Sun.Star Pampanga - - PERSPECTIVE! -


A teacher thinks: I work so hard at try­ing to get these kids mo­ti­vated. Some are, but so many aren’t. They just seem to want to get by— if that. I try to en­cour­age them— I’m their big­gest cheer­leader! But it can get so tir­ing. I feel like I’m push­ing a rope with some of my stu­dents. Why can’t they just want to achieve in­stead of hav­ing to be pushed into it? How many of us ed­u­ca­tors have said, felt, or thought some­thing sim­i­lar? Strate­gies that teach­ers will of­ten use in these ef­forts to mo­ti­vate stu­dents in­clude of­fer­ing in­cen­tives and re­wards— "If you read a cer­tain num­ber of books, you’ll get a prize!"— or cheer­lead­ing re­lent­lessly— "Good job, Karen!" It’s also not un­usual for teach­ers to just "give up" on some stu­dents— "They just don’t want to learn!" One of the lessons com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers learn is that you might be able to threaten, ca­jole, bad­ger, or bribe some­one to do some­thing over the short-term, but get­ting some­one to do some­thing be­yond a very, very short time­frame is a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent story.

Or­ga­niz­ers be­lieve that you can­not re­ally mo­ti­vate any­body else. How­ever, you can help peo­ple dis­cover what they can use to mo­ti­vate them­selves. This is very sim­i­lar to what Ed­ward Deci, one of the pre­mier re­searchers and au­thor­i­ties on in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion, wrote: "The proper ques­tion is not, 'how can peo­ple mo­ti­vate others?' but rather, "how can peo­ple cre­ate the con­di­tions within which others will mo­ti­vate them­selves?" When we are try­ing to mo­ti­vate stu­dents— of­ten un­suc­cess­fully— the en­ergy is com­ing from us. When we help stu­dents dis­cover their own mo­ti­va­tion, and chal­lenge them to act on it, more of the en­ergy is com­ing from them. In fact, this per­spec­tive is in keep­ing with the orig­i­nal roots of the word "mo­ti­va­tion." It comes from "mo­tive" which, in the 15th cen­tury, meant "that which in­wardly moves a per­son to be­have a cer­tain way." Com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers call it the dif­fer­ence between ir­ri­ta­tion— push­ing peo­ple to do some­thing you want them to do— and agi­ta­tion— chal­leng­ing them to act on some­thing they have iden­ti­fied as im­por­tant in their lives.

Re­wards can de­liver a short-term boost— just as a jolt of caf­feine can keep you crank­ing for a few more hours. But the ef­fect wears off— and, worse, can re­duce a per­son’s longer-term mo­ti­va­tion to con­tinue the project. Re­searchers be­lieve this loss of in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion hap­pens be­cause con­tin­gent re­wards— if you do this, then you’ll get that— force peo­ple to give up some of their au­ton­omy. Re­wards (and pun­ish­ments) have been found to be ef­fec­tive, how­ever, in get­ting peo­ple to do me­chan­i­cal and rou­tine work that can be ac­com­plished sim­ply. For ex­am­ple, they can re­sult in em­ploy­ees work­ing faster on an assem­bly line or, in the class­room, get­ting stu­dents to make ba­sic changes in their be­hav­ior. How­ever, re­wards can be de­struc­tive in ad­vanc­ing any­thing that re­quires higher-or­der think­ing. Of course, we all ex­pect and need "base­line re­wards." These are the ba­sics of ad­e­quate "com­pen­sa­tion." At school, these might in­clude stu­dents ex­pect­ing fair grad­ing, a car­ing teacher who works to pro­vide fairly en­gag­ing lessons, or a clean class­room. If some­one’s base­line re­wards aren’t ad­e­quate or eq­ui­table, her fo­cus will be on the un­fair­ness of her sit­u­a­tion and the anxiety of her cir­cum­stance. You’ll get nei­ther the pre­dictabil­ity of ex­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion nor the weird­ness of in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion. You’ll get very lit­tle mo­ti­va­tion at all. But once we’re past that thresh­old, car­rots and sticks can achieve pre­cisely the op­po­site of their in­tended aims. None of these points mean that stu­dents can­not be rec­og­nized and cel­e­brated for their suc­cesses. The key is not hold­ing it out as a "car­rot," but in­stead, pro­vid­ing it as an un­ex­pected "bonus." The word "in­cen­tives" comes from in­cen­dere, which means "to kin­dle." The dic­tionary says that "to kin­dle" means "to start a fire burn­ing." The idea is not to tell stu­dents that they will die from the cold or from be­ing eaten by wolves if they do not start a fire right now and right here and in this way. Nor is the idea to say that, if they do what we tell them, they will get an ex­tra bag of marsh­mal­lows to toast. In­stead, the goal can be to find out where they want to set their fire and why, and per­haps help them learn how to use matches or a flint, and give them ad­vice on the best place to find some dry wood.

Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have shown that car­ing re­la­tion­ships with teach­ers can help build re­siliency (the ca­pac­ity to per­se­vere and over­come chal­lenges) among chil­dren. By learn­ing about stu­dent in­ter­ests, teach­ers can also help con­nect what is be­ing taught in the class­room to stu­dents’lives and dis­cover their short-and-longterm goals. Bor­ing lessons will not as­sist stu­dents to de­velop their in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion to learn. That does not mean, how­ever, that teach­ers have to put on cos­tumes and be­come en­ter­tain­ers. It can, how­ever, sug­gest that teach­ers con­sider keep­ing lec­tur­ing to a min­i­mum and, in­stead, use many of the teach­ing strate­gies that have been found to be more ef­fec­tive for stu­dent learn­ing.

The au­thor is Teacher II at Na­tivi­dad High School

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