What motivates children to want to learn?
Is it possible to motivate children without using rewards and treats?
Could it be that using rewards is actually causing students to be unmotivated?
Where does motivation come from anyway?
Some Surprising Research
In his book, Drive, The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink 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, one must create an ever expanding system of rewards. What this means in real life is that 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 you start giving a reward and then take it 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.
What is the alternative?
What do effective educators do?
- Develop a relationship with students. Because they know and understand their students, they celebrate their strengths.
- Give students ownership of their learning–Teachers are responsible for providing a creative learning environment, but ultimately students have responsibility for taking the initiative.
- 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.
- Make 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.
New!! Wyatt’s Little Book of Lesson Plans, Worksheets and Games
Just for you! Here are activities, lesson plans, discussion questions, coloring sheets, word search puzzles and games for each of the six Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books. Over 75 pages of ideas so that you can create lessons on cooperation, teamwork and leadership skills to quickly extend and incorporate the Wyatt stories.