Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What does Daniel Pink know about motivating students?

That's not a sarcastic or rhetorical question. I read his book Drive about a year ago and just borrowed a library copy of his new book To Sell is Human. I scribbled quite a few margin notes when reading Drive, and listed some thoughts here:

Pink states 3 elements of motivation - autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Generally, I understand this line of thinking, except there are problems applying them to education:

The autonomy element is super hard in a public school setting - give students (and teachers) choice of task (possible), time (can't imagine this can be a true choice!), technique (possible, but perhaps not for teachers given scripted lessons), team (usually not a choice).

The mastery element is easier for students who accept challenges (and "pain" and effort) as a natural part of learning (and achieving success), and very hard for students who give up easily. That's taught at home, before they show up at school

The element of purpose - Very hard for middle (and high?) schoolers to see the purpose for achieving mastery when they will get promoted to the next grade without achieving mastery. So.... That's both developmental (because they are too young to realize they're growing bad habits now, to make choices based on long-term goals) and institutional (social promotion).

Pink states that intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity, and controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity (p. 30) - he lists the 7 deadly flaws of "carrots and sticks" on page 59. I take exception to his reading prize example on p. 58 - if students are given a prize for reading 3 books, many won't pick up a fourth, let alone embark on a lifetime of reading. This glib critique ignores the long-term process and nature of reading, which depends on taking many small steps toward mastery. Not that I'm taking this PERSONALLY or anything, but the teacher in me says, you don't know much about teaching in a public middle school, do you?

One case in point, in the next section, he gives one situation when carrots and sticks DO work - when the task is ROUTINE (p. 62). TA-DA! The skills of reading and writing start with formulas (examples: writing conventions, literature circle roles and tasks), I.e. ROUTINE. These routine tasks develop into habits, and with proper instruction, guidance, and support, and THEN artful and creative reading and writing evolve. (Side note - don't we all know writers who just "naturally" and "creatively" wrote and published a first novel, and readers like us say, hmmm, you could've used some of my "6 traits of writing" lessons.) So how do we motivate students through the formulaic (Pink's word is algorithmic) stages of reading and writing? Pink's own analysis answers: extrinsic motivators.

I can't resist one more: he gives this tip to parents - give your kids allowance and some chores, but don't combine them (p. 177). My reaction: does he have kids? He explains: this sends kids a clear (and clearly wrongheaded) message: in the absence of a payment, no self-respecting child would willingly set the table, empty the garbage, etc. But those tasks are clearly ROUTINE tasks, so based on his analysis, carrots and sticks would be okay.

I've been reading much more this summer than past summers, not sure why, such as the terrific novel Where'd You Go, Bernadette on the plane ride home from our California vacation. The public library has been my reading hero - "just browsing" yielded happy surprises, such as TWO follow-up novels to The Adoration of Jenna Fox (I really didn't know!) and Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook, 7th edition (2013). I cannot believe I didn't know about Trelease's work before yesterday!

Happy summer reading, everyone!

PS - I can't resist sharing a photo of our California trip that included short visits to Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, and Lake Tahoe. This is the Lyell Fork that feeds into (from?) the Tuolumne River at Yosemite.

PPS - can't resist sharing a few other summer pics! Yummy haul from our CSA farm share....

And the first sweater I've managed to finish knitting! I have a knitting attention deficit problem, can't seem to finish big projects. (Cowl scarves, hats, mittens, etc. are my specialty.) This raglan cardigan pattern was a simple, one-piece construction.