Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Deeper Motivation: The Intrinsic Side of Things

All students are motivated, just not by what we'd like them to be motivated by!  In addition to extrinsic motivation, we can create an environment in which students are more intrinsically motivated.  In other words, they are internally motivated, which is longer lasting than extrinsic motivation.  There are two keys to intrinsic motivation:  value and success.  Students are more motivated when they see value in what they are doing and when they feel successful. 
Students can see value in three ways.  First, they see value when the lesson is relevant.  That’s why students ask, “Why do we need to learn this?”  It’s part of our wiring to want to know why we are doing something.  That can be everything from seeing their name in a word problem to realizing that chemical mixtures are important because “my mom is a hair stylist and she mixes chemicals to color hair!”
Next, they can see value through activities.  Students are more motivated when they are doing something, rather than just sitting and getting.  Haven’t you seen this in your classroom?  It’s important for us to engage students at high levels throughout our instruction.
Finally, students see value through their relationship with you and their peers.  The old adage, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care is true.  We have to build positive relationships with our students, and among our students, because they are also motivated by their peers.

The other part of the equation is success.  Students are more motivated when they feel successful.  And many of the students you teach have never felt successful in school.  It’s our challenge to help students feel successful by providing the appropriate support and scaffolding they need. 

Next time:  8 Strategies to Build Student Motivation

Monday, October 26, 2015

3 Ways to Effectively Use Extrinsic Motivation

“But,” you may be thinking, “my students expect rewards. I can’t just not use them!” So how
can you effectively use extrinsic rewards? I think it’s important think about Larry Ferlazzo’s comments about baseline rewards that every student needs and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For all students, we need to provide:
            ♦  A clean, safe, caring environment; 

            ♦  Engaging, interesting lessons; 

            ♦  Appropriate support and scaffolding; and 

            ♦  Clear and fair assessments. 

In addition, when using extrinsic rewards, we should emphasize the feeling that accompanies the reward, reinforcing that the true reward is how you feel about your success. In other words, move from a reward to celebrating the learning experience. 

There are three other specific tips for using extrinsic motivation. First, when using rewards, do so unannounced. Rather than saying “if then, then this,” simply choose random times to reward students. By surprising students, they are encouraged to put forth effort all the time. 

Next, reward students through affirmation of their work. Give them an authentic audience who can appreciate their quality learning. For example, 
rather than participating in a traditional science fair, use an “Invention Convention,” and display their inventions for local community leaders.

Third, when you are using rewards, make them appropriate and mean- ingful to the student. Some students like stickers; others prefer tokens. It’s also important to be respectful of the individual. Some students do not like to be singled out in front of their peers. If you know that, find another way to praise them: a note, an individual comment, or even a look. As teacher Suzanne Okey explains, “some students will appear not to respond positively to rewards, then it’s necessary to figure out way to deliver rewards in a meaningful way to the student; give them a way to save face. In Chinese culture, saving face and losing face are huge concepts; it’s big in our culture, too.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Extrinsic Motivation: The Downside

There is a downside to extrinsic motivation. It is temporary. To keep students motivated, you must continue to increase the reward. I read about a school district that wanted their students to read more. At the elementary level, students received a free book when they read a certain number of books. The reward proximity theory by Linda Gambrell (1996) notes that this is an effective use of rewards—to closely tie the “prize” to the activity, rather than using something like pizza to reward reading.
When the students moved to the intermediate and middle grades, however, books were no longer seen as a worthwhile prize. So the schools used small gift cards, such as iTunes or local restaurants (clearly, this district had more money than mine did). Of course, the problem was that by the time the students were in high school, that wasn’t good enough. So at that level, their names were entered into a lottery for a car. Yes, a real car. I was both amazed and dismayed. How does this prepare students for the future? When they get a job or go to a college or university, they may not receive a prize for doing something they are supposed to do anyway!
The other side effect that the district didn’t anticipate was the negative impact on intrinsic motivation. For students who did like to read, the prizes became a hoop to jump through,
and in order to get the most points, and therefore prizes, they didn’t necessarily read what they wanted to. In many cases, students opted for shorter, easier books.
A final negative aspect of extrinsic motivation that I saw with my students was that they began to see circumstances as out of their control. In other words, they didn’t succeed because of their own efforts, but because of the prize. And that led to an attitude that if they were successful, it was because they were “lucky” or “I gave them the grade.” If rewards are overused, students lose their internal strengths.

Next Time:  Effective Ways to Use Extrinsic Motivation

Monday, October 19, 2015

Extrinsic Motivation: Can It Work?

Extrinsic motivation, or the outside motivators we use with students, takes a variety of forms.  Many teachers use tokens, others use stickers or points, and others use positive comments.  Some authors, such as Alfie Kohn (2000), believe there are not any appropriate uses for external motivation. Based on my experiences, I believe there are limited uses for it. For example, I agree with Daniel Pink (2011), author of Drive, who compares extrinsic motivation to caffeine, noting it gets you going (although you are less motivated later). There were times that the only way I could get my struggling learners to begin a task was to promise a reward. It was effective, and oftentimes I could then move them beyond the initial reward.
Larry Ferlazzo in Self-Driven Learning (2013) also points out that everyone needs some baseline rewards, such as a clean classroom, a caring teacher, engaging lessons, and fair grading, in order to be motivated to learn. And Daniel Pink also points out that extrinsic rewards do work for a short time for mechanical, rote tasks.

Are there negative aspects?  Absolutely.  We’ll look at those next time. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Impacts Student Motivation (Part Three)?

The final influencers on student motivation are outside ones, such as the attitude of parents, the educational levels of parents and families, the student’s cultural environment and peers, and poverty. We know these have a tremendous impact on learning, yet we have no control over them. As teachers, we can attempt to shape parents’ attitudes toward school and
increase positive family involvement in learning, but we do not have direct control. The good news is that there are many examples of teachers and schools in which students have overcome these obstacles to become successful in school and life. In other words, you can make a difference, despite the challenges!

Next posting, we’ll start looking at the concept of extrinsic motivation, and how (or if) you can use it with your students.