In a previous blog post, I described the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Research has demonstrated that external rewards are ineffective for long-term positive results whether in the academic realm or the workplace. But internal goals can boost the ability to achieve. As early as fifty years ago, James Coleman,from Johns Hopkins University, found that students’ attitudes regarding the amount of control they had over their lives directly affected their achievement.
Fast forward to the present, and this concept of self determination has not yet been fully integrated into our educational system. According to a recent article in Educational Leadership, high school dropouts often feel that external forces control their lives: They are “buffeted by fate.” One important element in fostering a sense of control is CHOICE. Bryan Goodwin cites a meta-analysis form 2012: ” . . . feeling in control of one’s life, combined with academic self-efficacy and goal orientation, accounted for roughly 20% of the variance in university students’ grade point average.”
So, how can teachers help students take control of their learning? They can provide choice in their classrooms. Teachers can empower their students in active learning by allowing them to participate in their education. Rather than engaging in authoritarian behavior, in which students have no options, authoritative teachers provide opportunities that engender a love of learning. These choices can range from the electives they choose to the order in which students complete assignments to the types and scope of projects they will submit. Even small choices can affect students’ attitudes. Helping students learn that they have control over their lives is one of the most valuable lessons for school and life.