Lockdown Learning, Part 1: FEEDBACK & REWARDS

Many children are not particularly motivated to do schoolwork if there is no immediate reward for their efforts. It is difficult for them to see the big picture and observe their own progress. Therefore, the parent-teacher must satisfy the student’s need for a feeling of achievement and clarity in purpose. This can be achieved by providing timely feedback and concrete rewards.

Most parents make a habit of using positive verbal feedback with their children, but written feedback can be amazingly powerful, even at its most simple level. One very easy method is to make up a one page calendar for the current week or month. At the end of each day’s lessons, parent and student should agree on whether the student worked constructively that day, and if so, mark the calendar with a star or smiley face. It can truly be as simple as this, and yes, it works with older students, too, as long as they help design the system. Be specific on what constitutes positive behavior and let the student help design the system.

Feedback can be coupled with rewards, if used in a careful manner. For example, one week of smiley faces might earn the student a small prize, such as their choice for family movie night or a special privilege. Once the student has been earning consistently good marks, you can up the ante by providing the reward less regularly, or only for a greater level of achievement. The critical thing is to design the system and adjust it together with your child.

This really does work. One home schooling family we know were frustrated by a constant battle of wills with their second grade daughter. After introducing a calendar / smiley system, they reported an immediate, dramatic change for the better. (In fact, their preschool age daughter then demanded to have her own calendar, too!) Eventually, they were able to pare down the rewards to a token book a month – fair enough for a young student who truly made a strong effort.

There are, of course, pitfalls. While many teachers incorporate some form of recognition system into their classroom management, most are wary of relying too heavily on rewards. The principal danger is that students can develop the habit of performing only if and when concrete rewards are promised. The key is to develop a student’s intrinsic motivation (I want to do well because it makes me proud, happy, or better at something) versus extrinsic motivation (I’ll try to do well because then I’ll get a new toy / electronic device / privilege). On the other hand, concrete rewards can pave the way to stronger intrinsic motivation when used carefully and sparingly. Students will gradually internalize good habits as long as the concrete rewards are not overemphasized.

Above all, make sure to have frank discussions with your children, giving them credit for their efforts and allowing them to take on responsibility for their own learning.

(This is an excerpt from my book, Lesson Plans Ahoy. Like another of my books, Lesson Plans To Go, it is full of practical tips and plans for parents educating their kids outside of normal school settings. Although one book is aimed at homeschooling on a boat and the other for homeschooling on the road, the principles can be applicable anywhere - including at home! Both books have tips on managing a one-room schoolhouse type setting with students of different ages side by side. Please feel free to email questions to me at author(at)nslavinski(dot)com - I’ll do my best to answer in future blog posts.)