Yes, I’m Giving Teachers a Free Book for Teacher Appreciation Week

UPDATE! I’ve extended this offer through Memorial Day (May 27th). Two more weeks!

This is a little late coming — my blog became inaccessible for a little while after a server upgrade, sorry — but: as I posted on social media, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week and I’m giving teachers a free e-book.

So: Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher?

From now until the end of the week — or maybe longer, since I got a late start — I will give away a free e-book copy of my 2016 book Quality Education to any teacher who wants one. Send me your e-mail address, tell me what you teach, and say you want the teacher giveaway, and I’ll send it your way!

Teacher Appreciation Japanese Proverb
(Image: “Teacher Appreciation Japanese Proverb,” by Shalu Sharma, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

In fact, I will give away a free e-book to any teacher you know — just send me their e-mail address and tell me what they teach, and I’ll send it to them as a gift from the two of us! 😉 Or, better yet, share this blog post with them and tell them to write me.

It’s just my way of saying “thank you” to all the teachers out there.

Thanks, and have a great day!

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P.S. If you want, you can scope out the book on Amazon: Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It.

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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.

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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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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.

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*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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Our Permanent, Intangible Enemies

It seems pretty evident to me that sometimes you choose your enemy, but sometimes the enemy chooses you. And sometimes things act as enemies that we may not usually think of in those terms. Those enemies are nebulous, incorporeal. Not nations, nor people, but ideas, concepts, for which the terminology of battle may be ill-suited.

When it comes to things like that, I think of permanent as opposed to temporary enemies. Permanent or abiding enemies may not hold our attention as much as temporary foes that spring up and must be dealt with ad-hoc. A short-term enemy attacks; a long-term enemy infiltrates. Perennial enemies operate at lower levels and over longer timelines, it seems, than do enemies that charge us with sudden ferocity.

Charles Dickens identified two such eternal enemies in A Christmas Carol. In one memorable scene Scrooge is surprised to learn that the Ghost of Christmas Present stands upon two dirty, emaciated children he names as Ignorance and Want. The human race may face other timeless and shadowy enemies, but these two must be included on the list.

Are they brother and sister, as intimated by Dickens, or are they partners of some sort? Do they feed one another, help one another, keep one another alive? Is one dominant? Is one the forcing function of the other?

Are they related to what may be considered another perennial and sinister enemy of mankind: injustice? Is our political or ideological outlook based (at least in part) on which of these, Ignorance or Want, we consider cause and which effect? This may be something of a chicken-and-egg argument, but we often differ over which problem is worse and deserves the most (and the most immediate) attention.

We have met the enemy...
(Image: “We have met the enemy…,” by Thad Zajdowicz, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Unfortunately, these permanent, intangible enemies do not arouse as high a degree of fervor as more acute and palpable enemies. Even if they did, in the long run we have to include Ignorance in the same category as Want in terms of Christ’s observation, to wit: that just as we will always have some poor with us, so too we will always have some dimwitted. We cannot eliminate either, but we would do well as a society if we could minimize both.

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An ‘Interstellar’ STEM Scholarship

No, it’s not a chance to study at the Vulcan Science Academy or anything, but it is a genuine $2500 scholarship sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop!

TVIW is now taking applications for its 2018 Scholarship Program, sponsored by Baen Books and Rob & Ruann Hampson. TVIW will award two undergraduate scholarships and one graduate scholarship. All scholarships are merit-based, and require applicants to complete an essay with the application.

Applicants for the undergraduate scholarships must be high school seniors in the southeast United States (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina Tennessee, or Virginia). They must be accepted to or enrolled in an accredited college or university, pursuing a degree in a STEM-related field. Applicants for the graduate scholarship must be full-time college or university students majoring in a STEM-related field, and seeking a STEM-related graduate degree.

You can learn more about the scholarships at this link. The deadline for all applications is May 15.

Share this out and spread the word!

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I’ve Only Been Saying This for a Freaking Quarter CENTURY

What’s this? Labeling certain students as “gifted” might have a downside?

Through personal conversations with her students, [Stanford education professor Jo] Boaler began to see how being labeled “gifted” or “smart” as children stunted even these bright and successful young people….

It’s hard to feel sorry for Stanford students, many of whom have had amazing opportunities not offered to peers precisely because someone recognized them as smart, but their experiences do call into question the practice of labeling in the first place.

Wow, if only someone had pointed out potential problems with sequestering certain students and labeling them as “gifted” — oh, wait, I did that, in the first edition of Quality Education. Granted, I put the topic in an appendix entitled “The Gifted and Talented Myth,” which in retrospect wasn’t the best place to highlight it, but it was there.

In the new edition, the subject of “gifted and talented” programs takes a more prominent position in four short chapters instead of one lengthy appendix.

Gifted and talented education usually is not limited to letting students with special aptitudes learn at a faster rate. These programs often remove some few students from their original classrooms, place them together with other “gifted” students, and focus more attention on their efforts. The students are told explicitly that they are part of the “gifted and talented” program, and become increasingly aware of differences between themselves and other students. But at what level does a student simply have a better grasp of a subject as opposed to being “gifted”? The differentiation is not always clear.

There’s more, of course, but that’s enough to prove today’s point.

I admit, it’s gratifying to find someone agreeing with something I said a quarter century ago. But it’s also incredibly frustrating, and rather makes me feel like:

Picard facepalm

What a way to start the week.

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P.S. If you want a FREE copy of the introduction to Quality Education, you can get one by signing up for my newsletter (you get two other free gifts, too). I’d also be pleased if you would pick up a copy from Amazon.

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Tech in Schools: Not a Cure-All

This morning the Mind/Shift website said, “It’s Time For A Deeper Conversation About How Schools Use Technology.”

… recent studies about the effect of technology on achievement have shown uninspiring results, reinvigorating the conversation about how technology is used in classrooms. Educators who have been active in this space for many years have long known that technology can be used to connect students to the broader world, give them tools to create new and interesting learning artifacts, and open up a world of digital resources. But, technology can also be used to replicate the activities and tests that have always been used in the classroom. The tension between what technology could do and what it is often used for in classrooms is at the heart of a debate over whether all the money pumped into technology is worth it.

It’s too bad no one has ever urged caution when it comes to the proliferation of technology in schools, and that it might not be as effective as people think. Oh, wait, someone did:

Education should not make the same mistake a number of industries made in the late 1980s: they turned to expensive and complex machinery to save them, only to find that the devices were not the saviors they thought.

Who said that? I did, back in the early 1990s.

Technology versus Humanity
(Image: “Technology versus Humanity,” by Gerd Leonhard, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Technology is useful, and important because it’s so ubiquitous in our modern world, but no matter how fancy it gets it’s still just an expensive tool. And far more important than the technical tools are the people — i.e., the teachers — who use them.

In case anyone is interested, I cover this in a bit more depth — as well as many other topics — in Quality Education.

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We Are All Unfinished Products … (New Video)

We haven’t had a breakthrough in my novel being available — hopefully we’ll get past the e-commerce roadblock today — so here’s a new video that considers the idea that we are never finished, but always in the process of “becoming,” as we move along the assembly line of life. And, unlike inanimate objects in a factory, we have a say in what we become.

What do you think? Where are you, and what are you becoming, on the assembly line of your life?

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Related Videos:
Looking at Education as a System
Just Doing Our Best
Every Student A Scholar?

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Every Student A Scholar? (New Video)

Talking about potential in this video, and specifically the idea that every student has the potential to be a scholar of something. The problem then is finding what it is the student is interested enough in to study in depth. Helping students find those topics of interest requires exposing them to a wide range of things, which is the nature of the “Musashi-Heinlein School” discussed in previous episodes.

What do you think? Can every student be a scholar, in something?

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Related Videos:
The Musashi-Heinlein School
Looking at Education as a System
Two-Dimensional Characters, and Education
The Dimensions of Sphericity

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