of the reasons why students are so excited to be chosen. Finally, this program also, obviously, has a great spiritual effect on the students, by giving back and doing chessed (acts of loving-kindness) the students are working on their character development and become caring individuals.
The traditional method of teaching through instruction at the front of the classroom is not enough. Our goal of education needs to be about shaping our young minds and helping them lead fulfilling, joyful by making meaningful contributions to the world. These children are internalizing the formidable yet elusive message that giving back in this world is the best possible reward one can receive and that paradoxically when giving, you are also, somehow receiving – undoubtedly more than when you are selfishly taking.
The teachers have been very happy to implement this program with their students. The teachers can see how excited the students become at being given the opportunity to help others and to not just receive a prize that they will shortly forget about. Teachers in our school have also shared the idea of this program with teachers in other schools that have been excited to implement a similar program in their own classrooms and schools.
Bonwell, C.C., & Eison, J.A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating excitement in the classroom
(ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington
Smart, K., & Csapo, N. (2007). Learning by Doing: Engaging Students Through Learner-
Centered Activities. Business Communication Quarterly, 70(4), 451-457.
PDF Version of entry:
Video explaining the program: