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  • Writer's pictureJulien Morizio

Increasing Student Commitment

When using a token system to reward a student — whether it be a series of check-marks or smiley faces on a chart leading up to a prize — I always wonder if the child would be inclined to commit to any productive task in life without expecting an unrelated reward in return. When rewarding a child with a movie or candy for working or behaving, we externalize their motivation. They are not productive because they want to be, but rather because they expect something else in exchange.

While external motivation — like the dangling carrot on a stick — can be effective for short-term outcomes, internal motivation (i.e. intrinsic motivation) is more enduring and has better long-term effects because the child would have to rely on nothing other than him/herself to perform tasks or behaviors. Intrinsic motivation, not surprisingly, is shown to be strongly related to academic success (Whitehead, 2003).

How do you increase a child's intrinsic motivation? Since that form of motivation must come from within the child, the parent or educator cannot do much more than encourage the child's autonomy and model being intrinsically motivated. Anything more could risk externalizing that motivation, as it would not originate from the child.

Suppose, though, that the child has difficulty with commitment and struggles to find that inner motivation. Here is where the act of writing can be a powerful tool. How many times have you heard that writing things down makes them more likely to stick in your head? Same thing goes with writing your goals. When you write them down, you are more likely to commit to executing them, especially when written in the form of a contract. The attached Contract for Increasing Commitment, adapted from Allen Mendler's "Motivating Students Who Don't Care" (2000), is a contract that I have used with students I tutored in the past:

Contract for Increasing Commitment
Download PDF • 27KB

While I usually do not use contracts, given their sometimes formal and dry nature, I recommend using this one for a number of reasons:

  1. It works.

  2. It provides structure for the child's intrinsic motivation to grow.

  3. It encourages the child to be autonomous and accountable.

  4. It puts the focus on the child's effort.

  5. It helps the child reflect upon and overcome potential obstacles.

  6. It makes the child feel supported by an adult.

  7. It allows the child to develop their own consequences, which they are likely to want to avoid.

  8. It is fair.

A bonus is that it might be an opportunity for the child to develop and use their signature for the first time.

The child's answers might be general. For example, here is the response of a student of mine to the question, What is your plan for making more of an effort to be successful?: "My plan is to do what I have to do everyday in order to prevent my work from overflowing."

SMART goals can come later. What this contract does is lay the foundation for more specif goals by having the child reflect upon what might have gotten in the way of their success, and make a promise to themselves to do what it takes to succeed going forward.



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