An Educators Guide: Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

In today’s society, we are oftentimes only focusing on extrinsic motivation. What do we have to do in order to receive rewards and avoid punishment? Sure, this is fine for routine and mindless mechanical tasks but this is not realistic for longterm meaningful motivation. The most impactful and meaningful motivation is intrinsic. Why does this matter? How can we incorporate these principles into our classrooms? Daniel Pink tells us all about this in his New York Times best selling book, Drive.

Why does this Matter?

Intrinsic motivation is all about the desire to create, learn, and better the world around us. This is exactly what educators should want for their students. When intrinsic motivation is fostered in the classroom it allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the topics that are being presented and relate them to the real world while also encouraging curiosity and wonder. Pink suggests that we help our students move toward autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Autonomy – The desire to direct our own lives and do what’s best for ourselves and our specific needs. Students will be more engaged if they are able to take ownership of their learning.
  • Mastery – The desire to get better and better at something important to you. Students’ individual progress will motivate them to push further with their learning.
  • Purpose – The desire to serve something larger than ourselves. Students should be able to answer the questions, “Why am I learning this?” and “How is it relevant to the world I live in now?”. When students can understand the bigger picture their learning becomes more purposeful.

How can we Incorporate these Principles into our Classrooms?

  • At the beginning of the year have students pick a topic that they are interested in that relates to the subject matter of the class. They should do their own research and produce a project of their choosing ie. creating a video, piece of art, bulletin board, infographic, etc. At the end of the year, students can present their projects to the class and share their learning journey
  • At the end of a unit have students take turns teaching what they have learned during the unit to their fellow classmates.
  • Before the start of each unit have students write down and discuss the WHY and the real world applications of what they are about to learn.

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  1. Hi Maya, I often find myself feeling frustrated by our current system of reward. I remember growing up and hearing adults in my life complain about how they were tired of seeing people my age get a reward for everything. I saw what they were talking about. I mean a participation reward, a piece of candy, etc for literally anything and everything. Personally, I felt like that diminished the moments when I or others truly did have successes. And after readying through Drive, I see that this wasn’t just some random feelings. But I constantly struggle with how to change this. Because if everyone is giving rewards for everything, and I try to change this, but no one else is willing, I do not see my students responding well.

  2. Hey Maya, this is an amazing post! you have a great use of visuals, and an extremely informative video to accompany what you talked about. I also like how you describe the steps future teachers can take to incorporate the principles in the classroom. they’re very applicable to the methods we may end up using in our classes. My question for you is especially in a high school classroom, where they have been in a schooling system that promoted extrinsic motivation, what type of change should we expect and how long will this process take?

    • Hey! Thank you for the feedback. I kind of touched on your question previously under your post. But I think it would be difficult for students at first just because they have been used to one way of motivation for so long and the idea of doing it for the grade would be so ingrained in their mindsets. Because of this, I think the change would start off slow and gradually increase through time.

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