Saturday, October 24, 2015


What motivates you?

I have been involved in some debates about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations in education in recent days. Actually, I can't remember a time when this wasn't a debate in education. People no longer want to use clip charts or behavior rewards. For years, many fought against Accelerated Reader because children should read for the love of reading and not for points. Many believe it should come from within us to do well and do the right thing and not from receiving prizes/rewards, the extrinsic. It is an age old debate, and not one with easy answers.

So, I thought about myself. What motivates me? What makes me want to do better? to grow? to keep trying?

The answer has multiple levels, and multiple answers. One thing, is in what area of life are we speaking? In all areas of life, it certainly comes from my faith and relationship with God. That is what drives me, pushes me and keeps me going.

But let's speak of education here. What makes me want to do well as a teacher? What motivates me to learn? What motivates me to try new things? What motivates me to improve?

My first response does have something to do with intrinsic. It gives me great joy to do well.
However, we all seem to be our biggest critics at time. We might recognize some successes, but usually we are looking from the outside to see if we are doing okay.

Are the students enjoying themselves? Are they engaged? Are their scores improving? Are the parents happy? Is the admin letting me know they like what they see? Do my peers like to work with me? Are people following me on twitter and hearing my ideas? Do they like them? Do others want me in their PLN?

Each time we receive any of that recognition, it feeds the joy. If it is absent, we question what we are doing. My greatest extrinsic motivation certainly comes from the students. They are who I aim to change, inspire and grow. If that isn't happening, I certainly do not feel successful.

So, if we turn that around to our students, do we think they are different? What will that look like in their lives? How do they know they are doing well? Does a sticker on a paper help them? Do they enjoy graphing and watching their growth? Do they feel success when we add a point to their Dojo or reward them with a trinket? Is intrinsic motivation something that comes from maturity, or can that happen in a child?

It would be great if we could all be motivated intrinsically. But is that possible without the presence of extrinsic? Just a little pondering for me, because I am certainly unsure of the answers.

1 comment:

  1. I always found it difficult to help kids connect with forces of intrinsic motivation without starting with extrinsic. Until they gained confidence, saw themselves as capable, and had enough background knowledge to hook into new topics under study, engaging them often required me to tap into their interests. I tried--I was a huge champion of choice. But we still have to teach things that kids aren't interested in and wouldn't choose. And they often discover new interests by hanging in with us through the stuff that they wouldn't always choose. Extrinsic motivation mattered here.....and I never felt good about that......


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