Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why the why matters

If I told you that a student returned a lost wallet to the office or a foster mom drove her foster child to his 6:00 am hockey practice, what would think of these acts?

Your first reaction may be something that reflects approval. These sound like people who are doing good things for others; however, do any of these statements provide the people’s motivation for doing what they are doing?

And do you care?

What if I told you the student only returned the wallet because he figured out the reward was worth more than the contents of the wallet, or that the foster mom was only driving the foster child to hockey practice because she got paid mileage?

When you are privy to these individual’s motivations, does this change your impression of their actions? In each situation, these people are doing what seems like good things; however, we all know that people can do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

If we prescribe to use extrinsic motivators to gain compliance from students, we are really saying that we don’t care why people are doing things; we are willing to manipulate children with rewards, control through seduction, or punishment, control through fear. Despite this argument, some teachers and parents may suggest starting with the extrinsic, and then simply remove it. The idea being that the extrinsic is needed in order to initiate an interest in the student. But this doesn’t translate into anything but the ol’ bait-and-switch, and I think we can all envision the greasy, used-car-salesmen who probably invented this innately disrespectful tactic.

As a professional, I am convinced that the use of extrinsic motivators is morally objectionable, dehumanizing and a form of educational malpractice.


  1. Oooo....I like this. But I must admit, it's harder to get children to do something when they don't see the reward in it. Maybe we just need to spend more time explaining WHY we do each activity. What do you do for the Grades 1-4 that haven't got as much (if any) rational thinking? If they don't value the task (which will invariably happen sometimes), explaining why won't help because they don't think like that yet...

  2. right on! intrinsic motivation is so vitally important. just discovered your blog - I'm off to check out some of the archives.

  3. Hi Joe- I so agree with you that the "carrot and stick method" where you get a reward for everything you do is not a long term strategy and personally I don't foster that especially in my parenting and definitely don't have reward charts hanging up in my house! As a teacher though, at times I felt like I was up against it especially in the area of home practice! The expectation from me as the teacher was that children would just magically go home after the music lessons and practice!- it seemed that parents felt they paid good money for their lessons and wanted the service and the issue of home practice solved at the same time. So initially, I set up practice charts and reward stickers for younger children especially and found that this worked in with parents needs- later the intrinsic motivation came when they found they just loved doing it for the sake of doing it - their rewards came more in the form of feeling great for accomplishing a piece or doing a great job and they didn't need them. The point was for some students (not all) that extrinsic motivation worked at first until their own intrinsic beliefs changed. BTW thanks for posting this on the #MusEdChat I've got you in my google reader now and look forward to reading more of your stuff!


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