Put it in Drive!

Car Driving On Beautiful Mountain Road With Trees, Forest And Mountains In  The Backgrounds. Taken At State Highway Road In Passo Gardena, Sella  Mountain Group Of Dolomites Mountain In Italy. Stock Photo,

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.

Self Mastery | Being First, Inc.
Mastery is more important than grades

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.

Managing - The Carrot or the Stick? - Optimum Consulting

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.

Teaching Strategies: Best Practices for Spotting and Handling Cheating |  Walden University
Cheating is often caused by extrinsic motivators
  • 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.  

Satisfied woman relaxing with hands behind her head. Happy smiling employee  after finish work, reading good news, break at work, girl doing simple  exercise, relieve muscle stress, feeling well — sitting, Vietnamese -

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.

What Is an Accountability Partner? - Accountable2You
Accountability partners are stronger together
  • 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.


  1. Hey Nate!
    Great blog post! I loved the images and video you included in your blog post. I think they really add to the content you’ve included! I think you did a great job going into detail about type I and type X. In the beginning part of your post, you mention “point grubbers”, and later talk about ways to increase type I motivation. Some students might not be receptive to these strategies implemented in the classroom. How would you handle a student that was still stuck on their points and driven by the external factors? Obviously it still takes time, but I was wondering if there were any other strategies that might be student specific that you feel could work!

  2. Hey Nate,
    Awesome blog post! You definitely did a good job going over type x vs type 1. I think that both are very important components of motivation. I think from a teaching standpoint type 1 motivation is much more applicable in the classroom. We can use it to promote better learning from our students. I think if we can motivate our students we will get better engagement and participation within the class. This in turn will lead to stronger inquiry and scientific thinking. A question I have for you is in what ways can you use motivation to progress scientific learning in your classroom?

  3. Hey Nathan,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I think the route you took to focus on type X vs type I was very unique and made me look at the book through a different “main idea” lens. My only gripe with the stuff you included was the beginning, I think the intention is alright — calling out what motivates certain students — but, I feel as though some may read the first few paragraphs as “caring about your grades is bad.” Other than that, amazing post. Keep it up!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.