Monday, February 20, 2006


Reward and Punishment- a short long story

My responses to Tara's discussions on her posting has been so long that I thought I'd put themon my blog. (Makes sense!)

I have been reading with great interest the various comments on the rewards/punishments system to increase motivation (including Tara’s tongue-in-cheek comment on consequences for exceeding the word limit!) I remember from my school days a teacher who was himself the motivating factor in developing an interest in a particular subject. Thomas sir , who taught me in the IXth and Xth what an English teacher!!! He made poetry come alive-made me realize that poetry goes beyond rhyming lines and helped me see the beauty of it and I began enjoying the English classes. It was his evident enthusiasm and love for the subject coupled with the fact that he was one of the few teachers who would go a little beyond the prescribed syllabus that motivated many of us. I can also recall a History teacher who read out from the text and put us all to sleep (either that or we had lively games of noughts and crosses) I dislike the subject till date.

On the flip side I can also remember from my experience how small rewards did help kindle an initial motivation which gradually turned into a genuine interest in the subject. While working in Kochi, I had to teach math to a student in the VIIth std. A child with Learning Disabilities, he attended a CBSE school and came to me with a very familiar sentiment -“I hate math!” No matter how patient I was, or how many times I tried to explain concepts –he remained adamant-it was too difficult, dull -"who needs math any way". Repeated failure in school due to his disability had led to a complete loss of interest in the subject.After a few sessions, we worked out a system. For every 15 minutes of concentrated work, he would get 5 minutes of free time. Many chapters later, I was still facing a losing battle in terms of his motivation and interest in math. His marks in school tests continued to be dismally poor bringing on another spree of “I hate math!” My plan did not seem to be working; his eyes would be on the clock. But gradually he began concentrating a bit more. With an exultant-“Miss, its time!” demanding his free time. Till for a chapter on ‘Exponents’ he became so engrossed in understanding the strange rules and numbers before him that he did not ask for his free time! The next test result was amazing -from digit marks he had progressed to 60%. That success made him realize that he could perform well in math. From then on things improved dramatically. In the 3 years that I worked with him, I did not hear the ‘I hate math’ again. (He passed his board exams with 80% marks in math).

while the reward of free time encouraged the student to sit in one place and listen to me, he needed a lot of verbal encouragement to figure out the whys and whats of topics he was learning. being an extremely intelligent child, he would sometimes floor me with questions and I had to think on my feet to provide suitable answers. In this instance I do believe that what the student needed was a trigger- to set him on the path to success and if the extra time was an incentive....

12:56 PM

Raji Nair said...
I agree with Dharma totally- sanctions and punishments breed resentment, actually leading to loss of motivation. It sort of translates into-"I don't like the teacher,so I don't like the subject she teaches." And yes, a word of encouragement or praise goes a long way in getting better results. An "I am so glad that you have taken the effort to write neatly" to a sloppy, untidy student will ensure that next time he takes a little more effort.
And yes, feedback should be accurate and focussed on what exactly the student needs to do to improve his or her performance. Feedback should also point out what the child has done well. (one word -"jnanashunyam" from Ms Soubhagyavathy my music teacher in school for singing a wrong note-left all hopes of a musical career shattered!Don't even dare hum in public now!)
I am running on .... should have put all this on my blog methinks....

8:06 AM

Tara Kini said...
Raji, your posting is very interesting. The 5 minute free time is a great incentive because it helps kids who have short attention spans. In fact, if I am not mistaken, do we all not concentrate best in 10 minute bytes? In a class, I have found that planning one activity for a maximum of 20 minutes works best. For the PPSE contact sessions, we could see the drop in energy if a discussion went on beyond 15 minutes. So yes, I would go with a 5 minute break full heartedly even for a group of focussed individuals!

12:53 PM

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