Happy Cheetah Reading

External Motivation (aka Bribing)

I tried something new this last week. It worked astonishingly well.

I started to give my youngest two M&M-like candies when he does his reading for the day.

We had worked through the end of the Prep workbook and the first two reading workbooks when we took a break. This was probably back in April. He hasn’t shown any interest in starting reading practice again, and since he’s five (and male), I was fine with that.

But he has continued to show interest in reading. “Point to where we are,” he’ll say when I’m reading aloud to his brothers. Or he’ll pick out a word on a screen, and grow so excited.

Then this last week, I think I had offered his brother a treat — a few fruit snacks, perhaps — and the younger brother wanted in on that action. So he offered to read if I would give him a treat.

Very well. I was curious to see how well he would pick up his reading again after half a semester away.

He flew through the books he has already read. I didn’t even read them to him first.

Over the last few days he easily read through the first fifty books. I had to prompt him a handful of times, but he read through all those pages. I think he remembered them far better than I did.

And for every five books, he got his two candies.

Now he’s caught up to where he was three months ago. And I think that, for every lesson, I’ll offer him a small treat.

But though this seems like a total win (highly motivated student!), here’s the deal. I have never done bribes before, and certainly not food bribes. Food bribes have always seemed to me like a quick way to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

And yet . . . it is so much more pleasant to work with an eager student than a reluctant one who would prefer to be playing. He’s coming to me, asking to read, rather than me trying to sense how ready he is.

So I’m conflicted. I’ll probably work through this little bag of treats. Then maybe switch to dimes or quarters as a reward.

I’m curious: what has been your experience with offering treats as external motivation?

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