This post will express my frustration at an article on KQED’s MindShift blog entitled, “Intrinsic Motivation is Key to Student Achievement — But Schools Can Crush It”.
As the Valley Girls used to say, back when I was writing about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in the original version of Quality Education: “Duh.”
Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:
It all comes down to motivation. In many schools, students do their work because their teachers tell them to. Or because they need to do it to get a certain grade. For students like Destiny, getting a good grade and outshining their peers — not learning itself — becomes the goal of school. For other students, they need minimum grades to be on sports teams or participate in extracurricular activities or please their parents, and that becomes their motivation. Students who do their work because they’re genuinely interested in learning the material are few and far between.
But that’s exactly backwards.
The teacher demands, the grades, the promise of additional opportunities — they’re all external rewards. Decades of research, both about educational best practice and the way the human brain works, say these types of motivators are dangerous. Offering students rewards for learning creates reliance on the reward. If they becomes less interesting to the student or disappear entirely, the motivation does, too. That’s what happened to Destiny in middle school when she no longer got the reward of being celebrated as the top of her class.
Inspiring students’ intrinsic motivation to learn is a more effective strategy to get and keep students interested. And it’s more than that. Students actually learn better when motivated this way….
That echoes very closely what I wrote — in both the 25-year-old book and its new, improved version.
Just a few weeks ago, though, I posted here about “The Aspect of Motivation that I Missed” when I was writing about students’ motivations to learn. Basically: yes, there’s a lot to be gained by recognizing internal and external motivators, but even more if we recognize that motivators represent (and in some cases are) expectations — either that students have for themselves, or that they perceive others having for them — and students’ tendencies differ depending on whether they are prone to rejecting or trying to meet those expectations.
So my frustration is two-fold: one, a bit of “I told you so,” and two, an annoyance at being reminded that I failed to imagine a more elegant approach.
P.S. Not related to education, but a reminder for anyone who missed the announcement: I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. Sign up at this link! And note that one of the three gifts you get for signing up is an e-book excerpt of Quality Education — but not the part that deals with motivation.by