Interest and Motivation

I am starting to not like school very much. I used to love it because it kept me busy. It was challenging to juggle a few classes, my job, and my home life – keeping straight As in the process. The work itself wasn’t that challenging, but it kept me busy. Between semesters I would pick up my independent research as best I could (because I really couldn’t remember where I left off) and move forward with more engaging ideas. But a new semester would come and the non-challenging work would commence.

This summer has been different. This is my second semester since I took a much needed year-long break, and during this semester my independent research never actually stopped. I made a commitment to this blog and to my company in June, and the work and research that I have done to keep that commitment has been much more stimulating and rewarding than school ever has been. I am even beginning to resent school because it inevitably takes some time away from the blog, the business, and the research. For starters, the research is much more interesting. I am currently reading Ungifted by Scott Barry Kaufman. I couldn’t put it down all last weekend, and I plan on reviewing it soon. That book blew my mind, and I’m not even done with it yet. It has given me several pieces of the puzzle of my first workshop, Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom. I have been working on and off with this workshop for about a year, but in the past two weeks I have renewed my efforts to make it great and actually offer it to participants.

I can hear you saying, “Okay, where are you going with this?” Well, we are much more motivated to do things we are interested in than not, just like I am much more motivated by my interesting research and blog than schoolwork. The same is true of anyone else, including children. If the things we want children to learn are not presented to them in an interesting way, they will not be motivated to learn them. Sitting on a carpet reciting flashcards is not motivating or interesting. Matching games are interesting. Learning colors by using and naming them while doing are is interesting. Worksheets = not interesting. Learning math concepts with objects that can be manipulated = interesting.

My youngest daughter is seven years old and is well into the process of learning to read. During the school year she had not seemed very motivated, but it occurred to me that she enjoys learning about things (her favorite subjects right now are bacteria, fungus, and mirrors). She has become much more motivated to read over the summer as she has picked up books in the non-fiction section of the library in order to learn about different subjects. This motivation has been born out of her interest in learning new things.

In the classroom we would do well to remember that motivation is born of interest, and it isn’t simply about finding interesting ways to frame lessons. It is also about observing children to discover what their interests are and framing lessons around that.

The children in my class were very into movie theaters about two months ago, so we made our own theater. We put on a mini-production of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, in which the children took turns playing the characters that they wanted to play. We made tickets, complete with the letter “T”. We made our own popcorn stand and practiced counting by paying for the popcorn with fake money. All of these lessons and skills were embedded into the movie theater theme. There was probably much more we could have done with the theme, but the the theme lasted for a few weeks and we tried to come up with several different ways we could build on the experience. But we did it based on a theme that the children were interested in. Had they been interested in restaurants, we would have explored recipes and created menus, practiced writing in a notepad while we took orders, did some cooking activities, used fake money to pay for the food, and anything else we could have come up with to learn while we explored restaurants.

There are many different ways to include the interests of the children in learning, and creating a learning environment based on the children’s interests has a lot of other advantages to development as well. For instance, children learn social skills and how to handle different social situations, such as ordering food in a restaurant and taking turns playing different parts with their peers. This is ultimately what is meant by “learning through play”. Children don’t need much motivation to play; they play all day long. The challenge for teachers is to take that naturally-occurring motivation, along with the naturally occurring interest, and make a rich learning experience out of it.

Dan Pink on The Puzzle of Motivation

Since I am neck-deep in research about motivation, Building Positive Relationships will be back next week as we tie together the upcoming posts on motivation and what our findings mean for relationships in the classroom.

During my research into the Self-Determination Theory, I came across this really great TEDTalk by Dan Pink. Dan Pink is a career analyst (whatever that is), and describes the gap between what science has shown us about motivation and how business behaves in regard to motivation.

Even though Dan talks in relation to businesses, I encourage you to think about his argument in terms of teaching or parenting rather than managing because the argument remains the same.

Self-Determination Theory

Okay, I am reading a new book. I am not going to say much about the book right now, as I plan on reviewing it very soon. However, I have learned a lot of very interesting information that I am going to share on the blog.

So I ran into the Self-Determination Theory during the reading of this book, and stopped reading to do a little more research into the theory itself. The theory is based on motivation and what motivates people to do things or to act a certain way. It focuses on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, how environments influence motivation, what psychological needs are required for people to become motivated, and how goals play a part in motivation.

I have talked a lot about motivation on this blog, and how the way we interact with children affects how children are motivated to learn and behave. This book has been great because it has provided a lot more pieces of the puzzle of what motivates us into the mix. For example, the book states that feelings of autonomy within a lesson, putting a lesson in context, making a lesson personal for the students, and giving the students choices will help increase students’ intrinsic motivation to learn a lesson. And not only that, but students will approach the lesson with a desire to understand the material on a deeper level, rather than the surface-level understanding that is so common these days (think: memorization).

We all want to find ways to motivate the children in our class to learn. The implications of the Self-Determination Theory are many, and if we pay attention to what the theory is actually telling us, we may have a better shot at increasing the level of understanding happening in the classroom.

I will be writing much more about this in the very near future. For now, for more information on the theory itself, visit this website.