Monday, February 22, 2010

The suprising truth about what motivates us.

Daniel Pink, author of the New York Times best seller 'A Whole New Mind', latest book 'Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us' is a must read for educators who want to ensure all their students learn. This is a book that focuses on the importance of respectful relationships between the adult and the learner. Not only is it a powerful book it is written in an entertaining way.

Daniel Pink’s latest book, ‘A whole New Mind: Drive’, subtitled ‘the surprising truth about what motivates us’, is truly exciting. He writes that for too long school have relied on an extrinsic ‘carrot and stick approach’ (or ‘name and blame’).

The three things, he writes, that motivate us all are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Real learning is achieved when the joy of learning is its own reward

We need to help our students ‘direct their own lives’, to ‘learn and create new things’ and to continually ‘better themselves’ and his challenge to us is apply this to education. Students need clear purposes, immediate feedback and challenges well matched to their abilities Creative teachers, like Elwyn Richardson, have long appreciated the power of personal purpose.

Pink writes to develop creativity teachers need to focus on introducing their students to interesting, challenging and absorbing tasks that, by deepening learning and by doing ones best, are reward in themselves. An obsession with goals ( implicit in our governments standards) and extrinsic rewards are problematic to Pink as they narrow focus, reduce risk taking, encourage dependency, replace intrinsic motivation, and crush creativity.

Quoting Deci and Ryan (experts on intrinsic motivation) Pink writes that, ‘If there is anything fundamental about our nature it’s the capacity for interest. Some things facilitate it. Some things undermine it.’ It is this inner drive to follow interests that must be protected all costs. As Jerome Bruner wisely wrote many years ago, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.’

What creates failure is something as simple as what Pink calls lack of ‘grit’ – the ability to persist and not give up. Young children, he says, are born curious and self directed but all too often this is lost because formal schooling has ‘flipped their default setting’.

Students need to learn to make choices over what they do and how they do it .We are all born to be players not pawns and we all resent compliance.

Pink writes enthusiastically about the research of psychology professor Carol Dweck who believes that the ability to learn or fail is in our heads. What we think shapes what we learn, or fail to learn. If kids believe they are born ‘smart’ (or ‘dumb’) learning is difficult. Smart people don’t like new learning that involves risk and ‘dumb’ kids just don’t even try. In contrast, if students see learning (working towards mastery) as a result of their continual effort, they find learning easier and take setbacks in their stride.

Developing positive mindsets in our students would be preferable to wasting time and energy implementing doubtful standards.

Principals ought to keep these well researched ideas about teaching and learning in mind and focus on creating motivating environments for both teachers and students to achieve autonomy, personal mastery and a sense of purpose.

We must not let the distraction of ‘new’ standards ( or even that technocrats who have made us worry about literacy and numeracy details) cause us to forget what education for a creative age is all about.

Learning is about personal meaning making; developing Pink's autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose for all students.

Schools, with their genesis in a mass produced industrial age, are not good at this.

Personalising learning is the real challenge. One that creative teachers have always tied to do against the 'scientific' best practice tide.


gregcarroll said...

is a great book - reading it at the moment. It sprung to mind for me about how we have a 'carrot and stick' minister and 'Motivation3' profession. Perhaps that is at the root of much of our conflicts over National Standards?
We don't need to be whipped or coaxed to do a good job! We are in the profession because we want to be here - certainly not for the money, or supposed 'holidays.
Pink would say if nothing else the national Standards are a poor way to manage our profession; and following his thesis doomed to failure in the long term.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Greg.

Had fun surfing through your blog the other day. Keep up the great work.Best wishes