Bringing Motivation $2.50 at a Time

You don’t have to work with kids long until you meet someone like Adam (not his real name).  Every class in the school has one, that student who is more interested in having a good time and making everyone laugh at him than do any work.  I actually have a soft spot in my heart for young people like Adam since I was a class clown (or “challenged child” as they are referred to today) during middle school.

This background allows me to realize why all the challenged children take forty-five minutes to do a page of homework while their parents try threats, promises, and begging as motivation.  You see…Adam and everyone like him thrive off the attention they receive from others.

During homework club he is usually surrounded by one of the volunteer homework tutors and his mother who constantly encourage Adam to do his homework, only to get frustrated and sometimes angry when he decides to be silly instead of working.  The reason for this is they are feeding Adam’s desire for attention (without even meaning too) and instead of encouraging hard work motivate him to keep goofing off.

The truly sad thing about all the Adam’s is almost everyone reaches a breaking point where they give up and stop challenging the student to work hard.  They allow Adam to stay the way he is because there isn’t much hope of growth and he happily puts on a show every class to the delight of his fellow students.

Here’s the problem….they can do much more than one page of homework per hour, but you can’t play their game.  So last Tuesday I came to the homework club prepared to conduct an experiment with Adam, instead of feeding monster by giving him attention I brought a top-secret weapon with me.

That’s right I used a $2.50 bag of Starburst Gummi Fruits and explained to Adam that every five minutes or so I would check on his work.  If he was working hard he ate a piece of candy…it he was goofing off I ate it in front of him.  Almost an hour later three pages of homework had been completed with no mistakes and Adam had eaten five pieces of candy while I ate none (well maybe a few pieces).

How did a bag of candy turn a student who refused to do any work into a mathematical genius?  We changed the rules of the game.  Now people sitting there encouraging Adam to work (and feeding his desire for attention) is replaced by a challenge to do his homework with the promise of sweet reward.

I understand that using things like candy or other items to motivate obedience is nothing new, it’s believed that Dwight L. Moody bribed the boys in his Sunday School class with chocolate.  This post isn’t encouraging everyone to go out and buy Starburst Gummi Fruits till the price sky-rockets to $3.50.  It’s pointing out the way we deal with Adam…and students like him doesn’t actually fix the problem, but feeds it.

I used to be like Adam till a teacher named Andy Detant in the fifth grade believed in me and challenged me to become more than a class clown.  Maybe that’s what Adam needs…less people who feed the attention monster…and more who will truly believe in him.

Published by

John Wilburn

Church planter, teacher, and disciple-maker in Barrouallie St. Vincent

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