Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The learning is the reward

For several years now my mom and I have talked about the fact that rather than rewarding young children for academic work, parents and teachers should guide students to understand that the work is the reward. This conversation started when my oldest daughter entered kindergarten At the first parent/teacher conference my husband and I were politely chastised for not writing down each book that we read to our daughter at home. We assured the teacher that we read to McKenzie daily. At the time we had three children, ages 5, 3, and 6 months. My husband was recovering from meningitis. We didn't understand the desperate need to record what we had always thought to be a sweet way to finish out the day. Then the teacher explained, "But that is the only way for her to get the free pizza."


My husband and I both grew up under this system. I am sure that many of you can relate. Reading meant pizza, good grades meant movies, and good behavior was rewarded with popcorn. And really, what did this communicate to a school full of learners? My mom would argue that it communicated that reading is a chore. I agree with her.

"The learning is the reward" is a lovely catch phrase for a teacher to adopt. However, without concrete examples, the phrase is meaningless. Here are a few ideas from my bag of tricks. Please leave a comment sharing ways that you remind your student(s) that the learning process is the reward.
  • books are given as treats (vacation entertainment, Christmas presents, just because . . .)
  • a map reading geography adventure
  • handwriting practice becomes a letter exchange between friends
  • increasing freedom in the kitchen (my oldest is often allowed to assemble simple recipes; math and reading; I suppose that one could argue that there is still an edible reward at the end of the process. I assure you that she enjoys the actual work involved. Most children are quite proud to help with the family meal.)
  • casual dinner table discussions reviewing the week's history lessons (most recently my husband was explaining that in the 1600's many people came to America searching for religious freedom; "yes, that reminds me of reading about the Huguenots," was the reply. The "reward" for such detailed reading? A huge grin from dad.)
  • saying things like, "oh, I love these kinds of problems" or "wow, this is a thinking question! You will feel great when you figure it out." That may sound cheesy, but you are the gauge by which your student will set his attitude. You can coach him towards the mindset that challenges are to be relished or towards the mindset that challenges are to be avoided. You can validate a student's sense that this problem looks tricky without bemoaning hard work.

My mom recently published her fourth book. In one of the chapters she offers suggestions for classroom teachers to build "intrinsic motivation." While the book is written for a teacher facing a room full of students, I think that teachers with only a hand full of students will find it thought provoking and motivating. Hopefully intrinsically so. After all, for any teacher, and especially for a homeschooling mother, the work is the reward.


Anonymous said...

I agree about learning shouldn't be handled in that way. We do have a behavior incentive plan in a way. But reading, school work, and grades are just expected. We try to provide fun and exciting materials to balance out the dry stuff. Learning is so fun.

Anonymous said...

I just linked to your post, which I was very vividly reminded of last night on my way to, uh, Pizza Hut. *blushing profusely*

Here's my sad, sad tale: http://getalonghome.com/2010/11/road-hell-good-intentions/

Carletta said...

I always tell my kids that, "A job well done is it's own reward!"

Mom on a Mission said...

I found your blog from Cindy's blog and she has comments disabled-probably because it's such an old post. Well I was looking up potty training and that's how I found it but regardless- the idea and the philosophy intrigues me and I like it! But how do you actually put it into practice all the time? It makes sense not to reward kids for something they should be doing anyways...so if they decide not to do it or they just dwaddle and waste time, then do they get disciplined? I have a 6yr old son who can literally take 8hours to do 1hr of seat work (we homeschool)! I try to mix fun stuff in with seat work so he's not just sitting for an hour, but he always manages to drag it out. He got a leap pad for his birthday from grandparents and always wants to play on it so I was trying to give him him 30min a day on it. BUT if he fools around during school and takes a long time, then he gets time taken away on his leap pad. Sometimes that motivates him, sometimes it doesn't. I've tried having a schedule (30 min for this subject, 10 min of chores, 20 min of another subject, 30 min break til lunch, 30 min lunch, 30 min play outside...etc) BUT he still will sit staring at the pages of the first subject for 3 hours if he doesn't feel like doing it. If they don't "care" about what they are learning about (spelling or math or something they don't find interesting) then how do you get them to understand that the learning is the reward!!????