Podcast for Parents & Teachers: Parents and Teachers Generating Opportunities for Learners’ Intrinsic Motivation - Steve Barkley

Podcast for Parents & Teachers: Parents and Teachers Generating Opportunities for Learners’ Intrinsic Motivation

Parents and Teachers Generating Opportunities for Learners’ Intrinsic Motivation

Research informs us that when tackling tasks that are more complex, success is more likely to occur from intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. How can teachers and parents support learners in building self-determination?  What are the environments that nurture intrinsic motivation leading to increased engagement, persistence, and satisfaction in students’ learning journey?

“The Puzzle of Motivation”

“25 Ways to Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation”

“Why We Do What We Do” 

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Podcast Transcript:
[00:00:00.410] – Steve

Parents and teachers generating opportunities for learners intrinsic motivation. If you reward your children for doing their homework, they will usually respond by getting it done. But is this the most effective method of motivation? No is the answer you’d receive from psychologist Edward Deci, the author of, “Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation. In this podcast, I’ve recorded several examples that illustrate the importance of intrinsic motivation as well as suggestions that teachers and parents can implement to encourage learners to understand and build the power of their self motivation.


[00:00:50.610] – Steve

Whether you are conscious of it or not, intrinsic motivation is something you constantly experience. Whether learning a new skill or taking a course or growing in your career, we all have different motivations and perspectives on what it is that we find rewarding. Sometimes we might be fueled internally when going after a goal and other times we can see the same activity as having more of an extrinsic benefit. Both types of motivation can get us to take action, but intrinsic motivation tends to drive the best outcomes and satisfactions. Relying on extrinsic rewards too often can lead to a loss of value in the rewards and it can even diminish our feeling of intrinsic value over time. There’s a great story about a man who was working at night and he was interrupted each afternoon when a group of kids playing near his house made noise that was waking him up. He implemented the following strategy – he went out to talk to the kids and he said that he was interested in hiring a group of kids to play in his yard each day after school and that he was willing to pay them a dollar for an hour of play after school.


[00:02:34.610] – Steve

The next day the kids were there excitedly played and he handed each of them a dollar. This continued for two or three days. He then met them one afternoon and said that he was having some financial problems and he was going to have to lower their pay to $0.50 for the hour and the students begrudgingly agreed. After two more days, he showed up and said that things were even tighter than he thought and he was going to have to lower the pay to $0.25 for the hour. The children quickly informed him that there was no reason they would continue to play for that amount of money and emptied out his yard. When our behaviors are motivated internally, it increases positive emotions and it generates feelings of satisfaction and meaning and can even help one feel like the progress that is being made over time is something that we are accomplishing. This can continue and build contentment and confidence for the long term. Daniel Pink, presenting in a TED video, gives another great description of the impact of intrinsic motivation. He presents something called, “the candle problem.” Given a cardboard container of thumbtacks, a candle and matches, the task is to find a way to affix a candle to the wall so that it doesn’t drip wax on the floor.


[00:04:25.590] – Steve

The solution requires some out of the box thinking as you need to see the box that is holding the thumbtacks as a resource that you have to work with. When you figure that out, you can dump the tacks out of the box, affix the box to the wall and use it as a holder for the candle, thus catching the wax. But there’s an interesting extension of the candle problem. When two groups were formed and one was told that they were being timed to find an average as to how long it takes people to solve the problem, and another group was told that they were being timed and that the top 25% would be awarded $5 and the highest, quickest person would get $20. The group that was offered the reward, the extrinsic reward, actually took longer. However, if you repeated the experiment dumping the tacks out of the box and leaving the empty box there, now the group that was offered the reward completed it faster. Here’s the researcher’s conclusion: when the task is a straightforward task, straightforward work, knowing what to do, just having to do it, then an extrinsic reward can focus us and promote completion.


[00:05:55.660] – Steve

But when the task requires more complex thinking or problem solving, the extrinsic reward narrows the thinking. Thus, intrinsic motivation is more likely to promote creativity and problem solving. Pink suggests three important areas when looking at motivation. First, autonomy – that is, the ability to direct your own life. Learners should find that as they work hard and learn, they get increasing amounts of autonomy. In other words, more choices. Second is mastery, the opportunity to get better and better at something. See, mastery and success, in effect, becomes its own reward and motivator. The payoff of effort spent practicing or repeating a task is increased mastery. And thirdly, purpose – providing service to something or someone larger outside of ourselves. That’s why relevance is important and it pulls out intrinsic motivation. The link to the Pink TED Talk is found in the lead-in to this podcast along with other articles that are mentioned throughout the podcast. I found this quote in an article while researching intrinsic motivation: “Intrinsic motivation does more than just get you to learn and take action. It also results in more sustained interest, excitement, confidence, persistence, self-esteem and performance over time. That is why many people seek to foster intrinsic motivation.”


[00:08:00.570] – Steve

Here are some elements to explore for promoting your own intrinsic motivation as well as the intrinsic motivation of your learners: First, how much choice is available? As you work with your children, can you provide opportunities for them to make choices about what to learn and how to learn it and when to learn it and where to learn? Look at the opportunities to explore learning with your youngster. That’s not necessarily school connected. When is it that they find learning to be fun? When conferencing with teachers, ask about ways that teachers might be open to building more choices into the learning options that your child is addressing. A second area to consider is goal setting with a plan. The plan should include the actions that one takes in order to reach the goal. As one executes the action, those actions can be celebrated, building confidence in the learner’s ability to execute the needed discipline for success. As progress is made, it reinforces the discipline. I just celebrated my two year anniversary studying German on Duolingo. They sent me a celebratory note. I have met my minimum of 15 minutes of practice for 730 days in a row now.


[00:09:44.330] – Steve

Celebrating the actions precedes celebrating the final outcome. You might explore possibilities with your child’s teacher. Maybe a content area that your child already has interest in is the best place to look at setting a new goal and working on an action plan. Then you can apply the process in a content area where he or she might be struggling. Is there a learning goal that you are engaged in and that you can share with your son or daughter your plan to achieve that goal? A third area to look at is to be careful with rewards and penalties. Some children and adults need an extrinsic reward to help them get started and reinforce the needed behaviors that will support the learning outcome that they’re seeking. Any extrinsic rewards should be for the discipline behaviors, not for achieving the goal. As a teacher, I always encouraged parents who wanted to offer their child a reward for an improved grade to instead reward their child for implementing the needed actions. This might mean setting up a plan such as studying social studies, reviewing and summarizing the notes three times a week for a month. You might reward the child at the end of each week for executing the behaviors.


[00:11:25.710] – Steve

When a strong goal emerges at the end of the month, let the satisfaction of mastering the learning be the reward. Also note that the fear of punishments almost never works. Fear leaves no room for genuine interest, understanding, or a research opportunity. Don’t intimidate. Find the right leverage. Fourth, provide honest and instructive feedback. Despite a misconception that motivation is all about praise, motivation also deals with providing relevant, encouraging criticism. As a learner, I need feedback both on my execution. How does my current writing piece compare with my earlier pieces? Where are signs of progress? And where are signs that similar problems are still present? What would be the next sign of my improvement? At the same time as a learner, I also need feedback on my learning behaviors. Am I practicing the right skills? Am I practicing long enough? If not, what is it that I need to change in my current actions in order to move closer to my goal? A fifth element is to consider encouraging collaboration. Intrinsic motivation tends to flourish when we’re working on a common project. Students and adults enjoy sharing their knowledge or skills and helping others with a struggle or benchmarking our performance against that of our peers.


[00:13:21.570] – Steve

Competition can actually be a form of collaboration. Teamwork combining individual talents can create an ongoing learning experience. How might you and your child work with peers or as a family collaboratively? Building intrinsic motivation by reaching the success of a common project that serves others. A 6th element is to tap passion, curiosity and relevance. Look for ways to connect your child’s learning assignments from school to the world around you and them. Encourage your child’s questions that can drive continued learning. Make sure that teachers are aware of your child’s passions and request insights from teachers on how those passions and interest might be connected to required school learning outcomes. And lastly, share your intrinsic motivation with your children. Talk about the satisfactions that you find as a learner. Why are you choosing to read the book that you’re now reading? When you’re learning at work, share the learning. If your learning is requiring discipline on your part, share how you are dealing with your own motivation to maintain the needed discipline. Talk about the feedback that you’re receiving and how you’re using the feedback to further your mastery of a goal. Look for times that your child might be able to be your teacher, supporting you to learn something that they already know.


[00:15:26.330] – Steve

When I taught first grade at parent conference times, I would ask parents if they could tell me about what I was teaching currently in science or social studies. And when the parents told me in detail a history story that their child brought home, or they told me about their child repeating a science experiment at home that we had done at school, I knew that I had tapped into intrinsic motivation. Carol Dweck, a developmental psychologist well known for her writing about growth mindset, stated it well: If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children won’t have to be slaves to praise. They can have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.


[00:16:31.790] – Steve

As parents and teachers, we can support the building of self determination by creating environments that nurture intrinsic motivation, leading to increased engagement, persistence and satisfaction in students’ learning journey. Your own motivation and satisfaction will grow as you watch your learners develop the rewards of increased self determination. I’d be happy to respond to your thoughts or your questions round this topic of intrinsic motivation. You can reach me at barkleypd.com and as always, thanks for listening.


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