I’ve been traveling and driving a lot lately which means that I’ve been listening to a lot of books. One book that has some amazing information relevant to parents and educators is Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. No, it’s not a book about driving a car… it’s a book about what motivates people to learn and to perform.
It’s Not What You Think
The author reviews a lot of research that confirms what any parent or educator who has tried to motivate children with carrots (rewards or incentives) and sticks (punishments) knows; it is not an effective way to create a lifelong learner. While children (and adults for that matter) will often perform to achieve a reward in the short term, in order to maintain interest and commitment to the task, one must create an ever expanding system of rewards. While an M & M candy may be rewarding the first time a child ever gets one, before you know it, a whole candy store is necessary to keep her engaged.
There’s More to the Story
Here’s the really amazing thing the research shows about rewards; once they are taken away, the student is less likely to continue the activity even if they initially found the activity itself rewarding. This means in the long run rewards are actually detrimental to the overall intrinsic motivation of the student. In one study of preschoolers, students who initially chose to color in their free time and who were later rewarded for choosing to color, did not return to coloring once the reward was taken away. Schools actually sabotage their own environment by establishing reward systems because children become dependent on outside forces in order to be motivated and without them lose their natural curiosity.
What is the alternative?
What is left for parents and teachers to do?
- Great educators develop a relationship with their students. Because they know and understand their students, they celebrate their strengths.
- Great educators give students ownership of their learning–Teachers are responsible for providing a creative learning environment, but ultimately students have responsibility for taking the initiative.
- Great educators give students a choice-while students don’t always have a choice about what it is necessary to learn (because of curriculum requirements teachers don’t have that choice either!), they can have a choice in many aspects of how, when and where they learn. Creativity and critical thinking is encouraged.
- Great educators make their lessons relevant to students’ current interests and their lives. This doesn’t mean that they have to be knowledgeable about every current fad, only that they relate the information to the practical world.
Teaching without carrots and sticks is possible but it takes a new and creative mindset on everyone’s part.
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