This week we finished our studies by listening to Dan Pink discuss his findings on motivation. In his July 2009 Oxford, England TedTalk, Pink rebuts the idea that if...then... motivational strategies work best. Citing research like the Candle Problem, Pink shows that if...then... motivational strategies in which workers are rewarded by getting more pay, or other incentives, while effective in repetitive tasks do not work for the complex tasks of the 21st century. With this in mind we, were asked to reflect on how we might incorporate autonomy, mastery, and purpose into our professional situation.
Last year, I attempted to use some rewards to try and get students to class on time. When students had an excessive amount of tardies (over 12 in a 12 week period) they were assigned a week of lunch detention. After seeing this not be a deterrent for a majority of our students who were habitually late, John Fishback (one of our guidance counselors) suggested that we try something beyond punishment as a motivator. With that in mind, I began offering students in this situation, and for tardies beyond 12, the following incentive. For everyday that you are on time for all of your classes, the next day's lunch detention will be removed. For many students this worked, they stopped being tardy, for a week, to avoid the lunch detentions, but then they would be back in for getting to 15 tardies. At 15 tardies, they received a week of lunch detentions, plus two 1 hour after school detentions. Again they could remove the lunch detentions for being on time daily, and for every 2 consecutive days without tardies the after school detentions would also be removed. Again for a majority of the students this worked, for a week, but there were still some students who got to 18 tardies, which lead to 1 week of lunch detention, 2 after school detentions, and 1 2 hour after school detention to be served on a Wednesday, between the after school detentions on Tuesday and Thursdays.
The incentives at this level were the same, but in order to remove the 2 hour detention, students needed to be on time for every class for 5 consecutive days. Again, this worked for the majority of students, but there were still 2-3 who progressed to ever longer periods of lunch detention, after school detentions, and 2 hour detentions. This example shows that for a routine problem, getting to school on time, the carrot and stick approach would work.
Much like Pink shows though, for tougher motivational problems, like improving grades, students need more than a carrot and stick approach. For these kinds of problems students need more than just being paid, although Steven Levitt in this blog post shows that when faced with the potential loss of money students will do better on tests, they need something that will engage them in what is to be learned. This is a much harder system to design, on the surface, than simply paying learners to do well on a test. But, it is not as hard as it seems to be.
The keys to getting students, and workers, motivated for these higher end tasks according to Pink are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. With these tools, students become engaged in what they are doing. To get our students to do more, we simply need to find ways to give them autonomy and purpose in what they are doing. When I taught at Bremen, this occurred in 1 trimester when I taught US History B by theme as opposed to by chronology. The students looked at American history for the 20th century and created decided on the themes we would study. A majority of what we studied within each of these themes was presented by students in a manner that they chose. The students were motivated, grades improved, and the presentations were incredible. I could not wait to for that class to arrive each day, and I think the feeling was mutual based on conversations we had.
At the E3 Technology Conference this past week at Warsaw High School, Angela Maiers termed this Unleashing Genius, while Kevin Honeycutt would regularly go to students he was teaching with a unique problem or software he wanted the class to use. He would ask them to do him a favor and learn the software, then present it to the students. The student would learn the software, present it to the class, and in an added bonus have an opportunity to shine in front of their peers.
It works for adults to, Kevin got me to spend 2.5 hours creating the Youtube Video below, after a 30 second conversation about a method I use to monitor my daughters' social media posting. The conversation, after a session on parenting and social media, went something like this:
Me: Kevin, have you heard of If This Then That.
Me: You can use it to set up recipes to email you when your children post pictures to Instagram
Kevin: That sounds great, I had heard a little about it but don't know much. Can you do me a favor, can you make a video on that and send it to me via twitter.
Conference ends, I go home, have dinner with my family, spend 2.5 hours producing this over too many takes.
This year, I am focusing on how I can unleash the genius of my students and peers. I am asking at least 3 students each day, and 1 staff member, what their genius is. I am then asking them how they are sharing that genius with the world. All it is really going to take, is to find ways for them to utilize that genius within their classwork.