Student Motivation

I worry about the extensive use of rewards and punishments in schools.   While many educators work hard to engage students intrinsically, the default for most is to assume that if students are to behave, to put forth effort, to act on behalf of others, etc. they either must be enticed with a carrot – candy, extra recess, a grade, a choice from the treasure box, or punished with consequence.  Education expert Tony Wagner maintains that the use of extrinsic rewards is one of the key mistakes we make in schools today, as extrinsic rewards do not nurture engagement and enduring motivation for learning.  Neither do they support the develop of character traits such as concern for others.   Example:  If a  pizza party is offered to students as incentive for a coat drive for needy children, the pizza party becomes the goal rather than helping others.  The extrinsic reward subverts the effort to nurture empathy.  The use of extrinsic rewards send a clear message that the activity, whether its learning or kindness, is not worth doing in and of itself.  Alternatively, Tony Wagner ‘s research suggest we should be engaging students through “play, passion, and purpose.”  And author and researcher Daniel Pink agrees.   In Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink lays out the science that affirms that the use of extrinsic rewards works against helping our students to develop the type of dispositions that will lead to an interest in life-long learning and the type of concern for others that will motivate future acts of compassion.  Agreeing with Wagner, Pink points to autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the most effective motivators.

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