I have a slightly obsessive relationship with my public library system. My daughters and I use it quite frequently and visit four different libraries regularly. I've got systems that work for me for getting books, renewing books, and returning books. But I'm happiest with my system for putting books on hold. When I find out about a book I want to read, I immediately head to the library's website and put the book on hold. If it's hugely popular, I might be the 627th person on the wait list. That's fine, it'll eventually get to me and I'll be excited to read the book. (If I don't put it on hold because of the wait list I'll just forget about the book and never read it.) If it's an older book and I don't have to wait, I have a decision to make. Sometimes I have a ridiculous stack of books by my bed waiting to be read, most of them from the library. I may not feel I can get to that book right away. If so, I can put it on hold, but delay the hold for a week, a month, or more. Again, eventually the book will get to me and I'll be excited to read it.
The downside here is that when I don't get a book for quite some time, I cannot remember why I put it on hold. Sometimes it's obvious, but often I'm left wondering, "Where did I hear about this book? Who recommended it? What made me want to read it?"
That's how I was with Daniel H. Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I picked it up from the library and it set by my bed for a while. I finally began reading it because it was going to have to be returned in a few days and I wasn't in the middle of anything else.
I'm so glad I did. I read it in no time. It's possible I enjoyed it so much and read it so quickly because it completely supports all I believe in about intrinsic motivation. It may not really be a fabulous book, but because it validates my beliefs I enjoyed it.
For example, on page 46, Pink writes:
Amabile and others have found that extrinsic rewards can be effective for algorithmic tasks – those that depend on following an existing formula to its logical conclusion. But for more right-brain undertakings – those that demand flexible problem-solving, inventiveness, or conceptual understanding – contingent rewards can be dangerous.
The idea being that there is a time and place for extrinsic rewards, but that we have to be thoughtful and careful about how they are used. People are often confused when they visit my classroom because I do not have any sort of behavior management system (this was not always true). I believe my students will behave well because they are wonderful people, not because I am threatening or rewarding them.
A lot of Pink's arguments are linked to Carol Dweck's work. Her book, Mindset, is one I reread often because of how it changed my thinking about teaching.
Getting an A in French class is a performance goal. Being able to speak French is a learning goal. “Both goals are entirely normal and pretty much universal,” Dweck says, “and both can fuel achievement.” But only one leads to mastery. In several studies, Dweck found that giving children a performance goal (say, getting a high mark on a test) was effective for relatively straight-forward problems but often inhibited children’s ability to apply the concepts to new situations.
The idea here is not significantly different from the other quote, but ties it directly to school. Plus, it hits on my intense dislike of grades because I believe they are detrimental to genuine learning. Grades are an extrinsic motivator and, in my mind, make students focus on them rather than on asking questions, following their interests, challenging themselves, and learning deeply about something.
Reading this book, I spent a lot of time thinking about what this means in classrooms, of course. But I also thought about education in general. This quote, from pages 90-91 struck me:
A sense of autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude. According to a cluster of recent behavioral science studies, autonomous motivation promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being.
I don't believe teachers (and possibly principals and others in education) feel any sense of autonomy at the moment. Instead of intrinsic motivation to do the best for our students, we are being threatened and offered rewards.
One last quote, from page 76:
If you believed in the “mediocrity of the masses,” as he put it, then mediocrity became the ceiling on what you could achieve. But if your starting point was Theory Y, the possibilities were vast – not simply for the individual’s potential, but for the company’s bottom line as well.
Too often, in education, both big picture and in individual classrooms, we are believing in the 'mediocrity of the masses' and that is going to limit our potential.