There is a complex relationship of reward and motivation for school aged kids, and the answers are simpler when children have high intrinsic (internal reward) motivations and flexible educational options. But when a child's performance begins to slip, and motivation and achievement drop, it becomes more difficult knowing how to regain intrinsic motivation and use extrinsic incentives to improve achievement.
The outlook for intrinsic motivation over time looks poor:
"Preference for Challenge" similarly decreases.
And yet, what can you do? Providing incentives is a tricky business. If you take something that a child naturally loves and then provide money as an incentive, research studies suggest that your scheme will backfire. In a classic experiment (repeated many times), Deci found that college students not paid to play with a puzzle played longer with it and had more interest in it, than students who were paid. As a result, the rules of reward are different when it comes to intrinsic interests. Praise and encouragement seem to be fine, but money has an opposite effect. If you want to check out Amabile's Creativity Killers, see the Art of Creativity news article below.
On the other hand, incentives may work well for activities that don't require a great deal of creativity activity like completing math worksheets.
It's valuable to think about contextual factors in motivation as well -where a child feels he is starting from, whether he perceives or knows he has slipped, and whether he now feels he is successful at his work. Sometimes we see kids when they have been experiencing repeated failure, and it's important to give them a break, to aggressively pursue accommodations if they are appropriate - so they can experience success and have more psychic energy to work on difficult tasks. Many parents can succumb to catastrophic thinking - if they take accommodations now, maybe they'll always be dependent, etc. etc., but that's not what's going to happen.
On yesterday's post about Kids and Reward, we found it interesting that the researchers cited Tversky and Kahneman's work in their design of a 'random' number guessing reward paradigm. Children were overly discouraged when win-losses were about equal. They needed to win:lose at about a 2:1 ratio to be motivated and excited about the game. It's no different in school (or in video games for that matter).
Motivation is a powerful tool in the classroom. We just need to know how to use it the right way to push their learning onto a new level.
Academic Intrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Psychology Today: The art of creativity
Reward and Math Worksheets
Decision Making Under Uncertainty- Kahneman