Intrinsic Motivation & External Rewards
When we use our energy for what we need or want we are said to be "motivated." There are two types of motivation. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from inside (enjoyment, satisfaction). Extrinsic motivation comes from outside (money, grades, detention, awards, prizes). External rewards work in the short term and that's why it continues to be so widely in education. This is a short sighted method of controlling behavior. In the long term it is much more powerful for students to experience positive feelings as a result of connecting with others, creating a sense of belonging, setting goals, working hard, and achieving success. These are the factors that will lead to a love of learning, not a sticker, candy bar, or pizza party.
- Rewards are consequences that can be predicted and have market value. Do this and get that. Some people believe that the use of external rewards as a motivational tool can reduce the natural development of intrinsic motivation.
- Many teacher use extrinsic rewards in an attempt to change student’s attitudes and behaviors. What we really want is for students to want to learn without having to coerce them. The more teachers use bribes and rewards, the more intrinsic motivation is conditioned out of their students. They may get what we want at the moment, but in the end I believe we are doing a disservice to our students.
- Inciting fear and the use of threats are some ways teachers use external motivation in an effort to control behavior. Threat creates stress and stress has a negative effect on the brain and learning.
- All students receive reward differently. But when a class connects or has a positive learning experience, a high percentage of students have a positive biological response which will be tied to that learning experience. This serves to build intrinsic motivation.
- The brain makes its own rewards in the form of opiates. These powerful brain chemicals regulate stress and pain. The brain's reward system says, “That was great. I’ll remember that so I can do it again.”
- Clear, relevant, well-defined goals help students think about the future and contribute to positive feelings and beliefs. Having goals and positive beliefs create emotional states that contribute to learning. A feeling of progress is what motivates people to continue trying especially when things are difficult. Seeing progress produces reward chemicals that keep you going forward.
- External control involves using fear and threat if students don't do what we want and using rewards to reinforce when they do.
- Rewards are motivating. They motivate people to work to get rewards. Is that what we want?
- We are naturally rewarded internally (with "feel good" brain chemicals) when we achieve success as a result of hard work. This further motivates us to repeat the behaviors that made us experience those good feelings. Offering external rewards can interfere with the development of connection. Rewarding students for good behavior works the same way. As adults, nobody gets a prize for going the speed limit or not breaking the law. There are logical consequences for all behavior - good and bad.
- Celebrations are different than reward. They are not held out like a "carrot" to chase, or "hoop" to jump through and they can be as simple as a class chant, high five or academic game.
- The more teachers model enjoyment and love for learning, create opportunities for choice, and develop ways to notice and celebrate hard work and success, the more they foster intrinsic motivation.
- Intrinsic motivators include compelling goals, positive beliefs and productive emotions. We can purposefully work to infuse these into the work we do with children.
- Creating systems that help students track and see their progress (not grades) is very motivating.
- It’s important to help kids see the benefits of reaching learning goals in terms of “what’s in it for them.” They need to connect their learning experience with their lives in some way.
- Creating more opportunities for kids to show evidence of their learning increases student’s positive beliefs about themselves and further fosters internal motivation. Creating opportunities for choice with this affects brain states in a positive way.
- Active learning experiences = increase enthusiasm & motivation
- Teachers are constantly giving non-conscious messages. It is important to match verbal and nonverbal communication to positively affect motivation. Kids are smart. They know when we don't mean what we say.
- Creating ways to provide a lot of self-managed feedback to help students gain evidence of progress, success, and mastery fosters internal motivation. It also helps meet the need of power and competence.
- Involving students in decision-making and setting criteria fosters internal motivation and helps meet basic needs.
- Simply recognizing and celebrating individual and group achievement can replace external reward systems and foster an internal desire to learn for learning's sake. Creating learning experiences in which students get to experience the rewards naturally produced in the brain is worth planning for. Simple celebrations work.
- Helping students recognize and become conscious of the the good feelings they are having as a result of their hard work and success is helpful in fostering internal motivation. Asking them how they are feeling after achieving a goal and then affirming those feelings helps in this process.
How can choice, relevant goal setting opportunities, self-managed feedback and opportunities to be "gritty," be built in to lessons in an effort to help eliminate stress & threat? How can what we know about intrinsic motivation be applied to help students "want" to learn or be willing to try something new or difficult? How can teachers move away from the use of external rewards and instead plan for the internal rewards that exist within the brain and body?