Changing Gears: Drive

Motivation is the driving force behind all life decisions. It is what determines our needs, values, and goals in life. When it comes to students in the classroom what can teachers do to foster motivation and curiosity? In the book Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, he discusses the process of shifting from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation through the three pillars of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Let’s take a look at what drives us as educators and students?

1. Autonomy

In Drive, Daniel Pink defines autonomy as, the desire to be self-directed. Autonomy motivates students to think creatively without the pressure to conform to strict rules. Providing yourself and students flexibility within a rigid framework will help to spark the intrinsic drive of autonomy.

What are some ways to support autonomy in the classroom that lead to intrinsic motivation?

  • Provide students with a choice of task
  • Use project based learning and free time to work on side projects they are passionate about
  • Encourage self-assessment
  • Flip the classroom and have students participate in inquiry
  • Have students set personal goals
    • Daniel Pinks four Ts of autonomy are, the freedom to pick the task, the time, the technique, and the team.

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” 

-Daniel Pink

2. Mastery

Mastery is defined as, the urge to get better at stuff, according to Daniel Pink. Engagement is what produces mastery and there are 3 rules that accompany.

1. Mastery is a mindset that requires students to recognize their ability. They are not perfect, but infinitely improvable.

2. Mastery is a pain that requires loads of effort, practice, failure, trial and error, and grit.

3. Mastery is an asymptote that can make it frustrating, but embracing it is crucial for learning.

Mastery is another key component for fostering intrinsic motivation within the classroom. When students have a particular interest in a topic, they tend to engage with the content by using more effective learning strategies. These learning strategies include, learning from mistakes, changing/adapting strategies that aren’t working, and asking for help when necessary. In order to become intrinsically motivated, students need to believe there is no limit to their potential and they should be given the proper tools to improve their skills.

3. Purpose

Daniel Pink defines purpose as, the desire to make a contribution and to create a transcendent purpose. As humans we are naturally inclined to seek our purpose in life and make contributions to the world. Pink believes that joining a cause that is “bigger” than oneself is what drives motivation.

Purpose in a classroom setting provides students with a reason to engage with course materials and gives them a reason to want to learn. Students like to feel like they are working toward something that is worth their time and effort. Teachers can add purpose into the classroom by simply asking “why” a particular concept is important to learn. Allowing students to add their own perspective on the purpose of a lesson helps them determine the “why” of their work.

In this TEDx Talk Beth Hennessey discusses what intrinsic motivation and creativity can do in a classroom

EXtrinsic vs. INtrinsic Rewards

Type 1 Test for Homework

Does assigning time consuming homework to students really help them learn? Prior to assigning these kind of assignments, run it through the “Type 1 homework test” by asking yourself these 3 questions that were included in the book. If the answer to any of the following questions is no, think about ways you may be able to reconfigure the assignment so that it promotes learning and engagement with the content. According to Daniel Pink, this will help shift the idea of homework to homelearning.

  1. Am I offering students any autonomy over how and when to do this work?
  2. Does this assignment promote mastery by offering a novel, engaging task (as opposed to rote reformulation of something already covered in class)?
  3. Do my students understand the purpose of this assignment? That is, can they see how doing this additional activity at home contributes to the larger enterprise in which the class is engaged?
When to Use Rewards: A Simple Flowchart pg. 67 in Drive by Daniel Pink


  1. I really liked the use of the control leads to compliance quote within the context of your blog post. It emphasizes the true meaning of why intrinsic motivation is key in science classrooms. The visual at the end of your homework post was very engaging. I liked the way it guided us to the correct assumptions as the audience. Great blog post!

  2. Hi Hannah! This is a very informative post and you really organized the information in a logical way. I also found that TedTalk helpful in explaining intrinsic motivation in the classroom. I really liked the homelearning idea! It would be helpful to reframe how students (and teachers!) think about homework. I do think it would help with motivation. How would you handle students struggling to find intrinsic motivation for tasks that must be done?

    • Hi Audrey! I think when students are struggling to find motivation in the classroom, it is our role as teachers to differentiate the material we are implementing so that it aligns more with student interests. If they care about what they are learning then they tend to be more intrinsically motivated.

  3. Hey Hannah, I really enjoyed your diagrams and visuals. As a visual learner, your extrinsic and intrinsic infographics helped me understand the differences. In my K-12 classrooms the question of why was not addressed. We were told to just learn the information because “you’ll need it for the test”. I didn’t learn how to be intrinsically motivated until college. How can we motivate students to be intrinsically motivated when we still quantify their learning with grades?

    • Thank you for reading! I think in order to motivate students to be intrinsically motivated despite that fact that we still quantify learning with grades is to show them how the subject matter impacts their future goals.

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