I’m sure everyone remembers point-grubbers in high school. These were the people who obsessed over every last point, and would fight with the teacher over missed questions on tests. They would debate technicalities and find loopholes in every question they got wrong. These were the people who would always ask: will this be on the test? They would check their grades immediately when they were posted, and always knew their GPA off the top of their head. They would always do the extra credit assignments, and also hated group work because this meant their grade was tied to the performance of someone else. Every point mattered, and they were furious if they thought the teacher unjustly took some of theirs away. Those are MY points.
Maybe you were one of these people. If you were that’s ok; if you still are that’s ok. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I am a recovering point-grubber myself. This type of person, according to Daniel Pink in his book Drive, is Type X.
Type X values the external rewards that come from completing a task more than the internal satisfaction that may come with working on and completing a task
Like I said I used to be this person. Used to be. What has helped my recovery? Somehow, I became a Type I person.
Type I values the internal satisfaction that comes from working on and completing a task more than the external rewards that can come from it
External rewards eventually became less important to me. I began to see points and grades as they really are: completely arbitrary. This may sound like blasphemy to many of you, but it’s completely true. Points are completely arbitrary, a purely subjective number with no meaning assigned by the teacher.
Well what does matter then? Since then I found something I believe is more important than points. I began to see mastery as the end goal of my learning. I wouldn’t study a subject because it was going to appear on the test, but because I was truly interested and wanted to master the content.
Because of this, I’ve long since recovered from obsessing over unimportant, arbitrary points, and instead I’ve begun to focus on things that aren’t arbitrary. Learning and mastery are my new “points.” These parameters are harder to measure and quantify, you cannot directly measure your mastery of a subject. It’s not as easy as just assigning a number, such as a GPA.
For this reason, learning and mastery seem less “real” than points, however in actuality they are much more real. Points are completely arbitrary, and often do not accurately measure what they are trying to measure. Points and grades are supposed to measure learning, but in reality the only thing they measure is your ability to get more points. How do you get more points?
You do the assignments, take tests, give the teacher what they want. In other words, they measure your ability to do school. Students begin to make the grade the end goal, instead of learning. They find short-cuts to getting good grades, and these short-cuts bypass the actual learning.
What is Extrinsic Motivation
Why is this? Grades are external motivators. According to Drive by Daniel Pink; extrinsic motivation is driven by external forces such as money or praise. He calls this the carrot and stick model. This model uses external motivators, such as grades, to motivate people to do certain tasks or exhibit certain behaviors. This type of motivation is Type X. Pink lists seven drawbacks of this type of approach, and each of which is exhibited in the classroom when grades become too much of the focus.
Drawbacks of Type X Motivation
- They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation, according to Pink, is fueled by autonomy, mastery, purpose. In the context of school, any number, or all, of these could be intrinsic motivators for students to learn. For example, they could be motivated to be autonomous in their lives and careers. They could be intrinsically motivated to master certain subjects. Personally, this was the case for me. Or, they could be intrinsically motivated because they find purpose in learning or in a future career. All of these motivators are much better motivators than points. And by turning the attention to grades, students lose sight of these more important intrinsic motivators.
- They can diminish performance
When students are less motivated to do certain tasks, their performance will be lowered. For example, students writing an essay just because they want a passing grade will do poorer than students who are writing an essay over a topic they deeply care about. Grades decrease performance.
- They can crush creativity
The same goes with creativity. Students who are constrained to rubrics and points take less risks. They are worried about doing something wrong and missing points. Instead, if students are motivated intrinsically they will feel free to take the project wherever it leads them.
- They can crowd out good behavior
In the book, Pink explains how paying people to donate blood actually decreases the amount of people who donate He explain that mixing rewards with inherently interesting, creative, or noble tasks is actually self-defeating. This sort of behavior can occur in the classroom.. If you would like your class to participate in a community garden, allowing them to volunteer may actually be more motivating than offering extra credit.
- They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
Cheating is obviously a huge problem in schools. Miami has a whole department for academic dishonesty. This problem only occurs because of the unnecessary high of external motivation of grades in schools. There are no short cuts to internal motivation goals, like autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
- They can become addictive
Pink explains that by offering a reward for a task, you are signaling to the person that the task is undesirable. Therefore, you must offer a big enough reward to encourage them to do it. However, this person will quickly become tired of the same reward, and you must use bigger and bigger rewards to get them to do the same task. Like an addiction, it’s an endless cycle that keeps growing until the reward is damaging to the person.
- They can foster short-term thinking
In environments where external rewards are used, many people work only to the point that triggers the reward, and no further. This means that if students get extra credit for reading three books, usually they won’t read a fourth.
All these are drawbacks to Type X motivation, and all these drawbacks can be seen in the classroom. Is there another option> Fortunately, there is Type I motivation.
What is Intrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation is something that comes from within and can be as simple as the joy one feels after accomplishing a challenging task. The main intrinsic motivators are mastery, autonomy, and purpose. When I finally recovered from being a point-grubber, it was because I had become intrinsically motivated to seek mastery, not points. I had begun to experience Type I motivation. Fostering this type of motivation in your classroom is essential in order to be an exemplary science teacher and allow your students to learn the best they can.
How to Increase Type I Motivation
Intrinsic motivation is a hard thing to teach your students. In a way, it is impossible to “teach” anyone this. Intrinsic motivation must come within, and the process of finding this type of motivation will be unique for every individual. However, as a teacher you are able to help them along on this journey. David Palank in his article on Edutopia explains how the technique of self-persuasion can be used to increase Type I motivation in your students.
Self-persuasion means letting the kids convince themselves. It’s not telling them what to do (their homework) and why (hopefully to master the subject), but instead letting them convince themselves that this is what they should do and why. This is a hard thing to do. It reminds me of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception. You must be able to plant a thought in someone else’s mind, but it must be their own original thought. Otherwise they will see it as foreign and expel it from their mind. As teachers, we must allow our students to see the benefits of mastery, autonomy, and purpose for themselves. Hopefully this way they will become type I. Here are a few ways you can use self-persuasion in your classroom:
- Questions with a Scale
With this technique, first ask students, “On a scale of one to ten, how ready are you to…?” Then ask, “Why didn’t you pick the lower number?” For example: “On a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to do your homework tonight?” By asking them the follow-up question, they are reminded why they should do their homework and persuade themselves that they are likely to do it.
- Goal Sheet
Goals are a great way to give students something to strive after. This goal sheet could be goals for the class period, or even the unit. Ideally it is a simple form that is filled out every class period. This allows the students commit to learning at the beginning of the class. After class, they can review their commitment and see if they achieved their goals.
- Student-Created Rules
Try having the students set the class rules. Make sure they are fair and reasonable of course. Students are more likely to follow these rules because violating them would be inconsistent with what committed to at the beginning of the class.
- Public Goals
Another strategy is to have students publicly declare goals. This makes them accountable not only to themselves, but to others as well. No student would want to be hypocritical by breaking these rules. This encourages the students to stick to, and hold others accountable, the public rules of the class.
- Commitment Cards
Let the students create commitment cards each week. Partner up the students, and have the pairs keep each other accountable for the goals they wrote down at the beginning of the week.
- Remind by Asking
Telling students, or anyone, what to do usually doesn’t achieve the desired result. This is because you are taking away their autonomy, a necessary ingredient to Type I motivation. Instead, ask students what they are going to do. They will have the freedom to choose and you are restoring their autonomy.