Last week I shared a TED Talk by Daniel Pink. If you haven’t watched it yet, take a little time to watch it. You can scroll down to the post below, and then come back to here.
How many times have you tried to incentivize your students? You let them all know that “if you do this, then you’ll get this…” Whatever you offer is something that you just know that your students will love, and yet they don’t fulfill your expectation, or you get a negative response. What I love about Pink’s talk is that he realizes that since rewards and punishments often don’t work, he shares some ideas that do work. What his research shows is that appealing to deeper motivations like autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the key. Here’s how he defines each:
- Autonomy: “the urge to direct our own lives.”
- Mastery: “the desire to get better and better at something that matters.”
- Purpose: “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”
So, how do we take these ideas and use them to help motivate our students?
Autonomy: When I was in high school, I took science all 4 years. Biology was probably my least favorite, and Physics was the best. The difference was not so much the subject matter, but rather the way that we learned. My biology classroom had 30 desks with attached chairs. It was difficult to manipulate the space, and we were always told at the end of the class to be sure that our desks were lined up correctly (she had permanent marker outlines on the tile floor for the location of every piece of furniture in the room). On the other hand, my physics classroom was in a giant lab setting. There were lab tables at the back, and desks arranged in groups at the front. We didn’t have assigned seats, and could sit where we wanted every day. I didn’t always sit in the same place, my choice depended on what we were doing.
The more choice we provide our students, the more engaged they will be (think about the HSE21 Best Practice Model – there is a whole section on Student Choice). Look for any way you can to allow your students to have autonomy in their learning and they will be much more motivated to learn! If you keep the goal of learning the focus, there are hundreds, if not thousands of digital tools that allow our students to reach our main objectives. It may take a little longer to grade if everyone’s project is different, but where in the real world is every member of a team expected to produce an identical product?
Mastery: Historically it was the role of the teacher or educator to be the master of all information in the classroom – think back to an earlier post on Gatekeepers and Travel Guides – but anymore our students may be masters of some of the technology that we have them using, while we are still learning. It can be uncomfortable to admit that students know more about something than we do, but in this day and age, anyone can be a master of anything.
Allow your students to be the masters sometimes. If there is someone who figured a new idea out with a tech tool, allow them to share with the class. We as teachers can become the learners right along with our students. What if we allowed that student to present during a staff meeting? Think of how empowering that would be from the student’s perspective!
Purpose: If students feel that the only reason they have to learn your material is to pass a test, that does not help the student feel like they are contributing to “something larger than themselves.” What if their learning was part of a service project to help others? Or what if their project solved a problem here at our school, or in our city? Have your students find how what they are learning can connect to a local need, and they will see purpose in what they learn.
Another way to think about motivation is through the Six C’s of Engagement (Choice, Collaboration, Connection, Challenge, Communication, and Commotion). If you want to see more, click here. If you want your students to truly be motivated, use some of the strategies here to move beyond consequences and punishments, and move to a realm of true motivation!
What are some of your most successful motivation strategies? Share below so that we can all have more ideas!