Motivation: It comes from within, not from a report card

When dealing with anyone where you are seen as an authority figure can be difficult, especially if the people you are dealing with are teenagers. In school, encouraging students to complete work and to enjoy doing is difficult when adolescents today given millions of other things to give their attention to. Thats why we as teachers need to rely on a student’s own intrinsic motivation for them to succeed in school. Each person on Earth has their own intrinsic motivation that keeps them going in everyday life and tasks. Unlocking this motivation is explored by Daniel Pink in his revolutionary book DRIVE!

Pink argues that there are two types of people in the world: Type I and Type X. Type X is the type of student school is designed for. Here outside motivators such as grades, approval by a teacher, class rank, ACT test scores etc all encourage the Type X to succeed. This is the model most people are used to and this is the model society has trained all of us to act in. Most people describe it as the carrot and the stick. If you work hard, you will be rewarded, but if you slack off you will be punished. But this type of motivation only goes so far. Eventually, these rewards stop being meaningful to the student and their motivation begins to dwindle.

However, the second type of person, the Type I, is the type of person we want our students to become. Type I students are fueled by their own intrinsic desires to learn and grow as a person. Pink argues that everyone starts off as this but society warps them into a Type X. In the beginning, children ask thousands of questions. Where do babied come from? Why is the sky blue? Why does Santa use reindeer instead of horses? But as they grow up and enter school, these questions disappear. But as science teachers, we want our students to ask as many questions as possible! Therefore, it’s our job to begin to push our students out of extrinsic motivations and into their own mind for inspiration. This ted talk shows the differences between how an intrinsic and extrinsic classroom can effect a student’s future

In order to begin to encourage intrinsic motivation we need to give students opportunities for them to engage with their intrinsic motivators some ways to do this include:

  • Student lead inquiry: if students led their own learning they are more engaged and motivated to learn
  • Engaging in creative work: studies show that people are more motivated to work when the work is creative and not limited to rules
  • Help students find their passion and purpose and develop lesson plans around this: for example engaging in the community and adding real life application to lessons
  • Allow students to set their own pace of learning: companies who allow employees to adjust work hours to simple when they have to work have better better employee satisfaction and overall fiscal years
  • Engage students in activities that appeal to their intrinsic desires to succeed such as video games, practice games such as this bee game:

By using these things in your classroom, you can help find a student’s passion and purpose. A student’s purpose is the thing that keeps them moving through a difficult and or tedious task. For example, if you are a teacher your purpose may be sharing your love of learning with others. Finding this purpose in your students is essential to unlocking your students Type I personality and finding their motivations. This video shows why purpose is so important in students.

In order to find a student’s purpose and passion, we need to give students the opportunity to do so. One way Pink suggest is by allowing students time to explore anything they want. The only catch, they have to present what they learned or discovered at the end of the time period. This a one thing I hope to use in my own classroom. By allowing students to use this time to find what they love we can begin to understand what “drives” them as type I learners to keep going even through the world of Type X school systems.


  1. Hi Anna,
    Thanks for all your great comments! Pink discusses that there are certain times when extrinsic motivation can be used beneficially, if the task is very routine. If the task is very routine and repetitive, a reward can be useful if the reward is given in a “Now that” model instead of a “If then” model. You should also discuss why the task is necessary, acknowledge the task is boring and all them to complete it in their own way. However, if you are teaching in the margins (see previous post) then your classroom should avoid having routine tasks that are in a word “boring” then in that case, most motivation should be intrinsic.

  2. Hi Woojin,
    Yes! absolutely! All people start off as Type I learners but so many are turned into Type X learners through their life. But type I learners tend to be more engaged and more motivated in the classroom so why shouldn’t we push for more type I learning? I will admit that many students will resist type I learning more than others but passion and purpose come from within therefore, we need to push for more type I learning in all students to improve our students experiences in our class and in their life in general.

  3. Hi Natalie!
    Thanks for your question, thats a great point. It’s unfair of us to expect all students to know their purpose in life at such a young age. The important part it to find their passion to lead them to their purpose. For example, when I was really little I enjoyed science, especially biology and animals. But when I went into school I stopped due to the system’s extrinsic motivation. It wasn’t until a teacher reopened my passion for science that I found my purpose as a teacher. We can’t expect all students to know their purpose but everyone has passion that can “drive” them to their true purpose in life.

  4. Hi Caitlin! I enjoyed your comparison of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation in the classroom. Most people understand these terms, but they may not be able to recognize the difference in motivations within the school system. I also liked the chart comparing the two, I though that was a great visual aid for your point. I also liked your point about student’s passion and purpose. However, what would you do if the student was unaware of their purpose, or uneasy to declare a purpose at such a young age?

  5. Hey Caitlin, I really enjoyed your post! I liked how you used Type I and Type X to describe the students in school. I also agree with you that it is vital to help students to find their purpose and passion for learning in order to help them be more successful in the classroom. Do you think we should help all Type X students to become like Type I learners?

  6. Hey Caitlin! First of all, I really love “The Purpose Challenge” video and I absolutely agree that we as teachers need to give our students the opportunity to explore the world around them so they are able to find their purpose. Our school systems are most definitely Type X and it needs to be changed into Type I in order become more effective and I think you had some really great ideas about how to do that! Daniel Pink talked about how sometimes extrinsic motivation works in tasks that require little creativity and deep cognitive thought. Do you think there is any aspect of school in which extrinsic motivation is beneficial or should intrinsic be the only kind of motivation present in schools? Great post!

  7. Wow! Great post! I thought your explanation of Type I and Type X was concise and accurate to what Daniel Pink was saying in his book. One part about your blog post that specifically jumped out to me was the short video. I appreciated that it was short, yet it was full of great content about students and humans finding their purpose and intrinsic motivation! Great job!

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