Quick-fire strategies: I've Changed My Mind on Intrinsic Motivation

Quick-fire strategies: I've Changed My Mind on Intrinsic Motivation

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Is extrinsic or intrinsic motivation more powerful in driving student success?

In this episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we explore the transformative power of intrinsic motivation in driving long-lasting behavioural change. Join us as we share our evolving perspective on motivation and uncover the secrets to unlocking students' true potential.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

It's about getting children to feel good or proud of their actions for their own sake. It's about developing a values based education and curriculum, where children recognise the value of kindness and holding open doors and taking turns to speak in class, because that's respectful and I want to be a person who is kind and respects others. 

Hi there, Simon Currigan here hope you're well. And welcome to the last quickfire episode of school behaviour secrets for the summer. In the shorter Quick Fire episodes, which we published during the holidays, I've been sharing a technique or an insight or a strategy that can have an impact for the children that you work with all in 10 minutes or less. Next week, we'll be going back to our standard school behaviour secrets format, as children return to school in England, and in this week, I wanted to look at which is more powerful for motivating your students. Is it extrinsic motivation, or intrinsic motivation? 

And I've got to say, recently, I've changed my view on this, and I'll explain why later in the episode. First of all, let's look at what extrinsic motivation actually is and how it works. Because it's the form of motivation that's easiest to understand and to implement. And it's the most widely understood extrinsic means from the outside. So when we think about extrinsic motivation, what we're thinking about here really is good old fashioned carrot and stick. And it's the part that most school behaviour policies focus on. In fact, it's the part that most school behaviour policies exclusively focus on in the classroom, extrinsic systems look like rewards. When kids do the right thing. They put up their hand to answer a question and they wait politely, and they are awarded a house point or a dojo or a token, or they get a sticker, they get a thing from outside themselves to reinforce that positive behaviour, and encourage them to repeat it in the future. So when we see kids putting stickers on a happy face chart, that's extrinsic motivation. So is hot chocolate with the head, tokens you can exchange for things in a school shop, a postcard sent home to tell your parents about good behaviour. These are all things from outside done to the student by the adult to encourage positive behaviour. And technically adult praise and recognition is also a form of extrinsic motivation to although that's an interesting one. And I'll come back to that in a minute. But extrinsic systems aren't just rewards, they're also punishments. And by the way, if you think negative reinforcement is the same thing as a punishment or a politically correct term for a punishment. It isn't. Head back to Episode 77, titled Negative Reinforcement isn't what you think it is, for more information. 

Anyway, back to punishments. A punishment is an extrinsic way of discouraging an inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour. Commonly in schools. This looks like detentions or internal isolation or being kept in a playtime or losing part of your break an adult raising their voice or telling a child off an adult frowning or shushing a child for talking at the wrong time, suspensions and permanent exclusions or extrinsic motivations or expulsions as they're called in other parts of the world. The idea being that if a child knows an unpleasant consequences waiting for them, if they do the wrong thing, they are less likely to do it. Everything we've talked about so far are extrinsic motivators, positive ones, and negative ones. And behaviour policies tend to be full of them. extrinsic motivators are easy to explain, especially to parents or people like Ofsted, who intuitively understand extrinsic motivation because it's the way that most adults are motivated in society, especially since Victorian times, essentially, do your job and get paid money being the extrinsic motivator there or break the law and go to prison. Modern research has cast doubt on how well extrinsic motivators work, just to take that last example of going to prison if extrinsic motivation was the answer, all our prisons would be empty because potential criminals would be put off committing crimes by the consequences of their actions going to prison. And clearly that doesn't work because prisons off full to the brim with prisoners. And we're building more prison cells, not less of them. This research also states that extrinsic motivation doesn't tend to be very long lasting, bringing it back to schools, these systems will usually have a big impact in the short term. But once you move into the mid to long term, kids get bored of them, and they have less and less impact. 

So you introduce house points for politeness, say in the autumn term, and you have kids falling over themselves to open the door for you. By summer term, they're running off down the corridor and letting the door slam in your face. And when you pull them up and ask them look, Are you motivated to get a house point because you open the door? Theyre gonna shrug their shoulders and say, Nah, it's just a house point. And then you have to offer them two points to hold open the door. And that works for a bit, and then you need three house points. And then what you've got there is house point inflation. But that's another problem. 

Another issue is that these systems tend to encourage tit for tat behaviour, or hold open the door. But I'm only doing it for a house point or a dojo or a sticker, or whatever I'm being offered today. And when the reward goes away, or get stale, so does the behaviour. And it skews why people do things. The good news is the research says that intrinsic motivation is potentially the answer to this. This is when kids do the right thing for internal reasons, the way it feels on the inside doing the right thing, because, well, it's the right thing. Holding open the door is aligned with my value of kindness, which makes me feel good inside. When I'm motivated that way. I don't need a sticker from the adult to encourage me, most school behaviour policies don't have very much at all to say about intrinsic motivation. In fact, most school behaviour policies say nothing about intrinsic motivation. And that's because it's harder to explain. It's about getting children to feel good or proud of their actions for their own sake. It's about developing a values based education and curriculum where children recognise the value of kindness and holding open doors, and taking turns to speak in class, because that's respectful. And I want to be a person who is kind and respects others. And actually, you know, the truth is when you think about it, most kids who come to school and behave, if you ask them, Why do they do that? They might say because sir, or miss will give me a sticker or Dojo or a insert your reward here. But actually, without those rewards, those kids would have done it anyway. Because that's the kind of kids they are. Intrinsic motivation is powerful, because it feeds itself. And research shows that it is long lasting, if you can set it up. It does work in the medium to long term and it doesn't fizzle out quickly. 

I mentioned adult praise and recognition earlier. And that's really interesting, because although technically, it's an extrinsic motivation, it comes from the outside. What it does is it it creates a warm, fuzzy feeling on the inside of the child that actually acts like intrinsic motivation. So for some years now, I've been pushing the power of intrinsic motivation. However, I've changed my mind. And I'm not saying that intrinsic works better than extrinsic. It's more nuanced than that. I'm kind of saying it boils down to the kids you've got in front of you. Because truth be told, depending on the action, we're being encouraged to take, we're all a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsically motivated people. And I've seen perfectly good extrinsic motivation systems in schools that have been impactful, certainly in the short term, that were popular with students and teachers and parents. So why move to something else, the golden rule of school behaviour is, if it's working, don't muck around with it. We do have to accept the strengths and limitations of what we're doing though, for extrinsic systems, we have to bear in mind that they will get stale, and they will have to change or they will become ineffective, don't fight that, know it and harness it. Intrinsic motivation is harder to do. It's harder to implement. It's harder to explain in the behaviour policy, or to inspectors or to parents, but it is long lasting. Both can be powerful in different ways.

The answer of what's best for you, the listener, is to look at how your kids in classes are naturally motivated, and start from there. And the best answer in your school is likely to be use a bit of both. Don't let motivational dogma draw you too far in any one direction. If you found this episode, interesting or thought provoking, I've got one quick favour to ask. Please spend 30 seconds giving us an honest rating and review on your podcast app and that prompts the algorithm to share school behaviour secrets with other teachers, school leaders and parents who would find the show useful. I'll be back with a standard episode next week with Emma Shackleton my co-host. Until then, have a brilliant week. Thank you for listening.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)