Student Motivation: More than Candy and Good Grades

Let’s start off with a moment of self reflection. What motivates you? What drives you? Why do you go to work? Why do you have hobbies? Is it for the money? For others? Or is it because it is because you are doing something you enjoy and truly want to do. Motivation beyond external factors such as money and praise, motivation that is self reliant and based in our desires is known as internal motivation.

Daniel H. Pink focuses on this topic of internal motivation in his book drive.

In his books, Pink discusses the need to renovate business management style. Gone are the days when employees are incentivised by bonuses, and raises. Instead, employees need to have intrinsic motivation to foster a successful company.

How does a company help promote intrinsic motivation? By providing employees with

  • Autonomy
  • Opportunity for Mastery
  • A Purpose

But what does a book about business management styles have to do with being an exemplary teacher in a successful classroom?

We need to utilize these techniques to motivate our students! Rather than offering them candy fr completing a worksheet, allow the satisfaction they receive from the completion be motivation in itself.

This video summarizes “DRiVE” and connects it to education

Out of all of the topics discussed by Pink, I think the most important method to increase motivation in the classroom is AUTONOMY.

What does AUTONOMY in a classroom look like?

  • Giving students freedom with their time
  • Giving students freedom with what they work on
  • Giving students freedom with who they work with

What would the result of AUTONOMY in a classroom?

  • Increase in student motivation
  • Increase in student interest
  • More personalized learning
  • Foster independence
  • Utilization of unique skills
  • More exciting and dynamic classroom
  • Overall, a more memorable learning experience

So.. how do we implement this idea of AUTONOMY into our own classes?

  • Allow students to choose their own curriculum based projects
  • Allow students to further research on what interests them, and then teach it to the class
  • Present students with a problem to solve, and let them come up with ways they would like to try and solve it
  • Allow for group work, but do not require it
  • Provide opportunity for student’s to guide their own learning
  • Create lesson plans based on student-centered learning
  • Provide students with one day a week, month, quarter, etc, to create and work on whatever project they want (see video below)

“In the end, student’s are empowered” – I think this is the most important premise of autonomy in a classroom. Student’s are more interested, more motivated and overall more empowered in their learning. Autonomy in a classroom creates the ideal learning environment for our students. After all, that is our goal, right?


  1. Hey Natalie, this was such a great post! I really liked how you focused on autonomy and the video on “genius hour” really stood out to me. I think it is such a great idea to implement this in the classroom. are you planning to incorporate this into your own classroom? If so, how do you think we should transition from “genius hour” to regular class time?

    • I saw this concept of genius hour in one of my high school classes. Although we never ended up implementing it, the idea always stuck with me. I think if yous et up a routine that the students are familiar with, such as the last hour of class every Friday, the transition will become very natural. I think it is a great way to convert businesses 20% time into a classroom environment. I will most definitely be trying this in my classroom and I am excited to see the results.

  2. Great work! I really enjoyed this blog post because I really connected with the idea of autonomy. High School kids are capable of so much and I remember being in high school and appreciating the freedom and autonomy that my teachers gave me! Great post! I especially liked the specific list of ways to foster autonomy in the classroom.

    • I think kids of all ages are capable of much more than we give them credit for. I teach in the local Montessori school, and my students are a testament to this. The preschoolers are able to prepare all of their own snacks, set up their cots, delegate tasks and motivate themselves in silent work time. The even all learned sign language to be able to communicate with each other during this silent time. I truly believe if we give students a chance, and the freedom to show us what they are capable of, everyone will be so much happier.

  3. Great post Natalie! I also agree with you that autonomy is the most important method in the classroom. Most teens HATE being told what to do, so giving them the freedom to chose their time, what they work on, and who they work with, will increase their motivation tremendously. Did you have teachers who intrinsically motivated you, or did they more so extrinsically motivate you?

    • I chose autonomy as the most importunate method for that exact reason- I remember being a teenager. I remember wanting to do something, but as soon as I was told to do it I lost all interest. Because we are teaching teenagers, and this is such a common phenomena in that age group, autonomy has that much more power. As a student, I was very extrinsically motivated, especially by grades. My school was very competitive and getting good grades was my whole focus. However, I do remember some projects in my classes, such as the science fair we put on for our elementary, leading me to be intrinsically motivated. I did not care how I did on the project, I was more interested in the project itself.This is the type of feelings I hope my students have in my class.

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