I’m having a great summer hanging out with my kids. They are active little girls that are busy playing soccer and doing some swimming lessons. My youngest daughter was in her third attempt in “Sea Otter”. Her big stumbling block? She needed to attempt to get her whole head under water. For the last year, she has been full out refusing. So what did I resort to? Bribery. Huh. I promised her an ice cream cone for the whole family if she gave it a try. And, well, it worked! She bobbed, wiped the water from her eyes, turned to me and screamed: “Mommy, do I get an ice cream?”. It was cringe-worthy. I sighed and gave her the thumbs up.
Another anecdote before I get to my point. Once a week, we head to the public library to take out some books. They have a reading program there. I asked my oldest daughter if she wanted to take part. You get rewards and prizes for reading, doing an occasional book chat with the librarian. She said: “No, that’s okay Mom… we do lots of reading at home”. She is intrinsically motivated to read, the rewards are not necessary. For her, the joy of reading is its own reward.
At the end of the school year, a couple of teachers I know recommended a book called “Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. It’s actually written with a business or economist audience in mind. However, it’s not hard for an educator to make connections to what motivates us and our students. It goes into a topic we have a lot of first hand experience with but do not always fully understand.
You may or may not know that I was a French Immersion teacher. Every year I started to same way. I began the school year with the expectation that my students speak French in the classroom. They had to address me in French. We had certain times during the day when they had to speak French – to me and to each other. They almost always did great at speaking in French with me. However, getting them to speak French with each other in the classroom was much more difficult. Complicated reward systems and, dare I say, punishment systems would be worked out by both students and the teacher. And they would work… for a while… until they didn’t. So I would switch the game up, tweak it as needed. And this system would work, but for an even shorter period of time.
In this book, I learned that extrinsic rewards only work for algorithmic task (routine work that follows a formula or set of instructions that can be done automatically). However, rewards and punishments do not work for heuristic tasks (non-routine tasks that require creativity and conceptualizing). According to Pink, when rewards and punishments are used in heuristic tasks, studies show that they can “extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, and crowd out good behaviour. They can also give us more of what we don’t want: They can encourage unethical behaviour, create addictions, and foster short-term thinking”.
My first daughter was not intrinsically motivated to do a bob in her swimming lessons. It was a routine type behaviour – so the reward works. But rewarding my other daughter to learn to read is not a good idea. She is already motivated to read. Her reward is the activity itself. Rewards could mess that up and even do long term damage.
Pink continues with the three elements that he feels are essential to motivation. He uses the acronym “AMP” – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. People like being autonomous (being in charge of our own actions). Mastery is a mindset – it requires you to see yourself as someone who can continue to learn and that your intelligence can grow and that it is not “finite”. As for purpose: we also want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to understand “why” we are doing what we are doing.
Is is just me or does the whole autonomy, mastery and purpose idea really fit well into inquiry based learning? Not to mention the links I made between a few business models in Pink’s book and “genius hours” and “self organized learning environments”. There is so much more to this book than I can get to in this blog.
So how could I have helped my students understand this in an FSL (or any classroom for that matter – be it Math, Science or any other of the subjects)? How could I have promoted autonomy in language learning? How could I have encouraged them to have a better growth mindset? How could I have better helped them understand the value and purpose in learning a second language?
When in comes to the “shifts” in the new curriculum and in the strategies FSL teachers are using with students, I think we’re on the right track. We help students become more autonomous by teaching them to think about the strategies that they use (metacognition). We encourage them to have a better mindset with “Can do” statements encouraged by the CEFR. We help them understand the purpose by setting them up with authentic, real-world, meaningful tasks in the FSL classroom. We use learning goals and success criteria. Perhaps doing more of this would have helped motivate them to speak French.
Pink goes on to explain that “offering praise and feedback rather than things people can touch or spend” is a much better idea. This provides “useful information rather than an attempt to control”. Here’s a neat flow chart found on p.67 of the book that details when you should use rewards:
And so now that I have a better understanding of motivation, I want to delve into better understanding of how the brain learns language. I’m a bit preoccupied with right and left side of the brain. Routine tasks happen in the left side of the brain. Non-routine tasks happen in the right side. Language learning happens in the left – so what does this mean? Fortunately, a colleague has recommended this book which I am hoping with help me connect the dots in my own little inquiry.
And what’s motivating me to do all this? Well “AMP” of course. I’m being autonomous (but let’s not confuse this with independent – your comments, recommendation and clarification are welcome) in my exploration of this topic. I’m thinking and acting. I’m growth minded for sure – I do not think that my understanding of this topic is limited. I’m looking to build and deepen my understanding about why rewards didn’t work in my FSL classroom. Finally, my purpose is to share my own understanding with anyone who reads this blog and the other educators that I collaborate with that might be interested. And really, if I get down to it, my ultimate purpose is to help increase student learning.