Should you reward your children for doing well at studies whether it be math, reading or science? Should you reward them with monetary incentives, with gifts or with praise? These are million dollar questions (well, almost!).
Several studies have shown that rewards can help but researchers have differed about the extent of help in improving motivation. Moreover, there are several factors that affect the reinforcement of rewards. Different personality types respond differently to different motivations.
Positive Reinforcement in Learning Situations
I recently came across two interesting studies referenced by Paul Tough in his NY Times bestseller book How Children Succeed.
The first study was conducted by Calvin Edlund in 1969 in Northern California. Calvin selected 79 children in the age group of 5 to 7 years, all with a strong liking for candy and all from low-middle class and lower-class homes. The children were randomly divided into an experimental group and a control group. First, they all took a standard version of the Stanford-Binet IQ test. Seven weeks later, they took a similar test, but this time the kids in the experimental group were told “I am going to give you an M&M candy for each right answer you give…”. No candy was given for an incorrect response. On the first test, the two groups were evenly matched on IQ. On the second test, the IQ of the experimental group (those with M&M) gained an average of 12 IQ points — a huge leap.
The second research study is even more intriguing study. I could not find the research paper so I will quote Paul here: A few years later, two researchers from the University of South Florida elaborated on Edlund’s experiment. This time, after the first, candy-less IQ test, they divided the children into three groups according to their scores on the first test. The high-IQ group had an average IQ score on the first test of about 119. The medium-IQ group averaged about 101, and the low-IQ group averaged about 79. On the second test, the researchers offered half the children in each IQ category an M&M for each right answer, just as Edlund had; the others in each group received no reward. The medium-IQ and high-IQ kids who got candy didn’t improve their scores at all on the second test. But the low-IQ children who were given M&M’s for each correct answer raised their IQ scores to about 97, almost erasing the gap with the medium-IQ group.
Does it Really Work?
Well, yes and no. Some researchers have contended that the motivation boost from rewards is short-term. As parents, do you believe that praising your child for good work has only a short-term positive influence? How is praise different from rewards? Every child is different and as parents, you know best if your child will benefit from rewards. It can not hurt so why not use the rewards as a carrot.
Rewards at Thinkster Math
At Thinkster Math, we have started the process of adding several direct and explicit rewards as well as praise for students who are learning on the Thinkster platform. The latest version of Thinkster Math released in July has an enhanced welcome page that shows the reward points earned by the students in any given month. Since this new version of Thinkster was released, we have seen a 20-30% spurt in the number of learning activities engaged by the Thinkster students who are using the new version. That’s one very solid piece of data. One of the schools in South Brunswick NJ where Thinkster is being used, the teachers have reported a substantial increase in the excitement amongst children with a resulting increase in the engagement.
Here are some tips on improving their motivation on Thinkster:
1. Praise them every time they do a worksheet.
2. Explain the reward points to them.
3. During summer time, if your child is not going to a summer camp or is attending a shortened summer camp, encourage them to do 2 worksheets a day to increase their reward points.
Over the next few months, we will be releasing additional points of engagement for the students. We would love to get your feedback on how you like it and if it is helping your children with motivation. If you have any ideas on this, please feel free to reach out to us.