Sunday, December 20, 2009

Internal Motivation

I am biased against extrinsic rewards and motivators, but I’m beginning to consider that they may have a role in teaching students intrinsic motivation. I think my Algebra I students are influenced by and have created a culture which somehow rewards not working (or at least doesn’t penalize it). Now they exhibit learned helplessness. When presented with a task, they don’t know how to get started unless someone tells them how. They seem to be able to do a problem only through pattern recognition and not through any kind of critical thinking or problem solving skills. This seems true even when the lesson has the potential to be engaging and hands-on. I’m beginning to think that I will need to put in a clear set of incentives to encourage students to do their work. I’m hoping that over time, the kids will learn that it can feel good to learn and understand math and then eventually develop a sense of internal motivation. This hypothesis is not supported by anything I’ve read. In fact, from what I read, extrinsic incentives can take the joy and internal motivation out of learning. But at this point, I don’t know what else to try (other than lots of pep talks and hopefully some fun and exciting lessons that will pique their interest).

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