The blog 43 Things led me to Shankar Vedankam’s Washington Post article, “When Play Becomes Work.” His editorial reminds of what we educators know and think about every day — that if kids are motivated from the inside to do well, they do better than if we try to prod them along with external motivators (a piece of candy, a grade, extra recess). 43 Things’ Merlin Mann refers to this as the “paradox of motivation.”
From the column:
Psychologists have long been interested in what happens when people’s internal drives are replaced by external motivations. A host of experiments have shown that when threats and rewards enter the picture, they tend to destroy the inner drives. Paychecks and pink slips might be powerful reasons to get out of bed each day, but they turn out to be surprisingly ineffective — and even counterproductive — in getting people to perform at their best …
Beliefs about the utility of rewards and punishments in motivating human behavior are deeply ingrained, and most people don’t know that more than 100 research studies have shown that motivating people in this manner can have the unintentional effect of undermining their internal drives …
“If I pay my kids to do their homework, I am saying, ‘You will get this if you do your homework,’ but I am also saying, ‘Homework is not likely to have intrinsic rewards,’ ” Benabou said. To the extent that a child is doing homework because he or she enjoys the challenge, or wants to demonstrate intelligence and diligence, the homework has meaning beyond the task itself, and Benabou predicts that offering a reward will backfire.Deci’s research into the counterproductive effects of threats and rewards has been replicated among high school students learning verbal skills, preschoolers trying to draw, and adults targeted by weight-loss, anti-smoking and traffic safety programs. In each case, external threats and rewards made it less likely that people would feel internally fired up about the goal.So why are rewards and punishments employed so liberally?“People like it because it is easy,” Deci said. “It is easy to offer a reward, but it is not easy to help people find their own motivation.”
The closing quote is so powerful — offering an external reward (extra credit, anyone?) is easy, but helping students tap into internal motivation is more of a challenge.
That is part of why AASL Standard 4, that students will “pursue personal and aesthetic growth,” is so important. It’s hard to get our hands around the contents of Standard 4, but it helps students develop those personal values and interests that drive them into pursuing something that matters to them. And when we capture them in that personal zone, we are much more likely to have success showing them strategies and guiding them into good source because they have that inner calling.
(Image generated by Photofunia using AASL’s Standards cover)