by Kim Tracy
"What am I getting out of this?" As educators we often hear our students questioning what it is they will get out of what we are trying to impart upon them. That questioning makes the educator more frustrated and angry that the student is not learning because we know that is what is best for him/her. We give and give and give, so is that not enough to appease the child, the parent or the administrator?
Skinner and other behavior theorists have taught us to first identify the behavior you are trying to change, then reward the positives and provide consequences for the negative behaviors. This might work for short term behavior change but impairs higher order thinking skills and does not provide for long term changes.
Eric Jensen states, "Rewards create uncertainty in the mind of the learner." We begin to question if we are going to get the reward. "Okay, if I do this, will I get that reward? What happens if I don't get the reward? I received this reward last time so if I misbehave again then I can get the reward again if I turn that behavior around. However, this time, I can hold out for a bigger reward." When does that cycle stop?
Celebrations of learning are needed in our schools and in our classrooms. Those celebrations are anything spontaneous that acknowledges an accomplishment. In my classroom, we have stickers, pizza parties, ice cream parties, free homework passes, and much more. However, students are not aware when those celebrations will take place. Even our end of grade testing that is mandated by the state is a Celebration of Learning. Students and teachers have worked for 180 days and it is time to celebrate their accomplishments. The celebration is the test. To hear 400 students going down the hallway singing Kool and The Gangs' "Celebration" song before End of Grade tests is enough to motivate any educator to work towards intrinsically motivating their students. To watch 400 students pumped up over being able to show the world everything they have learned with nothing else motivating them except for the chance to show off their knowledge is invigorating for an educator. The end result: No extrinsic motivators and exemplary scores on the tests. These students did not ask for a reward. Their reward was proving to everyone how much they learned during the year.
Geoffrey and Renate Caine stated that "rewards and punishments can be demotivating in the long-term, especially when others have control over the system." All school systems do is teach that it is okay to bribe students and parents in order for them to do behavior that is expected by the system. What happens when the reward runs out or the bargaining stakes are raised? Parents are quick to learn how to work around the system and many times those characteristics are instilled in their children.
When using extrinsic motivators, educators might see immediate changes in behaviors but the long term problem is not solved. Changing states of behaviors is the first course of action when dealing with a defiant student. Bribing with candy or a drink, will not solve the problem that the child is not motivated to change his/her own behavior when in that negative state.
Educators cannot control the extrinsic motivators that students receive from outside of school. However, educators are in full control of what goes on inside their classrooms when motivating students. Healthy brains are wired to learn. Motivation is innate. When educators provide a positive learning environment, students are eager to learn. The problem in later years that secondary educators are faced with in defiant students is that the students have been extrinsically motivated for so many years they feel that is the only way to learn; the teacher gives me something if I learn this. Jensen shares in his book SuperTeaching the following study by Stanford Biologists:
Amoebae cultures were separated into three petri dishes. One was the control group, Another received an abundance of food, light and heat, and the third was given just Enough of those basic needs to survive while varying the amounts. Can you guess Which one survived the longest? The third petri dish.
How does this study show educators how extrinsic and intrinsic motivators effect students? The third petri dish faced a challenge. Because of those challenges, those amoebae cultures were intrinsically motivated to find ways to survive. Our students must be given the opportunities to understand how they are intrinsically motivated. This must start in the elementary schools so that the secondary teachers do not have to teach students who expect extrinsic motivators.
Educators have various options in intrinsically motivating students. While students need guidelines, they also need the flexibility of making choices. In the book Future Force: Kids That Want To, Can, and Do!: A Teacher's Handbook by Elaine McClanahan and Carolyn Wicks, shares how to make students stockholders in the classroom. By making them stockholders, students are intrinsically motivated to promote positive behaviors. They have choices of their rules and consequences. Expectations are agreed upon by everyone and the teacher acts as a facilitator of the knowledge that is retained by the students.
There are numerous other strategies to use to provoke intrinsic motivation. Educators must make the learning meaningful to the student. Using a variety of teaching/learning methods, engaging emotions and natural curiosity, providing high expectations, showing students how to manage their own states of learning and creating positive learning environments will spark intrinsic motivation. Gardner's eight intelligences explains the different ways a child learns. Using Gardner's theory can only enhance the classroom and will help reach those students that are often seen as unmotivated or nonlearners.
Educators need to know the developmental growth of the child's brain and must stay up to date on the latest neurological findings. The research has changed dramatically over the last ten years and will continue to change in the new century. Neurologists are providing new outlooks on the education world. Opponents of Brain Compatible Learning often state that this is just another new fad or paradigm. Using strategies based on neurological research, can only help educators in understanding the changing demands that society has placed upon our students.
Educators will continue to provide safe, optimal learning environments by providing the opportunity for intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. Manipulation has no place in our schools, and extrinsic motivation only promotes negative learning outcomes. Educators have great power and influence over their students. Teaching students at an early age how to obtain self gratification will provide a tool to be used for a lifetime.
Just what is "Brain Compatible Learning" anyway...?
Brain Compatible Learning is taking the latest research from neuroscientists and developing strategies for learning based upon those findings. Brain Compatible Learning is not a program; it will not guarantee anything for anyone. Brain Compatible Learning is strategies to make the students more productive and the teacher less frustrated. Often educators strive for programs that fit the mold of every student. If it were that easy, educators would have the easiest profession. Everyone has a different body, a unique fingerprint, and different hair follicles. Everyone also has a different brain. Because of the uniqueness of each individual's brain, educators have to decide what is best for each student. Brain Compatible Learning is not a "one size fits all." It is, however, an approach to learning that will change the way educators view their students and will change teaching styles for the better.