Recently, a short conversation with a Grade 12 student reminded me of the role of intrinsic motivation in learning.
Hers's how our conversation went:
Student: How was your day today Mr. Akune?
Me: Very good thanks. How about yours?
Student: Great! I went to Ms. Lewis' French 11 class during my study block today!
Me: French 11? During your study block?
Student: Yes, I enjoy learning French and Ms. Lewis is super cool. I wanted to go. It was my choice! It's feels way different than when you 'have' to go to a class because someone else tells you to.
Me: That's pretty neat that you would do that during your study block. (Jokingly) Did Ms. Lewis assign you homework also?
Student: Actually she did! I don't 'have' to do it but I want to anyways. Being there made me realize how much I've learned in the past year. It's good practice and will help me improve.
Student: Yeah, I like it. You know, I enjoy doing the work when I get to choose what I'm learning instead of being told what to learn. (Laughing) It's similar to cleaning my room. When my mother tells me to clean it I'm not so happy to do so, but when I decide on my own, I'm perfectly fine doing it.
In one of his webinars, author Daniel Pink (@Danielpink) described three factors that he believes are critical to enduring human motivation in the workplace. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
Pink's ideas can be applied to student learning as well. For starters, he suggests that the key to engagement is providing autonomy over task, time, team and technique. This can sound challenging to offer within the structured curricula and schedules that seem to control the school day. So, what can we do?
- Expose students to real-world challenges/problems and offer them the opportunity to solve the problem(s) they are most passionate about. Even within structured curricula, teach students to assess their own learning and allow them to choose the areas they wish to expand, deepen or strengthen their learning in.
- Embrace the fact that no two students are alike and different students require different amounts of time to master their learning of different topics. As educators, this means constantly assessing student learning, building in flexible timelines and adjusting the pace and course of instruction to best meet the needs of individual students.
- Encourage students to help each other. Be flexible and consider student input when grouping students together. Students are more likely to be engaged when they choose and are compatible with the people they are working with.
- Differentiate! Allow students to choose how they demonstrate their learning. Don't force students to use a certain technique and consequently limit their ability to fully demonstrate their learning.
On the other hand, feedback lets students know they are making progress and how they can continue to improve their learning. Feedback capitalizes on people's "inherent desire to get better at stuff." Since students by nature want to get better, when we show them how they can improve, why wouldn't they try? When offered in the absence of a mark, feedback evokes the intrinsic motivation necessary to sustain prolonged learning.
Pink suggests we ask the question, "Why are they doing the work?" Students must see a purpose, a 'real' reason for learning, a reason far superior to 'point gathering'. When students seek solutions to real-world problems, promote self-chosen initiatives and direct their own inquiries, intrinsic motivation drives their commitment.
So ask yourself...
What is your goal for your students?
Engagement or compliance?
What motivates your students?
Learning or marks?