What constitutes a rewarding life? What spurs some people to pursue their interests actively, while others remain passive observers? Motivation is a crucial factor for achievement in personal and professional pursuits. Yet, working for some extrinsic reward, whether tangible like money, or intangible, like fame, may not provide a deep sense of fulfillment even after one does achieve the pinnacle of “success.” One need only glance at headlines to realize the hollow success of many cases of celebrity.
On the other hand, working at something for the sheer enjoyment is the hallmark of intrinsic motivation: Intrinsic motivation is defined as performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself . . . the inspiration for acting on intrinsic motivation can be found in the action itself. Shouldn’t the goal of education be much more than the recitation of facts for content areas? Wouldn’t helping students find their passion provide them with a pathway to a fulfilling life? To quote Maya Angelou: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them . . .”
The lesson here is that learning for its own sake can be enormously rewarding. It can perpetuate a sustained desire to become proficient in an an academic subject, a skill, or a talent. Couldn’t the development of the intrinsic motivation to learn help to decrease the drop-out rate in some of our nation’s communities? Is it well worth attempting, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on knowledge workers?
While research studies point to the importance of intrinsic motivation, few actually provide the “how to.” Teachers can help their students learn to enjoy learning and begin to find their interests by incorporating the elements that support intrinsic motivation in their content lessons: caring, open mind-set, and choice.
1)Teachers must demonstrate that they genuinely care about their students by providing them with non-contingent interactions. They can indicate in many ways that they have an interest in their students as people with lives outside their classrooms.
2) Teachers can relay to their students that their brains are very much like their muscles. They can actually strengthen their brains by learning. They should reject the closed mind-set of statements like: “I just don’t get math. . . . I’m stupid, I can’t learn this subject.” Praising real effort can help students to overcome learning biases.
3) Educators can also employ a wide variety of choices within the framework of their content. These range from sequencing of learning, to materials and procedures for accomplishing learning tasks. These choices are as varied as the educators and the subjects they teach.
A faculty that commits to including these concepts into their content lessons, can initiate the process of leading students not only in academic learning but also life success.
For suggestions on how to help your students develop intrinsic motivation, contact me.