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26837 Tanic Drive
Wesley Chapel
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It Takes a Village: Motivation at Home

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

At Precision TLC, we are able to make significant gains with a learner’s ability to read, write, compute, reason, and learn in a short period of time.  Through our use of customized Independent Learning Plans, individualized curriculum, and practice of behavior analytic techniques including reinforcement, these gains are possible.  Sometimes, however, these gains may not be evident in all settings.  In other words, after we fixed the “can’t do problem,” parents may encounter a “won’t-do problem.” 

Over the summer, we will write about why the “won’t do problem” will creep up when there is no longer a “can’t do problem.”  This month, we will target the first and most important reason: motivation.

The largest reason why students may engage in sloppy performance or even work refusal in the presence of their parents and not in our presence is the lack of motivation at home.  At Precision TLC, each student has a performance goal (a combination of accuracy and speed goals).  Once that goal is achieved, the student accesses a reinforcer.  This reinforcer is something that is powerful.  Examples of reinforcers we use at the center include points that can be exchanged for playtime, gift cards, candy, and snacks.   See our blog about reinforcement for a reminder about the difference between rewards and reinforcers.

I can already hear half of you sigh and say, “but I don’t want to bribe my student to do something that she should do independently.”  I can sympathize with this notion.  However, if motivation is lacking, and the punishment, time-outs, taking things away, bargaining, and other stressful resolutions are not working, maybe it is time to bring in some external motivators.  By pairing the external motivators with the academic skill, you are building the internal motivation so that these external motivators, or reinforcers, can slowly be removed.

Further, if I withheld your paycheck for your job, would you still go?  We live in a world where our performance is reinforced.  Money is a huge generalized reinforcer for our work performance.  Each student’s job is going to school and completing assignments.  However, we are expecting them to work for free because it is their “duty” with the reinforcer being getting a good job or going to college.  I can guarantee that a job and college are not motivators for 99% of students under the 8th grade.

Another concern I hear from parents not wanting to incorporate a reinforcement system at home is “he is just manipulating me to get what he wants.”  Actually, you are controlling the situation.  If handing a little skittle over to a student will result tear-free, negotiating-free, yelling-free, threatening-free 10 min of focused homework time, do you not think it is worth it?  Once your student is successful at that first 10 min and subsequent 10 min intervals of focused, accurate work, then you can increase the exchange.  Now 12, 15, and 20 min are required for that one skittle.  This system can be faded to the point that the skittle is no longer involved in the process.  Sometimes you have to loose a battle to win the war.

Further, effective and powerful teachers employ reinforcement systems in their classrooms.  With the new Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) that Tampa schools now employ, a class-wide reinforcement system is considered a Tier 1 intervention that all students, struggling or not, will encounter.  It is an evidence-based procedure that has phenomenal outcomes.  See our August 2013 Blog about MTSS.