Saturday, November 02, 2013

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

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.
Pages 121-122:
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.


Andrea said...

I use my Shelfari account the way you use your library's hold system. My "want to read" shelf is overflowing. I've had Drive on there for a while now…
I, too, love books that validate my own thinking (blog posts, too), although sometimes I feel impatient, thinking that I should just go ahead and write the book myself.

Even though I've not read Drive, I think often about motivation in classrooms. At my school, I have tried to bring up discussion about grades. The reaction I get is shock, as if I could not be a real teacher, interested in preparing students for their futures. I just spent a headache-filled week, suffering and struggling over putting those ultimately meaningless letters and numbers on report cards. My students are so much more than those little marks, but no one wants to engage in discussion about how we could change from focus on grades to focus on learning and meaningful feedback.

Behavior is another area where I show my different-ness. I believe in building community, based on norms of behavior and modeling those norms. I know my students won't always follow the norms, and that is part of my teaching responsibility. But dangling a prize or reward in order to get them to follow the norms seems totally counter-produtive and, at this stage in my own thinking as a teacher, just weird and silly.
However, because the school culture is based on this type of manipulating children through extrinsic motivation, I again appear as the suspicious outlier. I think the kids are starting to get used to me, though.

Anonymous said...

Love your post! You express so well what I believe in --the value of intrinsic motivation to help our students become lifelong learners. I have not yet read Mindset or Drive, but they've been on my to-read list for a while now and I am very much looking forward. As you point out, the key to motivation is our understanding of the difference between a performance and a learning goal. As you quoted from Dweck's book, both lead to achievement but only one leads to mastery. As teachers, we may equate our students' A grades with our own performance teaching the material. If our students get As, then we've done our job. But this is a very limited view. Instead, we must ensure that our students are able to apply their learning to new situations. Only then have we succeeded. We may be able to motivate our students with extrinsic rewards, but lifelong learning is based on self-directed, autonomous motivation.

@dan_steer said...

Could it be that the fashionable spotlight on intrinsic motivation in the 21st century is in fact a lie designed to get us doing more for less?

I interviewed Eliane Glaser, author of "Get Real" on this topic.You can read it here:

What do you think?