During the ASCD conference, I attended Jon Erwin’s seminar titled “The Classroom of Choice: Giving Students What They Need and Getting What You Want.” It was phenomenal! He has great ideas for motivating students. Below you will find a summary of some of his key ideas. His book, The Classroom of Choice, offers practical suggestions for meeting each of the 5 basic needs in your classroom. If motivating students is an issue for you, I highly recommend Erwin’s material!
Effective Teachers are Great Classroom Managers;
Effective Classroom Managers are Great Teachers!
Effective managing and great teaching are two sides of the same coin. Teachers have a great deal to manage: space, time, materials, and, of course, students – including students’ physical, mental, and emotional states. If teachers manage all this successfully, they experience what many refer to as the “teachable moment.” Once successful in achieving the teachable moment, great teachers engage their students in instructional strategies that appeal to students’ needs and interests. Doing so extends the teachable moment into teachable hours, days, and even weeks. When students are engaged in effective instruction, the need for behavior management is greatly reduced and student achievement dramatically increases.
The three rules of effective management and effective teaching:
RELATIONSHIPS! RELATIONSHIPS! RELATIONSHIPS!
The key to effective classroom management and higher student achievement is developing supportive, trusting relationships in the school at all levels. One of the best ways to develop and maintain these essential relationships is to appeal to INTERNAL MOTIVATION.
External vs. Internal Motivation
One of a teacher’s most important concerns is the motivation of his students. Unmotivated students do poor work or no work, learn very little, and often exhibit irresponsible or disruptive behaviors. Motivated students do quality work, learn well, and behave responsibly. There are two ways of approaching the job of motivating students. One approach is appealing to external motivation. External motivation relies heavily on incentives or rewards (positive reinforcement) and consequences or punishment (negative reinforcement). The other general type of motivation is internal motivation, with depends on motivation to come from needs or drives within the students.
The Problems with External Motivation
External motivation is the most prevalent type of motivation used not only in classrooms, but in the world at large. Think of the ways people try to “make” other people do what they want them to do. Whether it is a teacher trying to persuade a student to work, a parent trying to get a child to get ready for school, a husband trying to talk his spouse into doing a household chore, a boss trying to get his employees to work harder, or one nation trying to force another nation to change a policy or ideology, you will often see one or more of the following methods of persuasion (or a variation) being used: asking, reasoning, telling, rewarding (bribing), negotiating, tricking, guilting, nagging, yelling, threatening, criticizing, punishing, or even physically forcing.
One of the problems with these strategies is that none of them are guaranteed to work. If a student, or anyone else, has the mindset not to comply, there is nothing you can do to make him, except possibly using physical force. Unless safety is the issue, that strategy is illegal in most schools. Besides, the behavior we are most interested in is learning, and you can’t physically force anyone to learn.
Another problem with these external motivators is that they actually prevent learning from taking place. In Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen explains the effects of threats on the brain. Perceived threats, which could include many of the external motivation strategies listed above, from yelling to physical force, create conditions that many students regard as highly stressful. When students are feeling highly stressed, “thinking and memory are affected . . . the brain’s short-term memory and ability to form long-term memories are inhibited” (1998). Feeling highly stressed, students’ brains tend to go into the fight-or-flight response, which may be manifested in school through all kinds of acting out or withdrawing behavior. Clearly, “the carrot” approach to motivation is counterproductive.
What then of the “carrot”? Surely rewards provide an incentive for students to behave appropriately and perform well. Contrary to conventional wisdom, rewards are no more effective than threats and punishment in motivating students. In his book Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn examines the research on external incentives and concludes that the “do this and you’ll get that” approach to motivation fails. Citing hundreds of studies, Kohn discusses the reasons that incentives like stickers, pizza parties, free time, trips to the toy barrel, and even “A’s” do not work. The most important reason for teachers may be that “rewards change the way people feel about what they do” (1993). He explains that when a student hears, “If you do this then you’ll get that” the message to the learner is “There must be something wrong with this if you have to give me that to get me to do it.” Thus, what we are doing when we offer a reward for learning or following classroom rules, whether we realize it or not, is “killing off the interest in the very thing we are bribing them to do” (1993). Jensen echoes Kohn’s concerns regarding rewards, warning that “students will want [rewards] each time the behavior is required; they’ll want an increasingly valuable reward . . . [and that] the use of rewards actually damages intrinsic motivation” (1998).
Another problem with external motivators is that they tend to rupture relationships. Think of when you were last on the receiving end of any of the strategies listed above (with the exception of asking). When we are feeling manipulated, either blatantly or with subtlety, the level of trust in the relationship is damaged. Subsequently the next time that person tries to get us to do something, we are even less inclined to comply. Therefore, the person trying to motivate us will most likely intensify the external motivation by either increasing the reward or moving down the list above from bribing to threatening or worse, further eroding the relationship.
The Alternative: Appealing to Intrinsic Motivation
Instead of coercing or manipulating students, teachers can design their management and instructional strategies to appeal to what truly motivates them. A clear, practical model that explains intrinsic motivation is Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory.
The Components of Intrinsic Motivation: The Five Basic Human Needs
According to Choice Theory, all human behavior is purposeful. The purpose of all behavior is to meet one or more of the following Basic Human Needs:
1. To Survive – The need to survive includes all the physical needs: to eat, seek shelter, get enough rest, go to the bathroom, etc. There is also a psychological component, however. Because humans have the ability to think about the future, seeking security and order are part of the need to survive. In the classroom, students need a safe, orderly, structured environment to learn and to thrive.
2. To Love and Belong: The need to make social connections, to develop strong relationships, and to feel accepted is another powerful motivator. Humans are social creatures and learning almost always has a social component. Students need to feel like an integral part of a classroom, and enjoy making connections to the teacher and their peers.
3. To Gain Power: When Choice Theorists use the word “power,” they are talking about personal empowerment – the need to gain knowledge and skills, to achieve, to be competent, to feel successful and important. In the classroom, this means being listened to, achieving, learning, being successful, and gaining recognition for their achievements. Helping students gain power is what school is really all about.
4. To Be Free: There are two types of freedom – freedom to and freedom from. Freedom to refers to the need to make independent choices. Freedom from refers to the avoidance of pain, physical and emotional, and boredom. In the classroom, this need translates into the need for autonomy and for novelty.
5. To Play: Like other intelligent species, humans need to play, and through play they learn important skills and information. Any inspiring classroom is full of laughter and fun.
By appealing to these five basic needs, teachers can dramatically increase student achievement and reduce behavior problems. By ignoring these needs, teachers are asking for problems.