Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Motivation - the drive to learn.

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 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.

Principals ought to keep these well researched ideas about teaching and learning in mind and focus on creating friendly 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 cause us to forget what education for a creative age is all about. Developing positive mindsets in our students would be preferable to wasting time and energy implementing doubtful standards. Personalisation of learning by developing every students' passions , gifts and talents , rather than standardisation and conformity, are the future.

Daniel Pink's book is a must for all those schools and teachers who value creativity .It is an ideal antidote to the current imposition of conforming educational standards

Highly recommended.


Mike said...

Hi Bruce,

There is an interesting clip of Dan Pink discussing these ideas at http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html


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