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SET SPECIFIC GOALS WITH FREQUENT REWARDS

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Most students seem to start each school term or year with new resolve. This is the term they plan to do better. This new resolve is often made after a rather uncomfortable parent/child discussion and is made by the student as a way of ending the discussion. Usually the student is serious about the resolution and really wants to do better in school. These sincere resolutions often have two unique characteristics. They are very general and are not kept.

"I'm going to get `A' grades this time. I promise to do better this term." These resolutions just don't seem to work. They have never worked for me or for my kids. They are like the resolutions we make to get in shape or lose weight or get out of debt. I don't even seem to be able to keep my resolution to drink less diet pop, which is a compromise resolution anyway. It is instead of quitting the stuff altogether.Students and parents of students who want to improve grades may wish to consider one of two possible ways to make goals that they can keep. The first way to make goals that can be kept is to make the goal altruistic and so lofty as to be impossible to break. The second approach is to set goals that are more specific and are rewarded frequently.

The easiest way to succeed is to make goals that are self-evident or lofty and difficult not to keep. There are some goals that I have kept for some time because of their obvious goodness. I resolved long ago to quit mailing letters for 10 cents. I also quit buying cheap 25-cent gas and inferior 89-cent-per-pound T-bone steak. I have resolved not to walk down west 200 South after 2 a.m., and I refuse to wave to other drivers on the freeway with fewer than two fingers. The point is that I have kept perfectly these lofty goals.

Another way to keep resolutions is to make them specific and allow for frequent reinforcement. If the plan is to improve grades, the first step in setting an achievable goal is to analyze the problems that seem to be getting in the way of good grades.

This can make goal-setting specific. Is the student writing down assignments, bringing home books, attending class every day and turning in completed work? Perhaps specific goals that lead to good grades can be set. Perhaps a goal to do better in school or to get good grades is too general and long range, where a goal to bring books home every day is specific enough to keep.

A junior high counselor helped willing students do better in school by developing an individual contract with these students and rewarding appropriate behavior. Students would agree to show the counselor a list of assignments at the end of each school day and would also show the counselor the books that they were taking home. The next morning before school the students would check in with the counselor again to show that assignments were completed. The reward was a candy bar at lunch time.

Some of us have a hard time with a system that rewards children for doing something that they should do out of duty or love of learning. After all, students are supposed to study because of the ultimate good it will do, not because of some reward.

We also assume sometimes that good grades are a reward for good effort. Studies show, however, that grades are not rewarding for most students because they are infrequent. Effective rewards need to be close to the behavior.

Ideally, students will reach a point in their lives where study is a rewarding activity. Reading will be done because it is rewarding, and study will result in the rewarding discovery of new facts and ideas. Perhaps before this happens the behavior needs to be developed using more immediate rewards that are extrinsic and not naturally related to the behavior.

It may be helpful to the student who wants to get good grades to set a goal to be prepared each day. Perhaps finishing homework before going to bed or watching a favorite television program is more realistic than a general goal to do better. This specific activity will probably mean good grades in the long run.

Adults often use a personal reward system without really considering what they are doing. Reading the evening paper is a reward for doing a hard day's work, as is a favorite television program or movie. Someone who works hard in the home all day could want dinner out as a reward. Somehow the clean house isn't reward enough.

One of the best approaches for a parent could be the same approach that the counselor used. A parent could check each evening to see that assignments were written down in a notebook and that the appropriate books were carried home. Parent and student could agree on some reward when each assignment is completed.

The resolutions to do better in school and get good grades are usually sincere but not effective. The specific, short-term, frequently rewarded goal seems to be the most effective.