Friday, 22 April 2011 21:50

Purpose: The 1st Nurturing Force of Intrinsic Motivation

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In this blog post I begin describing the forces that nurture intrinsic motivation.  There are ten of them, and I will describe one per post over the next few months.  Focusing on and emphasizing these forces helps teachers create an engaging, productive classroom environment that brings out the best in students.  For teachers who may be a bit nervous about the prospect of managing a group of children without relying on rewards and punishments, these forces offer a far more powerful, far more genuine alternative to traditional classroom management approaches that are rooted in Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and rely on extrinsic motivation.


These forces work synergistically to create an environment where quality can flourish.  No extrinsic motivators, either alone or in combination, can come close to producing such results.  No student has ever been rewarded or punished into excellence.  True success comes only when we bring out the very best in our students.  And in order for us to bring the best out of our students, we must appeal to the best in them.  These forces do just that.  

In addition to promoting student desire to engage in specific tasks, these forces benefit a classroom more generally.  Collectively, they build morale and enthusiasm for learning, enhance self-esteem, deepen the sense of connection individuals feel to the classroom and to one another, and increase student willingness to put forth sustained effort.

Nurturing Force #1: Purpose  

The first of my Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning involves establishing a sense of purpose with our students.  The effort to establish purpose requires a number of steps, including the introduction of an aim, development of a class mission statement, application of the seven life roles, and creation of personal mission statements.  All of these steps have been described either in previous blog posts, previous Teaching Tips, or in my book Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8.  Taking these steps helps students find meaning in their work and helps them understand how learning can improve their lives now and in the future.  The connection between establishing purpose and intrinsic motivation is a simple one.  Students who understand the purposes of their learning are more motivated to learn and more willing to commit themselves to academic pursuits than students who don’t.


For teachers new to this type of approach, helping students understand the purposes of their learning means that we begin new units, new lessons, and new activities by addressing the issue of purpose and explaining why we, as a class, are spending the time doing the things we are doing.  Many times, when children ask, “Why do I have to learn this?”, it is seen as a rude or inappropriate question.  I think it’s a terrific question because it shows that children are trying to find meaning in their work and trying to determine the purpose of what teachers are asking them to do.  We need to encourage this type of thinking and do everything in our power to make sure that kids understand the purposes of their learning, i.e., how the work may be relevant to them now and how it may be important to them in the future.

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