Who's Driving?

posted Feb 26, 2013, 6:12 PM by Dawn Gernhardt

I’m a product of the public school system. I’m a college graduate. I’ve had many jobs that were less than rewarding (and a few that luckily were). I’ve definitely eaten my fair share of the proverbial reward “carrots.”  And, yes, I turned out okay. However, I like many students, parents, and worker bees in studies brought forth in Part One of Daniel Pink’s Drive, I have felt my “intrinsic motivation, performance, creativity, positive behavior,” decrease by artificially set goals, bonuses, bribes, grades, points, and the like. These have led me to resent some of my employers (due to forced goals, incentives, mundane tasks, “just get it done” projects, unethical business practices, and for-profit mentality). The same goes for students being forced to complete tasks to get excellent grades instead of focusing on setting goals for themselves and enjoying the activities in and of themselves.  

Daniel Pink identified the three things that motivate people (when money is taken out of the equation) as “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Obviously, money isn’t a motivator to for students. For students we’re talking about grades; however, how can we let students be completely self-directed? However, the last thing I want for all of my students is to experience the doldrums and “Seven Deadly Flaws of carrot and stick” mentalities found everywhere in education and professions. So, how I will use the information from Drive and motivation in my classroom is as follows.

Most classrooms use points, grades, and fear of punishment as the major motivators, in addition to the pressure of needing good grades and high test scores to get into college. How can I add autonomy, mastery, and purpose to the classroom? Even more, how can I meet education standards, gain parental, administrator, and higher education support, and have autonomy, mastery, and purpose drive my classroom?

Initially, this conversation brings up more questions than answers. For instance, how do rubrics fit into the mix, as well as models and examples? Are these just artificial goals? Or, do they help students to have a context and baseline understanding. I think it might help to taking the point values away from the rubric. But, if I hold these models and rubric (even one the students create themselves), isn’t it just the student fitting into the mold I, or their fellow students, say they should fit in? And, how can we also get them ready for standardized testing like CAHSEE, AP testing, and standardized testing?

I feel that Pink’s suggestions of “offering rationale, acknowledging the task is boring, and allowing people to complete the task their own way” gives “meaning, provides empathy, and loosens some of the control” to help cushion the blow for some of the standardized testing.  I can shift from “if then” to “now that” rewards, if necessary. Additionally, I can work towards “providing a genuinely motivating environment, with baseline rewards [grades] that are adequate and fair, where there is autonomy, ample opportunity to pursue mastery, and tasks that relate to a larger purpose.” And, since “positive feedback can have an enhancing effect on intrinsic motivation;” I can provide “useful information and specific feedback to let students know how they are doing. All in all, I appreciate Pink’s flowchart to help me and others consider how we use rewards in our lives and our classrooms. (Flowchart from page 67 of the 2009 paperback edition.)

And, I’ll continue to read Drive and watch the RSM animate video based on Drive at http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/04/08/rsa-animate-drive/, as well as other proponents of motivation, such as Alfie Kohn, to help me gauge and reflect on how I’m doing at “creating environments for my students’ innate psychological needs to flourish through proving their competence, self-determination (autonomy), and relatedness (connection to one another).” I believe that I can help my students by creating a classroom environment where students “work hard, persist though difficulties because of their internal desire to control their lives, and learn about their world, and accomplish something that endures.”

 References: Pink, D. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us. Riverhead Books.