This course will become read-only in the near future. Tell us at if that is a problem.

Week 3A (Oct. 11-Oct. 17)- Motivation as the road to engagement

Motivation is a tricky science.  We are often committed to methods of motivation that are contrary to all studies on what motivates people.  I believe it is because we have been culturally trained to behave in certain ways that seem to us "common sense" and yet turn out to be inaccurate.  

Below are a selection of activities and readings. 

Choose at least one activity to carry out.

Choose at least one article  to read. 

Use the comment feature to discuss  your thinking below.


Take a look at this video of Daniel Pink, the writer of Drive for thoughts on what does and does not motivate. What do you think of his ideas being implemented in the classroom? (18 min. video)

Alfie Kohn is another leading speaker on motivation in the classroom.  His book, Punished by Rewards, challenges educators to reconsider the use of rewards and punishments in the classroom.  Are his ideas workable in a classroom environment? (47 second video)
So is this teacher doing what Alfie and Daniel advise against? (1.5 min. video)
Todd Whitaker speaking both on punishment and its relationship to good teaching versus poor teaching. Do you agree with his assessment? Can you implement his ideas on motivation? How? (2 min. video)
Is this contrary to what Pink, Kohn, and Whitaker advocate? (3 min. video)
Articles on Motivation:

Task Discussion

  • Amanda   Oct. 17, 2011, 2:23 p.m.

    As I watched the Daniel Pink and Alfie Kohn videos and read the Wikipedia article on motivation, I was repeatedly drawn back to the idea of mechanical vs. cognitive tasks.  Each of these point to the fact that incentivizing mechanical tasks is extremely effective.  Clean your room, you can have dessert. Do your homework, you can have a star.  My school follows the PBIS model and our administrators rave about the successes of the program.  If our students follow the rules, comply, obey, they get wristbands.  If a teacher writes too many behavior referrals, s/he is called down for meeting about how to improve the classroom management.  The result...fewer referrals in our school for the past two years than the previous five!  Success....right...

    Seth Godin's book Linchpin includes a section entitled "We get what we focus on."  I think this directly applies to this external motivation in schools.  If a school focuses on training students to follow the rules and get higher test scores, that will most likely happen.  But what service is that to students?  In the world after their formal education period, are they prepared to accomplish great tasks?  Or simply follow a new set of rules?  

    I do think there has to be a median between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the elementary and middle school atmosphere.  Many of these students are so controlled by their "drives" that intrinsic motivation to read an article is never going to win out over their extrinsic motivation for Doritos.  The Wikipedia articles stated that intrinsic motivation in schools drops between third and ninth grades.  My first thought was...isn't third grade about the time when schools begin to use standardized testing as a measure for success?  My second thought was...isn't high school about the time when students can choose what they learn?  I'm not sure how to find a happy median between the two, but I feel it is essential.  Pink discusses the ideas of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the new model for employee motivation.  Letting elementary students have these three without any guidelines would probably be disasterous, but there needs to be some time in the day where students can experience success in these fields as well. 

  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 19, 2011, 10:35 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Amanda   Oct. 17, 2011, 2:23 p.m.

    Amanda, your thinking seems to parallel mine.  I know I WANT intrinsic motivation to work, but my experience tells me it doesn't work for all children all the time.  My fear, however, is that by using extrinsic motivators, we are building the wall against the formation of intrinsic motivation.  How to stop that from happening and still have some semblance of control?




  • Amanda   Oct. 24, 2011, 1:39 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 19, 2011, 10:35 p.m.

    This is definitely a sticky situation!  I think it requires balance and is different for just about every student.  Home life also plays a huge role in this, I think.  For students without support systems at home, sometimes extrinsic motivation is the primary way for them to get their act together at school.  Of course, this doesn't apply to all children in these types of situations.  

    I think the best we can do is meet the students where they are and attempt to wean them off the extrinsic motivation as much as possible.  Not everyone will be instrinically motivated in everything; I think that's just human nature.  But, if we can encourage it in all of our students, it has the opportunity to blossom.

  • Jessica Powell   Oct. 16, 2011, 9 p.m.

    The more I read these articles, watch videos, and read everyone’s comments, it seems to me the harder it is to specify what motivates each and every student in both student engagement and model behavior. There are so many different types of people that to me, it means that there are many different types of ways to motivate students. I have seen PBS used in schools before, and have seen some students benefit from positive reinforcements. However, when some students know that no reward will be given for certain actions, then they will refuse to do it because there is no reward. It makes certain students expectant for a reward for every good behavior. What this means is that it has motivated them extrinsically but not intrinsically. On the other hand, some students will still not want to act a certain way even if they know they will be extrinsically rewarded. If they have not found an intrinsic purpose to acting a certain way, they won’t. What I have seen work most effectively is to give rewards when students least expect it. In other words, let students know that there is a possibility that they will be extrinsically rewarded (especially when helping others), but not give them a reward each time. This lessens the fallacy of altruism and begins to build an intrinsic incentive for students to behave “good” all the time.

  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:26 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jessica Powell   Oct. 16, 2011, 9 p.m.

    It is interesting you should say this, Jessica.  I am on chapter three in Drive, and that is something Pink talks about.  He says that rewards given after the fact and "unexpected" do not have the same negative impact on intrinsic motivation.  How did you arrive at this idea?

  • Jessica Powell   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:37 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:26 p.m.

    This is not an original idea that I have had. It was something that I discussed with several of my college professors and something that my co-operating teacher during student teacher happened to recommend. As I teach Psychology (this is in regards specifically to altruism and the fallacy of altruism), it really seems to make a lot of sense.

  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:42 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jessica Powell   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:37 p.m.

    Could you give me an example of how you might use this principle in a classroom situation?  (I think I am understanding but would like more imagery for my blossoming learning).  Thanks!

  • Jessica Powell   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:50 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:42 p.m.

    Sure! In many schools there are systems to reward children (like the stars in the one video) or as in the one school I worked at they were called "Eagle Bucks" which was part of a system that also allowed children to earn rewards for good behavior. Most times students are aware of types of activities that will earn them these points or dollars so they can trade them in at a later point. I would have students do something and then say, "Where's my Eagle Buck?" They expected to be rewarded instantly. (I would generally not give a buck to a student due to attitude). In these cases, students were generally actively rewarded for their behavior, as you said, right away. They know what will get them these points/bucks, so they only did these activities when they knew they would be rewarded.

    However, in some systems, students are rewarded after the fact. They are not told what they did or not given their reward right away, but they still receive these rewards. For instance, the students who were always the most grateful and the most likely to actually feel good about their own actions (hence the intrinsic reward) was when I would give them an Eagle Buck after the fact. They didn't do it for the reward, but rather they realized that what they did was a godo thing and were more likely to do it again because of the good feeling they received about realizing what they did was a good thing. Does this make sense?

  • Tracy Q   Oct. 14, 2011, 8:04 a.m.

    I watched Kohn ( and have seen him in person several times and he is wonderful) as well as Daniel Pink.

    I struggle with the concepts that students don't want extrinisic rewards maybe just because I use them and find them and easy strategy ( I am being honest)

    Several years ago I did a survey with students and asked them what would motivate them to complete their work and the answers were things like-

    give me money

    buy me a car

    and other very tangable items

    We have tried very hard at our school to show our at-risk youth that you are getting money for passing classes as your high school diploma is worth a lot of money in the real world.  I am thinking of running my survey again for results for the survey assignment in this course and sharing results-


  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 16, 2011, 11:24 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Q   Oct. 14, 2011, 8:04 a.m.

    Would love to see the results you get, Tracy Q.  I hope you will share them with us.

  • AnnetteV   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:29 a.m.

    I don’t entirely agree with Alfie Kohn.  I don’t know about you, but getting praised for a job well done was something that encouraged me to carry on when I was a child.  I was shy and not confident in my ability to do things.  When I received praise it boosted my self-efficacy.  It also made me feel more kindly towards the teacher/adult and I would work more confidently in the presence of that person as a result.  Perhaps praise depends on the personality of the individual student.

    Todd Whitaker talks about relationships between students and teachers.  As he said students who are mad/angry want revenge – disengagement with learning.  This disengagement would probably present itself as disruptive behavior in class – of his/her own learning and of others.  Therefore relationships, rapport and knowing our students is important to help achieve a positive learning environment.  Knowing how to manage students who have challenging behaviours is something that Joyce Tsang  explored using her Nice News Job strategy.  I like this strategy as it is advocating positive thoughts and actions – which promotes changing behaviours and a positive teaching environment.  I believe advocating of positive thinking and seeing the good in people would also help students later on when they are in the working environment – when they are faced with challenging people.

  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 13, 2011, 11:23 p.m.
    In Reply To:   AnnetteV   Oct. 13, 2011, 3:29 a.m.

    I really get what you are saying regarding Alfie Kohn's positions. External praise has been a stalwart in my teaching repertoire for 25years.  I am feeling very challenged right now as I read Pink's book Drive.  I do not know the answer and am looking hard to know how a teacher manages a classroom of 25-35 kindergartners without some sort of external system to get and keep their attention and behavior.  Would love some solid answers.

  • Tracy Q   Oct. 14, 2011, 7:53 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 13, 2011, 11:23 p.m.

    I enjoyed Drive very much and it made me think about working with adults a  supervisor.  I see staff who want a sense of ownership and the ability to make decisions that is far more important than $

    I wonder if students especially high school students feel the same way?
    How can we give students this ownership over their own education in our society?

  • Grant   Oct. 10, 2011, 10:31 a.m.

    I think what Alfie Kohn is describing is what we would like our children to learn in the classroom as well.  We would like our students to be intrinsically motivated; however, in many cases students are looking for a reward of sort to learn something in our classrooms.  Whether it is for good grades, a reward from their parents (money, cell phone, videogames, etc.), the teacher to telling them good work, and a whole lot more.  It is difficult to get student's to want to learn because they truly want to.


    However, I do think that we can accomplish what he is trying to say.  I think that if we provide lessons and units that students are interested in and engages them, we won't have to reward them for doing something that they want to learn.  I think in a sense the student is rewarding them self by learning something new and building on their education or intelligence. :)


    I also read the basics on Motivation.  I think that in a way we don't do a good enough job as a society in putting in the fore front how important education really is.  Many students do not see the value in education until they are in the real world and look back and think or wish they would have tried harder.  In many kids eyes the motivation is money, they get narrow-minded with what they believe is the way to go to their goal.  Many believe there is a quick way and do not see how valuable an education can be to them.


    I think as teachers we need to try to help students see the value in education and help move their motivation towards having a good education which help move them towards their other goals which motivate them.  I think if we could do that we would have people that relied less on handouts and more who can provide for themselves and become self sufficient.  There are many statistics that show the more education you have the more money you will make.  There are plenty of exceptions to the rule but I think too many students believe they will be able to make it rich quick.

  • Bonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.   Oct. 13, 2011, 11:25 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Grant   Oct. 10, 2011, 10:31 a.m.

    Part of what you describe, Grant, feels to me like it comes from our culture already putting children on the path of expecting rewards and praise.  Then as educators we are sealing the deal so to speak.  Scary, the power and problems inherent in extrinsic motivators.