INTRINSIC MOTIVATION FOR YOUNG LEARNERS Part One

PART ONE

INTRINSIC MOTIVATION FOR YOUNG LEARNERS

By Ben Sugiyama

 

Motivation

Let’s talk about motivation. There are 2 main types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation is a person performing a task or action to satisfy their own internal

desires.

 

I taught myself to play the guitar when I was 15 years old because I wanted to be Billie Joe

from Green Day. I practiced for hours and hours, every day, for no one other than myself.

That’s pure intrinsic motivation.

 

Extrinsic motivation is a person performing a task or action to satisfy the desires of others.

Working for a salary. Obeying the law. Studying for a high school test. Cleaning your room

in return for a bowl of ice cream. These are all examples of extrinsic motivation.

Both types of motivation have their place in our daily lives.

 

Classrooms by their very nature tend to sit in the extrinsic motivation camp. The students

learn because the teacher teaches. If the teacher didn’t kick the students up the backside

then they wouldn’t learn anything. Recently however, more and more teachers are starting

to take a student centered approach.

 

I believe the book is out of print at the moment, but I strongly suggest trying to acquire a

copy of David Paul’s Teaching English to Children in Asia. If you haven’t read it, It’s full of

the theory and more importantly, the practical advice needed to set up a student-centered

classroom.

 

Rewards and punishments

Research shows that rewards and punishments are not good reasons for performing a

task. We can get people to do what we want by giving punishments for non-compliance or

offering rewards for compliance, but the motivation and effort of the person performing the

action will be much lower.

 

When offered a reward, people will focus on attaining the reward.

We’ll put just enough effort into the task to get the reward, and on a sub conscious level

we’ll be wary of expending more energy than we need to. When there is a fixed, standard

reward for performing tasks then we will, over time, figure out where the sweet spot is of

getting the reward hassle free, whilst putting in the least amount of effort possible. Think

about being good enough at your job to please your boss, not make any waves, receive

your regular, monthly salary and get out of there at 5 on the dot on a Friday night to enjoy

your weekend.

 

Children in our classrooms are going through the same mental motions to get through

English class, get the high-5, get the gold star, get to the end of class game and then to

“clock out”, go home and forget about it.

 

Similarly, when we fear a looming punishment, we focus our attention on ways to avoid the

punishment. When I drove to work this morning, I wasn’t trying my absolute best to be the

most careful driver I could possibly be. That would take way more effort than I wanted to

expend at 7 O’clock in the morning. No, I simply drove carefully enough to avoid accidents

and speeding tickets.

 

In a classroom where a child is told “Stop it, or I’ll call your mum”, “Sit down or there’s no

game”, if the child decides to comply then they’ll do enough to get by, enough to avoid the

punishments and that’s it.

 

In both scenarios, the reward scenario and the punishment scenario the task being

performed is not where our attention is focused. This leads to a poorer quality of results.

Interestingly, research also shows that when people are rewarded after the completion of a

task, their motivation to perform the task again in the future actually decreases. This is

because we have taken something that was produced intrinsically and stuck an extrinsic

reward on the end. The next time the person comes to perform the task, all they’ll be

thinking about is that sweet reward they got last time.

 

The advice for parents when presented with something their child has produced is to talk

about what they like about it and to ask questions. Get the child to say what they like or

don’t like about it. The focus of the conversation, all the energy is directed at the thing itself,

the artwork, the essay, the song or whatever it may be.

 

In part 2 of this blog, I will discuss how we get young learners into a state of being

intrinsically motivated to study English.