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How to help teens develop intrinsic motivation. “Can I have another sticker?” “Will you give us extra credit points for doing classwork?” Just when you are hoping the student with the raised hand will have an important insight, you get this instead. It’s the voice of a teen who has been overloaded

May 01, 2017

How to help teens develop intrinsic motivation.


“Can I have another sticker?” “Will you give us extra credit points for doing classwork?”

Just when you are hoping the student with the raised hand will have an important insight, you get this instead. It’s the voice of a teen who has been overloaded with extrinsic motivational rewards.

Demands for stickers and trinkets, higher grades, and extra credit can become excessive toward the end of the school year — particularly if a teacher has relied a bit too much on external motivators.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Young children almost always are intrinsically motivated to learn —they enjoy learning about the world around them and don’t need a toy from Target to be encouraged to do so. But somewhere in elementary school, many students pick up the idea that school work is a job. They start to believe they should be compensated for doing it.

Parents who reward young students’ performance with small things like trips for ice cream find demands can increase astronomically as students get into middle and high school. And teachers can discover the same thing if they over reward students with bonus points or knick-knacks for playing learning games.

Plus, kids who get stuff every time they perform in school are deprived of one of the most important parts of education — the joy that comes from mastering a difficult subject like advanced geometry or French literature.

Research shows that while extrinsic motivators work fine when students must do rote learning, such as memorizing multiplication tables, they do little to motivate students to excel at higher levels.

Where to Begin?

A teacher who Googles “intrinsic motivation” and “growth mindset” will quickly be overwhelmed with information about these topics. It seems that everyone from Ivy League researchers to daily news reporters have opinions about how to turn entitled, demanding teens into students who love learning.

A great place to start is with the writing of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who coined the term “growth mindset” in her 2006 book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success."

Dweck encourages parents and teachers to praise students when they do hard work and ask them how they feel about making the extra effort. Recently Dweck has clarified that she does not mean adults should disingenuously praise students who make effort but fail. Students must hit the mark — then their effort should be praised.

Another helpful book is a classic, “Tools for Teaching” by Barbara Gross Davis.

Among the author’s recommendations:

  • Give frequent positive feedback. Make sure the student believes they can do well in the class.

  • Get to know the students. Help them find personal meaning in the subject and material.

  • Give work that is not too hard and not too easy.

  • Create a positive, open, community-like atmosphere in the classroom.

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Arizona K12 Center

@azk12 Oct 21, 2020 19:06:20

Before fall break, James King wrote down a few highlights from the quarter. He then asked other teachers to share.… https://t.co/28DNtBp3Jp

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