My Spelling List Under Pillow

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I was never a very good student, however one teacher made a significant difference in my life. She was my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Bouck. In many ways her methods were quirky and unconventional.

My most poignant memory was her motivational technique for helping me learn to spell better. She motivated (perhaps bribed is a better word) us with candy. She gave weekly spelling tests and then rewarded us for our efforts. This simple reward was motivation for me to study my spelling words.

We earned a candy bar if we got 100% on our spelling test for three consecutive weeks. Earning 100% for two weeks would get us a Tootsie Pop, while one test with 100% got us a piece of penny candy. Those who didn’t get 100% on any of the tests received smarty pills (candy).

She taught us to study the spelling words right before going to bed and then put the list under our pillow. She guaranteed this would help our brain absorb, retain, and remember the words.

Using her unconventional approach I started getting candy bars on a regular basis. Occasionally I would mess up and only get a Tootsie Pop but to my recollection I never got below that for the rest of fifth grade.

In reality, putting my spelling list under my pillow didn’t help me become a better speller, but research is clear that simple, immediate, and desirable rewards and recognition do motivate behavior change and that studying just prior to sleep can improve retention.

As parents we can help our children dream and set goals. We can teach them to work and study and give them positive feedback. We can let them know that we are proud of their efforts and the baby steps they are taking towards their dreams. We can provide unconditional love so they are comfortable with open communication.

Just like Mrs. Bouck’s ‘magical formula’ helped a young boy who never thought he could get a 100% on a spelling test we to can motivate our children to dream and reach their goals.


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Anne's Corner

By Anne Evans-Cazier, LCSW

When my kids were growing up there was a series of books called “Choose Your Own Adventure” in which as you read along you would come to a decision point and have to make a choice.  Do you want the character to answer the front door or slip out the back?  Run down the stairs or hide in their bedroom?  Then, depending on your choice, the book would direct you to turn to a certain page and the story would continue in different ways depending on your choice.  Life really is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience.  Cal chose an adventure when he decided he wanted to earn the treats his teacher offered and then accepted her idea for studying to help him do just that.  Help your child practice choosing their life adventure by choosing goals and the actions they can take to lead them there.  You can have a bit of fun with this, for example, ask your child if they would like to choose the adventure of making some popcorn, and ask them what steps they could take to help make this adventure come true.  Then work on longer range adventures: going to the movies on Saturday, taking a picnic to the park, reading a book by next week, graduating from high school, choosing their career, etc. according to the age and interests of your child.

1 Comment

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    Karren Hammer on February 4, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Thank you for helping me to think about the value of setting goals and what to consider when encouraging our children and grandchildren to do so in order that they become more resilient. Tell me more! You make it fun to learn how to help promote resilience.



Anne's Corner

By Anne Evans-Cazier, LCSW

When my kids were growing up there was a series of books called “Choose Your Own Adventure” in which as you read along you would come to a decision point and have to make a choice.  Do you want the character to answer the front door or slip out the back?  Run down the stairs or hide in their bedroom?  Then, depending on your choice, the book would direct you to turn to a certain page and the story would continue in different ways depending on your choice.  Life really is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience.  Cal chose an adventure when he decided he wanted to earn the treats his teacher offered and then accepted her idea for studying to help him do just that.  Help your child practice choosing their life adventure by choosing goals and the actions they can take to lead them there.  You can have a bit of fun with this, for example, ask your child if they would like to choose the adventure of making some popcorn, and ask them what steps they could take to help make this adventure come true.  Then work on longer range adventures: going to the movies on Saturday, taking a picnic to the park, reading a book by next week, graduating from high school, choosing their career, etc. according to the age and interests of your child.