Motivating Students to Success

By Butterfly Effects Editorial Staff   |   05/01/2012   |   comments
Motivating Students to SuccessGood Tutors Pull Motivation  from all Corners

Experts in behavior and motivation, Butterfly Effects has begun to help students of all ages and abilities find success in school by first helping them find their motivation. Giving new hope to struggling students and their parents, the Butterfly Effects approach takes a vastly different approach than most tutors who typically repeat the same lessons that are being taught in school. With the Butterfly Effects behavior approach, students develop new habits and access both external and intrinsic motivators that drive them do well with school assignments, as well on standardized assessment and admission tests.

For several years now, educators have identified poor motivation as the great danger to positive student outcomes. Yet, they have not been able to come up with a consistent formula for creating motivation that can be applied to most students in most situations.

There's a simple reason for that, one that the tutors at Butterfly Effects understand as well as anyone.

Match your child with a Butterfly Effects
tutor this week by calling 888-880-9270

But first readers should consider the research:
For some reason, a number of foundations seem more willing to come up with motivational cash payments for students than salaries for additional teachers. Consequently, there has been a recent rash of studies that have experimented with the effects of paying students to perform in school. The studies have included students from preschool to university level. The studies have paid students to read books, show up, improve grades, graduate, and much more . . .  and returned a great deal of mixed results. What we are so far able to garner from these studies is that:
  • Financial incentives seem to have little impact on end-of-year assessment tests
  • The more immediate the gratification, the more effective the reward
  • Rewards are much more effective in getting students to do what they already can rather than develop new skills
  • Researchers have no idea how to isolate the variables so that the continuously conflicting data makes sense
  • Offering rewards may have a long-term negative effect on intrinsic motivation
For those who question the last bullet point, consider this classic experiment reported on in 1973 by Stanford University; it's something of an argument-ender.

Researchers put 51 nursery school toddlers into groups. All were instructed to draw with markers. However, one group was told in advance that they were to receive an award, a certificate with a gold star and a red ribbon if they completed their work. All the children did their drawings, and the anointed ones received their certificates.

Week later, researchers reported that the children who were rewarded were now much less enthusiastic about drawing. Those children were spending half as much time drawing for fun as those who had not been rewarded. (Lepper et al, 1973) Not the proudest of days for that research team.

"It's really pretty straight forward," says Kyle Rabin, who, with Dan Walke, coordinates academic services out of the Pompano Beach Florida office of  Butterfly Effects. "Motivation is the key, but there's no formula any school can supply ... that will work with all children."

One of the largest parts of being human is our snowflake like uniqueness and often that uniqueness shows up in our reason for being. Motivation needs to be all about what motivates the individual.

Ideally, the best students are intrinsically motivated. They want to succeed because they value success and while they may not yet fully understand the long-term consequences of their scholastic actions, they can appreciate that academic success is important to their futures.

In consideration of the above, there are two types of kids who are almost certain to be disqualified from the fast lane of the motivational highway: 
Those who lack actual ability and those who lack the frame of reference that allows them to imagine that academic hard work can actually pay off.

By ability, one can mean cognitive ability, but ability can also mean the ability to study, the ability to know what to do when circumstances get out of hand. A child in a high functioning well connected family is much more apt to go to a teacher or a principle if something happened to his or her homework or he or she were too ill to take a test. A child grown up in a different circumstance may not have the sense that authority figures are even accessible.  

To be successful at school requires some cognitive ability, but it also requires an understanding of the social etiquette of learning, an understanding of how to study to learn and how to study to a test, ideally a willingness to read, the opportunity to study, and most essential: reason to make it happen.

Two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and external
Anyone trained in Applied Behavior Analysis understands that motivation is the fuel that feeds the that part of the human-animal which is human. Animals do things because they are pushed by instinct.  People do what they do because they are pulled by external motivation while also being pushed by intrinsic motivation if they are fortunate enough.  External motivation can have its lure. but it can never have the power of intrinsic motivation.

 Is a person going to move more assertively if he or she is motivated forward by the smell of chocolate chip cookies or pushed forward by a burning desire to achieve?

Steeped in the practice of the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, Butterfly Effects built its nationwide network of more than 350 clinicians and tutors by providing behavioral interventions to children in need of services, with a special emphasis on Autism.

As 30 years of research indicate and every agency of repute validates, children with autism respond best to intensive behavioral interventions.
Through continuous encouragement and positive reinforcement, children with communication, cognitive, and social challenges are motivated to trade in problematic behaviors for more effective ones. Many of those with autism have the cognitive abilities needed to succeed at school but they need to be taught scores of things that come naturally to others.  

While autism is an extreme example, most children having problems with school suffer from both simple and complex behavioral issues as much as academic ones. The behavioral interventions employed with children with autism work because they tap into the motivation that is essential for all people looking to make improvements in their lives.

"Over the last few years, at the request of a number of parents, we began to tutor all kinds of students with a focus on academics," says Mr, Walke, who spends much of his day finding the right match of tutor and student..
  • "We work with those who are struggling with the FCAT, as well as those getting ready to enter college.
  • We work with children with dyslexia and ADHD,
  • We work at providing preschoolers with the remedial work that some will need to keep pace when they enter first grade.
  • We work with third graders who have slipped through and now find themselves hopelessly behind,
  • and we also work with high school students who took one tough course too many and are in desperate need of homework help."
The tutors work on the basics; they also work at changing study habits and test taking strategies, but perhaps most importantly, they work on the reason why, the motivation.

"When you start working with most students, you can't just begin talking about long range goals," adds Ms. Rabin.  "Even if students have them, chances are they appear too far in the horizon to provide any sort of pull. Children, especially younger children need more immediate rewards. 

"For some, the praise and encouragement is enough; others require more tangible rewards such as playing a favorite game or even eating a favorite snack,." she says making points she often makes to encourage parents that learning is indeed possible.

But first, they have to teach many of these students  the whole relationship between positive behavior and rewards; show them how the mechanism even works. Then the tutor can begin changing the scope of the rewards, making them more and more abstract. And as the process continues, the student begins to develop a relationship with motivation and before too long his or brain begins to select those neural pathways that connect achievement with pleasure.

Mr. Walke concurs, "The student feels compelled to make an effort because he or she is driven by an intrinsic desire to achieve and learn.  It's not always easy, but that goal is much more reachable than most parents might think."

Currently Butterfly Effects is pairing student-tutor combos for the summer for remedial as well as enrichment programs and  both achievement and admissions testing.  We can also help with final end of semester assignments and testing. Call today to specify your concern. We can have a tutor out to you as early as tomorrow.

Find out more about the various Academic Tutoring programs available at Butterfly Effects, including:
Academic Tutoring and Test Prep
Florida FCAT and FCAT 2.O
Academic Tutoring: Adolescents and Teens
Early Academic Intervention
Challenging Dyslexia:
Reading Intervention Programs
Mathematics Programs
Writing Intervention Programs

Also, to get the latest news and training information from Butterfly Effects, please sign up for our email alerts.

Lepper MR, Greene D, Nisbett, RE. 1973. Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the "overjustification" hypothesis.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 28(1), Oct 1973, 129-137.
Reported on in Time Magazine, Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School? By Amanda Ripley, 4-8-2010, Retrieved from,9171,1978758-2,00.html

Questions about this article or any of the services provided by Butterfly Effects? Call us at (888) 880-9270, contact us - or - leave a comment for our Facebook community below.

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