Create Motivation



Create Motivation.


People accuse professional basketball players of not playing with the same heart as college basketball players. I have friends who say that an NBA game is forty-three minutes of jogging with five minutes of playing right at the end. For some players, it appears that the game has become work.

Students of mine who play soccer once told me they hate running during practice, unless their coach hides items around the school campus they have to find. When they form teams of two and race all around school like a huge Easter egg hunt looking for the items, their work becomes play.

Researchers have shown that if you pay children to play, they stop playing. Tom Sawyer showed that if you turn painting a fence into fun, your friends start painting. As teachers, we require our students to complete a lot of mundane and spirit-killing work.

To get students to complete the work, we incentivize them with high grades and punish them with low grades. Occasionally, parents will pay their children to work harder in school. Research shows these methods of motivation give us less of what we want, and more of what we do not want.

Once a reward or punishment is inserted into a task that needs to get done, we take our eyes off the task and focus on the reward or punishment. This leads to less productivity and a belief that the task itself is not worth doing for its own sake.

If the task is meaningless, we dread doing it. It is common sense to seek something else to do that is worthwhile. When we experience joy in doing an important task, we do not require additional reward or punishments to motivate us to complete work.

Our job as educators is to structure our work in such a way that the work itself is fun.

Researchers say any goal beside the enjoyment of the work “may cause narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation”.

They have found that people who are paid to give blood, give less blood. Artists who paint for other people create less interesting work. Scientists who are given freedom and encouraged to fail, succeed more often than those who must meet short-term goals required by their funding source.

When teachers are dictating the work tasks and schedules of students, they will work only enough to complete the basic requirements of an assignment. As long as we are telling students to do things to please us, they will be less motivated than if they were telling us what they were doing to please themselves.

This is not to say that we should expect nothing of our students or that every day is recess. There are times when a work task cannot be made intrinsically interesting and rewards-punishments are beneficial. Memorizing important terms or formulas, for example, is a task that needs to be mastered before more exciting challenges can be presented to a student.

In such cases, Behavioral Theory or Motivation 2.0 methods of rewards and punishments will serve to motivate students to master basic information. In our online courses, adding a sound effect every time a student completes a step of mastery may prove encouraging.

Changing the color or an item or allowing a student to check off a box when they mastered a new concept may also motivate them. We can encourage our students with a simple “Good Job! or Well done!”

Students should be able to decide what order they complete the many tasks they need to accomplish in a given day. They should be free to change up their work load from simple to complex tasks which can maintain motivation and improve overall productivity.

For example, if a student is suffering through the drudgery of verb conjugations in a Spanish class, they should have the freedom to change over to a more interesting assignment from their Psychology class, even though they are physically present in the Spanish classroom.

Not all work assignments at school are basic, especially as students progress into high school. Teenagers are growing in their knowledge base and cognitive ability. They deeply desire the opportunity to study topics which interest them, while at the same time they request direct instruction on topics they would not ordinarily study on their own.

Opening up our curriculum to student involvement is a challenge for teachers. We suffer the same constraints students do. Politicians and school administrators dictate our content and work schedule.

Because we must obey the demands of those in control, we fear doing anything that applies the truths of science to the practice of our profession. If research contradicts the mandates of the powerful, teachers obey the powerful. We pretend we do not know how to educate children, because we have a mortgage to pay.

It is a joke for teachers to give autonomy to children, when we are not given autonomy as adults. Teachers are now beginning to offer autonomy to our students because we are demanding professional autonomy from the dictates of those in control of the educational apparatus.

The breakdown of political control of public education is happening as seven million teachers act out our belief that autonomy is necessary for us to teach and for students to learn, regardless of the fantasies powerful people write down on endless reams of paper in state capitals around the country.

That is not to say that teachers seek anarchy. Quite the opposite. We want the opportunity to showcase our success. We want to do great things. We want our students to demonstrate unbridled innovation and unprecedented understanding of complex issues that are meaningful and important to them.

For students to achieve high levels of human achievement and mastery of new and open-ended knowledge, a new understanding of motivation and teaching methods is required. Students must experience the pleasure of finding things out.

This new motivation comes from allowing students more autonomy of their work, supporting their mastery of new concepts and encouraging them to discover purpose in their own pursuits. Daniel Pink calls this Motivation 3.0 in his book Drive.

Motivation 3.0 is supported by the Social Constructivist School of curriculum design. A constructivist curriculum allows students to choose what they want to study, where and when they want to complete their work, as well as how and with whom they will accomplish their tasks. Teachers are a resource for students to help craft and develop work they control.

We can support student learning by scaffolding our direct instruction to start with their current knowledge and connecting new knowledge to previous understanding. We can offer them quick and continual feedback as they solve problems and work their way through complex tasks.

It is intrinsically motivating for a student to work hard when they experience the freedom to plan their own tasks, time, techniques and team. Carrots and sticks become less effective at this phase and level of learning.

Unlike during tasks that require basic knowledge acquisition, rewards and punishments are to be avoided during student-created tasks, because they remove their focus away from the pleasure of accomplishing a task and concentrate their energy on less valuable goals.

Daniel Pink includes seven Deadly Sins of extrinsic Rewards and Punishments. Once our basic social and financial needs are met, carrots and sticks can kill the human spirit. According to Pink:

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. They can diminish performance
  3. They can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behavior
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  6. They can become addictive
  7. They can foster short-term thinking

As educators, may we exercise the courage to practice our profession as only we know how. May we create for ourselves and our students an environment which encourages personal growth and fresh insight.

May we act in confident humility and risk the failure of experimentation for the greater possibility of human discovery. May love drive us to work every day and give us deep rest at night. May we practice being respected as we respect others. The joy alone is worth it.



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