motivation in schools.
Self directed learning and
involved in learning
through the ages have been divided as to what learning should be. This
split has always centered around whether children should be made to
learn what others want them to learn, or whether they should be
encouraged to develop those interests that were developing in them
naturally. Should they learn what their government, their society their
parents, their teachers, their schools, want them to learn, or should
they learn what they are interested in learning? There is of course the
third possibility of somehow inspiring students interest in various
ideas and subjects, so that they will become intrinsically motivated in
areas more acceptable to others. This of course has the added benefit
of widening all student learning so that it is as universal as possible
with ever expanding areas of knowledge. This is the world
where students to some degree or other direct their own learning.
What others want students to
no matter how presented can appear controlling. Other's desires
presumably can only be implemented through such
extrinsic motivators of externally applied punishments and rewards.
Allowing students to follow their own interests, by contrast, is
completely intrinsically driven.
Why not? The
arguments against letting students direct their own learning.
The main argument against
this latter student directed learning was
that it would be too confined and limited, not involving the broad
skills and knowledge a traditional curriculum provides. It was also
thought that children were basically lazy and without coercion would be
incapable of learning anything. It was thought children would slack off
and do nothing or chat and play.
The success of
schools that use intrinsic motivation.
Despite these arguments,
intrinsic motivation has been used in schools
successfully for a very long time. The more intrinsic motivation was
allowed to become the primary motivator in a school, the better that
school performed. Although the first schools of this sort were based
more on intuitive beliefs than on hard scientific evidence, they were
nevertheless, hugely successful on nearly all measures of learning,
including examinations and other traditional forms of evaluation. Some
early scientific research was behind the formation of Maria
Montessori's schools and behind A. S. Neil's Summerhill school and the
schools where Psychologist Carl Rogers acted as a consultant. All these
schools provided the world with clear evidence that primarily using
intrinsic motivation worked far better than using any kind of extrinsic
motivators in schools. Rapidly all kinds of innovative schools were
popping up all over the world. There were open schools, free schools,
street schools all with varying degrees of success but almost always
providing evidence of better, deeper, more effective learning and
usually better examination results.
In their book
"Intrinsic Motivation and Self-determination in Human Behavior"
Deci and Ryan give us an account of of how current research in
Intrinsic Motivation has moved into schools, and scientifically
accessed how effective it can be in the process of education. One
account in particular is covered very comprehensively as follows:
"DeCharms (1976) has also
done research that is directly relevant to the issue of intrinsic
versus extrinsic learning effects. DeCharms and his colleagues carried
out a large-scale research and training project in an inner-city school
system. The aim of the project was to create more intrinsically
oriented procedures, developing instructional materials that emphasize
self-determination and promote self-esteem, and consulting with trained
teachers throughout the school year.
Concomitant with the
training and consultation aspect of the project was an
evaluation-research aspect. Classrooms that had trained teachers and
employed the instructional materials were compared with classes that
did not. The primary dependent measure for our current purposes was
learning performance as measured by a standardized achievement test.
Children in classes of trained teachers improved markedly in their
performance on the standardized test relative to the children of
untrained teachers. The facts that children from the trained classrooms
were also more intrinsically motivated and that there was a correlation
between intrinsic motivation and achievement in the untrained classes
strongly suggest that the children's intrinsic motivation mediated the
improvements in the classrooms of the trained teachers.
...When DeCharms and his
colleagues ...undertook [this project] they had a remarkable
effect. Teachers became more autonomy oriented, the classroom climate
felt better to the children, who themselves became more intrinsically
motivated and performed better. Perhaps more concerted efforts by of
this sort by with administrators and teachers (as well as with
politicians and parents) could help achieve the educational goals that
we have outlined and that make the school systems more pleasant and
productive for the staff and children alike.
...The weight of all this
evidence is rather clear. When conditions are created that facilitate
intrinsic motivation, student's learning, particularly conceptual
learning and creative thinking, increases dramatically relative to that
of students in setting that foster extrinsically oriented learning.
Furthermore, as Harter and Connell (1984) have shown, it is likely that
improved learning will have the additional effect of further enhancing
intrinsic motivation, thereby creating a kind of positively synergistic
directed learning an
idea behind student directed learning is that learning is like a good
habit. Habits form because we are rewarded by something intrinsically
pleasurable, and scientific research has shown that there are strong
intrinsic rewards that accompany any
the other hand much of general schooling today still involves the use
rewards and pays little attention to intrinsic motivation. By providing
students with no choice these traditional style schools take away a
child's self-determination, his/her sense of having control over
his/her life. If we take away a child's self-determination in this way
is the normal situation in traditional authoritarian schools where
is no choice) scientific research has shown that intrinsic self reward
becomes diminished and is
suppressed. In an effort to compensate for this schools and teachers
try to remotivate the children with threats and extrinsic rewards. The
child is motivated by the threats or extrinsic reward,s but the
lasts as long as those threats or rewards are in place. Also unfortunately
these threats and extrinsic rewards, have also been shown in in
research by Deci and others, to have the affect of further suffocating
means of resentment caused by perceived
this suffocating of intrinsic motivation continues to occur in many
domain areas of
learning it can eventually lead to a general dampening of
a child's general ability to learn anything.
directed learning and the basics.
directed learning trys to take a different path where the loss of
intrinsic motivation is avoided allowing learning to remain a
pleasurable and joyful activity. Student directed learning places faith
in the idea that if learning is allowed to bloom as a pleasurable habit
a child will automatically learn those bits of knowledge that educators
call basics although not at a particular time. The child will learn
those basic bits of knowledge when it makes sense to that child. In
other words the child will learn the basics when he/she cannot progress
further in their desire to acquire knowledge without learning that
basic bit of knowledge.
bits of knowledge are called basic because without them no domain
knowledge can be acquired for very long. At some point all knowledge
becomes impossible to extend without them. The thinking in traditional
authoritarian schools is that basics should be learned first because
once they are learned all other learning becomes easier. It's sort of
like building on a strong foundation. This is true, but advocates for
student directed learning point out that it is more important to want
to build a building than to build up from the foundations. In fact one
may learn better the need for good foundations if a few buildings fall
down first. In other words wanting to learn is what is important. If
you want to learn the how of structure will in time come later. This
does not mean that basics are unimportant and that teachers should not
try to teach them early. It simply means that teachers should not try
to force children to learn them but rather that teachers have a
responsibility to make the the basics seem as desirable and interesting
as possible so that children will want to learn them as early as
schooling and the basics.
manipulating children to learn brings with it all kinds of negative
associations that deters further learning in those domains affected.
Basics that are forced on children far from making further learning
easier makes it harder. Thus it is better that teachers who are unable
to make the basics desirable to children should forgo teaching them
than force them on children. Thus when basic are learned (and they will
be) they will be learned with only pleasurable associations. Simply put
intrinsic motivation is more important than any structural concerns.
traditional authoritarian schools teachers present students with
knowledge and wonder why the students do not learn it. They are
providing children with pearls of wisdom and the children are not
grateful, interested or attentive. Why is their job so thankless they
think. But why should the child be grateful, they probably have not
make the information interesting, they probably have not tried to
with what the child already knows, they probably have not even tried to
convey their enthusiasm for the subject.
teacher's jobs in enabling student directed learning.
a student directed learning school a teacher's jobs are many and
varied. Not only is their job to facilitate students in learning what
they are already motivated and interested to learn but their job is
also to inform students just what is available to learn and to somehow
excite their interest in new and unusual areas of knowledge. Indeed the
most important job of a teacher in a self directed learning environment
is to induce intellectual contagion in his/her students so that the
knowledge does not stop with the student but is rather passed on to
other students and with it the interest and enthusiasm that accompanied
directed learning is not an environment where children can do or even
learn exactly what they like. There are always constraints placed there
by parents, teachers, society and the institution itself and indeed
none of us can do exactly what we might like. Student directed learning
is rather an environment where there is choice. Sometimes that choice
will be wide and sometimes narrow but always enough so that a child can
feel in charge of his/her own life and learning. It is a place where
learning occurs because children want to learn some particular thing
and the teachers are there to facilitate it. It is a place where
teachers spend most of their time convincing children of the wonder and
joy in learning various areas of knowledge.
immovable object or why we don't use
all this evidence in favor of using more intrinsic motivation in
schools, the education systems in most countries have resisted changing
to where increasingly more and more motivation is tipped toward being
intrinsic. In their book
"Intrinsic Motivation and Self-determination in Human Behavior"
Deci and Ryan explain the continued use of extrinsic motivation in the
"The process of learning, of
elaborating one's internal structures, is intrinsically motivated, and
if supported to do so children would be continually learning without
any need for demands or reinforcements. The problem, however, for
parents and teachers is that intrinsically motivated children would
learn what interests them and avoid what does not. This is a problem,
of course, because society prescribes a set of learnings - academic and
behavioral - that is considered essential and in many cases consists of
things that hold little or no spontaneous interest for the developing
child. Memorizing lists of spelling words has minimal appeal for
fourth-graders, and walking to the auditorium quietly in a single line
is by no means their locomotion of choice. Still, whether right or
wrong, these things have been widely agreed to be useful and necessary,
so they represent primary agendas for for elementary teachers.
From a motivational perspective, such
agendas require the use of extrinsic principles, and it is here we find
superficial similarity but underlying divergence between the behavioral
perspective and our motivational perspective. From the point of view of
behavioral psychology, this like all other learning is a matter of
conditioning. For us, however, although it differs from intrinsic
learning in that it requires the use of extrinsic incentives, it is not
a matter of conditioning behavior. Instead it is a matter of of
prompting integrated self-regulation, an issue that is addressed by
organismic integration theory." [see Deci and Ryan self-determination]
importance of wanting to learn.
From Deci and Ryan's perspective intrinsic
motivation is appropriate because in their theory going to school
is about self regulation.
Thus students need to learn; how to learn, what to learn, when to
and where to learn, and to do that they have to remain wanting to
learn, or relearned to want to learn. This is no small thing. This is
the very essence of learning. If we lose interest in learning our
actual ability to learn under our own volition drops to zero. Our
actual ability to learn is suddenly torn from us and delivered into the
hands of others and chance. In other words with respect to learning we
are no longer have self-determination and thus lose any say we may have
had in our own fate.
reasons that prevent the implementation of intrinsic motivation in
resistance to any
Perhaps the greatest resistance to change in
schools is peoples general resistance to any change. People
are invested in things staying the same. They are emotionally invested
in lack of change and often financially invested in lack of
change. This idea was perhaps best explained in Machiavelli's
he wrote: "It ought to
be remembered that
there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to
conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the
introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator
has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions
and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."
Sometimes resistance occurs as just an
affect. Schools grew up in a time when children were thought to be
unmotivated and thus had to be motivated by others. Everything about
traditional schooling proceeded from this unfounded assumption which
gradually accumulated the emotional resonance of feeling right. Trying
change children back to being self motivated after they have gotten
used to traditional schools and
have already depleted their intrinsic motivation is extremely
for the faint hearted.
Introducing such ideas as intrinsic motivation and
student directed learning in traditional type schools is a massive task
for any school or teacher that wishes to try to improve learning. This
is not impossible but requires a massive effort
of intellect and emotional commitment for which there will be little
gratitude. Everybody will hate it. The teachers the parents and the
children will all hate it. This is not for the faint
hearted as is discussed in what follows.
Hoop, Jump, Biscuit.
Nobody really intended for behaviorist
philosophy to become the philosophy behind schooling. It just seemed
better than threats and punishments for getting children to learn what
parents society and teachers wanted them to learn. To
know, that the traditional and authoritarian schools have taken control
by positive reinforcement to heart, we have only to put ourselves into
the shoes of students and try to see the school experience through
their eyes. This John Holt clearly points out his book
"Freedom and Beyond" as follows.
"First, we should try to see this
situation through the eyes of the student. For years he has been
playing a school game that looks to him like this. The teacher holds up
a hoop and says, 'Jump!' He jumps and if he makes it, he gets a doggy
biscuit. Then the teacher raises the hoop a little higher and again
says, 'Jump!' Another jump, another biscuit. Or, perhaps the student
makes a feeble pretense of jumping, saying, 'I'm jumping as high as I
can, this is the best I can do.' Or, he may lie on the floor and refuse
to jump. But in any case the rules of the game are simple and clear -
hoop, jump, biscuit."
This kind of positive
reinforcement is not a comfortable enjoyable experience but rather one
of a number of pressures to strip students of their individuality and
their ability to contribute to and change society for the better. To
continue click here.
Freedom to Choose.
If, as the behaviorists have
concluded, punishment is not viable as a
motivator, and as the cognitive scientists report, that positive
reinforcement destroys our ability to be creative and to make a
contribution, is the answer then to allow learners to be motivated by
the intrinsic rewards of learning? The answer is mostly yes, but we
must be aware that those unused to freedom of choice may well not be
able accept, or trust, in our efforts to make learning better for them.
John Holt continues from his book
"Freedom and Beyond" as follows.
"Now along comes a teacher who says,
'We aren't going to play that game any more, you're going to decide for
yourselves what you're going to do.' What is the student going to think
of this? Almost certainly, he is going to think, 'They're hiding the
hoop! It was bad enough having to jump through it before, but now I
have to find it.' Then after a while he is likely to think, 'On second
thought, maybe I don't have to find it. If I just wait long enough,
pretty soon that hoop is going to slip out of its hiding place, and
then we'll be back to the old game where at least I know the rules and
In short, if we make this
offer of freedom, choice, self-direction to students who have spent
much time in traditional schools, most of them will not trust us or
believe us. Given their experience, they are quite right not to."
Fear of Freedom.
Until they have discovered
the intrinsic rewards of choosing or making
the decision themselves, we cannot even expect students to be glad of
the opportunity. There are many reasons why they might fear freedom,
but the main reason is that if they choose or make the decision they
must take the responsibility for it. If they do not make the decision,
they can not be blamed, not even by their self. If it goes wrong, they
were just doing what they were told. They can blame somebody else.
teacher must rise above all this.
Teachers must not expect
gratitude from the students. If you as a teacher offer a choice to
students, it is
not because you think they are worthy of help, but because it is the
right thing to do. John Holt continues about this in his book "Freedom
and Beyond" as follows.
"We must try to understand and
accept this, without getting hurt feelings, or taking it as some very
personal kind of rejection. This may be far from easy. A school, or
teachers, or teacher, that offers students very much choice has
probably gone to some trouble to be able to do so, and even risk - of
misunderstanding or hostility from parents or community or
fellow-teachers. If after we have run this risk to give students some
freedom, choice, and control in their learning, they show us that they
do not believe or trust us, we may be tempted to think,
'Well, you weren't worth going to this trouble for in the first place,
the hell with you, we'll go on doing things in here the old way if
that's what you want.' But we must resist this temptation, and keep our
offer of freedom out on the table even though at first it is not
believed or trusted."
The Cruel Deception.
Students are right to be
skeptical about this, because they are in fact
often being deceived about this. John Holt in "Freedom and Beyond"
exposes this for us.
"Many parents, and more than a few
educators, have seized on the idea of open classrooms, freedom and
choice, not as a way of having students direct their own learning,
explore the world in the way that seems best to them, but only as a way
of getting them to do conventional schoolwork more willingly and hence
more rapidly than before. In short, they believe in freedom only as a
'motivating' device. This is a cruel deception bound to lead us to
disappointment. If we have such an idea anywhere in our minds, students
will be aware of it, even if we are not. They will see the offer as not
being real. They will know that the old hoop is still there, but
The intrinsic motivation to be learning throughout life.
When learning in
the more traditional schools, the main type of motivation students are
exposed to is extrinsic motivation. For many, perhaps most students,
that means being exposed to mostly extrinsic motivation to learn for a
period of 15 or more years. Unless those students were lucky enough to
have found some way of retaining their intrinsic motivation, the
chances are their intrinsic motivation to learn will have wilted away
to nothing. After such a long period of having learning associated with
extrinsic motivation, current research seems to indicate that intrinsic
motivation will fall, and continue to fall till it is practically
nothing. We should not be greatly surprised then, to find that most
people basically stop learning after they leave the extrinsic
motivators of schools. Oh sure, they read novels and newspapers and
watch the news on TV, and of course pick up the odd bit from the web.
But such people are just skimming without delving deeply
into any areas of knowledge. On the other hand, students who learned at
school, mostly through their own intrinsic motivation, leave school
wanting more. They leave with their intrinsic motivation in tact and
with a deep feelings of pleasure while learning. This pleasure insures
that their desire to learn enthusiastically and deeply in many
knowledge domains remains with them for their entire lives.
and administrators of education have a duty to try to maintain these
high levels of intrinsic motivation in students, by facilitating
students in learning what they are interested in, and guiding and
exciting students to develop other interests. In doing this teachers
and administrators can expect no reward no gratitude. Every hand will
be against such visionaries, other administrators, other teachers,
parents and the students themselves yet without such visionaries human
motivation to learn will gradually be suffocated. The only reward
teachers and administrators can expect is an intrinsic reward, the
conviction that such action is the
right thing to do. Or it can be seen as a sacrifice needed to be made
humans survive in a better world.