In the video above Daniel Pink talks about motivation. The research he presents deal with adults and is primarily concerned with employee motivation. However, if we want our students to be engaged and motivated to learn, then anything that can help us do that better is great!
The big idea of Pink’s talk is that incentive based motivating tactics don’t work. Wait..what? If I want students to work hard in class i would give an incentive of a game or candy. But, if that works and students get more work done faster, Pink would say that the work being done in class was relatively basic, repetitive, with little critical thinking. That’s not exactly what I want from my someday students. So why? Because if the work would have been truly challenging, requiring critical thought, then the incentive would have narrowed the focus of the students’ thinking and placed a mental block to their progress.
One example he referred to in the video was the candle experiment, which I’m sure I would have failed horribly. To “solve” the problem, you need to think outside the box, and those who were offered rewards to motivate participants consistently did worse than those who were offered no incentives. Interesting… I understand there are many things that require repetition and practice and it usually produces compliance in workers/students, but we should think twice before offering incentives that may discourage that “out of the box” thinking.
The best thinking, he argues, comes from intrinsic motivation, to learn and produce results for the sake of learning and producing learning. That would be awesome! How in the world do you get apathetic teenagers to have the that sort of self motivation? Ha, I have no idea. It seems so…backwards. But if you believe Pink, then that’s what we have to do. Engage them and inspire them to the point that they want to learn for themselves as opposed to for marks or candy.
Also, Pink talks about three aspects of developing this type of thinking which are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This lines up nearly perfectly with the Circle of Courage, which I think is so great for educators and students to strive for. Good talk and twenty minutes well spent. So, do rewards work? What sort of thinking do we want to reward? What motivates students? Good questions to always reflect on and seek to answer.