Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Competition in the classroon, is it right?

Page 24

'They conclude that 'this competitive orientation leads to isolation and alienation' among students, encouraging a handful of "winners" while depressing the performance of the many, especially female students and minorities, who withdraw from the aggressive affect of the classroom."

I have very mixed feelings on the idea of competition in the classroom. I really feel as though competition can bring out the best in students. When they compete I find that scores rise and there is a happy morale in the classroom. I find that even my reluctant learners compete with each other. They may not be competing with the "winner" of the class but competing within their comfort level. Which also results in a rise in scores and abilities.

Shor talks about the star charts which I remember from elementary school. My work was always neat and hung on the wall for others to view. I always had lots of stars next to my name on the star chart. So is that why it did not make a negative impact in my mind? The students who did not have the stars or their work up on the wall, how did they feel? Did they strive harder so they could have stars? Or did they just shut down?

I disagree with how Shor singles out women and minorities. I do NOT believe women and minorities withdraw from the aggressive classroom. I find in my classroom women and minorities are very vocal and participate a lot.

Speaking about participation, Shor talks a lot about participation. I find that when my students participate and/ or make a personal connection they are REALLY learning and grasping the material. How can we get more of the reluctant students to participate without discouraging the ones who already do?


  1. Meg-
    I could not remember the awesome way you refer to the kids who always participate and the ones who never do. I tried so hard, baby brain I guess!

  2. I agree with Lindsay I do not think that women or minorities stay out of aggresive conversation. If anything, it is women and minorities that are the most outspoken. My most outspoken student is a spanish girl from Central Falls.

    I also remember charts fondly. It brought out a competitive side in me, but also a sense of pride. I loved seeing stars next to my name, but remember feeling somewhat bad for the students who didn't have stars, but the desire to have the most made me work harder to win the competetition. A teacher at our school actually tried using star charts last year with her psychology class whic is comprised of juniors and seniors.

  3. Lindsay - I agree with your comment about women and minorities being outspoken. I often find that I have encourage and sometimes even coax the male students to speak in the classroom. I sometimes wonder if they feel intimidated by the females in the class...

  4. Lindsay,

    I think it's also interesting about the star chart Shor mentions....I have 5 in my room! The charts measure how many books the kids have read as they are to expected to read 25 for the year. I find that the kids who are into it keep track and the kids who don't care simply forget it's there. I think it does provide friendly competition among those who want to challenge themselves, but certainly doesn't have a negative impact on the kids who don't care about it. At least this is what I think....maybe they did just shut down....hmmmmmmm....

  5. I agree that my females are much more outspoken than the males. (I can't speak as to race since most of my students are white.) I struggle with the idea of competition in the classroom. I have seen so many students who have shut down because they feel like not trying is better than looking like someone who tries and fails. This happens most with my lower level students. I have also seen the competition system work wonders for students who struggle with self-esteem. Seeing the progress helps many too. What a difficult topic!

  6. I think it's funny that most of us remember the star charts. Mine was in 5th grade math. Don't forget though, I bet we were all pretty good students that got stars. We need to go find those kids that got one star a year. I love competition for my own learning (but again, I'm good at school), and generally my kids respond to it.
    As far as pulling out the 'shy guys' (right, Meg?) or getting them to participate and still feel involved, maybe you could try putting them in pairs first. I know a lot of you (you English and history teachers) have liked the idea of talking points that we do for this class. If the kids are all asked to share them in pairs (I like pairs better than small groups) first, then maybe they will be more likely to share in the group. Or if not, if you have a pair of 'shy guy' student A and 'power player' student B working in a pair together, when you get to the class discussion maybe if A isn't comfortable sharing B could bring up the point A made. Of course this all requires them to be on task in pairs, but if you stay on top of them, they can do it.

  7. Wow Lindsay. Interesting critique on Shor. Although I believe in much of what Shor says, your right to take it with a grain of salt. Competition is not always bad, and there are multiple ways for students to compete within their zone of proximity. I suppose it is all dependent on the climate created for the learning community to create a feeling of 'healthy' competition.
    Also, I do agree that females do not necessarily shy away from competition. In my classroom the females are equally, if not more, spoken out than the males. This is something that is changing.... but possibly also dependent on the values of the larger community in which the school exists.