I took my daughter, Isobel, on her first backpack trip when she was 5 years old. It was a 3-mile walk through a meadow, over 2 creeks, up a hill with stunning views, to a beautiful lake. And I had to bribe her the whole way to complete the walk.
I brought a bagful of candy with me and would place treats on logs and rocks through the walk. More candy was required on the steep parts of the walk. Less as we forged through creeks (which was sheer joy to Isobel.)
Even though I told Isobel how much fun the lake would be —swimming, catching tadpoles, skipping rocks — that future reward did not keep the complaining and whining at bay nearly as effectively as Jelly Belly’s.
But, once we made it to the lake, everything changed. We spent 2 days there and Isobel didn’t want to leave.
When we went back a few weeks later, I didn’t need to use any candy. She practically ran the entire way there.
I employ similar strategies with my students. I reward (bribe) them with Fiddle Bucks for learning songs to get them up the hill.
What is the lake experience that makes them want to keep working? What is that deeper motivation that eventually replaces the reward?
Edward Deci studied the nature of motivation. He developed a framework for explaining human motivation that contends people have an innate set of 3 psychological needs: 1. Competence 2. Relatedness (connection to others) and 3. Autonomy.
When people have these needs met, they feel a sense of well-being — not unlike the satisfaction and joy that Isobel felt at the lake.
Teachers and parents can reward students for a while for learning songs. But unless students experience competence, connection and autonomy, they will not want to keep walking up the hill.