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Barry Schwartz laughs as he describes the little girl next door who suddenly dove into reading after a substitute teacher took over her elementary school classroom. For every book they read, recalls the Swarthmore College psychology professor, students received a point, which they later cashed in for prizes. The girl then started to read a book an hour. The only catch was that she picked her books based on the number of pages and type size, and “she couldn’t tell you anything about any of them,” he says.

Schwartz shared this story about the binge-reading neighbor during a conference call with Yale University associate professor Amy Wrzesniewski explaining their research on motivation. The scholars have been carrying out a longitudinal study of more than 10,000 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to determine the relative success of those who were motivated by intrinsic rewards versus those driven by “instrumental,” or extrinsic rewards.

They assumed that some combination of internal and external motives would lead to the most success, as measured by the officers’ willingness to stay beyond the five-year commitment to the Army and to graduate and become commissioned officers. In fact, they found that cadets who expressed the most intrinsic motivation were more successful than those who showed mixed motives to serve. In other words, those driven to attend West Point motivated in part by internal forces, like the wish to become a fine officer, were more successful in their pursuits than those driven by extrinsic rewards, such as the desire to get a good job after graduation.

The same subtle interplay between motivation and rewards is also at work when it comes to education and learning, say Schwartz and Wrzesniewski. Rewarding students for getting their schoolwork done with prizes, snacks and even grades, as most schools do, can have the unintended effect of dismantling a child’s drive to learn for its own sake. The intrinsic rewards that come from exploring interests in depth, and mastering difficult concepts and problems, can be smothered by a reward system that focuses on grades, say, rather than understanding. It also signals what’s important to the teachers.

“When you dangle Burger King in front of kids’ noses, you are telling them what kind of consequence matters, and what motive to pay attention to,” Schwartz says. “And education will suffer.”

In Elementary School

How can teachers promote the intrinsic benefits of learning in school systems that depend on grades as a way to measure progress?

“Every teacher wishes their entire class was intrinsically motivated,” says Kathy Branchflower, a veteran fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln-Hubbard School in Summit, New Jersey. Branchflower says that our cultural inclination to praise and reward kids, often for minimal achievement, has contributed to the decline in kids’ intrinsic motivation. Another culprit in reducing inner drive is kids’ overly structured lives, Branchflower adds, because children lose confidence and motivation when adults make the decisions for them. To build it back, she reminds her students that they are responsible for their own learning, adding that she is a mere facilitator to their education.

“My job is to empower them to help them become independent young learners,” she says.

As a practical matter, this means stopping short of answering questions that the kids are capable of figuring out on their own. Children are also given as much choice as possible in the layout of the classroom. “I say to the kids, ‘This is your classroom, let’s structure it so it works best for you.’”

Branchflower expects a lot of her students, but praises their effort rather than their results and works to make the lessons fun. In teaching them about the Oregon Trail, for example, she assigns everyone new names and ages in keeping with those times, so the kids feel like characters in history rather than detached observers. In another exercise, she divides the class into eclectic groups, gives each a box of Legos, and challenges every group to build the tallest tower—-all without saying a word to anyone else on their team.

“When you make it fun, they’re more inclined to embrace it — it helps them develop curiosity,” she says, which drives enthusiasm for learning.

In Middle School and Beyond

Randy Wallock, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, also in New Jersey, uses similar approaches to encourage learning for its own sake among his students: They’re given choice and autonomy and the freedom to work at their own pace. He also tries to build what he calls “little cultures within the classroom to encourage learning;” teenagers are responsive to social expectations, and creating environments where curiosity is cool invites more self-directed learning.

For Cary Mallon, who has taught algebra, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and geometry over the last 22 years at Hood River Valley High School in Oregon, stimulating the internal drive to solve math problems has proved difficult. “With math, there’s a lot of students who loathe it,” he says. Whereas younger students are more intrinsically motivated, many older kids complete their assignments for the sake of the grade, and are content to understand just one way to solve a problem, Mallon says.

“In a lot of ways, our system trains the students to be this way,” he says. He is hopeful that moving away from a curriculum that focuses on minutiae and abstract equation — what Stanford University professor of mathematics education Jo Boaler calls “school math”—and toward one that focuses on practical problem-solving and logical reasoning might inspire more kids to study and enjoy the subject.

When students bring up the classic adolescent lament — when will I ever use this equation in real life? — he tells them that understanding math is part of being a well-rounded person, just as learning an abstruse poem may someday inform their appreciation for life.

Generating enthusiasm for learning among college-age kids will be tough if they’ve grown up to expect pats on the head and perfects grades in exchange for their labor, Schwartz says. “If you start kids the wrong way — say, by rewarding them with pizza — then their intrinsic motives will vanish,” he says. Still, he and Wrzesniewski believe that a thoughtful and attentive college professor has the power to affect how students are motivated.

“As a teacher, you have a choice of what you respond to,” says Wrzesniewski, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. “Do you pay attention to students who have their laptops out, or do you pay attention to students who are asking intelligent questions?” she asks. Making those kids who ask intelligent questions feel “valued, responded to and celebrated,” she says, brings more of that out in others.

Schwartz agrees, but warns that sending out these kinds of signals must be done slowly and subtly. He adds, “You have to be careful you’re not making this another instrumental reward.”

  • Aaron Miller

    Hooray it’s my favorite research topic! Such an important part of successful teaching. Thanks for a great article Linda!

  • Kathryn Muller Lund

    I’ve been dealing with this issue in my high school classroom. I want my students to be intrinsically motivated but often use punishments or rewards out of stress or because that is what I have seen done. Here is a post about my attempts to help redirect my students’ way of thinking. http://yearbetterteacher.blogspot.com/2014/10/feedback.html

  • Kayla Burrow

    Thoughtful blog, definitely focused on a growth mindset and helping students value learning how to learn! Here’s another great post on motivating students intrinsically – Motivating Students: Could Pride Be the Best Incentive? http://avidcollegeready.org/college-career-readiness/2013/12/12/motivating-students-could-pride-be-the-best-incentive.html

    • Cara Hillman

      I think that this another great article of what it takes to keep students motivated and excited about learning each and every day! One part that stuck out to me the most was when he added, “another key ingredient to motivation is relational capacity: connecting with kids and those close to them.” This could not be more right. Creating a positive learning community in the classroom I think is the best tool you can have as a teacher. Really understanding and knowing your students will work wonders for your student motivation.

      • Caitlin Watson

        This was a major aspect of the article that really stuck out with me as well! Without connecting with kids and those that are close to them you can’t make those personal connections and be able to relate to all of your students. Having those personal relationships helps build a more positive environment because the students are more optimistic about class because they aren’t just another student in your class. Helping making those connections also may build some intrinsic motivation because they don’t want to let you as the teacher down but also want to show they’re capable of the work that is being asked of them! Caitlin_Watson

      • Emma K Miller

        I completely agree with this Cara, especially in regards to elementary classrooms. One part I found interesting was how the only advice given for mathematics was basically “make the curriculum relevant” but the quote about how our math curriculum needs to become more real-world problem solving, made me assume that with the current math curriculum, making it relevant is easier said than done. I wonder if having a positive learning environment and getting to know your students would be successful to intrinsic motivation in a secondary math classroom…. I’ve certainly never seen it!

    • Jordan Weems

      Since my grade level is elementary, I really liked the breakdown of ages in this article. Elementary students really like being rewarded for what they do. Sometimes there are students who will not do their best on an assignment or project if there is no reward at the end. For a teacher, this can be kind of hard. It can either be positive or negative. In order to make it positive, we really do have to focus on intrinsic rewards. Most students want food or a prize at the end, but teachers really need to work on intrinsic rewards. It might be harder to encourage the students to do well, but in the end it will be worth it. As a future teacher, I will try and implement both prizes and intrinsic rewards in my classroom.

      • Morgan Beemer

        I agree with you on the type of rewarding given. All students enjoy getting an actual object or food as an award, not many like just the intrinsic type of rewarding, I think it is important for a teacher to start at the begininng of the year with both intrinsic and object awards, but more towards just intrinsic. I also think that a teacher should promote for students to give each other comments or compliments about things they do throughout the year. If students are complimenting each other, it will make it easier for teachers to ensure all students are g thing some sort of reward throughout the day.

  • Great article! What do you think about having students design games? I teach 5th grade chemistry and 6th grade Physics. I ask my students to make a simple games to explain a concepts. What happens is instead of feeling forced to “learn” something they don’y care about, the begin the advanced level conversation about why something (Kinetic Energy vs Potential Energy) only works on certain parts of the roller coaster, etc. and then they enthusiastically ask me questions instead of me forcing content onto them.

    • Millie

      Students designing their own games to review content? Great idea! This is a very interesting approach. I have yet to see a teacher try this with their classroom. It makes complete sense though! Of course students are going to be more engaged and enthusiastic about something they are creating rather than what they are being “forced” to do by the teacher.

      • Thanks for the reply Millie! My sentiments exactly. Students seem much more motivated to learn something when they see the immediate fruit of that learning in the construction of their game.

  • Let me see, people who attended West Point because they wanted to become military officers were were more likely to stay beyond the
    five-year commitment to the Army and to graduate and become commissioned
    officers. This is supposed to be an indication of the subtle interplay between motivation and rewards. This is ridiculous.

    The first rule of Special Education is, if you do not have a motivator, you do not have a lesson. That motivator can be intrinsic but when the student is not intrinsically motivated you then must offer a suitable external motivation.

    The little girl who was rewarded based on quantity of books read learned at least two valuable lessons. One, she read when she might not otherwise have read. Two, she figured out how to maximize the reward. Just because you don’t like the outcome does not make the lesson any less valuable.
    As for “dismantling a child’s drive to learn for its own sake”
    Does collecting a paycheck dismantle the scientist’s drive to learn?

    I think the issue that has been missed here is the use of rewards for doing nothing. The problem is not in rewarding desired behavior. The problem is rewarding dong nothing. Everyone does not deserve a trophy, an A, or some ice cream. That is the hard reality.

    • dcm5150

      I think you completely missed the point. The point is that our educational system tends to drive intrinsic motivation out of students so they don’t have any intrinsic desire to learn as they move through school and beyond.

      “Just because you don’t like the outcome does not make the lesson any less valuable.” – It ABSOLUTELY does!! If you teach a lesson and nobody learns the material, was it a good lesson? So in your mind no matter what the lesson was as long as students complete the task (not matter their approach) it was a valuable lesson?

      “Does collecting a paycheck dismantle the scientist’s drive to learn?” – YES! If the scientists only goal is to get a paycheck and to get bigger paychecks we have seen even more recently how that desire has driven scientists to falsify data and destroy research simply so they could get more money and other external rewards (recognition, awards, etc)

      • My experience has been that where there is intrinsic motivation it cannot be driven out by rewards. Other things such as punishment, shame, and boredom can deplete intrinsic motivation, but not rewards. Motivation is person and task specific. I am highly motivated to discuss interesting topics with others. I am absolutely not intrinsically motivated in the least to wash the dishes.

        I did not say that an unlearned lesson is valuable, I am saying that “what” the student learns from a lesson can be valuable even if it is not the intended consequence. There are many examples in popular culture of students fulfilling the lesson requirements while skirting the teacher’s goal. Does this mean that the student shouldn’t get credit?
        Much of what we teach in school is useless, but learning to get the job done is quite useful.

        Another way to look at the greedy or “rogue” scientist is to say that the rewards (intrinsic or extrinsic) of doing the science were not enough for those particular people. Not because they were rewarded as students, but because that is who they are.

    • Colleen

      The point that this article is trying to make is that giving superficial rewards to students (like coupons, gold stickers, or points for prizes) results in students only wanting to complete work or do well on assignments for rewards x,y, and z, and not because they actually have the drive and desire to learn. It results in a “just get it done” attitude instead of an “I want to explore this more deeply” attitude.

      I really disagree with your comment that the girl who read a bunch of books but didn’t comprehend any of it was learning a valuable lesson. Does that not completely defeat the purpose? That’s exactly the problem that this research is pointing out. You say that she “figured out how to maximize the reward,” but for what purpose? To get a point that, in the end, didn’t mean anything? That kind of mentality is exactly the opposite of what we need to be teaching kids.

      However, just like this article points out, the real way to motivate kids is to make the content relevant to their lives. Like Mallon says, “When students bring up the classic adolescent lament — when will I ever use this equation in real life? — he tells them that understanding math is part of being a well-rounded person, just as learning an abstruse poem may someday inform their appreciation for life.” Teaching students lessons that are relatable to their lives and rewarding them with life skills is so much more valuable than a superficial prize.

  • Should college football teams stop giving out stickers for helmets when players make great plays? Do the players play for the stickers or because they love the game? Does the material recognition diminish… anything? Or is it just a small inducement to perform regardless of the game score?

    The mistake I see is an all-or-nothing analysis, and treating all reward systems as the same. Yes, they can be poorly implemented. Anything can be poorly implemented. That is not interesting.

    What is interesting is whether well-implemented extrinsic reward mechanisms work. (They do.)

    • en

      do players get sticker on their helmets in the NFL or are they expected to make the tackle because it’s their job and if they don’t then next guy in line will?

      • You forgot the “game ball” award in the pros. The recognition bar is just suitably higher for a professional. Sadly, in baseball a shaving cream pie in the face is the new standard. 🙂

    • KMH

      I absolutely agree with your statement that “Anything can be poorly implemented.” I think the problem with extrinsic reinforcement isn’t that it is used, the problem is how, when, and why it is used. This “participation trophy” generation poses a problem for educators today. Students expect a reward for doing what they are supposed to be doing anyway and many teachers are giving it to them. Still, there is a time and a place for external reinforcement. For example, a student with a disability might be placed on a behavioral plan for which they monitor and record their own behaviors. There must be some sort of reward for self-monitoring or the student will ask, “What’s the point?” No, “learning to control your own behavior” will not be effective as a reward.

      I believe that quality reinforcers, ones that encourage movement and continue to further learning, are appropriate extrinsic rewards. Extra recess, free writing, and extra reading time all strengthen positive behavioral outcomes, but are also extrinsic rewards. We live in a world of external reinforcement, making it nearly impossible to avoid the concept altogether. It is the teacher’s responsibility to educate students about the right external reinforcers, ones that will lead them to internal reinforcement such as pride in an accomplishment.

      • Seth Hiatt

        I agree. External reinforcement can have its positives and negatives. I think that giving kids participation trophies is a little much. I think giving ribbons like they use to worked out just fine for kids. I think giving every kid a big reward is telling them it’s okay to to be below average. I think that kids in school shouldn’t receive rewards unless they are working hard for it or if the teacher is trying to improve certain skills. Like when you talked about the student with a disability is exactly what I’m talking about with external reinforcement. Some teachers use external reinforcement way to much and then students start to think they deserve a reward for everything they do right. Overall, I think there are ups and downs to external reinforcement but if you use it the right way it will benefit the teachers and the students.

    • Autumn Lynn

      I can see your point,I think the article would be more impactful if it went alongside a case study. I think it is clever that it goes deeper in to how motivation impacts how students learn but it is just thoughts. I think you made a good point that some forms of motivation like that works well. Mostly I think this article does a good job at provoking deeper thoughts into how important motivation can be influencing students way of learning

    • Hannah Byun

      I completely agree with you. I believe that the article had valid points but the mistake was the implication that the analysis applies to everything. Like you said, “anything can be poorly implemented” so to say that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work in any situation is inaccurate. It is all about HOW extrinsic rewards are implemented, especially when looking at a classroom environment. It is essential to make sure students aren’t only performing for the extrinsic reward but for intrinsic ones as well. There is a way to create this environment where both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards are working to motivate students’ learning.

  • cristal

    This was a very interesting read. I can see the point of the article. I have often wondered the affect of everyone in the class getting an award or everyone who tried out making the team would have on motivation. I feel that not everyone should make the team – it is a try out. Not every student should get an award. If everyone does- what exactly is the point of a tryout or the award?

  • Matthew Hudak

    As a college student about to graduate and go into the teaching world, the idea of allowing students to play a huge role in their own education sounds like a wonderful way to make it more meaningful for them. What I worry about is creating an environment in which students are able to make decisions for themselves, but won’t necessarily want to or be able to take advantage of the leniency I’m granting them. I suppose finding that balance is something that comes with experience, which, unfortunately, is something I won’t necessarily have for a while.

  • songnverse

    I used to work in a Montessori school that offered absolutely no extrinsic rewards, and now, I work in a school that uses extrinsic rewards all the time, and I can say that this is a detriment to the students. In Montessori, I saw kids who loved to learn for knowledge/discovery sake. Now, I see kids who learn for grades or tokens of some kind. They don’t understand why I am the only teacher in the school who does not reward with food or points. But when a students trained like Pavlov’s dogs, picking up a piece of paper and then asking, “May I have candy?” I know that I am making the right choice. I teach middle school, and I do agree with the article when it suggests giving students choice and autonomy. While this is a perfect motivating factor, it takes awhile for them to get it, and give up the rewards mentality.

    • ACoffin

      As a college student who has yet to have her own classroom, I find it intriguing that you don’t use extrinsic motivators at all in your classroom. I agree with you when you say that we should desire for our students to be more intrinsically motivated, because it may make them better students, but I also don’t see any harm in floating them an extrinsic motivator every once and awhile so long as a teacher limits it. I don’t believe that giving students rewards drowns out intrinsic motivation. Plus, in my opinion, even if the teachers are not providing extrinsic motivators, someone is whether it is administration in your building or the parents. I would love to hear more about how you only use, intrinsic motivation in your classroom!

  • Rodrigo

    wow this page is fantastic, helped a lot! also check out this video i always watch it when things are rough, helps me out TONS !! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8rHNVxCNKc

  • Taylor Johnson

    Since my grade level is elementary, I appreciated the breakdown of ages in this article. Although some of the tips used are relevant at any age, I really believe in the importance of fostering passion for learning early on in childrens’ lives. I think elementary school is special in the fact that the giving/receiving of awards can either be positive or detrimental for the rest of a child’s school career. In order to make it positive, we really do have to focus on intrinsic rewards. Although much cheaper than snacks or prizes, intrinsic rewards are harder to implement and encourage. As a future teacher, I will really try to learn the ins and outs of using intrinsic rewards in order to benefit my students while in my classroom and beyond.

    • Amanda Rogowski

      I agree! Breaking down the different ways to motivate students by grade level helps get a sense of what makes each student want to learn. Not every student learns and is motivated in the same way, so there will definitely be differences in the way grade levels are motivated. You have to be careful with elementary age children because if you give too much reinforcement and rewards, then students will only do the task to make you happy, but if you think creatively on how to get them to think and how you work your lesson to get them to work, studnets will actually want to learn and excell for themselves.

    • Eileen Sieck

      I am an elementary education major as well, and I agree! Teachers should shift their focus on intrinsic awards in the classroom because in some cases extrinsic awards are causing more harm than good. There were some systems that were used when I was in elementary school that worked for my specific class, but not all cases work the same. I have yet explore the differences myself, but as a future teacher I am also going to try and learn the best way intrinsic rewards can benefit my classroom!

  • Emma Glessner

    I truly enjoyed reading this article as a future educator. I loved the point about the Oregon Trail. I think it was very engaging how the teacher gave them different names and ages so they weren’t just by standers. They were actually apart of the action taking place. I think within a classroom it is truly about finding the proper balance. It will change each year when you get new students. Different things will movtivate your class. It will be an interesting balance but this article gives great ideas.

  • Jordan Jimerson

    I must admit, I am someone that has always lived by extrinsic motivation. What can I say, it has been taught in schools. When a teacher says do this assignment and you will get 10 extra credit points and I am 5 points away from an A, I am going to do the extra credit points. When a teacher says if you complete all of your work on time before the bell rings we won’t have an assignment the rest of the week, I am going to do that on time for the teacher. Food is a big extrinsic motivator for me. How can it not be? When you bribe students into getting what you want, that of course is naturally how they will learn to motivate themselves. Rewards are a wonderful thing, but points from this article and discussion in my Core teaching skills class today really opened my eyes to how dangerous it is and can be in schools today. Students need to be motivated be something inside of them that really excites them. Something that has rewards FOR THEMSELVES from within. I don’t know the answer, but I certainly know that we need to ease off of extrinsic motivation and start making kids work for motivation from what they have in their hearts!

  • Jordan Little

    This is a very thought-provoking article. I can agree with the fact that too much extrinsic motivation will diminish any intrinsic motivation, especially looking at it from my own personal standpoint. I have always been a person who is externally motivated by rewards and recognition. It makes me think that maybe my upbringing in my own elementary and middle schools that my teachers placed their teaching practices heavily on the extrinsic side of motivation. It will be my job as a teacher in the near future to find a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors.

  • Haley Johnson

    It is evident that students who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to continue their education and choose a career that they are passionate about. The problem is, getting those students who work only for externals rewards to get the “want to” back for learning for themselves. The overall goal should be to create a learning environment that encourages self-directed learning. I currently have a college professor who bases the majority of our grade on three case studies. At the beginning of the course she makes up take an oath that we won’t worry about our grade…. She does this because so many students fail the first case study. She then explains how she is solely focused on our learning and the improvement in our learning. She will base our overall class grade on our improvement form case study one to case study two. She encourages us to learn and to do well for our own benefit…. TO KNOW THE MATERIAL. She has a leg up because we have all chosen to be in her class and are pursuing careers in that particular field, but it is still amazing to see how many students just don’t care. Making a change to the way kids are motivated early on is important so that students can learn to be self motivated.

  • Megan Mellring

    The anecdote at beginning of this article brings light to this issue with over using extrinsic motivation. When students get rewards for completing what the teacher asked, students are often focused on quantity rather than quality. With the girl that read books to receive points she was focused on the amount of books that she read, not the content or understanding of the books. Rewards are a wonderful thing- when limited and used correctly. Students from a young age should be taught to learn and do things for themselves and not for candy. One of my goals as a teacher is making a real life connection to the students’ lives. If a student knows why it is important in life to know the material, they will be more intrinsically motivated to really learn and understand the lesson.

  • Mellissa Wiltrout

    I enjoyed reading this article. I think that there needs to be a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for sure! This article made me think back to a lecture I attended in which the topic was inner-city/ poverty schools. The speaker for that day told us that she uses a lot of extrinsic rewards to motivate her kids and I think that that is great, because you really have to consider your classroom demographic as an educator. What she did as well was to stay positive and upbeat about the learning and to constantly encourage her students. I think that by having passion for your subject and being encouraging both support intrinsic motivation, even if you have to use extrinsic motivation as well. I can think back to many occasions when I had assigned readings for my English courses that were extremely dry to me while reading them, but that were brought to life my teachers. In those moments I get fired up about learning and want to do well and sound like I can make smart evaluations about texts as well. Bringing this fire to the classroom is really important. It is good for teachers to read articles about motivation, whether they completely agree with what is being said or not, because we need to motivate our students, all of them. It is easy to motivate the students who want the “A,” but it is important that we be aware of other strategies and research to utilize in our classrooms for those who may need more to get motivated.

    -Mellissa Wiltrout

  • Zibby James

    As a future elementary education teacher, I enjoyed the section about motivation for elementary age students. Like many of my classmates, I believe that my elementary and middle school teachers relied heavily on extrinsic motivation. Looking back, I am realizing the reason that they made extrinsic motivation so readily available was probably because it is a lot easier to provide extrinsic motivation than it is to provide motivation intrinsically. Thinking about this concept of extrinsic motivation I am wondering if there are different levels that are more “acceptable” than others. Is teacher praise a more acceptable form of extrinsic motivation than giving out treats?Or are these two forms of extrinsic motivation equally acceptable? I would also like to inquire more about the overlap of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This article helped me begin to understand that students are motivated by both forces separately, but there are also some cases in which both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be used simultaneously. When I think about this point, I think about students overall goals for themselves in a course. Most students wish to obtain a good grade, hopefully an A, but at the same time they can also be motivated by the fact that they want to end the course knowing that they have learned meaningful material that can be carried on and expanded in the future.

  • Carrie Pilkington

    I really enjoyed this post. It is such an important model that needs to be used in every classroom. And to intrinsically motivate students, it takes some creativity. It was nice to hear of some new ideas and gain some perspective on ways to have your students be motivated by their own selves instead of by candy and prizes. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sarah Spradling

      I agree with you Carrie. I think to intrinsically motivate students it would definitely take creativity. It would be very hard to encourage someone to find intrinsic motivation. I think intrinsic motivation is extremely important for students to have though. Extrinsic rewards can be useful to some children, but can cause many issues to others. Some students will start doing things only for the extrinsic reward. They won’t really care to do it or want to do it, they just want the reward. Same goes with a punishment. Students will only do something a certain way so they won’t get punished. They won’t know why they are doing it, they just know they do not want to get in trouble.

  • Lucia Scott

    I find that study incredibly interesting! I’d be curious to know more about the methodology, however. It also seems a bit optimistic to think we can have classes of students who are all intrinsically motivated. Going overboard with Burger King and Pizza parties certainly isn’t the answer, but I think it’s a little unrealistic to expect all students are going to motivate themselves all the time. We can most definitely create classroom environments that encourage that intrinsic motivation, but some extrinsic motivation may be necessary for some students some of the time. Not even adults are entirely intrinsically motivated (paychecks, raises, promotions, etc.); how can we put a burden on our students to always be?

    In my opinion, it’s about striking a balance. Teaching students that want to learn for the sake of it is certainly easier, but I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with making sure students earn good enough grades to give themselves a bright future.

    • Christopher Hernandez

      That is exactly what I said. Grades can’t be the only extrinsic motivator for students. Even if they get straight “A’s” it doesn’t guarantee them a job or a pay raise. It’s just a label that’s saying they are meeting the standard, even though they are doing a lot of creative and tedious work. Students need to see some form of physical compensation for their efforts.

  • Alexia Antunez

    This article definitely brought back many memories from when I was in elementary school! It was very well-written and honest especially when writing about a concern that many teachers ponder, ‘are rewards beneficial? Why or why not?’ There is a balance that you have to commit to because if you don’t, the students take advantage, are mainly extrinsicly motivated, and base their learning on the idea of just ‘getting it done.’ In elementary school, I remember the treasure box, the gold stickers, the endless supply of Cat in the Hat bookmarks, and extra recess time, yet I do not remember what assignment I had to complete in order to receive these tangible and temporary gifts. There’s the problem! Don’t get me wrong, I loved the gifts, but now as a student growing a future-teacher perspective, I can see the downside of this decision. Later, in my middle and high school years, I was fortunate enough to have had teachers that expressed an undeniable passion for teaching and making an impact. Their drive, determination, and intentionality, made me yearn for much more. It is those teachers who are enthusiastic and creative with their students, that motivate students to WANT to learn, not only because they ‘have to,’ but because they honestly want to. These are the teachers we all hope to become but give up on students and give in because we are too lazy to put in the effort to show that WE DO CARE and WE DO WANT THEM TO SUCCEED! Luckily, there are an unbelievable amount of teachers out there who make this happen. It’s on us teachers and educators to express our love for everything we are teaching, granted we personally are not going to like everything that comes out our resources and books but that’s when we are supposed to be creative and engaging!! If we allow ourselves to be confident, we can get our students to love school, love education, love learning, and love you as a teacher because we cared and put in 110%!!!

  • Dane Janner

    The research done in this article is incredibly interesting! I would half to agree with article’s stance that our school system perpetuates eternal motivation. I remember having teachers that would try to motivate us with pizza and ice cream parties in grade school and in high school, students that didn’t enjoy the subject did just enough to get by. I think the problem here is that teachers don’t do enough to help students motivating themselves. Connecting content with things that students enjoy or get excited about would be a great way to encourage self-motivation. I feel a balance of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is important, however it does need to be skewed toward promoting intrinsic motivation as developing this will serve our students greatly throughout the rest of their life.

  • MaKayla LaRue

    I really appreciate the fact that someone is explaining that we shouldn’t reward every single thing a student does. Natural curiosity and inquisitiveness are crucial aspects in the classroom and as educators these should be skills that we dig for and use. Especially with today’s face paced, highly technological work force, we need experts who want to work for their answers because there are problems that need answers.

  • Christopher Hernandez

    I can agree with being intrinsically motivated to gain new knowledge. Heck, intrinsic motivation can be used for self-improvement in general. What I don’t like is the idea that students can be intrinsically motivated to do homework that is repetitive and long. I’m sure we were given homework at least once or ten times in our lives, a long list of problems to solve or a tediously long paper to write that could be explained in a sentence or two. I would say those are times that students need extrinsic motivators, and don’t say grades can always serve this purpose. Students need to gain some fruits from their labor rather than being told that their efforts are going to qualify them for a job they might not even get when they grow up. Finding motivation for education is like a balancing act, we are trying not to defeat the purpose of learning from an assignment and at the same time we not trying to kill the students interest in their subject.

  • Austin Lovelace

    I tend to think that teachers should balance the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation they give to students. I appreciated that Branchflower encouraged her students during the process, rather than rewarding them for the final product. While ultimately teachers should strive to motivate students intrinsically, basic human nature demands that we cannot be motivated on this alone. Even adults are extrinsically motivated in their careers via paycheck, but one would hope that they are also intrinsically motivated by their passion for what they do.

  • Lauren Everly

    Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation are really key points that I totally agree on in this essay. I really loved the quote, “if you start kids off the wrong way then their intrinsic motives vanish.” This is so true especially with abusing extrinsic factors. If a teacher gives a kid a candy, extra time at recess, less math problems to do for homework, or bonus points on their grade then what is the teacher really teaching them? The teacher is teaching them that your success is based on your reward not your success is based on your progress. I am a student in college who has bought into this notion of extrinsic factors all throughout my pre-k, elementary, middle, and high school education, and that it is what students should aim for because that’s the prize. No, no, no, and a million times, no. Don’t get me wrong extrinsic factors are awesome, because who wouldn’t want a pizza party if everyone turns in thier assignment or extra bonus points on a test if everyone’s behavior is well in class that day. But the idea of the reward as being the ultimate prize of achievment is throwing away all of the progress the student has made, and that’s why I believe that intrinsic motivation is a tad bit more important than extrinsic. The teacher needs to KNOW thier students not just ask them a few questions and that’s it. I took an ESL methods course last semester and we had to create biography cards about ourselves. On them there was a section of our native language, if we had a second language, do we like to do group work or work individually, do we like to study in a study group or individually, what our hobbies and interest were, what we struggle with, how we learn best (visual, kinesthetic, auditory, etc.) and much more. The point is that my professor was getting to KNOW me and not just assume that I am the same as everyone else. I think all general education teachers should use this model for any age-preschool, elementary, high school, college, even in the workforce. Knowing more about what your students like and what they don’t like produces stratagies that teachers can use in the classroom to reach thier students. Getting the student interested makes them want to be motivated to do well and in turn classroom management hopefully will be smoother. Thus, in my opinion extrinsic motives should be used mildly at the beginning of the year so that there is something the student can look forward to, because the teacher doesn’t know them that well the first month or so of school. Then gradually the teacher can minimalisz the extrinsic motives so that intrinsic growth can occur. Make sure teachers use phrases like, “I really enjoyed your journal writing today because I didn’t know anything about this…you’re so smart!” And “keep up the good work,” “I know this test was tough for you so maybe let’s review what you missed and why so that you don’t make the same mistakes again.” In this way there is no materialistic reward, but rather the teacher is emphasizing intrinsic motives and that progress is being successful. The reward is the progress and the compliments or helpful critic the teacher gives the students. In conclusion, as a future teacher I will choose to pick my extrinsic motives wisely and use them at the appropriate time.

  • Brooke Waters

    As I read this article, I began to picture myself in a classroom wondering how I would motivate my secondary students to learn math. As almost all students have experienced, learning about math equations and how to solve problems is mechanical and dry in almost any grade. I liked what was said about incorporating practical problem-solving and logical reasoning. As a math student at a university, I have realized how unprepared school made me to think on a deeper level in math. I simply went through the motions in school to complete the problems given to me in class. If I was more intrinsically motivated, I may have developed a deeper level of thinking for the math realm. Grades are the main motivator in schools today. As a future teacher, I wonder if grades could still be used to evaluate student learning but be somewhat taken out of the picture. Why can’t teachers know students grades for their own information, but students simply be given a word or term to let them know where they stand with the material? I do not believe it is important that a student knows they got a 76 on their math assignment, but they need to know how they can improve and why it is important to improve. Back to the logical reasoning, I am also wondering how important it is to follow the standards versus taking more time to teach students how to think on a higher level. I think students would be much more motivated to learn math if the problems we discussed were real. An example would be to have them figure out how much it costs to paint the classroom. This incorporates a wide array of math knowledge while getting them involved with their peers and the physical world. Intrinsic motivation is important for future students to think on a deeper level and to be able to apply their knowledge to all areas of their life.

  • Tina Frost

    I thought that this article hit the nail on the head. I believe that intrinsic motivation is the most important thing for students to have, but that is something that is really hard to establish in young children. I think it is important for teachers to have high expectations for their students, but also offer rewards when students not only reach those expectations, but when they go beyond them. It is still important to offer extrinsic motivation to students, but self motivation is by far the key for success.

  • Jovan

    I really enjoyed this article. Although we should motivate our students learn, they shouldn’t be doing it just for the rewards. We need to motivate our students to have an intrinsic reward. They should want to learn, and to be curious about the topics and how the connect to other topics and to their lives. If they are “learning” or just completing the task for an extrinsic reward we are failing them, and they are learning nothing. We would be doing a dis-service to he students and the generation that they will be teaching if we let them “learn” this way. They will have nothing to base higher learning off nor will they want to learn at higher levels if they aren’t rewarded for it. We need to help our students motivate themselves, have themselves feel good because of the hard work they put into it, and be proud of it, not because of the outcome of a good grade or a point. Yes I agree that there should be extrinsic rewards because it will help keep the students interested/ engaged in the learning but that shouldn’t be their biggest motivation.

  • Jordan Sutton

    First off, I agree that a student’s only source of motivation should not be coming from the pizza parties or stickers or grades–that students should have a desire within themselves, to an extent, to learn. That is, in essence, what a rudimentary stance on motivation will look like: a little bit of both intrinsic and extrinsic, but maybe a bit more of the latter. Ideally for us as teachers, the opposite would be true; sure there’d be a bit of both types of motivation, but primarily the students will be intrinsically motivated. Advocating for the devil, here: what’s the big deal if our students are solely extrinsically motivated as long as they are learning; if they’re still learning the concepts and information, being able to aptly apply what they learn, who cares if they’re only doing it for the grade? So I’ll just leave that there to be thought over. I mean, sure I have my views and opinions on that question, but it is something to think about. Though, it would feel a little cheap to put that out there and not even answer it in the slightest–only kind of a cop-out. What I will say, to that end, is this: students who develop a sense of self-determination, that is, intrinsic motivation, will always have that available to them whereas students who are only extrinsically motivated will not always have rewards or pay-offs for their endeavors, so there’s that. One group of students shall always find a way to motivate themselves through whatever it is they are facing, and the other group, in moments lacking rewards or positive consequences, what are they supposed to do then?

  • Katelyn Niehues

    Overall I like this article and the idea of using intrinsic motivation in the classroom. However, I think that there needs to be a happy medium when it comes to extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Teachers should teach their students in a way that encourages intrinsic motivation. I think teachers can do this by putting more focus on students efforts than on their grades. Instead of saying “if you don’t study hard for your test you will get a bad grade” teachers could say “it is important that you know the information on this exam because it will benefit you in the future.” Extrinsic rewards can be used also, but teachers must be careful about how they approach it. Students can be “rewarded” or “punished” and still understand why what they did was good or bad, right or wrong. For example, a teacher could make a jar that she adds or removes marbles from when students are good or bad in class. When the jar reaches a certain level the students could receive some sort of reward or punishment – say a pizza party or no phones allowed in class for a week. Each time the teacher adds or removes a marble they could remind the students why what they are doing is good or bad and what they should do to better themselves. For example, talking while the teacher is talking – disrespectful and distracting.

  • Jordan Wheeler

    This article is very enlightening for a teacher of any grade level or content. From the perspective of a student who was extrinsically motivated I can recall going through my homework thinking, “if I just get this done I can keep my A”. I didn’t retain all the information that was provided to me for that reason. The grade was my goal. Valedictorian was my goal. It’s easy to pretend that creating intrinsically motivating lessons will create intrinsically motivated students but around every turn is a new reward or a new dream for a student. Also, as teachers, we can not control what goes on at home. We can create intrinsically motivated students but we can’t create intrinsically motivated children. For the child that works to put food on the table for their family, we can’t expect for our lessons to completely change their motivation. We can only hope that we are creating lessons that are valuable to our students and applicable to their lives. I do agree that this process has to start at elementary school but children of all ages and all backgrounds are going to walk into the classroom and we have to educate every single one, not teach them, educate them. One way to solve this dilemma is to get to know the students, developing a relationship with each and every one. Figure out what they are like and why they behave the way they do, and show them that we care about them. That is the way to educate a student, no matter what motivates them.

  • Meihang Chan

    Intrinsic motives is good, but it is hard to reach. “The intrinsic rewards that come from exploring interests in depth, and mastering difficult concepts and problems, can be smothered by a reward system that focuses on grades, say, rather than understanding.” I do like these words. We all believe that intrinsic rewards contributes to independent students but as what indicated–“Whereas younger students are more intrinsically motivated, many older kids complete their assignments for the sake of the grade, and are content to understand just one way to solve a problem.”
    I agree with that once we, as educators, started wrong–to praise students with pizzas when they got right, their intrinsic motives will vanish. For one thing, it is natural to favor the outside reward, then students get “habituation” to it and they started considering a candy rather than their interests.
    For another thing, it get involved with teachers` ways. Teachers have choices. The teacher from New Jersey is a model “He also tries to build what he calls “little cultures within the classroom to encourage learning;” teenagers are responsive to social expectations, and creating environments where curiosity is cool invites more self-directed learning.” Also, praise students` efforts rather than the results can encourage them to pay more attention to the process: whether they enjoy the exploration or concern with the results. And it would result on their enthusiasm for learning.

  • Kate Drilling

    This was a great article! I’ve always thought about how much extrinsic motivation I will allow in my classroom and this article has shown me that sometimes too much extrinsic motivation can be a bad thing! For instance, in the very beginning of the article it talked about a girl who disliked books and suddenly showed an interest in reading when she was extrinsically rewarded. She wasn’t even benefiting school wise from reading those books. She wasn’t even retaining any of the information. All she was doing was skimming through the books and taking the easy way out and choosing the easiest book to read so that she would be rewarded with a prize. Teaching kids that they will be rewarded after everything they do is not a good tactic. What happens later in like when extrinsic rewards are no longer an option? What is going to motivate them? It is important as teachers to motivate children to do good in school by using different ways other than extrinsic rewards. Sure, a reward is good every now and then but it is important as a teacher to find a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

  • Shaile Taylor

    This article was overall really great and I feel it hit some very important points that I feel are true and necessary. So often we see students who do their work only because they are expecting the extrinsic motivation, and while there is nothing wrong with this, students must posses intrinsic motivation beforehand in order the gain the most out of their learning. We as educators have the ability to help children with this and show them the importance of being motivated within. When teachers can create their lessons to involve activities and experiences that hold depth and reasoning meaningful learning is allowed to take place. Meaningful learning is one of the first steps in creating intrinsic motivation, students must feel like what they are learning is important and have the connections in order to be driven to do well and succeed for themselves, rather than all the prizes.

  • Raegan Hermreck

    I find this to be a very interesting study! Where do you draw the line with giving students so much extrinsic motivation that they have no intrinsic desire to accomplish something for themselves? While I believe that there is room for extrinsic motivation and I don’t find rewarding your students with extra recess time or a pizza party is necessarily a bad thing but they need to have an inner drive to want to succeed. I believe in order to succeed in any aspect of your life you need to be motivated intrinsically. I think as educators or future educators it is our job to help our students understand that they need to be responsible for their own learning and the great things they can do when they are. As Kathy Blanchflower said, “My job is to empower them to help them become independent young learners.” As an ending note, I think that the sooner kids realize that they aren’t always going to be rewarded in some way every time they do something good in their life the sooner they will realize that doing things for themselves can be just as satisfying.
    -Raegan Hermreck

  • Mitchell Baumgartner

    I really like the idea of intrinsic motivation. I have had classes that I am intrinsically motivated to learn the material, like my current History of Mathematics class. I have had classes where I desire the teacher to hand out extra credit, so I can get the A. Intrinsic motivation is by far what we should be desiring for our students today. Intrinsic motivation should be guiding our life choices as adults. The raise isn’t always going to be there. The Christmas bonus won’t always be as big. The prize will not always bring the most happiness. I really enjoy this quote,

    “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but at succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” -Francis Chan

    Why are we so afraid to fail? I ask myself this, right after I got mad at myself for receiving a 76 on a test this past week, which I consider not living up to my expectations. I think it has a lot to do with instantaneous satisfaction. An external reward is instant and doesn’t always take a lot of work to get. An intrinsic reward usually takes a lot more effort because we want/have to put the effort in. It isn’t instantaneous.

    I truly believe that every person has something that motivates them to work hard. Our job as teachers is to help students find that. The most difficult part of that is finding out that it isn’t our subject matter that motivates the student, being able to accept that, and still challenging that student in our class!

  • Maggie Murphy

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I am a college student right now in elementary education, so I really enjoyed the segment about the elementary teacher motivating her fourth and fifth graders. How teachers intrinsically motivate their students is an interesting topic to me. In my psychology class we have been talking about the different ways that students are motivated, and I think that the elementary teacher, Kathy Branchflower, definitely has the right idea. I can remember the projects in my classes in elementary school that I loved the most. It was not because I got a prize out of the deal, but rather because the teacher made it interesting and fun for us, by including topics we were interested in, letting us choose how to do the project, and differentiating the instruction so as to make it fun and enjoyable. It is much easier to be motivated to learn when you’re having fun. My biggest takeaway from this article is as a future teacher, I need to differentiate my instruction to cover the material that needs to be taught, but at the same time I need to play to the interests of my students and find how they are motivated.

  • Marley Brooks

    This was a great article with great ideas! I work in a preschool right now and I have noticed for myself that too much extrinsic behavior is not beneficial for students. I think this article did a great job of explaining why this is and how we can use more of intrinsic in the classroom. I liked the idea of praising our kids for the efforts they put into the assignments rathe than the outcomes. It is important to inform our students that we notice our good work, but I also think that we have to do it in an intrinsic way. Doing it in an intrinsic way will have students not expecting a prize or treat after every good thing they’ve done, to rather feel accomplished.

  • Micah Barfuss

    I like how these teachers were teaching their students a growth mind set, giving them the chance to think through problems without being given the answers. I think the blue ribbon club, everyone gets a trophy, is a real problem which feeds into this lack of intrinsic motivation. It is a hard thing to teach, especially when everything is instant gratification now.

  • Brooke Jackson

    What an interesting view on intrinsic and extrinsic factors! I agree that when we increase extrinsic motivation, the willingness to want to work and learn without those factors, decreases. People must find what motivates them from within because that is what will push them through life. Children who are so focused on extrinsic rewards will be in for a shock when they get out on their own and realize they don’t get a prize for everything they have accomplished. When you get a job, you can’t expect to receive a pat on the back or some kind of reinforcement for every thing you do right. I am going to be an elementary teacher and in my future classroom I want students to find the motivation within. If they can do that then they are better prepared to take on the world.

  • MacKenzie Justice

    I think this article was very well written and outlined a lot of important points. I would agree that to be intrinsically motivated is much more effective and lasting than extrinsic motivation. I believe that if someone is genuinely intrinsically motivated to do something, they will eventually accomplish their goal. However, if they are only extrinsically motivated, that motivation can deminish or the reward they are striving for, whether it is a grade, raise, or award, can be taken away from them and then they will no longer have a reason to accomplish their goal. As a teacher, I don’t think it’s possible to completely avoid extrinsic motivation, but as you get to know the students as individuals find ways that specifically work for them that gets them intrinsically motivated. After reading this article, it made me think of how my previous teachers motivated us and I definitely think they focused on intrinsic motivation. We were encouraged much more to learn and understand the information than to simply pass the test.

  • Madison Lingard

    I found this to be pretty interesting to read! I like how it did have it broken up by age group. I think that gave a better idea how the different age groups think and how they respond. I definitely agree that the intrinsic motivation would be the most beneficial for the students in the long run because you want them to learn that internal motivation because when they grow up they are going to always believe that by doing well they should always receive something for it and not have any internal drive to do it.

  • Lauren Gregory

    I am in college right now and studying to be an elementary education teacher and this article was a great read before getting into the classroom. This article provided great insight on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, something I have always struggled with and how I want to motivate my future students. I too agree that intrinsic motivation needs to out weigh extrinsic motivation, but how do we conquer that when every child receives an award for any behavior nowadays? I love the comment in the article that says, “stopping short of answering questions that kids are capable of answering on their own.” This comment points out that students are extremely capable of helping themselves, and that sometimes they rely too much on the teacher to hand them the answer. I think the most important takeaway I gained from this article is to praise their effort, not their result. This is a great way to show students that their thought process and efforts are noticed in school and that these have the biggest influence on their learning.

  • Hayley Wallace

    Being an elementary education major I really like your section on intrinsic motivation in elementary school. I do think it is important to encourage our students to have intrinsic motivation from a young age. Although I think this is a very hard task for some elementary school teachers especially when it comes to behavior because, it’s very common for teachers to have some form of token system for good behavior because that is often an easy fix. When it comes to school work though I believe that it is important to intrinsically motivate children by explaining to them exactly how the topic you are teaching affects their lives now and will in the future so they are more driven to pay attention and learn the material. – Hayley Wallace

  • Brooke Hemmert

    This article is a very interesting and powerful outlook on how to motivate students on any levels. I really appreciate that you evaluated how to motivate students on a broad range – from elementary all the way to college. I very strongly agree that one of the most important things in recognizing student success is to praise their hard work and effort instead of their grade. It’s important to tell students when they get a good grade, “Wow you must have worked really hard on that” instead of “wow you got an A, you must be so smart”. Motivating students is something that I think will be difficult in my first years of teaching, and after reading this article I have a better understanding of the means as to which you should motivate students. I appreciate the insight and advice from this article, and I look forward to the ways in which I can implement it into my classroom in the future.

  • Halston Shaw

    As a soon to be elementary teacher, I really liked looking at the breakdown of the different grade levels. Throughout my whole life I have always been intrinsically motivated within to be the best I can be at whatever I do. I remember being excited when teachers gave extrinsic motivations for completing things in the classroom. Since everyone is motivated differently, I think extrinsic motivators are beneficial for those types of students who need a little “extra” push to get things done. I also think it is important for students to learn how to be intrinsically motivated because it is only going to help them later in life. Going to a university and being involved takes tons of intrinsic motivation to get things accomplished in a timely manner. I am excited to learn how I can intrinsically motivate my future students. This article gave some great insight and I am looking forward to using the ideas in my classroom!

    • Katie Myers

      Katie Myers
      Halston- you bring up some excellent points. I remember this summer (before I started my education classes) I was in a teacher materials and crafts store with my best friend who was about to start block B at the time. I mentioned to her how excited I was to be a teacher and that I couldn’t wait to have my own classroom. As we walked past a shelf full of small “rewards” (erasers, fun pencils, sticky hands, etc.) I said, “I’m going to have a bucket in my classroom and when my students earn enough points they will be able to pick something from the bucket!” When I said this, my best friend literally laughed and said, “Rewards aren’t a good thing. You’ll change your mind after block A.” I personally think that both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are beneficial, since everyone is motivated differently. I also think that sometimes extrinsic motivators can turn into intrinsic motivators. I too, was also very excited when my teachers gave extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation is something that comes with the appreciation of learning as well. Now that I am at a university, I am more intrinsically motivated because I know that the information I am learning in school is going to help me later in life and make me a better teacher. This article did a great job of showing ideas on how to intrinsically motivate students. The one big take away I got from this article is that no matter what age, if the lesson is FUN and EXCITING the student will be intrinsically motivated.

  • Jacob Rutledge

    This article was very insightful about motivation and how to incorporate it into your classroom. I thought it was very interesting at how they explained not to reward to early and often, because it will cause students to lose their intrinsic motivations. Also, I now have a better understanding of how to reward and to keep students motivated properly. It is important to focus on their work and to give recognition where recognition is earned. Overall, I believe this will be one of the biggest challenges I face in my classroom. I will definitely keep this article in mind moving forward with my career.

  • Adam B

    The article says extrinsic motivation has “unintended effect of dismantling a child’s drive to learn for its own sake.” I agree with the statement but think of this. Extrinsic motivation gets us started on something but intrinsic motivations keep us going forward when times get tough. For example, I K-State student getting my degree to teach. My extrinsic motivation for coming to school was to get my degree and eventually get a job. The intrinsic motivator for staying in school and finishing my degree, when it is not easy, is I will some be the difference in a child’s life to help them be exactly what they want to be. I was a part of that!

    • Emmaline Wyrill

      I agree with your comment a lot. I think there can be a balance of both types of motivation in the classroom. Obviously, we want intrinsic motivation to be present so that our students cultivate that drive to work hard and take an active role in their learning. However, extrinsic motivation can play a positive part in th classroom as well. Even as a college student who is ultimately going into the field of education because of my intrinsic motivation, I am also motivated by external goals that benefit me. We as teachers want to find that balance in ththe classroom, and I think we can use some extrinsic motivators to build a strong sense of intrinsic motivation in our students that can last their whole lives.

      • Adam B

        Nicely said. The key is absolutely balance!

  • Beth Augustine

    I thought this article discusses a lot of valid points. Where do we draw the line? Many teachers like to reward their students with food or objects. Many people think this is not the best thing to do. They believe that schooling should be completed by the students intrinsic motivation. I think it goes both ways. To much extrinsic motivation can cause students to lose intrinsic motivation. They also can start expecting rewards for minimal behavior. This is not good for the students either. I don’t think extrinsic motivation is a bad thing though. I think it can encourage students to work on those days that they are feeling a little lazy or just are tired. I think teachers shouldn’t only use extrinsic motivation, but instead build intrinsic motivation within their students. I think mixed motivation is best suited for students.

  • Kinsey Coupal

    Kinsey Coupal
    I really liked how this article was written and broken down into different grade levels. As a future elementary teacher, I see that it is important to motivate students mostly intrinsically so that they can gain confidence in themselves. It is important to intrinsically motivate students so they are not always expecting to get a reward externally. Like it said in the article it is important for students to feel accomplished through themselves and not just the “things” that they get. I also agree that it is important to give students responsibilities and give them praise for those things to gain independence. Don’t just focus on their grade but giving them praise along the way for their efforts is an important part, so they know their work is what matters and not just the outcome or what they get. I also think that it is important to give students motivation extrinsically as well, on occasion. If the focus is on intrinsic motivation then students won’t expect to always be extrinsically motivated so then when they are rewarded extrinsically it will be something special. I remember when I was in elementary school our class was extrinsically motivated through the marble jar system. Every time we were able to fill the marble jar we could choose what type of reward we received. We could have a movie day, pajama day, pizza party, etc. I feel like this was a good balance because it took some time to receive that reward so I feel that we knew we had to work to get it. This way it didn’t just hand over reward after reward to us extrinsically. The teacher was able to balance the intrinsic motivation throughout, while occasionally giving us an extrinsic motivator.

  • Sara

    This was a very interesting read. I agree with the points that we shouldn’t just give external rewards to our students for they are more likely to then lose their internal motivation. I also like the idea of giving the students more of a say in the classroom. However, we must be aware to not let them control too much or think they can get away with more things.

  • Mackenzie Nelson

    As a future educator at the elementary level, I found this article so interesting and relevant. I think that it is so important to intrinsically motivate your students, especially at the elementary level, because doing this sets them up for success in their futures. Something that I enjoyed in the article was when the teacher reminds her students that they are responsible for their own learning, and she is more of a facilitator. This was a perfect example of how to intrinsically motivate students. At the elementary level, it suggested to give the kids the opportunity to answer questions on their own, giving them choices, making lessons fun, giving them freedom, etc. Those are all ways that I think would give your students intrinsic motivation and make them want to learn more and do well in school. It makes me think of the type of teacher I will be in the future. Will I be an extremely hands on teacher, or will I be more of a facilitator for my students? This was a great article that I enjoyed reading and the points discussed were great, it really got me thinking.

  • Makayla Leslie

    This article hits on a lot of good points that we need to consider in our own classrooms. We cannot only “bribe” students to motivate them, telling them they get a prize just for doing their homework. That is an injustice to the student, because they will then have an unrealistic view of how society works. It also shows a lacking on our part as educators, to make them think that if there is no prize involved then they don’t have to accomplish the task. We should be actively involved with our students, providing them with intriguing lessons that stimulates their creativity and curiosity. In doing so, we then can awaken their inner desire to learn, which will then motivate them intrinsically. Now, I don’t think that taking away all extrinsic motivation is necessary. No, I think it can be done in a positive manner. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like being rewarded for the hard work that they have done? The key is to make sure we don’t use those extrinsic measures in an abusive way. Realistically we have to look at the fact that some students are just not going to be interested in some areas and may need a little push, but as the article says, we must start them off on the right foot…which is not by dangling a prize in front of them. We must find a way to motivate our students without that motivation always resulting a prize. If you constantly give out a prize it will lose its value and become mundane.

  • Macy A.

    To what point do we stop with rewards and expect students to do the task at hand? I think there is a line, but where the line is depends on each individual student. As much as I would like to say the issue should be viewed in black and white, there is no way that would be resonable when you consider each individual student. A system with too many rewards means the students expect it and become more complacent. It is important to use rewards occasionally, but not make them the only focus of the student. I think the reward system should be use to help the student find motivation, and then the student will drive the motivation with their own passions.

  • Shawn Finch

    I find that I also ask “when will I ever use this” as a means to judge how important it is for me to learn and retain information, primarily in math. I agree that motivation should “ideally” be internal, but sometimes it needs to start externally. by curbing the amount of external input, you should be able to have the internal inputs grow.

    • BreAnne Caudle

      I agree with this completely, there are many things that definitely need to have reason to be important and useful for learning but I really like and agree with the authors statement and defense of “To be a well rounded person.” I think that throughout high school and now in college courses many of the concepts I learn are pointless in math but I definitely think that the use of this information does make me a more well rounded person and the intrinsic motivation of knowledge. As a teacher, I think it is important to get the students excited for whatever they are learning about and the teacher’s job is to sell it to the students and excite them as well to learn it.

  • Savanna Roth

    I am currently an elementary education major. I enjoyed reading this article because it discusses the importance of intrinsic motivation. I don’t think that extrinsic motivation is necessarily a bad thing but I do believe that it is done way to often. How can our students be intrinsically motivated if everywhere else they go they are extrinsically motivated? I think this is a good read for not only teachers, but parents as well. I want successful students who are intrinsically motivated and I hope to achieve that goal.

  • Ellen Revell

    This article caught me off guard and made me think deeper about my lessons. It also makes me think more critically about my teaching style and procedure. I do agree with most of the article and I wish that it would go into more depth with the research. However, I do believe that some students may need more compliments when they achieve goals. Some students get no compliments or rewards at home. If complements and rewards are also hard to come by in school then some students may shut down. I have also observed some students pushing themselves so hard to the point were when someone does reward them, they burst into tears and breakdown. I really believe that most of the motivation is tied to the teacher.

  • Anna Schneeberger

    “It makes a lot of sense that intrinsic motivation is more important than external, but the definite challenge of intrinsic motivation is that it is harder to control. Teachers can easily give out candy, extra credit, or grades, but at the end of the day intrinsic motivation will always be what makes the better learning. It is so important for students to feel motivated and encouraged by each one of their teachers. Teachers need to learn how to give productive feedback and sow the want to learn. When you motivate your students intrinsically there will be better learning! Students who are more instinctually motivated will become better students and one day better employees. It is more authentic working for inward motivation compare to outward.”

  • Aly Daniels

    I am an elementary education major and I am not sure I agree with this article. I think that intrinsic motivation is extremely important, but extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing. Think about it… how often in school did you try really hard on a project to make sure you got an A. Are you going to tell me that you did not learn anything after its completion? I have worked extremely hard and have learned a lot and I am definitely extrinsically motivated by grades. In college you have to be. Many of our scholarships are dependent on our G.P.A., which means that grades even though extrinsically motivated are our ending goal. However, I agree that intrinsic motivation is key and is often what leads to a growth mindset and increased levels of grit. Both a growth mindset and grit have been studied and they both show that these are great determinants of success. One portion of this article that I found most interesting and useful was the section about how to make learning fun. When learning is fun then the students are more excited to learn and therefore they will begin to learn for the right reasons and dig deeper. All in all I thought this article was an interesting read, but in my classroom I will be using both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation because I think that is what works best for most students.

  • Morgan Tull

    This article was very eye opening in many ways. You don’t see a lot of people really breaking down what motivates someone. It was very interesting to see the change in motivation between elementary children and then high school students. You don’t really think about the change in motivation but when you really think and look at it you notice the change. With that you have students that have different levels of motivation. I thought the smartest thing said in this article was a teacher you can choose what you want to respond to. As a future teacher that gives me great insight into what I could do with students different levels of motivation. When they are in middle and high school, students make a lot of decisions based off their peers. If they see some peers being motivated with good grades and acting good in school then some will fall suit behind. Again as a teacher you can choose what you want to respond to.

  • Lindsey Goff

    I thought that this article was really interesting! I feel as though we are taught to just hand out rewards for every little thing a child does in order to help boost their self-esteem. This article does a great job pointing out that it is more important for children to be intrinsically motivated opposed to being extrinsically motivated. However, it does seem like it is a much easier task for teachers to extrinsically motivate students sometimes! I liked how Ms. Branchflower motivates her students by making them responsible for their education. I think this is a great way for students to not only take charge of their learning but also get them intrinsically motivated!

    • Claire Meyer

      I think this article drives home a lot of sad, but real perspectives of where motivation comes from in today’s society. The article also conveys what a teacher’s main goal is: to teach students how to learn and take charge of their education. These two aspects go hand-in-hand, as Lindsey stated above, “I think this is a great way for students to not only take charge of their learning but also get them intrinsically motivated!” Wow. Thank you Lindsey; that is the bottom line of this article. Intrinsically motivated students are the ones who can work hard and take charge of education! When an individual is intrinsically motivated, they have a deeper connection and see the worth in their work. External motivation is much more likely to be fleeting. A reward that is physical is usually not lasting. Intrinsic motivation is from within, therefore, it does not leave a person quickly. That connection to learning stays in the brain longer and an individual will have so much more of a connection to it!

      My mom is a preschool teacher, and I love going to watch and learn from her. Rather than “bribing” children with statements like, “IF you do this, THEN you will get this…..”, my mom says statements like, “WHEN you do this, THEN you can…….” I love this logic because it takes away the external motivation and makes the student find that intrinsic motivation (still in combination with some external motivatoin) that is essential for forming a desire to LEARN!

  • Tyler

    I feel like this article made a lot of great points, especially when talking about extrinsic motivation not necessarily helping the child learn. I feel like anymore we feel obligated to give rewards for anything and everything just to get the child or whoever to do the task, rather than focusing on the real reason it needed to be accomplished. For example, when I was in high school, all of our food and toy drives had to be turned into competitions for prizes just to get students to participate and donate, which I found really sad. Instead of thinking about being a charitable person and helping the less fortunate, it was all about “what’s in it for me”. I think if we can use intrinsic motivation in a way which we show students why they need to know the task at hand and make it applicable to their life, we would see a great increase in motivation and desire to learn.

  • Tdf

    I really liked the part about motivating kids to be well-rounded throughout their life. I wrote about this in my quiz actually, that when a kid asks me why they need to know something, it is not that they need to, but that it is beneficial to them. In stressing to kids that it’s not important you remember the exact year we bought the Louisiana purchase, rather what that meant to the future of America, you help them see that education in action. I think many kids feel they must get good grades to go to college and that they must store all this information they are receiving for sometime down the road, but that is not the reality. The reality is that majority of kids want to succeed in life, whether they realize education plays a major role in that or not. Our job as teachers is to be and provide the motivation for students to succeed.

  • Jada Hinderberger

    How inspiring! I love the way you divided the article into elementary and secondary motivation. That provided a nice distinction. It’s pretty scary how much we base our learning off of our grade in a class. We are losing our love for learning. I also think that whatever motivates us, controls our happiness and self-worth. If grades are good, life is good. If grades are bad, I’m disappointed in myself and life is bad. As educators, we need to shift that focus from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation.

  • Katelyn Slavik

    I really liked this article. I think it is spot on and I agree with it. The way that children, and even just society in general, are motivated is very much extrinsically. “If you do this, then you get this” is a phrase that we see way too often. People are doing things just for the act of getting free things such as food or random non necessities. Most people have lost their intrinsic motivation and must be motivated by extrinsic factors.

  • katherine colburn

    This appears to be an all or nothing argument. I think that there is a time and place for an extrinsic motivator. Sure I love my job, but if after years of hard work they don’t want to give me more money because I am so intrinsically motivated I may seek out a different opportunity. In a classroom intrinsic motivation should always be the goal, but I don’t think that means taking away any sort of external motivator. We teachers like when students earn a pizza party too 🙂

    • Rey Irwin

      I agree with your thought that there is grey area and there needs to be a mix of extrinsic and extrinsic, although I don’t think that the article is advocating taking away all extrinsically motivating factors, but rather saying that we need to be more careful as to why, what, and how often we do it. As has been mentioned before in the comments, if we give everyone a reward for doing nothing, they will expect to get something for no effort, which they should not. If we give students rewards like pizza parties all the time and don’t balance it with things that will increase their learning while giving them things they want to do like extra recess time or being able to have a little more reading time then the rewards are not as effective as they could be. If we give students rewards all the time instead of for the more important things then the rewards end up being useless. Intrinsic motivation is important, and it is the goal that we should work towards because it is what keeps students doing things beyond the classroom and really motivates them the best. However, extrinsic motivation is also important and we should just be careful as to how we implement it, because that is also very important.

    • Maggie Salisbury

      I agree with kat! There is a time and a place to reward your students. I want them to work hard all of the time whether there is a reward there waiting for them or not. Yes, I will always have a candy jar and a reward bucket… But I want my kids to know that in order to get that reward they will need to work hard.
      This was a great article that points out the good and the bad in motivation. Great read!

    • Savanna Floyd

      I definitely agree with this Kat. It is nice to get rewards every once and awhile and it can give you that extra little boost. Our goal is to have our students be intrinsically motivated because we want them to want to learn. It can be hard getting to that point and I think there is a little bit of a gray area when it comes to extrinsic motivators. Providing small things like a jolly rancher for answering a question every once in awhile can be a way to get students involved as long as it is not something you rely on. We don’t want our students to rely on getting a reward for every little thing they do but it shouldn’t be a problem to have a pizza party if they had earned it from their hard work. Balance is key!

  • Joe Weakland

    Although some have noted that this seems to be an all-or-nothing argument, I think that it’s a very fair one, and a rather accurate exigesis of life. We do have to be conscientious of how far we let the pengelum swing, but my opinion on the subject is that you are correct in your assessment of the drawbacks of extrinsic values versus instilling a real desire to learn.

    Praising students for their efforts rather than for their results, as Kathy Branchflower does, is not the natural reaction, but I think we need to make it to be. If our goal is to make our students lifelong learners who desire to know more and more, and whose curiosity is continually being stoked, then this is exactly the kind of motivation our students need.

  • Mallory Schneeberger

    The key I believe we need to keep in focus regarding extrinsic rewards is the hype or emphasis we place on them. First and foremost we ought to teach our students the intrinsic values of the information we are guiding them through. From there we can and should incorporate extrinsic rewards as needed or after the learning or action is achieved. However, specifically in the arts, the two are much more intertwined in that one leads to the other. If a student focuses intrinsically on becoming a better painter, they will reap an extrinsic reward in a more pleasing finished art piece. While this is technically true in the common core where students who focus on knowledge reap a better test grade, it is the tangible and practical aspects of the artwork that can serve more readily as an instant reward for students. How might we distinguish between the two more in the arts? Or is it necessary to do so?

  • Caden Laptad

    I tend to personally fear the same kind of devaluing of intrinsic motivation that this article presents, but I’m not quite sure that all extrinsic motivation is damaging; rather, poorly utilized extrinsic motivation is damaging. Grades and extrinsic goals are mean to be complementary to the intrinsic motivations and learning of students, and when utilized correctly, a “gold star” can be a boost to a student’s confidence and willingness to learn, particularly if the reason they were given the “gold star” comes as a result of being stretched in their learning at a level they normally are unable to achieve. In this way, extrinsic motivation must be student-specific, and cannot merely reflect a “threshold” whereby all who pass it are rewarded. For example, solving a basic derivation problem in Calculus may be trivial for some students and a great leap for others, and students need to be challenged at levels which adequately reflect their learning needs at the time.

    There may be some good which comes from poorly-executed, extrinsic motivation (such as the girl who was reading books being able to read more naturally and quickly), but it often sacrifices some of the other learning needs which could very easily fall behind (comprehension and so forth). If students were instead rewarded for reading books at a level at/higher than their current reading skills and then were able to write a book report about it, such extrinsic motivation may be warranted, as it rewards the student’s growth and overcoming of challenge, as opposed to merely rewarding a task that may not adequately challenge the student. Sure, the student learns how to be efficient, but this skill (which we often do intuitively) will not necessarily promote further, challenging learning like other skills can.

    As the article points out, the real way to motivate kids is to ensure the content and work is relevant and interconnected with their lives. Thus, so too must the rewards be intimately tweaked to accommodate the students themselves and their respective needs.

  • Chi-un Dougherty

    I enjoyed reading the article but I disagree with it to a point. I feel that rewarding kids does motivate them but there should be limits. Two of my children have this system at school where when their classes behave well, or work very hard, or are complimented by other teachers, they receive a marble to put into the class jar. Once the jar is full, the class gets a marble party where the students usually watch a movie and get to eat foods like popcorn or cookies. I like this system because it motivates all students to work hard but also to behave well and work with classmates. This sense of working with classmates also applies to working with other peers in their school environment. That skill alone is very valuable because it is a key skill for their futures.

  • Alec Melvin

    Many points made in this article are the same kind of issues that my professors are helping me to understand at Kansas State University. Since I am an Elementary Education major I especially enjoyed the part of the article that discusses rewards. It is interesting to think that by giving awards to the students it is dismantling their drive and motivation to actually learn and want to understand the given material. This is so true though, because being a junior in college, I have realized that much of my learning experiences are just for the ‘good grade’. I catch myself only doing the assigned homework to get the good grade, instead of really reading and understanding what I am suppose to be learning. Due to this sudden realization in the learning system, I want to work very hard not to be the cause of my future students intrinsic motives vanishing. In order to do this, I believe that we as future teachers have to be conscious and aware of our teaching, instead of getting stuck in the same old ways. We have to believe in our lessons and love them in order for our students to do the same thing. In doing this we also have to not give our student the answers. Making them responsible for their learning, like mentioned in the article, I think is huge. It makes them more aware of their learning behavior and actions.

  • Brianna Thrailkill

    This article presented something that I see so often in young children, they are doing their reading, their writing, their math tables, etc. all for the wrong reasons, all for the extrinsic motivators like candy, prizes and pizza. I saw this as a prime example this past summer when I nannied for three kiddos, they refused to do their summer activities unless they were extrinsicly motivated, or for a better word bribed. I realized how much of an issue it was because they were not gaining anything from this material, they were just going through the motions so they could claim their “prize.” I began thinking, how can I motivate in an intrinsic way? How can I get them to learn this material because they WANT to? After I did some thinking, I met with them the next day and asked each of my kiddos what they wanted to be when they grew up. Mya said she wanted to be a vet, Camilla wanted to be a zebra Doctor, and Luca wanted to be a marine biologist and work with sharks. It was then that I told them well guys, the best vets and marine biologists love to read, they love their math, their science and social studies. Not only that, but think about when you go into your classes next fall and think about how ahead and smart you will be after practicing all summer! You will be one of the smartest in the class. I began to restore their intrinsic motivation and I saw the biggest change in their attitude about their school work. They genuinely wanted to learn it and took the time to do so. They weren’t going through the motions any more, they were learning, actively learning.

    • Holly Cooper

      Brianna, I completely agree with your statement about children doing various tasks for extrinsic motivators. Unfortunately, our society is stuck in the mindset of giving rewards for simply participating in activities and events.

      For example, I’ve been volunteering at an after school program in Ogden for the last several semesters and for a period of time the students who attended were very adamant about helping us clean up (i.e. wipe down tables, wash and dry dishes, push in chairs). I was very excited (and impressed) that they were so willing to help us, until I figured out that the only reason that were doing it was because another volunteer was giving out additional snacks as a reward for their work. Now, that approach wasn’t necessarily bad, however it 1) lessened our supply of food designated specifically for snack time and 2) didn’t demonstrate to the students the purpose behind the cleaning-up process or the discipline that is needed for tasks that we don’t always want to complete.

      Afterward, we asked ourselves a similar question, “how can we motivate these students in a way that they will want to help without receiving an additional snack?” Eventually, we decided to let the students help us distribute the food and drinks for snack time. This option fulfilled their desire to help us, but in a different, more well-rounded way. They LOVE this “job” and always look forward to signing-up to help.

  • Ali Torr

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I had never thought of the idea to praises their effort rather than their results as Branchflower does in her Elementary classroom. As we talked about earlier in the Semester, the story about the student who didn’t try in school until he was assigned a certain project. He was then very involved and worked hard in and out of the classroom. The only problem was that he didn’t include anything that was on the rubric to include in the project. By grading your students on their efforts in the class, the teacher could boost his motivation, as well as other students, to participate more in class. This motivation could also lead to better following of instruction.

  • Karissa Hammock

    My concern with all motivators is finding the balance. I think a good mix of keeping the kids in your classroom is finding that place where your students have that drive to find something that intrinsically motivates them to succeed and motivating or rewarding effort extrinsically. I agree that intrinsic motivation is so important. If you are constantly telling your students, if you do A, you will get rewarded with B, what happens when they are required to do something but won’t get rewarded with B? They have lose their motivation. The question is what motivates your students? MANY things are motivators and if you can overcome the legacy their last teacher left with them, then build your classroom with those motivators in mind. Students are motivated when they feel a sense of belonging. If you are building relationships with your students and setting a solid foundation for your learning community, then students will feel more motivated while increasing their self esteem. I see a lot of talk about grades and I think that for the secondary levels for sure, grading practices and structures are definitely motivators for students. The thing we as educators have to be careful about is de-motivating our students. What it takes to motivate your students from day to day my fluctuate but it’s imperative that we don’t alienate them to the point of removing any sort of intrinsic motivation they have developed while working to build that up.

    • Amber Rae Mock

      I love your real world example! After reading this article, I was trying to think of ways to help students become intrinsically motivated but I was drawing a huge blank. My concern is how to get kids that expect an award for little or no work to do better work because they want to. Your example with the kids last summer helped me understand how to get stance intrinsically motivated again. I’ll be a high school teacher so won’t be quite as easy for me to get them intrinsically motivated. Part of what I need to do is really my class to them and will become more intrinsically motivated to learn my lessons. Some thoughts on how to help them become more intrinsically motivated: Will it help their current or future job? What major do they want to complete in college (if they’re going to college)?

  • Morganne Hamm

    I found this article very interesting since I am going into elementary education. After reading through this article, I think a lot of the pressure to teach students to be instrinsicly movitaved must be on the elementary teachers. If a student going into middle or high school has only ever been extrinsic lay motivated, they will have a very rough time adjusting to not receiving prizes or rewards for their work.

    I think getting students to be instrinsicly motivated is hard and a lot of work. I think that’s why most teachers rely on extrinsic motivation. It is a lot easier to give students a prize than it is to motivate them to have a desire to learn more and do their best without a prize. I think both instrinsic and extrinsic motivation have there place in the classroom. But as a future teacher, I think it is important to strive to find a good balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Also, it isimportant to consider that some students with disabilities might only respond to extrinsic motivation.

    • Bethany Porting

      Being in elementary education as well I would have to agree that there is a lot of pressure being but on elementary teacher to intrinsicly motivate their students. I agree that it takes a lot of work to get student to be intrinsicly motivated. Especially if a teacher who had previously taught the class used extrinsic motivation. It would be quite the challenge to try and switch their motivation to learn. I also agree that neither intrinsic or extrinsic motivation is wrong to use in a classroom. A teacher should be able to use both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in order for their classroom to be successful.

  • Mayci Agler

    This post goes hand in hand with a conversation I had with a professor a few months back. We were discussing the use of praise in the classroom and at what point does it become harmful to their education. There are two types of praise teachers tend to use: praise of accomplishment and praise of process. Praising a student for a good grade is easy and doesn’t take much thought but it only reinforces the idea that success with the end product is good, who cares about what you have to do to get there. However, a successful educator will focus on the positive qualities, work ethic, ideas, and attitudes of each student and verbally give positive reinforcement on these aspects. This takes the focus off of the end product and puts it on the process of learning and working which is where the true success is.

    • Adam Schmitz

      I agree with what you said! It is so important to praise the work ethic rather than the end result. I thought about the “what teachers make” routine when Mali says “I can make a c+ feel like a congressional Medal of Honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face.” We as educators have to motivate each student with that students needs in mind, it’s about the process, not the product.

  • Kara Galbraith

    My favorite part of the article was in the section about elementary school students. I completely agree with the author that we can’t just expect our students to be inherently intrinsically motivated, especially with the way that adults tend to “take charge” of younger students’ educations when they are completely capable of so much more. By giving students more choices, setting the expectation bar high, and allowing students to live up to those expectations is a good way for them to take responsibility for their own educations, and, by extension, be more intrinsically motivated to learn and do well.

  • Kailey Morash

    I really enjoyed this article. It reminded me of a conversation that I had this past summer with parents of children on the swim team that I coach. They were all arguing for all of the children to receive participation ribbons at each meet for simply showing up and getting in the water. The other coaches wanted to use the normal first through eighth place ribbons that way the swimmers who were working hard and as a result doing well at meets would be rewarded. The other argument for that was that those swimmers who weren’t quite able to get one of those ribbons would then have the goal of working hard enough to earn one. I think that is a good example of using extrinsic motivation well rather than the participation ribbon Method

  • Sandra Havel

    We all work for extrinsic rewards – the paycheck (or students work for good grades to get into a good college or find a good paying job), I believe that no CEO would work those crazy hours because he or she enjoys it but because it will be rewarded with a paycheck and other incentives.

    Giving extrinsic rewards all the time to everyone can have its problems. It teaches students that everyone wins no matter what, this to me is raising a generation of people who feel entitled. I believe that we as future educators need to be aware that that we are play a part in raising children to become responsible citizens who realize that in order to get a reward one needs to work for it and that not everyone wins. When these students get out into the world they will not be handed a promotion or a good college grade because other people got one but because they earned it.

    Giving extrinsic rewards, to students that earned good grades, improved, etc. (like in the school I am doing my Field Experience – Honor Roll students have quarterly pizza parties or get to view a movie) can have a positive effect on other students who want to go to these events as well. Extrinsic rewards might not work in the long run though – take the reward away and the students might lose their motivation.

    Intrinsic motivation is much better suited to promote student learning. This requires work from us as teachers, since not every students wants to learn the subject we will be teaching. So, we as educators need to make it interesting that the students want to learn more about it. Extrinsic motivation does not require one to know students well it just requires a knowledge of what the students are willing to work for in order to get the reward or to avoid the punishment. Intrinsic motivation on the other hand requires one to get to know all students well in order to make it interesting for all students to want to learn.

  • Ashley Cook

    I do find the new everyone gets rewarding for showing up mentality strange. To me to seems that without having to work for anything there is no reason for growth. While I think extrinsic motivation is important it must be used in smaller fashions and include something that must be worked towards. Not everyone earns the same rewards at the same times.

  • Cody Holliday

    I think this is a great article. I have recently heard a lot of comments about issues like this, such as giving out participation medals. There has been a lot of people speaking out about this concept which I believe is a good sign. I think that our society is finally starting to realize the drawback of relying upon extrinsic motivation. I do believe that there can be times when extrinsic motivation isn’t necessarily bad and can be in fact quite nice when you are surprised by a reward because someone noticed your effort or high character. However, having to rely on this extrinsic motivation is detrimental to our society and our education system.

    I was somewhat shocked to realize when I first came to college that in high school you showed up to class everyday, put in a little bit of effort, and were given a decent grade. In college however, I could show up to class everyday, but I had to put in a lot of effort to earn a decent grade. I hope that this trend in encouraging kids to find intrinsic value to do well continues to find its way into our education system. After years and years of providing extrinsic value to students, I believe this transition will be difficult. I believe that this transition is necessary though, and I believe it is worth it!

  • Shannon

    I believe a nice balance between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are best. If you focus only on intrinsic rewards, certain students may fall behind. Some students just don’t have that motivation to do it for themselves, so I think using some extrinsic rewards, rarely, and somehow linking it with thinking to do better on their own may be the kickstart some kids need. I remember I was kind of like the little girl with the books when I was a third grader. I hated reading, and the only reason I ever did it was for a good grade in AR. The school realized quite a few kids were like me at the time and threw a party for those who read a certain amount of points. Of course, this extrinsic reward got me going and while I was doing the reading to go to the party, my whole stance on reading changed. I found a book I fell in love with, and soon enough all I ever did in my spare time was read. I fell in love with it and soon English class was a great place for me. The extrinsic reward of a party was the way I found myself intrinsically rewarding myself by reading everything and broadening my perspective. I am now an English and Art Education major in college and I love literature to this day. I think a balance is best because it kicks some kids, myself included, in to gear and sets them on the track to motivating themselves instead of doing it for a grade, because they have to, or for a reward

  • Laurie Gallagher

    I think students would better be motivated by the need for personal success rather than trivial rewards like pizza or prizes. Students will succeed more when they are doing something meaningful for themselves that will last a lot longer than a simple reward ever would.

    • Sarah-Margaret Heffernon

      Laurie, I agree with you. I think if we can get students to be intrinsically motivated they will get more out of the lesson and life in general. However, I think getting all of our students to become intrinsically motivated is a challenge. Some students are naturally motivated this way and others are not. To reach those that are not intrinsically motivated I don’t think it would hurt to give them a few extrinsic motivation rewards. I don’t mean giving them an A when they don’t deserve it. I am talking about giving a pizza party or chocolate every once in a while until these students understand the true value of learning. I definitely think the end of the article has a lot of value and aligns with what you’re saying. If we start students on the wrong motivation plan then we might not ever get them on the intrinsic one. However, with guidance and loving teachers I think we can all encourage students to find the real value of learning.

  • Jorji Johnson

    I think that this was an interesting article. The first example about the girl reading an abundance of books and not remembering anything just so she could get the reward I agree that is was extrinsic motivation, but it was also the teachers fault for not pushing her to do more. There has to be some extrinsic motivation in the classroom because it’s school and no one really wants to be there everyday for eight hours nine out of the twelve months a year. The thing that most motivated me through high school were wanting to know more about things I was interested in. I wanted to pass everything else, but there were a couple of classes that I wanted to really know and understand things in. I think that subject matter and how you teach and the students interests all play a role in how a student is motivated. Teaching children when they are young about how knowledge is something to value and something to strive for that could help them to be more intrinsically motivated but a student’s motivation doesn’t have to be completely intrinsic.

  • Meredith Clark

    As a future high school educator, motivating my students in the ever growing age of entitlement is something that I worry about. I really love how this article has outlined how important it is that we give our students a reason to want to learn the material. Intrinsic motivation relies on a students desire to learn. What I think the article is missing is just how important it is to keep the content that we are teaching relevant. I feel like every single lesson that a teacher presents should have a moment where the teacher says not “this is why you need to learn this” but this is “why you should want to learn this.” For me it all comes back to establishing a classroom culture that demonstrates learning is indeed cool.

  • Erica Parret

    I have always been frustrated with the link between extrinsic motivation and the heavy focus on grades in the majority of classrooms. I think that this is the biggest culprit of negative use of extrinsic motivation. I feel that as students, we focus so much on getting the grade and what information we think our teacher wants us to know that we lose all intrinsic motivation to actually learn. For example, we religiously study a structured study guide, take the exam, and then almost immediately forget what we just “learned.” Why? Because the goal is always to get a good grade, and rarely for us to learn without boundaries and retain information that interests us.

    I understand that grades are important, but I think that if we focus more on the importance of learning in the classroom, intrinsic motivation will come more naturally.

  • Shakera Ross

    I never really put to much thought into the importance of pushing your students to answer their own questions instead of giving them the answer yourself. I remember as a child I would ask my mother a question and she would tell me to find the answer myself. Now I look back and realize it motivated me to seek my own understanding of answers. I believe now that it teaches students that they have control over their ability to learn.

  • Kelsey Crawford

    This is a great article and an argument that I struggle with on a daily basis. I get the need to have students be intrinsically motivated. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how realistic this expectation is even if you’re an amazing teacher who gives there students a lot of options.

    I have three nephews and work at a nursery, so I’ve definetly have seen both sides of this argument. I would love to say I’ve never used rewards to get a child to do what I needed them to accomplish but that wouldn’t be true. One of my nephews is for the most part intrinsically motivated, while the other isn’t at all. Even making it fun like this article suggests doesn’t help. He’s aware that it’s “work” and refuses to care. In these cases it becomes a battle of wills and sometimes I think a reward system wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. In this case continuing to try to intrinsically motivate him is unsuccessful and causing an even bigger distaste for learning.

    I think what we need to pay special attention to is how we extrinsically motivate them. For instance, my mother runs a daycare and often extrinsically motivates the children by letting them pick the the books she will read during reading as their reward. Rewarding them with something beneficial to them is a better option then constantly giving them food or physical rewards (stickers, candy, etc).

    Overall all I don’t think this can be the all or nothing argument that some people are suggesting about this article. Each class and student we encounter as teachers will probably affect our views on this topic. Each student learns differently and its are job to adhere to them so they can learn. Being set on one way of thinking isn’t helpful to the student or us as teacher with the amount of stress it will cause.

  • Autumn Lynn

    This article has an interesting point of view. I like how it goes a step farther than just motivation needed for a lesson to actually take. Teachers can teach as much as they want but if the lesson doesn’t take then what is the point. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are both important. I think using both are important. It is important to notice that each person is unique so each case is different in how best to motivate someone. I do like that they mention its important at the very beginning to motivate in a way that will carry through the years.

  • Peter Schlierman

    After reading this article, I was really interested in what Kathy Branchflower said about her job; “My job is to empower them (her students) to help them become independent young learners.” To me as a student of elementary education, that statement has highlighted my ideal situation as a teacher. I may not have all the answers, although I will have the ability to find the answers. Then if I am not satisfied with the answer that was found, I can ask the question: what makes that the correct answer? As a life-long learner, I have a desire to know more, understand more and to share my understanding of the subject. To instill that desire into students of any age is my passion, hopes and inspiration.

    As a student learning the pedagogy of teaching, one of the many items of importance is the understanding differentiation of lesson planning. To give many different methods of learning, the students would be making choices, on how they would learn. As a teacher I would allow them to do their best option first, then challenge them to try a choice they would not chose. That would promote the intrinsically motivated student to try it another way. Placing a challenge on students could be either positive or negative results, if it was achievable would be positive, if not it could be harmful to their confidence

  • Steven L.

    Very interesting article. I feel that it is much easier to implement these “fun” types of assignments in elementary and middle school, but as students get older it becomes much more difficult. By that time, students (and sometimes parents) become so concentrated with being “ready for college.” Although I certainly agree that doing other styles of classwork can be just as beneficial as traditional methods and can teach the same things, students’ main concern is knowing what they think will most help their futures. It is much easier to be experimental in elementary and middle school because the ramifications of not doing as well are much lower than high school.

  • Rachel Wrobel

    Something I think is especially important to point out is how the elementary school teacher, Branchflower, used grades in her class, but focuses the praise on the students’ level of effort. This puts an emphasis on student learning rather than the grade they are working for. I think grades are an unnecessary evil that all teachers unfortunately have to use as a basis of measurement. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to suck the intrinsic motivation out of every student. It just means they need to replace the focus from, “you need to get this grade” to “let’s explore something awesome.” This just challenges teachers to be more creative in their instruction and assessment.

    • Ashley Strasser

      Praising a student’s process instead of the result was something that I really took note of as well. Developmentally, young elementary students are at a point where they are searching for that adult approval and are easily discouraged when they don’t receive it. I almost feel like getting kids to learn is almost like trying to get them to eat their vegetables; disguise it so it looks like it’ll be better than it is.

  • Will Johnson

    I think what it boils down to in the end is that society teaches people how to be intrinsically motivated; by extrinsically motivating them throughout the majority of their school years. It is a very similar concept to morality, which I believe comes with age and experience. As children we are egocentric and only act “appropriately” to avoid consequences, as we get older our depth of thinking changes and we begin to examine problems on different levels. When we are young it is very much the same, we are motivated to avoid repercussions. When we reach a certain maturity, or stage of development I believe that we start to become motivated by what we morally believe in, enjoy, and the direction that our decisions in these things take us.
    Fantastic precursors to this are high school sports for example. Sure, there are some social motivations to be on a team, to fit in, or “be popular”, but most people compete because it is in their nature and they are intrinsically motivated to participate in that sport because they enjoy it or are driven to be better and challenge themselves. A perfect analogy of this would be parents making their kids take a bite of everything on the plate, whether they like it or not. You never know what you may find out that you enjoy in the long run. Without extrinsic motivation to start us on this path of exploration, nobody would be intrinsically motivated to do anything. Finally, what do teachers know about extrinsic motivation? We are going into teaching for goodness sake, what extrinsic motivators are there (other than our crappy pay), to encourage us to become teachers? Our intrinsic motivation to help others, and be that awesome teacher that helped us at some point along the way, are our real motivators.

  • Annie Roberson

    I love an extrinsic motivational tool as much as the next person. I always loved getting stickers on my papers as a kid, and receiving a good grade as a secondary student, but I think the most important point that the article made is that with too many of these extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivation goes away completely! If a student knows they “aren’t going to get anything” out of completing an assignment, or if they decided they do not wish to possess the skill you are trying to help them acquire, they will stop putting forth any effort in school without receiving something in return. I think we have already seen this happening more in more in today’s society. Students’ parents pay them for getting “good” grades, and restaurants give out coupons for free pizza if they read a certain number of books. This pushes students to think that if they aren’t receiving anything, they do not need to complete the assignment, or simply learn! Creating intrinsic motivation is difficult. Especially which older students, and even adults, but I think this article is pushing us all to inspire our students to be intrinsic motivators so they will all be better and more effective students, leaders, and members of society.

    • Rylan Laudan

      Annie, you nailed it talking about motivation! I agree that as a kid extrinsic motivation was something I greatly valued. However as a college student I must constantly find ways to intrinsically motivate myself. Though often times I feel attending my classes is not worthwhile and though I’m not really getting a benefit out of attending I have to make sure that I remember what I am there to do. I am still learning and I am getting an education to help others get an education! This is something I deeply value and believe you spoke it well when talking about motivating others!

    • Taylor Hoover

      I found this article very interesting. It is very relatable to how I was motivated in grade school. I remember being very motivated to read a certain number of books to get a free pizza and it continues to this day because I witnessed it in my early field experience. I have never thought about how students will lose their intrinsic motivation if they are not being rewarded by an extrinsic motive. Annie I really liked your idea that if students aren’t receiving anything for their work then they may question the why they need to do it. And I definitely agree that it can be extremely difficult to create intrinsic motivation in older students and even adults because I sometimes struggle with finding my intrinsic motivation. This article is very eye opening to help me realize that as a future teacher, I will need to dig deep down to inspire and push my students to want to better themselves.

  • Carley Conley

    This is a very interesting article. I do agree with the fact that too much extrinsic motivation will make student want less intrinsic motivation. Most students have been taught at a young age to be externally motivated by what makes them happy. I don’t think that every student learns the same way though. I think that many teachers put to much emphasis on the extrinsic side of motivation. As a teacher we must find a balance between both types of motivation. We need to motivate our students to want to lean by using more creative approaches to learning.

    • Cain Fouard

      What can we do to encourage this in our students? I wholeheartedly agree with you that we teach students to be externally motivated- but I don’t know if that’s “what makes them happy.” If something makes a student happy, why would we be stopping that, even if it’s a external motivation? But you are still correct- many teachers put that emphasis on the extrinsic side- and often times we say ‘oh, they’re happy getting an A, so I don’t need to worry about it.”
      I really like what the article says about creating an environment- not just because creating culture is one of the most important thing for any type of leader, but because of what she said about middle and secondary level students. They really key in on social expectations, and want to fill those roles. Creating a culture where learning is truly valued plays a key role in this.

  • Teresa Wade

    I believe extrinsic motivation is a very good thing. Think of a job for example, you are constantly working towards something greater. In many jobs you are working towards a goal for the company and once that goal is reached, you get rewarded; whether it be a bonus or a promotion or whatever it may be, its extrinsic. With this reward you feel very accomplished and driven, and you want to work towards even more. What makes an intrinsic motivator, intrinsic? I feel as if there is always something motivating you. With few exceptions someone may want to do something just for their own self worth; but under most circumstances, an individual will have something motivating them, wether it be money, family, that promotion, that pizza party. In life everyone is constantly reaching. They are reaching for a goal that they have which is always extrinsic. I love the idea of extrinsic motivators.

  • Colton Branch

    This is a great article that points out a very important part of the way students perceive, not just education, but life in general. It has become far too common for kids to be rewarded that extrinsic motivation has really started to take over. To an extent I can see a good argument for that since many students and parents expect high grades, so that is the motivation. It’s not about what they will get out of the lesson, or learn, but how high of a score they will get. For the short run that is good, but where does that leave them in the long run? We have to find a way to get students and parents to focus on “the big picture” in education so they are prepared for life outside of school. Intrinsic motivation is dying and we have to find a way to bring it new life.

  • Kelly Sweeney

    This article is a great read and really gets you thinking. This really gets you thinking about how rewards can have a negative effect on students. After reading this I will make sure to take better care to get students motivated intrinsically for a more beneficial learning experience for the student.

  • Kenneth Litton

    You’re saying that rewards drive out intrinsic motivation, and I feel like that’s wrong. I work a job in customer service, and I don’t simply do a good quality job for my customers because I’m paid more to do so. I do it because it’s the right thing to do. In fact, I could make more money by hurrying through each of my jobs and providing less quality. Now, would getting a raise from my boss make me less interested in providing quality work? Absolutely not.

    Yes, rewards can be counter to what you’re trying to accomplish. If you give a reward for everything, then the cchild can become dependent on rewards, and feel bad if they don’t get one. But rewarding children based on their actual accomplishments can help stimulate motivation.

  • Kaitlyn Lowry

    I agree with the idea that a lot is lacking from this article. As Kenneth said below, rewarding is important, when you reward is even more important though. I think it important to see that motivation is different for every student and every age. We may not be able to motivate everyone the same. Some will do it for the sticker, others will do it for the love. And then you will have the student who do it because they just do. As future educators, we must see that encouragement and motivation are different but they also work hand in hand. There’s a difference in adding the idea of reinforcement into this equation as well. We must see that as future educators we will Always need to think deeply about what it takes to motivate different ages and what how we will help the students accomplish the motivations.

  • Trint Peine

    Motivation is key to learning. Kids need to want to learn in school. With todays kids it is becoming harder to motivate in school there has to be a new plan. This article is a great lead in to solving this problem. I believe that in a few years it will become a huge problem. Kids today are rewarded for every little thing they do. To me that is not acceptable. This world needs a little more tough love and learn to do things themselves.
    Now don’t get me wrong I like to reward kids when its needed. When kids get an award for something they will always remember. Kids remember all the good things they encounter. So, setting high expectations in the classroom. Then reward the students who go above and beyond the expectations.
    I really like how this article brings out the motivation in students is lacking and it’s our job as teachers to change that.

Author

Linda Flanagan

Linda Flanagan is a freelance writer, researcher, and editor. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Wall St. Journal, Newsweek, Running Times, and Mind/Shift, and she blogs regularly for the Huffington Post. Linda writes about education, culture, athletics, youth sports, mental health, politics, college admissions, and other curiosities. She also reviews books and conducts interviews.

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