Guest Author, Josh Hill – In his book Drive Dan Pink re-examines motivation and I believe that his findings have significant implications for education. Watch an amazingly engaging RSA Animate video that highlights Pink’s treatise here:
Pink presents comprehensive research that demonstrates that for simple straightforward tasks if, then rewards, i.e. “the dangling carrot,” work as an effective motivator, however when a task requires some conceptual creative thinking those kind of motivators don’t work. He contends that when a task requires cognitive skill the three critical factors that lead to engagement and better performance are:
- autonomy, the desire to be self-directed;
- mastery, the urge to get better at stuff; and
- purpose, the yearning to make a contribution to something meaningful.
Report cards marks, gold stars, completion credits, these are the “dangling carrots” in education, and according to Pink these work just fine as motivators for mechanical skill but we are certainly not in the business of inspiring unthinking.
Today when I shared this video with middle school students our conversation provided a terrific illustration of Pink’s ideas. One student referenced “magic mess” (where a simple reward is offered to the student who cleans up a mystery mess) as an example of a dangling carrot working effectively as a motivator for mechanical skill, she noted that in fact it works quite well as students always diligently clean up the room in hopes of winning the prize. I asked her if she thought the same type of motivator would inspire her class to successfully write a poem, uncover a scientific truth, or compose a symphony. She shook her head “no”, these she said needed to be taken up with “passion”.
So how do we provide students with autonomy, mastery and purpose? In my next post I will try to draw a parallel between these factors of motivation and authentic instruction.
So does any of this really surprise you?
Dan Pink’s work came as a significant departure from the traditional motivational scheme of the business world, where higher pay is thought to translate into better performance. But who among us believes that report cards serve as an effective motivator? Where have you seen students exhibit real drive? What do you think are the hallmarks of student motivation? How do we leverage the concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose to motivate students? I look forward to your thoughts.