So, I’m a cutsy girl… what can I say? Decorating? Yep. Scrapbooking? You bet. Bulletin boards? Oh yeah! So naturally, I had to bring my creative flare to my fourth grade classroom, thus engineering the most colorful classroom in our hall. Yet unfortunately, I didn’t restrain my indulgent creations from seeping from the walls to our daily instruction.
Each month I presented some cutsy rewards system where students would work to earn some sort of prize at the end. Busy Bees, fake money, laminated cars racing around a track on the wall… Each month was something new.
My students had fun with it at first. Each month they’d begin in earnest, eager to earn whatever reward lay in waiting at the end. However, it didn’t take long for their motivation to wane. I bribed with this and rallied with that, but each time their interest faded until the system failed to motivate and eventually became counter-productive. My frustration began to grow as large as the tissue paper sun on our spring-time bulletin board!
Thankfully, a veteran colleague of mine offered some wonderful advice… ditch the bribes! She explained to me how such systems are called “extrinsic motivation,” where we strive to motivate students with some sort of external reward. Though such tactics may produce desired results in the short-term, they do not engender long-lasting, sustainable self-motivation.
“Intrinsic motivators,” however, do the opposite. They focus on motivating students from within, building long-lasting, sustainable self-motivation, even at the possible expense of immediate desired results. Such motivators include, among others, positive reinforcement, high expectations, student engagement, and celebrating accomplishments.
Yet, the first step (and hardest step – for me anyway) is to stop using extrinsic motivators. So, putting on my big-girl pants, I ditched the monthly motivators (as cute as they were!), and set out to motivate my students from within. It was a challenging transition. I had established a culture built on bribery, and it was hard to wean my students from its grasp, but once we did, a whole new world opened up, a world built on intrinsic success.
Was it easy? No. Did they push back? Yes. Was I tempted to slip back to old habits and offer some extrinsic bribe? Occasionally. But I persisted, and the results proved to be well worth the effort. Where I used to have to “pay” my students to be good, they soon became… good for nothin’!