Tip 4: Try to tap into their Intrinsic Desire to control their world

Daniel H. Pink wrote a very interesting book titled Drive. In it, he talks about the rise and fall of Motivation 1.0 and 2.0. Motivation 1.0 started at the dawn of man, and was all about survival. Motivation 2.0 started replacing Motivation 1.0 as we as a species learned more about human behavior. It is the carrot and stick style of motivation: reward appropriate behavior and punish inappropriate behavior. I was a Skinnerian Behaviorist as an undergraduate, and I learned how powerful rewards can be in influencing behavior. But they also have limitations and shortcomings. In Pink’s words, rewards for ‘appropriate behavior’ “can extinguish motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, and crowd out good behavior…They can encourage unethical behavior, create addictions, and foster short-term thinking.” If you know your boss hates it when you chew gum, does that stop you from chewing gum when he’s not around?

Pink says that Motivation 2.0 is being replaced, or at least enhanced by Motivation 3.0. Motivation 2.0 is extrinsic motivation: something outside the individual manipulates the environment to encourage the desired behavior. Motivation 3.0 encourages and fosters intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation, motivation from within the student, arises from a desire to learn a topic due to its inherent interests, for self-fulfillment, enjoyment and to achieve a mastery of the subject.

Think of it this way. At your job, you probably work pretty hard trying to accomplish the company’s goals. There are two types of motivation at work here. Extrinsic motivation, such as a paycheck, certainly has an impact on your behavior. If the boss sees that you are not working hard, you know your paycheck can be affected. At the least, you work hard to make certain the boss thinks you are working hard. But hopefully there are intrinsic motivations at work as well. If your job is to write video math lessons for kids, you hopefully are motivated by your belief that you are, or your desire to be, one of the best video math lesson writers in the world. You have decided that you want the world to see you as a video math lesson writer, and you want them to appreciate your good work. You understand the inherent value of what you are doing, and it makes you feel good when you do a good job.

A couple questions for you. Which is more fun, something you do because you are being paid, or something you choose to do because you have decided that it is part of who you are? Which of these tasks do you do a better job at?

So how do you foster Intrinsic Motivation? Carleton College has a great webpage on motivating students (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/motivation.html). Here are some of their recommendations, mixed with some of mine:

  • Make it real. Relate the lesson to the student’s world. Don’t just explain an abstract concept. Show how you and the student can use the concept in your lives.
  • Provide choices. Students can have increased motivation when they have a sense of autonomy. Give the student some options; let them decide when, where or how they plan to master the lessons.
  • Offer role models. “If students can identify with role models they may be more likely to see the relevance in the subject matter.”
  • Establish a sense of belonging. If the student feels that he belongs to a group, or wants to belong to a group, and that group prizes math skills, then the student will want to be good at math.
  • Strategize with the student. If the student is having trouble, help them with the creation of their strategy to overcome the obstacle.
  • Recognize the student’s efforts and successes. Use extrinsic motivation that fosters intrinsic motivation. You are suggesting and reinforcing a self-image you want the student to adopt. “You know, you really have a logical mind.” “Your memory is better than mine.”

Students on their way to self-actualization are becoming autonomous and self-directed. They seek mastery of those things that matter to them. And they have purpose; in Pink’s words, the students seek “to make a contribution and to be a part of a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.” One of our job as educators is to foster self-actualization. It isn’t easy. It won’t happen overnight. But it is certainly one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.