Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation – I Need Some Points!

What is motivation?

We learned about behaviorist theory in education classes.  B.F. Skinner said we should concern ourselves with observable behavior be it desired, compliant, or disruptive.  Tie those behaviors to extrinsic motivators and classrooms should function perfectly–as long as the motivators are attainable and the desired behaviors are well-defined.  So what happens when neither is the case?  A conversation between a university preservice teacher and a rather astute 13-year old showed who had the better grasp on the failures of behaviorism.

The middle school student, ticked off about the point system for behavior, shared she would not have enough points to attend a reward event at week’s end.  She continuously ran errands and cleaned the classroom when she would much rather sit quietly reading her book, all in hopes of earning more points towards her goal.  Unfortunately, because the cost of 30 points were beyond her reach, she would not be attending a volleyball game, much less eating popcorn and drinking soda.  In her rant, she drove home three rhetorical points that gave me pause.

1) Students with ongoing good behavior are at a disadvantage.  Teachers expect good behavior from them and unconsciously dismiss their “point-earning” achievements such as walking quietly in the hallway or turning in their homework on time.  She shared the example of a quiet, honor student with only nine points.  Strike one.

2) Students who misbehave regularly get noticed.  Teachers reward their good behavior because they want it to continue.  This reward system reinforces a pattern of bad behavior, improve, reward, no reward, who cares, bad behavior, repeat. Strike two.

3) If teachers create an unattainable reward, it impacts behavior more negatively than if there were no stated reward at all.  Strike three.

Change the participants to employers and employees and we are witnessing a perpetually broken system.

So what is motivation?

This 13-year old could discuss what was wrong with extrinsic motivation because, as an avid reader, she knows what it feels like to be intrinsically motivated.  Her bitter-sweet story continued with the description of a classmate who wanted to read a book after watching the movie based on it.  Encouraged by the 13-year old of this post, the classmate checked out the book.  The teacher, concerned with the book’s thickness and the child’s reading level, told the classmate to wait until summer and find something different to read.

“If they would only let her try,” said the 13-year old, shouldering the guilt of motivating a classmate to reach for an unattainable prize.  “She can’t read very well because she doesn’t have faith in herself, and now,” she continued, “the teachers don’t have faith in her either.”

Through her tears of frustration, she showed me what motivation isn’t.

I don’t know if the quiet, honor student will have enough points to see the volleyball game or if the classmate will be allowed to read the book.  I do know a 13-year old who has lost some of her faith.  It is my hope that the preservice teacher can find a way to restore it.

I posted the above blog on 4/22/14 on a different platform, but I still believe in its message and relevance for today’s school.  The resurrection of this post connects to the Map of Meaningful Work by Marjolein Lips-Wiersma and Lani Morris as well as William Glasser’s Choice Theory – two conceptual theories I am intersecting in my research and writing.

The 13-year old is now 18 and has the same sense of justice and fairness as she did six years ago.  I encourage her to keep asking the tough questions.  I hope, as teachers, we continue to try answering them.

Choice Theory – Basic Needs versus Desires

In my current work-at-home situation, I am investigating ideas and theories for future writing ventures.  Having three children at home as I read about classroom management and best instructional practices has prompted me to seek their opinions.

William Glasser’s choice theory, as stated in Quality School (1990), proposes that “all human beings are born with five basic needs built into their genetic structure: survival, love, power, fun, and freedom” (p. 43) (also described on the website).  Quality work depends on humans being able to choose situations, projects, pathways, etc. that satisfy these basic needs.  My college junior majoring in English and psychology would not accept these five tenets as needs.  The body will not die without them.

My husband disagreed.  He thinks love is a need, which perhaps highlights our human desire for connecting and belonging.  How many of us are increasing our use of social media during stay-at-home requests prompted by COVID-19 (love and belonging)?  How many of us venture out for supplies that we would not otherwise consider necessities (basic need for freedom)?  How many of us are choosing pathways that satisfy what Glasser describes as other basic needs (survival, power, fun)?

When I framed Glasser’s statement as “desires” rather than “needs,” my children ages 13, 18, and 21 became more accepting.  They still questioned how much and to what degree survival, love, power, fun, and freedom contribute to their motivation to do quality work, but that will be a different discussion on a later day when their freedom and fun are further limited with extended e-learning days.

My question is this: How are you motivated right now by survival, love, power, fun, and freedom?

My next question:  How might this motivation aspect of choice theory apply to education in these days of isolation and e-learning?

Let me know your thoughts.

Leaning In to Learn Vulnerability in Partnerships

How is professional collaboration on the individual level connected to large-scale partnerships between organizations?  Indeed, how are they not connected?  Collaborative partnerships vary, but what I have experienced can be captured in two buckets: proximity partnerships and purposeful partnerships. Experiences as a teacher and a student revealed an evolution in my thinking about what these types of partnerships look like, what it takes to collaborate, and how making oneself vulnerable is part of that process.

When I first began teaching, collaboration and mentorship seemed foreign to me.  Coming from a marketing department in a telecommunications company meant that knowing what to do and how to do it secured one’s position.  Perhaps it’s an unfair assumption, but I felt that asking too many questions showed weakness or perhaps incompetence.  As a career changer in education, I carried this weight with me into teaching.

Some months into my first year of teaching, I fell far behind in scoring students’ portfolios back when portfolios measured high on Kentucky’s accountability testing system.  My mentor, department chair, and assistant principal dove in to help, and we finished the task.  I remember my mentor asking, “Why didn’t you ask for help?”  This was a difficult question to answer.  Background baggage was the main reason.  If I asked for too much help, would I be seen as less than competent?  Even though this partnership was based on proximity through shared space and time, it required truth telling and exposure.  

Other proximity partnerships included our middle school team meetings about field trips and student issues. We demonstrated the power of collaboration by creating meaningful experiences and high expectations for our students.  Department and staff meetings were spaces for curriculum and school culture development, again arranged for us according to our proximity to each other in areas of the school, grade level, or content area.  We successfully positioned these partnerships to push our middle school to a top percentage in the state.

When I started my doctoral program after seven years at the middle school, I entered a different dimension of collaboration and mentorship.  I remember a few weeks into my introductory doctoral studies seminar when one of the five students said what we were all thinking: “I feel stupid.”  It was true.  Crafting literature reviews as our arguments for empirical research seemed far removed from our various experiences as math or English teachers in our elementary, middle, or high school worlds of education.  

The professor said everyone feels that way in the beginning.  I hope that’s true because I’m laying it out there in a public post.  But the professor’s encouragement of peer collaboration and mentorship made the work doable.  The collaborations were proximity partnerships (same class, same assignment, sitting next to each other); yet, we made ourselves vulnerable by sharing our raw, question-filled work with one another.  Though on different paths, having the same course assignments naturally brought us together.

So where do these experiences fit into partnerships on the broader scale – the purposeful partnerships? I think the vulnerability one must have to establish a mutually beneficial partnership is learned at the micro level, and I learned what vulnerability feels like as both a middle grades teacher and graduate student.

Now, in my educator role at a regional university, I seek area schools to help me prepare future high school teachers.  Their teachers, their students, and their interactions set the course for what my teacher candidates must be prepared for day one in the classroom.  In return, I want to prepare my candidates for day one in their local schools.  But is it a purposeful partnership if the narrative continues to be “their” and not “our”?  Aren’t we showing our vulnerability by caring about another’s needs above our own?

St Peter and St Paul church, Muchelney carolyngifford via Compfight

Purposeful partnerships require systematically chipping away at the ivory tower of academia to engage in practical pursuits.  It is okay to need each other.  Vulnerability means replacing the facade of knowing our local school district or the university structure with the reality of not knowing the scope and scale of what each of us is doing. Acknowledging that we need each other lays the groundwork for designing purposeful partnerships that have the opportunity to thrive.

Research Inspired by the Everyday

A Conversation

A few weeks ago, I met with the two student teachers who have taken my methods courses and now I am supervising.  We talked about acclimating to the classroom, which is different in the spring semester than in the fall.  What is going well? Have they selected the class to focus on for their edTPA video recordings?  What kinds of plans are they wanting to implement as they gradually take over different classes?

The response to this last question intrigued me:

I want to do something with the brown bag exam from our summer course.

Stack of books from 2014 NCTE Annual Meeting – examples of genres in YA Lit course

The Context

I was first introduced to the brown bag exam in Jennifer Buehler‘s text Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives. During summers 2017 and 2018, pre-service candidates and inservice teachers in my Young Adult Literature course (an English content course with a teacher education focus) saw this brainstorming technique in two assignments:

  • “Brown Bag Exam”—Select an object.  One per student and only one student per object.  In the Question response, brainstorm connections between your selected object and The Sun Is Also a Star.  Dig into the text.  Pose questions.
  • How might you create a “Brown Bag Exam” for your choice YA novel?  Describe at least 5 items you would include.  Discuss rationale for these items.

In the first assignment, I collected the objects (pictures) to share with the class.  They engaged in the work as their own students might by selecting an object and writing about it.  For the second iteration, I wanted them to design a brown bag exam as a teacher might do, just as I had done in the first assignment.

Research Connections

This conversation with my student teachers encouraged me to think about the connections among university courses and K-12 classrooms.  We want strong connections to exist among content, methods courses, and teacher instruction; yet, how many reading, writing, management strategies or creatively-designed assessments persist beyond the final submissions at the university?

I decided to find out.  This conversation inspired me to study how influential the Young Adult Literature course has been in teachers’ book selections, classroom libraries, and assignment designs.

One conversation. One research question. In the everyday.

Have you researched similar questions?  Let me know what inspires you.  

Exploring Tools – (Quite a) Blogging Challenge

Dam of Kerspetalsperre

Black and white picture of the Dam of Kerspetalsperre. Markus Trienke via Compfight

The Edublog Personal Blogging Challenge has pushed me to generate more words and design more content than I have in quite some time.  Oddly enough, I needed the step-by-step structure to break the dam that was holding back my creativity.

Step 7 challenged me to rethink whether I collect or curate resources.  Learning how to embed codes on my blog site has encouraged me to be more conscious of my audience and how that audience might explore the resources I have bookmarked in Evernote or uploaded to a Mindomo map.

The intentionality of setting up a blog and writing posts has not escaped my notice as a teacher.  Selecting a theme, finding widgets, embedding codes, and designing pages before ever generating a blog are all parts of real-world communication.  I changed my theme at least three times in two days before deciding on a crisp, clean look.  I did not want too many or not enough widgets.  And what if my Evernote files are of some interest to someone?  I added those links to a Padlet to find out.

One of my rediscoveries was Mindomo, which I used for several projects some years ago.  I found my old maps and then upgraded the account to add more.  I embedded the code for one of my resources on Teacher Inquiry on my research page and hope to update the map in the near future.

Blogging Challenge: Widgets

I have taken up the Edublog Challenge for Personal Blogging.  This, as I see it, falls into my page of research.  Though not as formal as what the university requires, I see value in exploring these avenues of thinking, especially if I can be motivated to generate more writing.   This challenge has definitely helped me tap into a flow of writing that had plateaued and all but stopped during the fall semester.

In learning more about widgets, I can see how useful they can be – and how much they can add to the busyness of a blog site.  Of course, I want people to be able to share my blog posts.  It would also be nice to know how many people have visited my site and where they are located in the world.  I’m still working on these pieces because, again, it is easy to cram too much into a blog site, which will make it less reader-friendly.

I’m interested in feedback on the site and the widgets.  What do readers think are the most interesting items on a blog site?