Learning About Motivation

As some of my followers noticed near the end of last week, I had a moment of weakness after my toughest class. I've been very frustrated with having to micromanage their learning using a flipped model, and it really has made me think hard. Long story short, I'm not giving up on a flipped class or a standards-based model, but I do need to make some major adjustments.

Scott MacClintic was great enough to take some of his afternoon to talk with me directly, and he strongly suggested that I read Daniel Pink's Drive as it has to do with motivation in a variety of settings.

I bought the book that night.

I'm only about 1/3 of the way through right now, but I've learned some very important lessons already.

  1. I use too many "carrots and sticks" with my learners. I ask for creative, insightful work, but then I slap a grade on it, taking away all meaning of the work they're doing. I'm trying to use bits and pieces from two conflicting worlds. No wonder I've been having problems.
  2. Grades and extra credit cannot be used to push learners forward. I find myself defaulting to the "you're being graded on this" line to "motivate" my kids to do the work they're supposed to be doing at the moment. Again, external pushing does not lead to higher thinking from learners. If they don't see the value in it, why am I pushing it?
  3. Resist the urge to tighten my grip. I need to stop micromanaging the class and learn to co-manage with the learners. I want them to be self-directed, but I'm giving fewer and fewer opportunities rather than more and more. Learning from mistakes is important, but I need to give them chances to make mistakes in the first place.
Again, I'm only 1/3 of the way through, but I need to make some major shifts if I want to achieve my goals. RSA animate did a good video on the gist of the book that you can see here.

I'm sure this will be sparking more posts in the future.

6 thoughts on “Learning About Motivation

  1. Len Klein says:

    I agree with the concept of no stick and carrot. BUT and it is a large but, it requires that the folks you are working with want to do what you want them to do. Danial Pink addresses professional workers who are in a job by choice and are personally motivated to do well. Most students would not be in class if they had a choice, which they do not.

    So it is not a question of how to get students to want to do well for some reason other than a grade. Somehow our school system has taken the enjoyment out of learning and made it no fun at all. I know that when I was in school, about 10^3 years ago, school was no joy. But it is even less so now.

    If you come up with a solution I will sign on. I want to teach better, or more appropriately have my students want to learn more, just for fun. Because they can.


    • Brian Bennett says:

      I agree with you, Len. So, part of what I’m trying to front-load my learners with is the fact that there will be options for choice and autonomy. If someone wants to learn about macromolecules through the lens of an athlete or nutritionist, I’m fine with that. If they want to learn through a microscope and chemicals, that’s great, too. Hopefully, I can help some of my disinterested learners find some interest in school again.

      I don’t claim to have a perfect system (or any system, really…), but yes, I will be trying to figure out how to move away from the importance or motivation a grade can give because grades just aren’t cutting it anymore. There has to be something better, and I’m trying to figure out what that is.

      Thanks for the thoughts…they’re truly appreciated.

  2. Great post; I found I was doing the same with micromanaging them last year, and slapping grades on everything as if I were the sole determiner of what constituted understanding. Now that I’ve backed off a bit, it does seem to be working better–working better as in working with them rather than having education as something being done to them.

    And you’ve inspired me to go get a copy of that book. Love the RSA Animate video, but from what you’ve posted, looks like I need to read the book itself.

  3. Brett Clark says:


    Great post as usual! Drive is on my must read list as soon as I’m done with Switch. I highly recommend you read that book as well. I love it! Anyway, I think you’re right on point that grades and extra credit cannot be used to push students. It just isn’t effective.

    Just like you’re trying to shift your thinking and it’s difficult to break from traditional tactics (“this is for a grade”), you’re students are facing the same struggles. They have been conditioned to play school. Just stick to your guns, like you’re doing, and in the end you’ll both be better off!

  4. Corey says:


    I have the same struggles as you. I’ve started flipping this year full time for the first time with some colleagues.

    For me this year I’m focused on students taking responsibility for their education. I’m taking on a facilitator role, that flip-mastery classes allow me. I’m there to help and when kids want to learn I’m willing to do whatever I can. When they fall on their face I’m there to offer help. So far its helping quite a bit. When I get frustrated by a student’s lack of effort my colleagues remind me that its THEIR education. I tell them that all I care about is that they are LEARNING.

    I think most of my students are relishing that at the moment. When they have bad days and fall behind, they’ll recover with good days and catch up or get ahead.

    Just my thoughts…I’d love to write more about how we cater to our students to help motivate them in comparison to the rest of the world…but I’ve written enough for now.

  5. First off, thanks for the mention in your post. I enjoyed talking with you the other day and have shared my thoughts after our chat with several of my colleagues. I am glad you grabbed Pink’s book, it is definitely one of the better ones I have read lately. Another one is Willingham’s book “Why Don’t Students Like School?” A cognitive psych’s look at learning with practical advice for teachers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *