An embarrassed Kiran showed me his English test paper on which he had scored poorly. A quick glance revealed that the fifth grader from a reputed school in Bengaluru had to work on a number of aspects of grammar and spelling. What struck me most about his paper was that it was replete with negative remarks and cross marks. On several subtests, the child had scored full marks, but the teacher had not written a single ‘Good’ on his paper. A unidimensional focus on what a child has done wrong without acknowledging what he has got right can indeed be demotivating.
When I gave Kiran constructive feedback about his mistakes, while ensuring I recognised the areas he did well in, his facial expression changed. He felt he had done some exercises well and could work on improving other areas. He even agreed to attend an additional class per week to catch up on his skills. Constructive pep talks help children deal with difficult times more effectively.
Not only teachers, but parents too, are conservative about providing positive feedback. As a culture we tend to focus on the negative while taking the positive for granted. We must realize that recognizing the positive is essential for people, especially children, to make further progress. Children are highly motivated when offered rewards (does not have to be material) for their efforts. Sagar is a slow-learner I teach and I look forward to writing ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ in his notebook just to see his heart-warming smile. An eight year old, Gita, had minimal interest in attending class until she started receiving tokens for every activity she did well. She later exchanges her tokens for gifts from her mother. The little ‘Yay’ she lets out when I give her stars for her work is a ‘Yay’ moment for me as well. Little Arjun’s parents promised him a puppy for reaching his goals. This motivated him a great deal to perform to the best of his abilities.
We must modify our expectations of children with learning difficulties based on their abilities. We must also focus less on their test scores and more on their effort and steps of progress. Here are some tips for educators and parents to motivate children:
• Acknowledge and reward small steps of progress.
• Be genuine and more liberal in saying “Good job”, “I’m impressed with your handwriting today”, “Wow, you read with expression” or “You made my day by listening to me” etc.
• Give a high-five, a pat on the back or a thumbs-up to indicate your appreciation.
• Use attractive stickers to motivate your child.
• In a classroom, the other children could applaud a child receiving a sticker/star.
• Motivate children by saying “I appreciate the hard work you are putting in.”
• A hug or kiss are wonderful ways to let children know they are important.
• Parents can have a predetermined reward such as an ice-cream treat or a family outing when a child reaches a preset goal.
• Use tokens or ‘chips’ since they are immediate and tangible for a child.
Do not forget to accompany the above mentioned do’s with a heart-felt smile!
(All names have been changed.)
(An edited version of this article first appeared in ‘In Sync with Kids’ at http://www.prayatna.org/blog)