By Dan Lawler Ph.D.

Every teacher in every classroom eventually faces the dilemma of how to motivate the uninspired student.   Often teachers look to utilizing positive rewards as a means to increase desired behaviors.  Some traditional strategies, especially at the elementary level, include longer recess, special seats, positive phone call home, lunch with the teacher, and positive verbal feedback.  Extrinsic motivators, in the form of rewards, can encourage students who do not yet have powerful intrinsic motivation to learn. Rather than criticizing unwanted behavior or answers, reward correct behavior and answers. Remember that adults and children alike continue or repeat behavior that is rewarded.

It is widely agreed that positive reinforcement tends to have more potency in changing behavior. The term “reinforce” means to strengthen or increase the probability of a specific response.  Think of it as adding something in order to increase a response. For example, adding a treat will increase the response of sitting; adding praise will increase the chances of your child cleaning his or her room or doing homework.

And, the important point is that extrinsic motivators can, over a brief period of time, produce intrinsic motivation. Everyone likes the feeling of accomplishment and recognition; rewards for good work produce those good feelings.  However, even with the best efforts by teachers, sometimes there are some unmotivated students that we are not successfully reaching.

New Strategy

Recently, we introduced a new strategy with a student who had been largely unmotivated.   The new strategy used “Exergaming”, and did it ever make a difference!!  The student was given opportunities to use our Exergaming lab at scheduled times during the day IF his classroom expectations were met.  He was so motivated that he began to meet those classroom expectations in order to receive his reward In the Exergaming lab.  His teacher said, “ I have never seen anything so successfully change a student’s behavior in the classroom.” The good news is that the intervention, over time, continued to influence the student in a positive manner back in the classroom.

The other good news is that when he returned from his exercise reward, the teacher noticed him being more calm and focused.  We know from the research that exercise stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain that decrease aggression, improve mood, and allow the student to focus more effectively.  In effect the Exergaming intervention was so fun that it motivated the student to achieve his behavioral goals in the morning, and, after exercise, his body benefited from all the side effects that exercise has on improving behavior and cognition.

I would encourage any school to investigate and implement Exergaming as a new and effective strategy to improve motivation and behavior. Exergaming works because it is so fun and engaging for the student.  By the way, it is good for their cognition and health, too.  With all the potential benefits of exergaming and with the ongoing challenge teachers face in motivating many of their students, this seems like a strategy you cannot afford to ignore.

Video on Exergaming Lab-Motivation Through Exergaming