Monday, July 14, 2014

One Resource a (Week)Day #10: Sustaining Student Motivation

After the last post, I went and spent some time reading up on motivation. One resource I decided to read is Daniel Pink's Drive, because even though that sounds really familiar to me (I am a bookstore browser), I couldn't easily find any reviews of the book from educators via Google. I read (most of) it between last Friday and today. The book follows a sort of 20-80 rule; the first 20% of the book contains 80% of the central ideas, and the rest of the book kind of just goes over the concepts in finer granularity, and I found my interest steadily tapering as I got farther into the book.

I am kind of iffy about recommending this book. Like I said, because it's so front-packed, I think you can more or less borrow it from a friend and glean the applicable ideas in a day. One thing I did like about reading this book is that it breaks down the best motivation for specific tasks in quite some detail, beyond the one-liner that is most commonly relayed ("extrinsic motivation is bad for kids").

Pink actually provides a quite detailed break-down of types of tasks. Say you're a teacher and you have a complex problem that you want your students to solve creatively. In order to be successful, they need to be inquisitive, resourceful, and to consider a wide range of approaches. (Yes, yes... Ideally, all of our teaching looks like this.) In that case, you definitely don't want to introduce any extrinsic motivation. The task, if given at the correct level of intellectual challenge ("just beyond the comfort zone of the student by 1 or 2 levels"), will be its own reward. The effort and process required to solve the problem are its own reward, because that level of concentration is necessary to our well-being as people, and the kids will enjoy purely being in the "flow" of the moment by engaging in the task. Giving them an "if-then" extrinsic motivation (like mentioning the impact this will have on their grades before they start the task) will negatively impact their performance, by limiting their ability to be flexible and open to all cognitive options. In a more long-term impact, it'll also diminish their intrinsic motivation to do work without grades attached. If, for some reason, after class you decide to collect the task and to grade them (a sort of extrinsic motivation after the fact), since it hasn't impacted their experience during the active learning, it will have minimal impact on their intrinsic motivation to learn. (They will still associate that learning task/experience with being intrinsically motivated.)

On a more rote task (such as skills practice that cannot be avoided before an exam), you should provide flexibility in timing and method as much as possible, to retain the level of autonomy of the student and therefore to increase their motivation. Pink asserts that autonomy is a central human need, which in turn encourages motivation. An example of this might be having multiple review sheets, and letting kids choose which ones to work on, and for how long. When they start to get bored, they should be encouraged to switch to another task to help to break up the task. Explaining directly why this more rote task is necessary/purposeful instead of relying on a reward/punishment system ("I will count it as extra points on your upcoming quiz!") is also more beneficial to encouraging quality work, as well as not impacting the students' sense of intrinsic motivation.

As for verbal feedback, Pink asserts that students' intrinsic motivation is encouraged by direct praise of their efforts and specific (positive but well-earned) feedback on their work. If you have to give rote homework assignments as additional practice, for example, besides explaining why this is necessary, be sure to also praise their efforts (individually, as you go around the class) and to collect the homework for individual feedback.

If all else fails, Pink recommends that an "if-[you-do-this]-then-[this-will-happen]" extrinsic motivation should only be used as a last resort to encourage rote tasks that have no meaning (ie. stuffing envelopes and putting stamps on... I had trouble picturing what you should use this for in education, that could be truly that meaningless).

Very importantly, Pink believes that all people (employees and students and even some higher-order lab animals) are intrinsically motivated. We have the natural need to grow and improve. What we need to do as organizations and teachers is to find ways not to suppress that natural need, but to encourage its natural expression over time.

In a separate reading of a short handbook on motivation (available free to me through Amazon Prime), the authors Albert and Robbins had a practical idea for helping to work through fears of failure. I think this is a common problem that affects a fair number of students. Talking them in advance through the worst-case scenario can help to alleviate the panic that often comes with doing poorly on a test. For example, take the day before your first quiz or test to go over what they should do, if they do fail or struggle on the first exam. Should they come to talk to you? Should they do corrections on their own to prepare for a re-quiz? Remind them of the growth mindset then. Reviewing the assessment policy in your class before a test can help to minimize the panic / fear of failure and to establish trust early on in the class.

Setting small, achievable goals is also important for sustaining motivation over the long run (after the initial energy invested in the "newness" of the task has run out). Achieving smaller goals builds up the confidence and stamina required to tackle bigger goals. I shared a strategy from Albert and Robbins with my husband, about keeping a log of current incremental goals and also a log of the goals that you have already achieved. He says that he does this on his computer, and sometimes when he feels frustrated about work, he would still pull up the "Already Finished" goals list and look at it, to help sustain his energy and to feel good about how far along he has come. (He is really crazy about goals. His current work goals list runs about 44 pages, and his personal goals list runs another 22 pages. So, I don't know how big his archived goals file must be.)

That's it! I hope this has been as enlightening and practical to you as it has been for me. I'll be back here tomorrow for another Resource of the Day.

No comments:

Post a Comment