UCB Parents Advice about School

Rewards for Grades

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See also: How much do you pay for Allowance? and Teens: Poor Performance in School


  • Paying for Grades
  • Positive Reinforcement

    Paying for Grades

    From: Ginger (7/98)

    A question for the parents of older kids (12 and up):

    Do you pay your kids for report card performance? Does it work? Do you do this in addition to allowance or instead of? How much do you pay for A's & B's? Do you deduct for Ds and Fs?

    (Not that anybody *I* know makes Ds and Fs ... I was just idly wondering whether brib-I mean "financial incentive"- works for improving kids' grades, since for certain people very little else seems to ...)



    From: Eleanor (7/98)

    Rather than paying money for grades for my older child, we used an incentive that was meaningful to him. In middle school he wanted to have a TV in his room, something I was not in favor of but his dad thought we could let him have if he kept his grades up. He had to buy the TV with his own money, but we still set the standards for being allowed to watch. He had to maintain an A average or the TV went back in the box until the next marking period. We left him to budget his own homework time with no nagging or reminding, but the box was standing by as a silent reminder. Now that he is in high school he manages his time very well, but the box is still there. We would not try this with our younger child though; you have to fit the incentive to the child.


    From: a MOM (7/98)
    * Do you pay your kids for report card performance?
    We pay $50 for straight A's.  Our notion of straight A's is quite liberal.
    Only academic subjects are included (not P.E. or extra type classes such as
    yearbook or band), and we consider a B in honors classes as an A.
    
    * Does it work?
    I can't say for sure.  This reward system started in the 6th grade when
    grades are first given in our school district.  Report cards are sent
    quarterly.  Our older daughter (entering 11th grade) earns the $50 about
    twice a year.  Our younger daughter (entering 9th grade) used to earn the
    $50 regularly but her academic performance really dropped in 8th grade and
    the money reward was not enough to make a difference.
    
    * Do you do this in addition to allowance or instead of?
    This is in addition to an allowance.
    
    

    From: Joyce (7/98)
    
    I teach intro psych, among other things, and just finished lecturing on
    learning through reward and punishment.  Here are the research findings
    on the effects of using rewards.
    
    1. Rewards do entice people to do things that they wouldn't normally do,
       at least while the policy of rewarding the behavior is in effect.  (Skinner)
    
    2. Rewards are a form of extrinsic motivation, as opposed to personal
       interest, which is a form of intrinsic motivation.
       a. If you are starting out with no intrinsic motivation, you might as well
          use extrinsic motivation.  Sounds like this is your kid's situation.
       b. If there is some intrinsic motivation to start with, you should watch out,
          because work driven by intrinsic motivation leads to greater creativity
          than work driven by extrinsic motivation (Amabile).
          Furthermore, extrinsic motivation tends to kill whatever
          intrinsic motivation was there in the first place (Spence & Helmreich),
          specifically when the reward
          i) is expected, ii) is something important to the person,
          iii) is tangible, and iv) is given regardless of the quality of the work.
          (Cameron & Pierce, Eisenberger & Cameron)
          Some of this is counterintuitive, like (ii), but it's what happens,
          and the reason is that the person starts thinking that the only
          reason they're studying is so that they can watch TV and not because
          of any internal desire to do well.  (Of course, if there wasn't any
          internal desire to do well in the first place, this is irrelevant.)
          Anyway, be careful with this.  
    
    3. Because it has been found that what people normally think of as talent is
       actually due to practice (Ericsson, Charness), having some practice even if
       it's not intrinsically motivated can give people a degree of skill that
       they can use, and which can be the basis of further learning.
       This fact is unintuitive to Americans but seems self-evident to 
      people from other cultures.  In any case it's a robust research result.
    
    4. Because some intrinsic motivation depends on one's skill level
       (Czikszentmihalyi), a policy in which practice is rewarded 
       even if it is not YET intrinsically motivated may eventually lead to
       intrinsic motivation later, when skill has improved to a point where
       they can be proud of what they can do, and it starts being fun.
       (as in, when the violin stops being squeaky, and starts making music).
    
    Hope this sheds some light.
    
    Joyce
    
    post-doc in psychology at Carnegie Mellon Univ (Pittsburgh PA)
    about to be asst prof at Alverno College (Milwaukee WI)
    

    From: John (7/98)

    My usual reward for good grades is a trip to Cody's or Black Oak Books (yes, I'm pretty smug about the psychology in that trick). Add ice cream or other sweeteners as desired.


    About underachievers and bribes and punishments -- bribes and punishments turn the whole grade-getting thing into something the kid is doing for YOU. Sometimes it helps to make the kid look at it as something they need to do for THEMSELVES because they want/deserve a happy future. I have an underachiever, and bribes and punishments worked in the very short term but not in the long run. She's 16 now and most days I think she really has internalized the notion that she's responsible for her future and better get moving. Mommy won't always be around to clean up the mess and pay the bills! (5/99)

    Positive Reinforcement

    My 15-year-old says I'm not good with positive reinforcement. I guess she doesn't think that my, "The A is terrific in Math; did you ever turn in that English essay?" is sufficient. How/what do you do to reinforce your kids? I really resist paying $$$ for grades, but that's what she'd like.
    June 1999
    I have found with my three teens (16,14, 13) , that it is really important to be effusive in your praise of their good work. Spending 5 sentences on the A in math before adding that 1 sentence about the English essay produces better results for me. Another possibility is to ONLY talk about the good stuff in one conversation, then asking about the essay at another time. (Hard to do, but worth the effort, I have found). BTW, this works with all people I think, not just teens. (June 1999)
    Leave out the second part. "The A is terrific in Math" period. Ask about the English essay at another time. I learned the hard way. (June 1999)
    In your example, "The A is terrific in Math; did you ever turn in that English essay?", your positive comment is overshadowed by the negative the negative comment until another time. Let your child bask in one brief moment that's all good.

    You mention monetary rewards. I find them too short-term in their effectiveness. I get more mileage out of noticing and commenting on the small good things about my kids: saying, "You look really nice today"; "Thanks for your help with [whatever]"; "Look how your little sister got her hair cut just like yours -- she admires you so much that she wants to be like you", "I really like this school project you did", and so forth.

    I continue to try both positive and negative reinforcement, but the older my kids get (7, 10, and 12), the less the negative reinforcement works. So I wait (sometimes a long time) until they do some little thing right, then I thank them briefly and matter-of-factly. I know that they appreciate it, becuase sometimes they actually say so or give me a hug. I also tell each of them once in a while how glad I am to have him/her as my child. When I do, they look relieved and happy, as if they needed to be told.


    Re. "Positive Reinforcement and Limits", I reward my 12-yr. old daughter with $ for A's, since I really want her to get them and she doesn't realize their importance as much as I do. I am hoping the money will motivitate her a little more and I want to give her something she really likes for all her hard work. But I do wonder if I'm giving her the wrong message, putting too much importance on grades, or interfering with the development of internal motivation? I'm interested in what others think about this. -- Cynthia (6/99)
    Why resist? The real world pays for performance. Do you just give them an "Allowance" (entitlement or welfare)? I pay heavily for for A's and moderately for B's. No allowance at all. They have to budget their expenses between report cards! (6/99)
    Last year I stopped paying allowance to my teens. Instead I pay big bucks for A's and B's, and subtract for D's and F's. I'm sorry to say that it didn't have much effect on their grades (C averages) and the D's and F's cancelled out most of the A's and B's! This summer I am paying $10 per book they read (books must be pre-approved) and I have a list of $5 and $10 chores they can do posted on the fridge (irregular chores like washing windows and polishing wood - they still have to help with the everyday chores for free). The chore thing is working out pretty well - each chore includes an estimate of how long it should take, so they know in advance and we can adjust for time run-overs. No books read yet, though. I'm not giving them any other spending money!
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