One thing that’s distinctive about my school, compared to other HFRBs is that we use “points”. At most elite bŭxíbāns, there is far too little positive feedback. To deal with this problem, my boss borrowed the idea of giving kids points from the Big Chains. We don’t do them like they do, though. Our gifts are good. Five percent of total revenues get rolled into the gifts. In other words, kids get things like PS2s, bikes, and computers when then graduate.

Kids can get points from a variety of sources. Anytime they voluntarily raise their hands and answer a question correctly, they get a point. They can get or occasionally lose points based on the quality of their homework and tests. At higher levels, they can also get points for each extra book1 they read. We rank the kids based on their points each class, and assign them ranks- A, B, C, and D. “A” students don’t have to do any taped homework, “B” students do half the normal amount, and “D” students get extra homework. We drill it into the kids every class, that more class participation and better homework equals less homework assigned, better gifts, and ultimately better English. They’re hooked on the less homework part from day one; the gifts are a long term goal, but within the first year any class will develop a few greedy point fiends2; and finally, the goal of better English takes forever to sink in. After dozens of motivational speeches3 over the years, it does sink in, though.

The results? This is the first school I’ve ever worked where 90% of the kids raise their hands whenever I ask a question. It’s getting to the point where its hard to remember how passive the kids were back when I worked at Sesame Street. Now they all pay attention and actively try to participate nearly all the time. And no matter what your views on language learning are, that’s a good thing. I used to think points were a stupid waste, back when I was at Joy. I was wrong. Points rule.

[1:]This is meant to be an extra push to get the kids into extensive reading. We start them out with the first level of the Oxford Bookworms series of graded readers. At the first level, they only include 400 headwords, plus about 20 vocabulary items specific to each individual book. Complex grammatical structures, such as relative clauses, are also rare in these books. By the second part of their second year, the students can read about 20-30 pages per hour. With the incentive of points we can get them to read over 50 pages a week.

[2:]It’s really easy for this to get out of hand. I have to spend a couple minutes every few classes explaining how meticulously I track how many times I’ve called on each student for extra points. It’s crucial to make sure it’s fair and make sure they know I’m making sure it’s fair. I do give D students more chances for extra points, though. That’s part of the system.

[3:]One of my favorite speeches goes like this:

“Everybody in Taiwan has to study English for years and years anyway, right? Isn’t it better to work hard for four years and have great English for life than to half-heartedly waste 10 years and never get much for your effort?”