More on Motivation: Try to Catch Up

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.

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Writers, What’s Your Main Character’s Tendency?

A few weeks ago I posted about Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” model,* and specifically how it revealed a mistake I made in my book on education** — not an error of fact, but an error of omission due to my own failure of imagination.

Since then I’ve been thinking about the Four Tendencies as they might apply to characterization in fiction.

To recap, Ms. Rubin identified four categories into which we sift ourselves according to how we respond to expectations — both our own, inner expectations, and the expectations we perceive that others have for us. Some of us readily meet expectations, and others of us resist expectations, generally as follows:

  • Upholders: Meet both outer and inner expectations
  • Obligers: Meet outer expectations, but resist inner expectations
  • Questioners: Resist outer expectations, but meet inner expectations
  • Rebels: Resist both outer and inner expectations

Like many such schemes, this one has its strengths and weaknesses (e.g., I wish she had explored in more depth the areas where the tendencies overlap), but I find that it has some excellent insights into our choices and behaviors. As statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong. Some models are useful,” and the Four Tendencies is a quite useful model.

So how can this model apply to writing fictional characters?

Writer's Block I
(Image: “Writer’s Block I,” by Drew Coffman, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I think anything that helps us understand that mysterious thing called “human nature” is useful in creating characters who readers will find interesting and believable, let alone relatable and sympathetic. And understanding the Four Tendencies has the potential to make a big difference in writing characters who have clear motivations and consistent reactions to the expectations of the other characters around them.

When I think about the main characters in Walking on the Sea of Clouds (now available in audiobook***), for instance, I think Stormie Pastorelli fits the pattern of an Upholder. She’s driven to succeed, and to help the lunar colony survive and thrive, with a strong “by-the-book” approach and a heavy insistence on living up to her high expectations of herself. I think her husband Frank, on the other hand, is an Obliger: he is ready and willing to do things that other people expect of him, even sometimes at the expense of his own well-being.

Of the other main characters in the novel, Barbara Richards is probably also an Obliger, and that makes her struggle about whether to stay at the lunar colony realistic. (It makes sense to me for two of the main characters to have that tendency, since Ms. Rubin points out that Obligers form the most prevalent tendency in society; honestly, I don’t think society would function if Obligers weren’t the largest group.) I think Barbara’s husband Van, though, is primarily a Questioner — perhaps with a bit of Rebel thrown in.

If you’ve read Walking on the Sea of Clouds, what do you think? Does that assessment sound right to you? How do you think I did in keeping their characteristic tendencies consistent?

If you’re a writer, do you think the Four Tendencies might help you better understand the personalities of your main characters, in order to keep their characterizations consistent? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

As for me, I’m working on a fantasy novel these days, and I’m keeping the Four Tendencies in mind as I try to figure out my characters’ motivations and their feelings about the expectations placed on them. I hope I’ll be able to make them seem realistic! But that, in the end, will be decided by the readers.

___
*Full (and somewhat unwieldy) title: The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).
**Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It (a fairly unwieldy title of my own).
***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!

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What If No One Wanted to Be a Doctor?

A thought experiment: What if literally no one — not you, not anyone — had any desire whatsoever to be a doctor, nurse, emergency medical technician, or any other healthcare worker?

Imagine, for the purpose of this thought experiment, that no one had any interest in anatomy, physiology, or the like; and no one studied fields like radiology, oncology, pharmacology, or whatnot; such that the entire medical profession was unknown and therefore unavailable.

Then, under those conditions, you get sick or injured.

How would you obtain care? Upon whom would you rely?

If you were alone, you would have to treat yourself as best you could; or, even if you weren’t alone you could make the attempt if your symptoms or wounds were slight. Maybe you remember some First Aid from the Boy Scout Handbook, or some folk remedies from one of the Foxfire books, or maybe your parents “doctored” you when you were young and you recall what they did. (In this modern era, you might even try to pull up a YouTube video in hopes that someone had documented their own ordeal.)

If that failed, or your case was beyond your (or the Net’s) abilities, you would likely try to find someone else to help you. You might first ask someone you know, who you know cares about you, to treat you as best they can. If they couldn’t help, you would have to venture further afield and ask someone outside your immediate circle if they might deign to treat you.

Does that sound about right?

How would you ask them? What would you offer in exchange for their trying to help you? Would you promise? Would you plead? Would you threaten?

Doctor
(Image: “Doctor,” by Matt Madd, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

If asking didn’t get you the help you sought, would you demand it? Would you — could you — force someone to help you? Would you recruit others to do so? How far would you go, if you had the power?

Thankfully, we don’t live in the world of this thought experiment. We can be grateful that so many people choose the caring professions and study the medical sciences, so that we don’t have to treat ourselves when we’re in distress.

Their numbers, alas, are relatively small; and whenever limited supply meets significant demand, economics can deal heavy blows with its invisible hand. But even though their numbers are small, their impacts are tremendous. How we show our gratitude for their knowledge, skill, and dedication, of course, is up to us.

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Apropos of nothing, other than the fact that this is my blog: If you missed the announcement, I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook, which includes what I’ve been told are rather realistic emergency response and medical scenes. Sign up at this link!

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Audiobook Giveaways … Plural!

… and you can enter as many times as you like!

As announced previously, the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook is complete and available for your listening pleasure direct from Audible or, if you prefer, from Amazon — and between now and Tax Day, we’re going to hold multiple drawings to give away free Audible downloads for it!

Why Tax Day? Because somebody ought to get some good news on that day!

Why multiple giveaways? Because anything worth doing is worth doing more than once! (And because the good folks at Wordfire Press gave me several download codes to do with as I pleased, so I’m giving a bunch away.)

How do you enter? Just sign up for my newsletter using this special link, and then every time you share the link and tag me, I’ll enter you in the drawing again!


(Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

If you’re not quite sure whether Walking on the Sea of Clouds is your kind story, here’s what some folks had to say about it:

  • This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.
    –David Farland
  • If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.
    Abyss & Apex
  • … as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction, …. closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote in the 1960s and 1970s…. captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again.
    Ad Astra
  • Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.
    Booklist
  • Everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic.
    –Edmund R. Schubert
  • Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.
    –Charles E. Gannon
  • This is meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan.
    –Martin L. Shoemaker

It’s a near-future story of survival and sacrifice during the very early days of a lunar colony, and explores the reasons why people sign up for such daring enterprises and the price they’re willing to pay to help them succeed. In addition to Audible, you can also find it in other formats on Amazon and other online sources including Baen e-books.

I hope you’ll give it a listen (or a read), and let me know what you think!

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Research Triangle Writers! Come to the Writers Coffeehouse

Are you a writer, in or near the Research Triangle? Then you’re welcome to come to The Writers Coffeehouse this Sunday, 10 March, at 2 p.m.!

The Writers Coffeehouse is a nationwide set of free monthly networking events, originally started in 2002 in Pennsylvania by NYT-bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. As Jonathan says, we’re just “a bunch of writers sitting around talking about writing … with coffee.”

The Writers Coffeehouse

The Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse meets on the second Sunday of the month at Quail Ridge Books (4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh). All writers — young or old, published or unpublished, struggling or accomplished — are welcome at every meeting. You will have to bring your own coffee (or the beverage of your choice) with you, but there are a couple of places nearby that would love to serve you.

So, one more time: It doesn’t matter what you write, where you write, or how much you write, if you’re a writer in or near the Research Triangle, you’re welcome at The Writers Coffeehouse!

Hope to see you Sunday!

___

Shameless P.S.: As I pointed out in the Facebook group yesterday, if I’m smiling a little more than usual at this month’s meeting it’s because my novel Walking on the Sea of Clouds was just released as an Audible audiobook.

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What’s That I Hear? An Audiobook? Yes, Indeed

Ladies and gentlemen, the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook is complete and available for your listening pleasure! You can score a copy direct from Audible or, if you prefer, from Amazon.

As pleased as I am to announce that the novel is in audio format, I’m even happier to announce that the voice actress who narrates it is … my daughter, Stephanie! (Surprise!)

Stephanie auditioned under her married name (Minervino), so the folks at WordFire Press didn’t realize who she was when they forwarded her audition to me. They agreed she was the best choice and worked with her through the production process long before we ever let on that we were related. (Sneaky, I know.)

If you click through to the Audible website, you can listen to a sample. And while I admit that I may be a little biased, I think she did a fine job. It wasn’t easy, with so many different accents among the characters, but she managed to give each character a unique voice!

And not only that: Stephanie did a great job portraying the emotional depth of the story, and actually added to the emotional depth of some scenes. She made me very proud! I just wish her name was a little bigger on the cover:

I hope you’ll check out this audio version of Walking on the Sea of Clouds, and if you know someone who prefers audio to print I hope you’ll let them know about it. In case you’re still unsure whether the story might be worth your while, here’s what some folks had to say:

  • “[As] entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction…. closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote…. captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again.”
    Ad Astra
  • “Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.”
    Booklist
  • “If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.”
    Abyss & Apex
  • “Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.”
    –Charles E. Gannon
  • “Everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic.”
    –Edmund R. Schubert
  • “This is meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan.”
    –Martin L. Shoemaker
  • “This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.”
    –David Farland

Spread the word! And if you give it a listen, I’d love to know what you think!

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Whatever Happened to ‘Women and Children First’?

I understand that, in the interest of enforced equality, a judge with an unfortunate first name has ruled that selective service registration is unconstitutional if it applies only to men. The reasoning is that since we now allow women to operate in combat roles, we should require women to register for the draft, and if we don’t register women then we should not be able to register men for the draft.

This has been billed as an “equality” thing, but that’s garbage. Equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of responsibility or requirement. It’s one thing to have opened up combat roles to women who have the ability to fill them (both the physical attributes and the requisite viciousness), but it’s another thing entirely to require women who would never willingly choose such roles to have to sign up for them.

Imagine the difficulty of training drafted women — conscripted, non-volunteer women — for combat roles. But that in and of itself is not my primary concern. Nor is my concern that the proportion of women who can effectively fill combat roles — by dint of either physicality or temperament — is likely a good deal lower than the proportion of men who can do so.

My concern is what forcing women into combat, into life-threatening danger, when there are capable men who could serve in that capacity, may mean for our society.

Used to be, if a ship was sinking and the passengers were directed to lifeboats, women and children would be given the first spots. Any man who took a seat when there were still women and children waiting to board would open himself to general condemnation and charges of cowardice. Given the state of our society these days, I’m not sure that holds true anymore — especially since the court case that resulted in the ruling mentioned above “was brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group, and two men who argued an all-male draft was unfair.”

Boo-freaking-hoo. Life’s unfair, cupcakes. If this is representative of their approach to life, that group may as well be named the national coalition for poltroons.

Thank God I still know people other than myself who believe, like Robert A. Heinlein, that

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal.

Unfortunately, some people these days seem as if they would welcome genocide. A philosophy professor from my own alma mater not long ago published an op-ed in which he pondered the question of human extinction — and whether it would be all that bad for our race to go extinct since we’ve been so bad for the planet. I confess that I’m selfish enough to say that genocide and human extinction would be bad for me and the people I care about, so I’m not in favor.

RNLI statue
The sculpture, “When I Grow Up” by Darren Jackson, depicts a boy who wants to save lives — a noble calling, and one in which “women and children first” remains an important consideration. (Image: “RNLI Statue,” by Phil Parker, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Along less drastic lines, I’ve heard plenty of people declare in triumphant tones that “chivalry is dead,” because after all wasn’t it just a tool of the nebulous but hated patriarchy, meant to keep women in their place? Notwithstanding that any good thing can be misused, modern chivalry couldn’t possibly be an indicator of how highly men value women, and the lengths to which men would go to protect women and ensure their safety, security, and comfort — could it? It certainly couldn’t be an unconscious (but in the end perhaps effective) instinct to preserve the race, could it?

Some people have gone so far as to point out that modern chivalry bears little resemblance to the medieval codes governing knightly combat, and so, even if it’s not exactly dead, it should be. How utterly barbarous. Remove that muzzle very carefully, zookeeper: the bear has teeth, even if you’ve filed down his claws.

Perhaps this historic period of peace and plenty has something to do with these new societal mores. We are not in extremis, so as a culture maybe we have the luxury of devaluing those people among us who are most precious. The emergency will come, however — emergencies always do, and most of us are caught unawares — and holding to these modern sensibilities in the confusion and chaos may spell our societal doom. Not only witless, as Heinlein said, but genocidal. Or, to coin a phrase, genosuicidal.

I hope I’m right that most people, deep down, are fully in favor of “women and children first” — even if they won’t admit it. I certainly am. And I think (and hope) most people would still look askance at any man who intentionally saved his own life knowing that in doing so he was placing his wife or child, or any woman or child, in jeopardy.

But, “call me a relic,” as Bob Seger sang. Please, observe my actions and accuse me of being chivalrous. I will take it as a compliment.

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The Aspect of Motivation that I Missed

If you don’t have time to read all of this right now, just know this: Gretchen Rubin’s formulation of the “Four Tendencies” is brilliant, and I highly recommend it as a model for understanding what motivates people — others as well as ourselves. (I do hope you’ll come back and read through this post when you have time, but I’m serious: Look up her work, go to her website, take the quiz to find your tendency, the whole bit.)

So, then, confession time.

I missed a key aspect of motivation when I wrote the original edition of Quality Education that ASQC Quality Press published back in 1993, and then I repeated my error in the revised version I issued a few years ago. Specifically, I wrote about how schools generally offer more external than internal motivators, and how very often those don’t work to keep students interested and on track — a position that I still believe was correct, but I now know to be incomplete.

Why did I make that mistake? Because I didn’t know about the Four Tendencies model. It would have made my entire discussion about motivation much deeper and much more complete. In my defense, Ms. Rubin had not developed her model when I originally wrote Quality Education in the late ’80s. To my chagrin, however, she had written about the tendencies shortly before I put together my new edition, in her book Better Than Before — but I didn’t learn about them until this year.*

As I say, I don’t think what I wrote about motivation was specifically wrong, just that it could have been better. In chapter 27 of the new edition, for instance, while discussing the “psychology” portion of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s “System of Profound Knowledge,” I wrote of employees:

Management classically has understood enough psychology to stress external motivation, often smothering internal motivation in the process; this is the legacy of B. F. Skinner and the behaviorists. The over-reliance on external factors (for example, pay, awards, time off) to motivate people essentially prostitutes them to the job, and can even rob them of esteem, dignity, and joy in their accomplishments….

Then in chapter 28, applying Deming’s system to education, I wrote of students’ motivations (and couldn’t resist throwing in a Star Trek reference):

Traditional educational psychology, like traditional management practice, has relied on external motivators to entice or coerce students into learning….

In “Miri,” an episode of the original Star Trek series, we find a look at motivation in education. A group of children is gathered together, playing school. One of them holds a hammer; he is the teacher. “What does a teacher say?” asks another of the children. The boy thinks for a moment before speaking, then emphasizes his words with the hammer as he says, “Study, study, study! Or bonk! bonk! bad kids!” That is external motivation.

Internal motivation is Plato sitting at the feet of Socrates. External motivation is the schoolmaster who raps your knuckles with a ruler. Internal motivation is the children coming to see Jesus. And how did he receive them? He took them in his arms and blessed them….

The extremes of the argument over the use of external motivators are poles apart. On one end managers and teachers believe that external motivation (for example, prizes, awards) is good if it helps one person rise above his previous level, no matter how many others may be hurt or demotivated. On the opposite end are those who believe that regardless of the number of people who appear to be helped by external motivators, they should be avoided if they hurt even one individual. I fall closer toward the latter than the former category.

When I wrote that, I never dreamed of juxtaposing internal and external motivators in the way Ms. Rubin does with inner and outer expectations in the Four Tendencies model. (I wish I had.)

By examining how different people may — or may not! — respond to expectations imposed on them from outside, or the expectations they have of themselves, Ms. Rubin divides all of us into four groups as shown in this graphic from her website:


The Four Tendencies model, developed by Gretchen Rubin.

Applying the Four Tendencies to the classroom, we see that some students respond well to the expectations inherent in the external motivators that many teachers use: they are the Obligers and the Upholders. (Ms. Rubin’s research has shown that Obligers form the largest cohort of the population, and I contend that the prevalence of Obligers is probably a necessary condition to developing a healthy, functioning society.) Those students who respond less well to external motivators are the Questioners and the Rebels. Based on my reading of her work, I now see that my call for discovering and relying more on internal than external motivators — i.e., finding and feeding students’ inner expectations — might work for Questioners, but I effectively missed the Rebel cohort entirely. I did not recognize their outlook at all, so I did not even consider their needs, nor did I try to find ways to help Rebels see the benefits of school and learning.

The aspect of motivation missing from Quality Education, then, is the idea that internal and external expectations and motivators are not a coin to be flipped or an either-or proposition to be considered. We don’t respond in the same way or to the same degree to each. Some of us respond well to both; some respond well to one and not the other; and some do not respond well to either.

Ms. Rubin explains that identifying our tendencies as to how readily we respond to each can help us understand our behavior and our relationships. Not just our personal relationships, but our relationships to institutions such as home and school and church, and our relationships to activities such as work and play and learning.

In sum, I find Ms. Rubin’s approach to be both more elegant and more complete than the simple internal-versus-external approach I took. Not that my approach was completely wrong — I still think what I wrote is sound, and that it’s important to recognize the differences between the types of motivators — but her approach is much better. I highly recommend her work — and I hope my readers will forgive my lack of insight and foresight.

___
*Better Than Before came out in 2015. I only learned about the tendencies a few weeks ago, when I picked up Ms. Rubin’s 2017 book, appropriately titled The Four Tendencies.

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Mastery-Based Grading? Finally!

In the MindShift blog this morning, I read this little tidbit:

This kind of standards-based grading approach is a growing trend in some corners of education. It’s part of a push to make sure kids are actually mastering the information they’re supposed to learn, not just playing a points game.

The article is “How Teachers Are Changing Grading Practices With an Eye on Equity,” and it carries on an interesting and important discussion.

Interesting and important to me, at least! But, then again, I wrote about mastery-based teaching and ditching traditional grading systems in Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It.

I hate to say “I told you so,” but … I told you so.

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What Age Do We Live In?

I suppose it will eventually be up to future historians to give some descriptive name to this time — if they go with Heinlein’s “Crazy Years,” I wouldn’t be too shocked — but if you could give this current era a name, what would it be?

Would you name it according to what’s going on in the U.S. — political battles, deepening social divides, and such? Or would your name try to encompass what’s going on in other parts of the world as well?

It’s the “Age of …” — what?

flower of romance
“By any other name,” right? No matter what we call this age, it will still have thorns to go with its flowers. (Image: “flower of romance,” by mario, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

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