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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