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Motivation, motivation, motivation

If you've started reading this blog post and not watched the video yet, stop. Watch it now, I'll be here when you get back.

So, while the talk/animation was obviously directed at an economically minded audience, I can't help but apply what was said to the education industry. Successfully motivating students is fundamental to the success of the students whom I teach. Often it is this aspect that defines positive learning experiences versus attempts that simply do not work.

Look inside most contemporary classrooms and you'll find some sort of reward system. It's not spoken about as openly as it used to be, because as educators we've all heard about the fact that incentivising work doesn't help build a sense of empowerment or ownership of learning amongst students. And yet, you'll find a system in my classroom and almost all of the ones I've ever been privileged enough to encounter in the schools I've worked with.

Whether it's a certificate at an assembly, stickers on a poster, clapping after sharing, a classroom shop, playing outside games or hosting a fun party; teachers are constantly looking for the proverbial "carrot on the stick". You can call it positive reinforcement or bribery - (I sometimes think that we are simply changing the language of what we do rather than changing our actual practice).

So what are the drawbacks? Obviously students without a sense of earning the reward, can develop into people with a pronounced sense of entitlement and they are not going to make fabulous future leaders, so we don't want to encourage that. But we don't want them to become depressed or feel ignored as a result of a lack of incentive or motivation to strive for success. I once read that, given the choice of an expected reward versus a mere opportunity for a reward, students were far more motivated to choose the opportunity for an award, rather than the reward as a given. For example, if a student had successfully completed a difficult task, they may prefer to spin a wheel with a variety of outcomes on it and accept what it lands on (even if some of the options weren't ideal), rather than receive a standard incentive. The element of a random reward became much more motivating than one that was routinely distributed. Some my argue that it promotes a gambling sensibility but personally I would argue that life has lots of little surprises, rewards and setbacks and therefore dealing with a variety of unpredictable outcomes IS valuable and resilient learning.

The strongest message I took from the animated video was self direction being the key to fresh ideas and motivated workers. I loved how "getting out of the way" was the message for employers. In an education context I am beginning to form an idea to develop an open project with relaxed parameters for my students to experience the freedom to learn in their own styles. In essence, I would essentially 'get out of their way' and fulfil a supportive role rather than an interventionist one. Small steps, as I'm not ready to hand the whole day over to a bunch of 10-11 year olds aka 'Lord Of The Flies' (!!) but, I am keen to explore the motivational outcomes of developing such a unit.


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