I have always been interested in different methods of teaching. When I started the RISE Initiative, I had the opportunity to experiment with teaching methods when designing the workshop curriculums. I had the most fun designing the curriculum for our Summer Foundations Program. SFP is a summer mentorship program that aids in the transformation of underprivileged children into professionals adept for survival in the competitive American workforce.
Something we worked hard into our curriculum was the concept of instant and delayed gratification. This is a hard concept for children to understand and accept because children are born into instant gratification. Their cries are instantaneously answered by their parents. They cry, they are fed. Their needs and wants are attended to as soon as possible. This system becomes a part of their psychology. That is why when children want something, they expect to have it “now”. Although this mentality can help with determination in children, it deters children from the reality of life as an adult.
Adults never have things handed to them. They must earn them. They must study hard for good grades. They need good grades to graduate with a degree. They need a degree to get a well-paying job. They need to work to feed themselves and their families. The path to successful adulting is one of delayed gratification. Something children fail to understand. Recognizing the importance of teaching children to accept delayed gratification we came up with a gradual gratification system.
The main tools we used were material prizes such as stickers and candy. During the first couple of weeks, children were rewarded for just arriving to class. Afterward, we shifted to only rewarding when rules were followed correctly. That was then narrowed down to participation. Towards the end of the program, children were only rewarded for productivity and effort. This gradual system allowed for the children to gradually move from instant gratification to delayed gratification.
This process helped the instructors maintain productivity amongst the students. Through the program, the children became more productive. Students started to understand that to be rewarded they needed to complete the given tasks correctly. This mentality progressed as the tasks they completed became longer and harder.
Writing about this helped me understand and appreciate this concept more. During the program, this seemed like a way to bribe the students to get work done. However, writing about the process made me think in-depth about the goal that was accomplished. Writing about the gradual gratification system helped me reflect on the long-term benefits of the system. What I found interesting as well is that to get this life lesson across to the students we had to speak their language. We had to use instant gratification to help them understand that they had to earn what they wanted in life. I believe this is a great example of understanding reality using language. Instructors were able to use a nonverbal language to connect with the children and convey a message related to reality. Reading Mermin’s take on writing and writing about this process helped me understand that language is not definitive. This makes me wonder if language is more than reading and writing? What if language is more than just a description of emotions, actions, and thoughts? Perhaps language is an act. The act of connecting with reality.