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Chapter 7: Examining Motivational Strategies – What Makes Your Students Care?

From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©2008

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In this Chapter:

  • Comparison of Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivational Methods
  • Common Extrinsic Strategies
  • Motivational Strategies that have Variable Effects
  • Examination of Intrinsic Motivation
  • Motivation and Psychological Movement


The field of human motivation is a complex and expansive domain, not lacking in motivational experts or approaches. This chapter offers a limited survey of several classroom motivation strategies and endeavors to provide both theoretical and practical perspective for each. In the following chapter, a coherent approach to building student intrinsic motivation, or what will be referred to as a “psychology of success” is detailed.



Chapter Reflection 7-a: What do you think of when you hear the term “student motivation?” Is it the result of something that the teacher adds to the equation, or something that the student brings to the situation?



When one thinks of the idea of classroom motivation it often brings to mind strategies that are used to provide incentives for students do something and/or do it with greater intensity. Yet, when we examine motivation more closely we recognize that it is not always something that is added to the situation. It can be something that comes from within us. While an absolute distinction can be risky, we might refer to some motivators as coming from the outside – or being extrinsic; and others coming from within – or being intrinsic. Extrinsic forms are those in which there is something added that comes from an external agent, such as a reward from the teacher. Contrastingly, intrinsic forms tap into internal sources. These forms of motivation may reflect the meeting of a basic need, or can come from an inner source of satisfaction, such as personal fulfillment. Figure 7.1 outlines some of the fundamental distinctions between internal versus external sources of motivation.


Figure 7.1   Comparison of Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation


Love of Learning/Intrinsic

Desire for Reward/Extrinsic

Assumes the learning activity itself is satisfying

Assumes that an extrinsic motivator is necessary

Transferable to other contexts and situations

Not transferable outside the context that the reward is present

Can take time to support and cultivate

Can be relied upon after only a short period of introduction

Primarily process-focused

Primarily product-focused

Implies that the learning/task itself has value and meaning

Implies the learning/task is a means to an end (the reward)

Natural condition

Manufactured condition

Has long-term benefits

Benefits are short-term

Promotes a mentality that is useful when transferred into the context of building relationships

Promotes a mentality that may hinder the inclination to invest in the relationship-building process

Promotes ever-increasing levels of self-motivation

Promotes an ever-increasing need for rewards

Can be difficult to rely upon with a new group of students who are not accustomed to using these sources of motivation

Can be useful to incorporate to motivate a behavior that is unfamiliar or unformed


Examining the side-by-side comparison of intrinsic versus extrinsic sources of motivation in Figure 7.1, we can see that the advantages of extrinsic motivational techniques include their ability to help initiate and shape behaviors, and that they can be relied upon after only a relatively short period of introduction. In comparison, however, supporting the development of our students’ intrinsic motivation will have substantial long-term advantages. Over time, students with a more intrinsic motivational orientation, working within a needs-satisfying environment, will tend to outperform those who have become accustomed to extrinsic rewards, reinforcement, and incentive (Dweck, 1999; Glasser, 1986).


Exploring the Most Popular Classroom Motivational Strategies

While it is true that there are few absolutes in the field of motivation, it may be helpful to the practitioner to classify various motivational strategies into those that are more extrinsic and those that are more intrinsic. Given that it is true that at any time there are a multitude of motivational influences that exist inside and outside of any learner, it is still useful to examine each strategy independently. In the following section, many of the most common intentional strategies used in schools to motivate students are examined. These strategies (outlined in Figure 7.2) are divided into those that are can best be characterized as extrinsic, those that encourage intrinsic motivation, and those that will have a variable effect depending on how they are applied.



Chapter Reflection 7-b: As we examine the most popular forms of motivation used in the classroom, reflect on your own classroom experience of each. Which forms of motivation did you find effective?  Were they typically those that could be classified as intrinsic or extrinsic? In your mind, what were the benefits and problems of each type?



Figure 7.2  Survey of Common Classroom Motivational Strategies



Group A: Motivational Strategies that could best be characterized as Extrinsic/External

Form/ Strategy



Grades and Rewards

Tangible, familiar, motivating to students who value them. Similar to monetary motivators in that they work as rewards.


Shift focus away from learning goals. Increased levels of the reinforcement may be necessary to maintain effect. Can rob students of intrinsic sources of motivation.



Can be useful to define valued outcomes or processes. Help clarify the focus of the effort.

Can lose their value over time if used repeatedly. Students may expect them after a while.


Personal Praise


Feels good. Works to make student work harder. Works in short-term.

Can be addictive. Can reduce student’s internal locus of control. Can be manipulative.


Punishments, Shaming and Threats

Works in the short-term. Motivates students who are used to that technique. Can help clarify the boundaries in a class.

Can promote students merely avoiding getting caught. Does not inspire high quality behavior. Can create hostility and resentment.


Public Recognition


Can reward behavior and effort that may not be rewarded by peers. Feels good to recipient.

Can reinforce pre-existing “haves” and “have-nots.” Requires consistency and thought.


Phone Calls Home

Can alert parents to patterns of which they may not have been aware. Demonstrates a commitment to the student’s success. Positive calls can have a profoundly positive outcome.

Sends the message that the teacher may not be able to handle the student alone. Parents may not be helpful, may be the cause of the problem, or be enablers of the problem. Acts as public shaming. Can appear as a sign of weakness.



Group B: Strategies that can promote either Extrinsic or Intrinsic Motivational Mindsets depending upon how they are applied

Form/ Strategy



Positive Reinforcement


Helps shape the desired behavior. Can be done quickly, efficiently and without much cost or planning. Can provide useful feedback for self-improvement.

Can create a dependence on the teacher’s energy to motivate. Is external. If in the form of praise, essentially extrinsic.



Assessing Behavior/Effort


Can promote high quality behavior and effort. Begins working fairly quickly. Helps promote the concept of “good behavior.” Can reward effort and process outcomes.


Can be very manipulative. Can make students dependent on an external evaluation of their behavior. Can be a tool for favoritism and bias.




Can raise the level of interest in the activity. Can bring the “team” aspect into an effort. Comparison is motivational to those who aspire to the top. Brings a “game” feeling to work.

Comparison can shift focus away from the quality of the effort. Breeds “fear of failure.” Promotes shortcuts and cheating to get the prize. Creates winners and losers.


Teacher Relationship

Can send a message that the student is valuable, accepted and special. Can help students care about academics. May be the only thing that some students respond to.


Takes time and energy. Can produce students who become excessively “needy.” Can work against students’ developing more internal sources of motivation.

Instructional Design

Can promote a context in which students are engaged, self-directed, feeling successful, invested and empowered. Can create a context where success leads to a love of learning and self-efficacy.

Can promote a context where students learn that schoolwork is mostly meaningless and irrelevant to their lives. Can reinforce the learning process to be an artificial exercise that involves little critical thinking or a sense of purpose.


Avoiding Penalties

If negative consequences are built into a context of a social contract and clear set of expectations, students learn not only to be responsible but also that there is a clear cause-and-effect relationship between their choices and their opportunities.


If negative consequences take the form of punishments, lectures, threats, or public humiliation and shaming, they learn to avoid the external agent of the penalty but do not learn any meaningful lesson. Is founded in pain-based logic (see ch’s 11 and 19).


Group C: Motivational Strategies that could best be characterized as Intrinsic/Internal

Form/ Strategy



Self- Improvement

Promotes intrinsic motivation. Helps students clarify their own goals and desires. More long-lasting sense of satisfaction.

Takes a lot of time to promote. Students who are used to more external motivation may not trust its value.


Increased Responsibility

Can create the cause-and-effect between responsibility and freedom. Can increase responsible behavior.

Have to give away power to students. Creates more unpredictability in many outcomes.


Problem-Solving and Inquiry-Based Learning

Can promote greater resourcefulness. Can promote an emphasis on process. Motivational to students when they solve the problem/reach the goal.


Can be messy. Potentially less teacher control of outcome. Requires a great deal of intention and planning.

Basic Needs Satisfying Environment

Allows students to experience inner sources of satisfaction. Activities feel inherently meaningful and as though they are “going somewhere” psychologically; as a result there is little experience of boredom. Promotes student creativity and sets the stage for communal bonds among students.

Requires the teacher to be aware of students’ needs. Requires teacher to be purposeful and skilled at instructional design and classroom management. Teacher cannot entirely control other students who may undermine the quality of the environment.



Extrinsic Motivation Techniques

The following section examines what could be considered the leading principally extrinsic motivational strategies used in classrooms historically. These include grades, rewards, praise, punishments, public recognition and phone calls home. This section also includes recommendations for applying these strategies in a manner that produces more beneficial and effective results.



Grades are the most prevalent example of a formal extrinsic motivator used in schools. Their primary purposes are to 1) provide a concrete representation of either the completion of a task and/or the quality of a performance, and 2) act as an incentive for later benefits and opportunities. As representations of the level of quality performance, grades have only a symbolic meaning. They only represent something of value (e.g., quality work, scores on a test, assignments completed, etc.), and have no inherent value. Therefore, in practice, grades become more effective when they are clearly related to a meaningful outcome. This is why grading systems that incorporate more authentic measures such as performance assessment rubrics will be more motivational than more artificial uses such as a total of the number of correct responses on a worksheet. Moreover, the way that a grade is derived can help it become more meaningful and tap into an intrinsic source, rather than being entirely an extrinsic reinforcement.


Grades also act as an incentive. As students progress in their academic careers, grades have the effect of creating future opportunities. These opportunities vary greatly depending on several variables (e.g., importance to parents and/or schools, scholarship or financial aid opportunities, etc.). Moreover, as we know, only some students are much more influenced or even aware of these incentives. As a result, grades are a more motivational influence on some students than others. A survey of a typical high school will support the wide discrepancy in how students view the importance of grades. And those teachers who rely primarily on students’ being motivated by grades are commonly frustrated with the number of students who are unaffected by the threat of a poor grade if their performance does not improve. In most cases, students who see a relationship between their grades and their ability to reach their personal goals will be most influenced by this source of motivation and therefore more concerned with the kinds of grades that they receive.


However, students commonly see grades as something “given” to them by the teacher (the external agent). Too often they view grades as a representation of their aptitude, ability, or even self-worth rather than the quality of their investment. While this is rarely the intention of the teacher for giving the grade, it is common for students to perceive the grade as such. So, for example, when a student gets a C on a paper they may perceive that grade as a reflection of themselves or their ability in that subject. Given this reaction they find themselves in the position that they must respond to the level of the grade by either accepting or rejecting it as an accurate reflection of their ability. While each of these two responses--accepting the grade as consistent or rejecting it as inconsistent—may appear somewhat different, they are similar in that neither will result in motivation to do better in the future. If the student views the C grade as consistent with their academic self-concept, they will find no need to do any better or adopt any different strategies in the future. If the student perceives the grade as inconsistent with their academic self-concept, they will likely feel shame, confusion, and inadequacy along with resentment toward the teacher. Even if there is a great deal of intensity to the emotion connected to this second response, if the cause is viewed externally and the student does not feel that their grade reflects concrete and constructive feedback, the result will be little motivation to change future behavior. The result is the all-too-familiar phenomenon – the student gets used to getting Cs. As we will discuss throughout the remainder of this chapter and in the next, there are very effective strategies for helping the student desire excellence. Giving more Cs is not one of them.



Chapter Reflection 7-c: Recall your response to various grades that you were given as a student. Did they motivate you to do better? Did you view them as including a personal component (i.e., the teacher either liked or did not like you)? Did they confirm or conflict with your expectation and academic self concept?



In Chapter 13, we will discuss how the assessment of meaningful learning targets that are clear and standing will produce better student performance as well as higher quality behavior. When students recognize their grade as resulting from a valid representation of their performance as assessed in relation to meaningful criteria, they are more likely to experience the assessment process as meaningful and a process that leads them on a clear pathway to achievement.


Rewards Such as Tokens, Sticker, Stars and Prizes

Another common extrinsic motivational strategy, used primarily at the elementary level, is to give tokens and other prizes to student when they perform a desired behavior. These extrinsic rewards act as concrete representations that something of “value” has been accomplished. Therefore they are intended to act as the reinforcement in the process of operant conditioning. This technique originated in the field of psychology called behaviorism, and is most associated with one of its pioneers, B.F. Skinner. In operant conditioning, the operant--or desired behavior that is being conditioned--is reinforced by an extrinsic reinforcement/reward. In this case the operant is the act of desirable behavior on the part of the student, and the extrinsic reward is the token or prize.



Incentives can take many forms such as prizes at the end of the week for successfully performing a task or refraining from an undesirable task, or group privileges for being first or best, or rewarding students who do well on one task the chance to opt out of a further task. They concretize the non-verbal bargain: “If you (the student) do something that the teacher has determined is good, you will get something that you should like.” In this way, incentives can be helpful in clarifying what is desirable behavior. At their best they can help promote good habits and shape more functional patterns of action. For example, if a mother provides a child an incentive to make the bed every day, the child may become comfortable with that behavior and continue it throughout their lifetime, even after the incentive is not longer present. In the case of healthy behaviors that become intrinsically satisfying once they become habits, this can lead to positive long-term benefits. However, with any extrinsic reward, we must question whether the incentive has contributed to the development of good behavioral patterns, or has just bribed students to do something that they would not have done without the bribe, and will not do once the bribe has been removed. And if over time the students do not experience any internal satisfaction from the behavior being induced, the incentive will eventually lose its power.



Chapter Reflection 7-d: Recall situations in which you were given rewards for doing a task others wanted you to do, or to do better. Were you motivated? What is your association with that task today?



One popular incentive strategy is that of Preferred Activity Time (PAT) (Jones, 2000). PAT sets up the bargain that if you (in this case, the student) apply yourself acceptably to an academic task now, you will be given the opportunity to do something that you really like to do later. On the surface, this strategy “works.” That is, it motivates the student to do what it takes to attain their “preferred activity.” However, as we examine this strategy closer, we discover that when put into practice, it has two undesirable by-products. First, while it may work in the short run, like other bribes it will lose its effect over time. Students will eventually return to their previous level of motivation for the academic activity. Moreover, they will become accustomed to the bribe and likely demand it. Second, it will reinforce the principle that the work that is being done in the academic time is something that is undesirable. If we bribe students with a preferred activity, we actually generate the previously-unconsidered question, “preferred to what?” What is the association that we are creating? Is it that academics are inherently un-enjoyable? While this strategy is attractive, consider its costs and long-term effects. And if you feel you need to bribe your students to engage in learning, you may want to consider the alternative of making the learning activities in your class engaging and inherently motivating (Chapter 13 will offer ideas on how to do this).



Chapter Reflection 7–e: Reflect on the following parable:


There was once an old man who lived by a park and worked the night shift at the factory. During the day he liked it to be quiet so that he could get some sleep. He lived alone and did not like children very much. So when the children began to play ball at the park and make lots of noise, it made him very angry. He tried to ignore the noise, but it did not work. As he reflected on his dilemma, he was struck by a cunning plan. The next day, he went to the field and addressed the children. He told them that he loved the sound of their play, and that he once had children and it reminded him of them (neither was true, by the way). Then he told them that if they came to play faithfully, he would pay them each a quarter. The children were pleased, to say the least, and thought the old man was the greatest. The next day the old man arrived and paid each child a quarter. He did the same thing the next day. The children were very happy. The next day he arrived right on time, but gave the children some bad news. He told them how much he loved to hear their voices as they played and how it made him so happy (which was a lie), but he did not have much money and could only pay them a quarter each. The children were a little disappointed, but agreed to come back and play for the smaller amount. As promised, he paid them a dime for the next 3 days, but on the next day he again had some bad news. He told the children that he really hoped that they would come out and play, but that he was out of money and could no longer pay them. At this the children were very upset. After a quick conference, the children decided that they could not play if they were not going to be paid, and they left, never to return. The old man went home and was able to sleep in peace and quiet that afternoon.


Do you think the story represents a valid reality? Can you think of an example of this same principle in your own experience?



Adopting a More Intentional and Effective Approach to the Use of Extrinsic Behavioral Reinforcement

It is a well-established reality that human behavior can be conditioned by environmental stimuli. While we can debate the extent to which one’s behavior is externally conditioned or has its source in more internal drives, as educators we need to recognize the power of environmental conditioning. If we examine an effectively managed classroom, we will see a teacher who understands behavioral principles. That does not mean the teacher will overuse extrinsic conditioning or even rely on it as a motivational strategy, but will understand that the forces of behavioral conditioning are operating continuously.


The starting point to making sense of behavioral conditioning is to understand that in a conditioning situation there will be something that acts as a focal event/action/operant and then there is something that happens afterward to reinforce it. For example if we wished the family dog to consistently fetch a stick that we throw, we might give the dog a treat each time he/she brought back the stick, and only if he/she brought back the stick. In this case the dog learns that when they do the desired behavior (bringing the stick back), they will be reinforced (obtaining the doggy treat). Yet, it is important to remember that in one’s efforts toward behavioral conditioning, especially when it relates to humans, little or none of the actual conditioning/learning that actually occurs will necessarily resemble the conditioning/learning that was intended. For example if we examine most punishments, the intention is to create a disincentive related to the unwanted action. But what is actually learned is much more complex and typically takes the form of a disincentive to interact with the source of the punishment or the creation of a new set of skills to get around the punishment in the future (we will examine punishments in more detail in Chapter 10).


When we examine the use of extrinsic rewards in practice, it is understandable why they are so popular, as well as why some would view their byproducts as undesirable. In most cases, they work in the short-term to motivate behavior. But there are several questions that should be asked if one is to use extrinsic reinforcements for an extended period. They include the following:


  1. Is the motivation to perform the behavior increasing, or just the motivation to obtain the reward?
  2. Will the schedule of reinforcements be sustainable? Or will a greater amount of reinforcement be needed in the future (see discussion on weed pulling later in the chapter).
  3. What is ultimately being learned?
  4. Like the children in the story above, are we replacing an internal source of motivation with an external one, and as a result extinguishing our students’ intrinsic motivation?


If you are attempting to develop a student-centered 1-Style classroom, the frequent and/or sustained use of extrinsic rewards will be inherently counterproductive. They will work against the development of such outcomes as self-responsibility and the inclination to reflect on what will lead to one’s personal growth and/or the common good of the group – dispositions that are essential to the 1-Style classroom. On the other hand, they can be part of a very effective teacher-centered classroom and assist the teacher attempting a 2-Style approach in his/her effort to promote more efficient student behavior.


For those who feel compelled to include extrinsic forms of reinforcement among their motivational strategies, it may be helpful to consider the following guiding principles for how to use them effectively.

  • Relate the reinforcement to a clearly identified desired behavior. The primary focus should be on the accomplishing the desired behavior rather attaining the reward.
  • The more closely in time the attainment of the reward is to the desired behavior the stronger the effect of the reinforcement will be.
  • Intermittent and/or random schedules of reinforcement will be more powerful than regular and predictable schedules of reinforcement.
  • Reinforcements that are given after the display of an “expected” behavior will be more effective than arrangements and “deals” made before the desired behavior is performed.
  • Avoid putting students in situations in which they are competing for rewards, especially meaningful rewards. Only use competition in cases where all students are in an equal position to display the behavior if they so choose. Rewarding effort, good choices, cooperation and other things that students can control can be effective at attaining more of those behaviors. But competition that includes rewarding winners for ability, personality, parental support, and/or academic performance will undermine the level of motivation in the class and can even backfire with many students when it comes to the desired behavior change.


Following these guidelines will not lead to higher levels of intrinsic motivation, but they will likely be effective in changing behavior in the short-term. Moreover, they will help reduce the dependency of students on rewards and make it easier to remove them over time. When we do gradually remove the reinforcements, we should be left with a substantial amount of new “learned behavior” and only a minimal amount of “withdrawal” from the students who have developed a dependency on the reinforcement.


Below are three examples of typical but problematic uses of extrinsic rewards followed by a more effective strategy in the same situation:


Typical but Problematic:

“If you all do your work, I will give the class a prize on Friday.”  Problems include: the reward is too far removed in time; the probability that a reward is going to be needed for every desirable behavior; and when Friday comes, you will likely be in a difficult spot. It is a certainty that some students will have met their end of the bargain and others will have not. Do you see the potential problem?


Better Idea:

You have just spent the entire period focused on a task, that is the first time you have all been able to do that, I am going to give you all ___ (extrinsic reward or removal of a negative reinforcer).”  This is better because it was random, immediate, and will cause behavior change. The students know what they did, so they will likely repeat it. They will not expect it, but will exhibit behavior that they understand may be reinforced. A lesson was learned, when we ___  (e.g., do our jobs), the teacher will reward us (recall social frame development in Chapter 2).


Typical but Problematic:

“The group that does the best job of ___ at the end of the day will get a prize.”  Problems include: this is competitive and there will be some resentful people eventually; the work is done in anticipation of the prize – the prize is primary and the purpose of the behavior is secondary; and the reinforcement is not well connected any particular repeatable behavior (good reinforcement promotes the repetition of desired behavior).


Better Idea:

“I asked you to put away ____ and take out ______, this table did it right away without being asked again, so they will get (thing, time, being first, first choice, etc).”  This is better because: it will change behavior, as the other tables will be much quicker in the future anticipating that something similar might happen again; it reinforces your expectations – real learning took place in a very concrete example; it was immediate and clearly related both in time and causality; and the focus is on the “expected” behavior first and the reward second.


Typical but Problematic:

A “token economy” or arrangements where students get points for certain behaviors and the points are added up for some reward at the end of a certain period. Problems include: behavior done primarily for extrinsic rewards. This is essentially paying students to do what they should be doing and what we want them to love to do for its own sake. We are destroying both of those goals. The schedule of reinforcement is continuous. Continuous reinforcement leads to a gradual decrease of motivation. It ends up creating a lose-lose decision, “Do I increase the reward to maintain the motivation level, or do I slowly watch my students begin to demand an extrinsic reward for everything and increasingly avoid behaviors that are not rewarded (including just about everything that we want them to care about in our class)?”


Better Idea:

If you are committed to the use of a point system:

  1. Use it for a short duration at the start of the year (three weeks or less).
  2. Use it to clarify your expectations. Relate your reward system to the critical expectations that are necessary for the class to function, such as listening, cooperation, efficient procedures. This process may be useful when attempting to shift from a 2-Style to a 1-Syle classroom.
  3. Use only random and/or intermittent reinforcement schedules. Random is the best. That is, students realize what the desired behavior is supposed to be (working cooperatively, listening, being on task, raising hands, etc.) but they do not know when the reinforcement will occur (If you compare the level of the desired behavior in a random reinforcement condition vs. a fixed condition, you will be amazed at the difference).
  4. Give points and take points away without warning. Warnings always weaken reinforcements.
  5. Do not give a large amount of attention to the points. Attach your emotion to the accomplishment of the behavior rather than the attainment of the points.
  6. The ultimate reward cannot be meaningful or substantive. It cannot relate to grades, your affection, or something of real material worth. In fact, simply achieving the most points can be enough of a reward in and of itself, and may be a preferable reward in our effort to emphasize that the process was the point, not who won or lost.
  7. Make it a game for fun and mutual entertainment, and focus on how it is leading to behavior change. Again the extrinsic is always presented as a material reminder of something of real and intrinsic value such as learning or becoming a better class.



Chapter Reflection 7-f: Recall a situation in which you were rewarded with points or prizes for certain behavior. Do you remember if you won, or were rewarded with prizes? Do you remember what you were asked to do to achieve those rewards? Which memory is more powerful? What does your memory tell you about the source of your motivation to perform?



“Giving students extrinsic rewards for engaging in learning tasks makes the implicit statement that the activity was not worth doing on its own merits.“  - Alfie Kohn (1999)


Punishments/Threats/Avoiding Penalties

The desire to avoid undesirable conditions can be motivating. Therefore, punishments can have the effect of changing behavior. Yet, as we will discuss in more detail in Chapter 10, avoidance of a punishment is based in fear, and founded in a pain-based logic. There are a great many ways to alleviate the source or feeling of fear, but only one of these many is to change behavior to achieve or improve the behavior others desire. Others include avoiding school, avoiding the teacher, giving up, self-destructive behavior, and/or changing the definition of failure to success (see negative identity student in Chapter 19). Like extrinsic rewards, punishments lose their effect over time. Moreover, they do not support more positive forms of motivation or behavior as they offer no pathway to success, only a source of discomfort for failure.


However, if the consequential penalty is natural or logically related to the misbehavior, and is associated in the student’s mind with his/her own choices, then it can have the effect of supporting real learning at the same time as it represents a disincentive to misbehave. And as we will examine in the Chapters 9, 10, and 11, developing logical consequences are a critical feature to creating a classroom social contract that helps students become more responsible and the class more functional.


Positive Reinforcement

When asked about their favorite motivational strategies most teachers and pre-teachers respond by saying something to the effect that they want to be “positive,” and use a lot of “positive reinforcement.” On the surface, this is encouraging, especially when compared with the possibility that they would rely heavily on strategies defined by destructive criticism, shaming, pain-based logic, and what we referred to earlier as “coercive power.”  Yet, not all of what we call positive reinforcement is the same, or will have the same effect. Positive reinforcement is used to describe a wide range of practices including the use of extrinsic rewards, praise and approval, encouragement, having positive expectations, being warm and accepting, using positive recognitions, providing increased opportunities, or using systems for rewarding quality behavior. On the one hand, these all share a couple of features in common – they are each given purposefully and are controlled by the teacher and therefore external to the student. On the other hand, they will have dramatically different effects on student behavior and motivation. In our discussion above, we outlined the differences in the effect from different extrinsic reward strategies. Some of what we might refer to as positive reinforcement can remain largely external, while other forms can lead to the development of more intrinsic sources of motivation. This distinction will be made throughout the remainder of the book, yet is especially compelling when it comes to the use of praise – a practice that is wide-spread, but largely misunderstood and misused.


A Closer Examination of Healthy vs. Unhealthy Praise

Encouragement can take many forms. While we want our students to feel appreciated, the language that we use to show that appreciation can have dramatically different effects. Many people in and outside of education use the term “praise” to refer to generically supportive messages to students. As we examine the term “praise” and the common uses of what might be considered praise, we will see that different types of messages have very different effects on both the student being praised and the class as a whole. Ultimately, we might compare what is commonly referred to as praise –essentially external personal messages, to a more healthy and effective alternative – internally focused positive performance recognitions.


Problematic “Praise” Messages

What is commonly referred to as “praise” is at its essence a personal comment from the teacher that conveys the message that the student is “being and/or acting in a manner that pleases the teacher.” For example when the teacher says, “Good work, Nasi,” or “I like the way Anders is working,” they are using messages that sound very encouraging on the surface. And the intention is to encourage good behavior. But as we look more carefully at the messages, we will see that these types of messages have potentially negative effects.


Messages such as “What a good girl,” or “Quinh-xiao is doing such a good job,” have the effect of essentially giving “love” for obedience. The message they send tells students in the class that the teacher gives affection to those that please her/him. As we look more closely at these messages we find that they are very “external.” That is, they originate from the wishes and desires of the teacher. The net result is what could be best characterized as the use of the teacher’s affection as an external reward. When we compare this type of message to what we referred to in previous chapter as “positive recognitions” we observe that it is significantly less effective in the effort to clarifying appropriate behavior or promoting learning. In fact, in the long run personal praise can promote a very dependent and helpless pattern of thinking in students (Dweck, 1999). If we are attempting to create externally motivated “love addicts” then this form of praise is an effective means. If we include in the equation disappointment for behavior that displeases the teacher, we can be even more effective in creating dependent ”failure fearers,” and students who are easy to manipulate. As we examine the effects of praise more closely, we can see that the negative effects reach beyond the object of the praise to the class as a whole.



Chapter Reflection 7-g: Have you observed a teacher who used a great deal of personal praise? What was the effect?



Effect of Praise on the Student Being Praised

As we will discuss in the next chapter, both academic achievement and academic self-concept are strongly related to the degree of internal locus of control that a student possesses. Internal locus of control is essentially the mentality that our thoughts and actions have consequences. And if we do certain things such as apply ourselves to our learning, we learn more. When we make students dependent on any external reinforcement, we rob them of that internal LOC. Any external reinforcement is addictive, but the addictive quality of praise is special. Students long for love and acceptance. When we say such phrases as “Good, Darius,” what we are giving the student is our affection as a personal reinforcement, and the implicit pact is that as long as they do what pleases us, we will continue to give them that reinforcement. The natural result is that the student learns to approach each task with the mindset, “I wonder if the teacher likes what I am doing?” They increasingly lose touch with their own sense of value, their own sense of satisfaction for the learning, [interest in creativity,] and their internal locus of control. As discussed earlier, if the teacher adds messages of disappointment when students do not do what they desire, the cycle of addiction is complete. Not only does the student begin to increasingly crave the desired messages, but they increasingly fear withdrawal of the feeling they get from those messages. Over time they begin to act and behave in ways that they have interpreted are most likely to achieve their desired “dose” of praise. And as we grow in our understanding of how the brain operates, the better we recognize that the chemical reactions within the student’s brain are much the same for praise as they are for drugs such as opiates. If we take a step back and examine student behavior within the praise intensive classroom within this addiction framework, the clear parallels become evident.


Some might say that if we are going to successfully teach some students, making them dependent on praise may be a necessary evil in the pursuit of getting them to learn. This might be a legitimate argument if praise were useful in helping students learn. But it is not, in relative terms. As we discussed in Chapter 6, personal praise is far less effective than positive recognitions of performance. Praise is nearly useless in helping students understand the task in a more meaningful way, and robs students of their internal LOC. Consequently, over time it produces increasingly passive learners.






Influence on the Class as a Collective

The stated intention of praise is to send a message to a student or the class that a desirable behavior has been performed. As we discuss in the previous chapter, a message is effective in promoting a behavioral expectation that succeeds in developing clarity of the desired behavior and promotes a positive association with that behavior. Let’s examine the effectiveness of the use of personal non-specific praise on those two counts.


When we say “Good job, Wahid!” we assume we are positively reinforcing Wahid’s behavior. But what actually occurs?  In essence, the rest of the class hears us say, “I like Wahid,” or “I like the way Wahid is working.” The rest of the class hears nothing to help them understand “why” we like the way Wahid is working, or what constitutes a successful performance – which is what they need. The net effect of the message is most likely that the class hears another example of you expressing what they already knew, that you have a positive view of Wahid.


As we examine this phenomenon more closely, we notice that the praise is promoting the addictive cycle described earlier within the class as a whole. Students learn from watching that the teacher gives praise for behavior that pleases her or him. Therefore, if the student wants some of that praise, they need to focus on pleasing the teacher. Over time we create a class of students who try to “appear” good. Their locus of control has shifted externally, they become less interested in what they are learning and more and more interested in what the teacher thinks of them, and they begin to equate success in school with the amount of praise they get each day. All of this leads to a psychology of failure as we will discuss in the next chapter.


Another effect of praise upon the collective is that as it becomes more desirable and more addictive, it becomes a scarce commodity for which student must compete. Observe the dynamics of a classroom society where an artificially induced high demand for praise has been created (or any society with a scarce resource). The result will be competition. Students’ perspective will shift to whether they are achieving more or less praise relative to the other students. If they are achieving more, they will (probably erroneously) view themselves as succeeding in school. If they are not achieving as much they will (also falsely) view themselves as losing the praise game. Those who are winning have an incentive to gloat. Those who are losing have an incentive to fight back. This is frequently exhibited in the antagonism projected at those who are viewed as “teacher’s pets.”


As is the case with any scarce resource, those who do not have the skill or will to attain the resource by playing by the rules (attempting to become a “good girl or boy”) will attain a counterfeit version by another means. For example, if I cannot get the attention praise brings by finishing my work, I can get attention by disrupting other’s work. The counterfeit commodity I achieve may not sound as sweet as praise, but it still feels like attention. And as we will discuss in Chapter 16 in our discussion of the negative identity cycle, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Many of our students would much rather get attention by misbehaving than by being ignored. If we have set up the rules so that good behavior receives praise (i.e., external reinforcement shown as the teacher’s love), and bad behavior receives disappointment (i.e., external punishment shown as the withdrawal of love), we should not be surprised when a student shows the resourcefulness to get their need for attention (counterfeit love) by making their own rules (i.e., give me real love or I will get attention on my own terms). While we often view these students as our “problem students,” we should give them credit for finding an ingenious solution to the problem situation in which they found themselves. In addition, as we examine the effects of our use of praise, we can see that we essentially created the conditions for the problem by the implicit rules that we created in the class.


Figure 7.3 Comparison of Healthy vs. Unhealthy Praise Messages

Unhealthy Praise Messages

·         Give “love” for obedience.

·         External and addictive.

·         Your value, not student’s.

·         Non-specific, non-educational feedback.

·         Combined with the overuse of disappointment, becomes highly manipulative/addictive.


Healthy “Encouragement” messages

·         Praise behavior, not student.

·         Authentic and spontaneous.

·         For accomplishment and/or effort.

·         Based on student’s own goals.

·         Show appreciation.

·         Public attention to under-appreciated student.

·         Combined with the use of authentic emotional investment, can show caring by the teacher.



Chapter Reflection 7-h: Recall a recent case in which you observed a teacher, coach or parent use praise with a child. Using the distinction outlined in figure 7.3, would you classify it as more on the healthy or unhealthy side?



Phone Calls Home

With all that teachers do in a day, it is often difficult to find the time or energy to make calls to parents regarding their sons and daughters. However, survey teachers who do make the effort to call, and they will most likely tell you that it is time well spent. Nevertheless, all calls home will not have the same effect. The following are a list of “ground rules” for home phone calls that will help them become a worthwhile intervention.

  1. Make many positive calls for every critical call to a home. In fact, eliminating the critical calls altogether is best. It is a common and understandable practice to save one’s energy for remediation. However, it is usually a mistake. There will be situations that a parent should know that a student in your class has developed a pattern of behavior that you want to work together to change. These calls can be effective. But they send the implicit message that you as the teacher are not able to solve the problems in your class independently. However, a phone call home to the parent(s) of a student that has demonstrated a dramatic improvement in the quality of their participation, or has made a remarkable contribution (see Chapter 22 related to assessing process/participation) will have a profound effect both in the short and long-term. First, it acts as an intermittent positive reinforcement. Second, it promotes a collaborative and supportive relationship between you and the parent. Third, it makes the school, you, and the student all look good, which is welcome in the cycle of learning. Finally, it demonstrates to the student that you will freely choose to make the effort to recognize their effort, even when it is not required of you. It shows them that you do not take their progress toward high quality behavior for granted.
  2. Be specific about what you observed of the student in your call. General praise or criticism is rather useless (see discussion of praise above). It will help make the phone conversation more effective if the parent has a copy of your class’s expectations that was sent home earlier in the year. Be specific and emphasize one or two areas that you observed the student demonstrate. For example, if you have noticed that the student is now making a much more consistent level of effort than in the past, give an example of the past behavior and then of the current behavior. Then describe to the parent what you see as the benefits the student is experiencing as a result of this improvement. When making a call regarding a behavior pattern that needs to change, be constructive and have a plan for how the change will best come about.
  3. Make regularly scheduled calls. If forgetfulness and/or lack of time are problems, consider setting aside a time each month or mid-term to make calls home.
  4. Be respectful and professional. Show appreciation for the parent’s contribution and the complexity of raising a child. One the one hand, never talk down to parents. One the other hand (note this especially for some younger teachers), there is no need to apologize or be submissive. This contact will in many ways define their impression of you and the school as a whole.



Chapter Reflection 7-i: Recall situations in which a teacher called home to your parents. What was the effect on your relationship with that teacher? Did the contents of the phone call have an effect?




Motivational Techniques Whose Effect Will Vary Greatly Depending On How They Are Used


Teacher Relationship

We have noted previously that the saying “students do not care what you know, until they know that you care,” is probably very true. Relationships are at the heart of the 1-Style classroom, and it begins with the teacher’s emotional investment. Our ability to develop community, a psychology of success and outcomes that would qualify as a “transformative,” will be dependent on our ability to show that we have a genuine positive regard for our students, and that we believe in them.


So all teacher-student relationships are positive, right? Clearly, we know of many that are not. So what defines a good relationship? Good intentions are a start. Many teachers describe looking back at their early years of teaching and recognizing that while their attempts were clumsy and even ill-advised, their positive intentions and desire for the welfare of their students produced a great deal that was positive. Love can overcome bad strategies to a great extent when it comes to motivating children. But it does not undo a mistake and it does not always lead to success. Some of the best intentioned and brightest teachers leave the profession because the love they had for their students and for sharing their subject was not returned by the students. Below is a list of suggestions for how one can get the most from their teacher-student relationships:


  1. Show unconditional positive regard for students. Separate your acceptance of them as people from their behavior and their achievement. There is never a time when withdrawing positive regard (i.e., love) achieves a lasting positive result. This frees you to be honest and objective with your feedback related to their work and behavior.
  2. Being a friend is fine. The idea that one should not “smile until Christmas” is ill-conceived. But being a buddy and/or too familiar runs the risk that students will misunderstand your position and role, and as a result there is a loss of position power. Recall our discussion of teacher power in Chapter 3.
  3. If your class is about “you,” you will struggle to create healthy relationships with your students. It is easy to fall into the mindset that you are going to pretend that you are invested while in reality you are un-invested emotionally. It may be helpful to recall the Pygmalion in the classroom study described in Chapter 3. Can we treat all of our students as rising stars?
  4. Likewise, avoid the trap of using excessive personal praise, disappointment, and rewards for good behavior. It indicates that your motivations are rooted in your own needs rather than those of your students. It may seem effective, but beware of creating a classroom full of “happiness addicts.”
  5. Using humor can be motivating and can keep students more engaged and on your side. But be careful not to use victimizing humor. Self-deprecating humor, recognizing absurdities, having fun with your own mistakes and surprises, and tasteful jokes can be effective ways to bond with your students and show that you care enough to account for their basic need for fun.
  6. Make the effort to take an interest in your students as individuals. Knowing about them, their interests, and what they are doing outside of your class can have a powerful effect.




Chapter Reflection 7-j: Reflect on a teacher who you would consider to have had an affect on you. What was it that they did? Did you feel empowered or valued? Why?



Assessing Behavior

Most teachers at some point consider the idea of assessing student behavior. Many end up incorporating it on a minimal level, many others are turned off by its potentially manipulative properties, some use behavioral assessment systems that do more harm than good, and very few use take full advantage of its transformative potential. For this reason, Chapters 21 and 22 are devoted to using student behavioral assessment effectively and why not to use undefined “participation points” or deficit model systems such as colored behavioral charts or names on the board.


Used purposefully, assessing process and participation can have a dramatic effect on the quality of process investment, effort level, or any other behavior that is included in a well-developed system. It can be a useful adjunct to the class’s social contract and democratic operating procedure. Used unsystematically or as a deficit model, it can have a harmful effect that may be invisible but profoundly destructive. A thoughtful implementation can promote the intrinsic sources of motivation on the part of the students. Used carelessly, it can feel like just another external source of teacher oppression and domestication.



By definition, competition creates a scarcity of rewards and a sense of urgency to obtain that reward. This can certainly be motivating to many students. Used wisely, competition can increase the level of intensity and fun in an activity. However, used unwisely, competition can create a whole host of negative side effects such as increasing students’ fear of failure, increased cheating, over-emphasis on end results rather than process, increased mistrust among students, promoting the advantage of the advantaged, and creating an emotionally unsafe emotional climate in the class.


Because competition is such a widespread motivational strategy, and because its use can have such powerful effects, Chapter 20 is entirely devoted to the examination of what it is and how it can be use most effectively.


Instructional Design



Chapter Reflection 7-k: Recall a teacher who created especially engaging lessons. What was the effect on student motivation? Did the teacher need to use a lot of extrinsic rewards to get students to care about their work?



In Chapter 13, we will examine the relationship between our instructional choices and the effect on management and motivation. It is likely that the single most significant factor in achieving a class who is working hard and caringly is the selection of the type of work that we have them doing. Conversely, when there are motivational problems and/or behavioral problems, most often it is the type of instruction that is the main culprit.




Intrinsic Motivational Techniques


Intrinsic motivational techniques cannot be as easily explained as separate techniques or strategies when compared to the extrinsic techniques. Like any successful methodology, they must be developed intentionally, but a holistic approach is most effective. Much of the process of promoting intrinsic motivation involves the removal of barriers to the students’ abilities to access their inner motives and satisfiers. Rewards, pain-based motivators, meaningless tasks, learning in isolation, and a lack of support all act to block intrinsic sources of motivation. For one’s intrinsic sources of motivation to grow, the learning context must support them.


It may be most instructive and practical to examine many intrinsic motivational ideas within a single structure – that of basic needs. Inquiry and Problem-Based Learning, Increased Responsibility, and Achieving Personal Growth all make much more sense when we examine them within the context of how they meet basic needs. Unlike extrinsic forms of motivation, intrinsic forms are less about adding something. For instance, basic needs simply exist, and we all have them. During the school day, either they are met within the context of the learning environment, or students will be forced to meet them in alternative ways. In some cases, the alternate means students use to meet their needs manifest as disruptive behavior and problems for the teacher, or unhealthy habits for the student.


Basic Needs

Each of us has fundamental basic needs that we must find a way to satisfy (Glasser 1980). If we are unable to satisfy them, we will experience some type of dissonance. While theorists vary slightly when identifying the core areas, the basic human needs for love and belonging, power, competence, freedom, and fun seem to be inherent and universal.


These basic needs exist continuously both in and outside of the classroom. The evidence that a student comes from a home in which their basic needs have been met is usually quite apparent. Most likely, they act more confident, centered, and trusting. The time spent at school can often have an even more determinant effect on students’ ability to meet their basic needs than their time away from school. The activities in which they are engaged are more structured, limiting their ability to meet their needs more naturally, and in many cases, meeting one’s need is more challenging at school. As a result, we discover that students find numerous creative ways to get their needs met during the school day. Quite often these means lead to what is labeled “inappropriate behavior.”


As teachers we have no choice but to recognize that student have basic needs, and that those needs will manifest themselves, one way or another. Most students have the ability to deny their needs for a short period of time, but to do this day after day would be intolerable. And more importantly, student should not have to endure a school environment that denies their basic needs. For some teachers it may require a paradigm shift, while for others it may help clarify their perspective. But a critical ingredient to successful classroom management is to view all problems though the lens of basic needs initially. For example, if we look out at our class and see faces wrought with frustration, a common but highly ineffective response will be to view that reaction as inconvenient to us and what we had planned. A more effective reaction, one that will lead to a solution, is to ask ourselves, “What basic need is lacking right now?” When we view student misbehavior within the lens of “I need them to know that their behavior is inadequate,” it will lead us down a management solution dead end. While we are not obliged to meet every student’s basic need, when we examine the behavior and/or emotional climate in our class through the lens of basic needs, problems become illuminated, diagnosis gains coherence, and solutions become more evident.


When basic needs are not being met, the reaction by the student (i.e., the coping mechanisms) can take the form of either an internal or an external reaction. As each basic need is examined more closely, these reactions become more evident, as well as how each basic need can be met in the classroom.


Love and Belonging

Each of us needs to feel that we are loved and that we are a wanted part of a group. The desire to be accepted by the group is considered by many theorists as the fundamental human drive (Driekurs, 1974). Moreover, our sense of self acceptance is greatly influenced by factors within our environment. If we feel perpetually unloved, alienated or isolated, common internal reactions include a sense of guilt, worthlessness, loneliness, lowered self-esteem, while common external reactions include acting out, over-achievement, clowning, and pleasing. Teachers can give students a greater sense of love and belonging by recognizing unique qualities and talents, creating an emotionally safe community environment, and showing genuine care and respect.



Each of us needs to feel that we have some control over our destiny. If we do not experience a sense of “agency” in our lives we feel helpless. And as we will discuss in the next chapter, a sense of power is fundamentally related to the development of an internal locus of control. If we feel we do not have any power, common internal reactions include becoming withdrawn and passive-aggressive, while common external reactions include rebellion and hostility. Teachers can give students a sense of power by giving students choices, giving responsibility and opportunities for leadership, giving ownership for the development of class procedures and the social contract, and refraining from 4-Style management strategies.



Each of us wants to feel a sense of self-efficacy. We need to feel that we are capable and have something valuable to contribute. Much of our identity is connected to what we can do, and how well we can do it. If we feel useless, unvalued, incompetent or unappreciated, common internal reactions include losing motivation and/or a sense of inadequacy, while common external reactions include bragging, acting overly competent, attention-getting, and excuse-making. Teachers can give students a greater sense of competence by focusing on progress and not products, removing conditions in which comparisons among students are used, recognizing incremental achievement and original ideas, expressing high expectations, and helping students achieve the goals they have set for themselves.



Chapter Reflection 7-l: Recall a situation in which you felt very competent. How did you act? How would you describe your level of motivation? Conversely, recall a situation in which you felt little if any sense of competence. How did you act? How would you describe your level of motivation?




Each of us needs to feel that we are autonomous and have freedom of choice. We must feel a sense of liberation to be able to express our individuality. If we feel too restricted or imprisoned, common internal reactions are becoming withdrawn or resentful, while common external reactions include fighting back, active resistance and/or seeking paths around authority. Teachers can help students experience freedom through supporting autonomy and creativity, avoiding personal praise and disappointment, validating differing viewpoints within the class, and fostering the attitude that the teacher does not have nor must have all the answers, and the idea that everyone makes mistakes.



Each of us needs to be able to have fun and experience wonder and joy. Fun may be difficult to define. What is fun for one person may not be fun for another. Yet we all feel the need to experience enjoyment and whimsy.  If we are put in a repressive and/or tedious environment, common internal reactions include boredom, frustration and daydreaming, while common external reactions include making one’s own fun, engaging the teacher in (off-task) games, and hostility. Teachers can promote students’ sense of fun by the use of humor, providing opportunities for creative play, making learning engaging and interesting and a thoughtful use of healthy competition.





Chapter Reflection 7-m: The word “fun” draws different reactions from those in different positions. Sometimes the idea that learning needs to be fun can feel oppressive and fill us with guilt or disdain for those who tell us to make things more fun (such as our students). But take a closer look at the idea of fun. What makes you happy? What feels like fun? When do you see a look of joy on the face of your students? Fun need not involve big laughs and a party. How could you meet your students need for fun, without betraying your values as a teacher?



As we examine the conditions that meet basic needs we find that they have the effect of promoting intrinsic motivation and vice versa. When we assist students on a path of personal growth, we inevitably meet the needs of power and competence. When we give increased responsibility, we are not so much adding something or giving something to the student, we are allowing the basic needs for power, contribution, and belonging to be fulfilled and the student therefore to bloom. And as we examine the effect of instruction on motivation in Chapter 13, it will be evident that creating a learning context in which basic needs are met is a more effective means to achieving student motivation than bribing students to do work they find meaningless and unsatisfying.


Considering Motivation as Movement or Flow

Recall a situation (group, class, team, committee, etc,) that consisted of a series of meetings in which you felt consistently motivated and eager to take part in the activity. In this situation, would you characterize what was going on as “going some place?” Now, recall another situation in which you felt your participation was out of a sense of obligation. In other words, you were just putting in time, and as a result you found yourself finding ways to entertain yourself in ways that may not have been part of the stated agenda. In this second case, how much psychological movement did you feel the situation provided? In other words, how much did you feel like there was a flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991) or that things were “going somewhere” and you were part of that movement? It is a good bet that it was very little. Recall what you did to meet your needs and entertain yourself.


Examining these two situations should give us some insight into the reality of our students and the needs that they bring to our class. If there is not a sense of movement in our class, it is very likely that our students will create that movement with behavior that may appear to be a “problem” to the teacher. And as we discussed earlier (regarding socially constructed reality) these “problem behaviors” could go in the category of problems “manufactured” by the teacher. We cannot expect the same level of behavior from powerless, joyless, bored students as we would from student that are “going somewhere” that they feel is meaningful to them. It has been raised that we as teachers “make the weather,” and regardless of whether we are aware of it, we create more or less psychological movement in our class.


Let’s examine the components of psychological movement. There are essentially two factors, 1) the direction of the movement and 2) the rate at which the movement takes place. The graphic below (Figure 7.3) depicts this concept.


Figure 7.3: Depicting the Factors that Effect One’s Sense of Psychological Movement

                                    Rate of movement/motivation ->

                                      (~amount of reinforcement, schedule of,

 and proximity to outcome)    

    Define the                                                                            Determine your collective goal starting point            






Variable A: Clarity of the goal

The sense of movement that a group feels will be related to how well the goal of the activity (or series of activities) is internalized. But as we will see later, all goals will not achieve the same outcomes and/or kinds of motivation. For example, consider the two cases you examined from your own experience. Which case held more intrinsic interest to you? It is a good bet it was the first one in which you felt that it was “going somewhere.” Be careful when selecting your goals. It may be helpful to examine Figure 7.2, the chart of motivational strategies, earlier in this chapter for some ideas. It is very likely that the goals that ultimately lead to extrinsic rewards will not last as long or maintain their effectiveness over time as those that are rooted in sources of internal satisfaction. Again consider the event that you recalled for the first case. How would you characterize your goals?


Variable B: The amount and schedule of reinforcement

The rate of movement will vary to the degree that there is reinforcement for the attainment of that goal. This reinforcement can be either external or internal. It can be about a tangible product or a clearly satisfying experience. And given what we know about reinforcement, we can assume that the more intermittent the schedule of that reinforcement the stronger it will be. In addition, the more closely that the reinforcement is related, both in time and logical relationship, to the achievements necessary to attain the goal the more effective it will be. For example, if immediately after successfully playing a tune on the piano we are reinforced we will be more motivated to keep at it. That reinforcement could be either extrinsic (i.e., money or praise for example) or intrinsic (i.e., a sense of satisfaction or the joy of making a wonderful sound), yet in either case, our motivation in the future will be related to how immediate and substantial the reinforcement is.


Comparison Case Examples

A case example might help clarify the principle. Imagine if you were given the task of pulling weeds. For most of us the task alone is not inherently reinforcing. So we would likely only do it for some payment. Let’s say we are getting paid as our reinforcement--assume that we agreed to do the work for $50 a day. What would our motivational level be for our first day? Assume that we were paid the same amount no matter what our rate or quality. What would happen to our motivation?  In comparison, let’s say that we were paid per weed. How would that affect our level of motivation? What if our supervisor stopped by every once in a while and gave us a bonus if they observed an exceptional level of effort? As you can see all of these variables will affect our level of motivation. They would not change the stated goal, but they would affect our psychological sense of movement toward that goal.


However, consider this case from another perspective. We might ask as a result of the motivation provided in each condition, are we more or less likely to desire to engage in weed pulling without being paid in the future? And what will the result be to our motivation to take part in work that is similar to weed pulling? This example illustrates that with a well-conceived plan of reinforcements we can increase motivation by manipulating the reinforcement schedule and the clarity of the goal. But while we can likely obtain a high level of motivation in the short-term with an extrinsic type of goal such as the one described, we have to ask what the long-term cost of any motivational program would be.


Now let’s paint a picture that may look something like the one that you envisioned earlier in the situation in which you felt like things were “going somewhere.”  How would you characterize the goal of the work?  It was likely both very meaningful, and very clear. I would also predict that you knew what you were aiming for and you had a desire to attain the goal. But why? Possibly, you were being given an external reinforcement, but it is also likely that you saw a real value to the work. It was relevant to you. The reinforcement could simply have been seeing progress toward your goal, and the feeling of getting better and/or accomplishing something. And if there were others involved, part of the reinforcement may have been the feeling of working together to achieve a common goal.


When we examine the activity in any classroom we can quickly determine if there is a feeling like things are going somewhere, and whether there is momentum. Do the students know where they are going? Is there something satisfying about the goal and the steps along the way to achieving the goal?


As we examine what could be considered the basic needs of each of us, consider how the satisfaction of getting needs met affects one’s level of motivation, and a decreased necessity to engage in what Driekers calls “mistaken goals.”  These are goals that give us a sense of satisfaction and psychological movement, but are unhealthy for all concerned. As you examine the idea of self theories (Dweck, 1999) and the development of a “mastery orientation” to work, in the next chapter consider how one’s orientation to the task can create more or less of a psychological sense the one is “going somewhere” in the effort. If we find joy in the “getting there” and experience learning as a means to growth we will feel a deeper sense of motivation. If we feel that the goal is just a means to an end (i.e., we want to feel a sense of relief, we want to avoid failure, we want to make sure others are pleased, etc.) we will only experience a limited degree of motivation as we take part in the task. Those who know where they are going and feel a deep sense of satisfaction in the getting there rarely feel bored. When we look out at a sea of bored faced we know that students either do not know what the goal is, don’t care about the goal, or view the work (for whatever reason) simply as an obligation.


Putting it all together, consider using the lens of “success psychology” as a way to think about what makes a task satisfying, motivational, and something that you would do without a lot of external reinforcement. A practical guide to the development of a success psychology within a class is outlined in the following chapter.



Journal Prompts:

1. Would you say that your education to this point has been more defined by intrinsic or extrinsic forms of motivation?


2. As you examine your education and the classrooms that you have observed recently, would you classify them as “basic needs satisfying” places?



Chapter Activities:

1. In small groups, discuss your example of a situation in which you felt like it was “going somewhere.” What made it feel that way? Why was it different from other educational situations that you have been in?


2. Examine a class other than one that you are teaching. Identify anything that you would consider a problem (e.g., lack of control, boredom, inattention, conflict, hostility, alienation, etc). Given these problems, can you recognize the unmet basic needs that are at their root?


3. As a class, discuss the story of the man who wanted to take a nap. Do members of the class see the principles of this parable manifested in classrooms that they observe?


4. Create a section in your Classroom Management Plan or Teaching Improvement Plan that addresses Motivation. In a few pages outline what kinds of principles and strategies you will use to support the motivational levels in your class. You might reflect on the following questions:

·          Why will your students be motivated in the short term? In the long-term?

·          How would you characterize your motivational style?

·          Why will your students care about the work that they are doing?

·          Why will your students care about each other?

·          What effect do you want your motivational strategies to have on your students?




Csikszentmihalyi, M (1991) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper. New York.

Driekurs, R. (1974) Discipline Without Tears. Hawthorn Books
Dweck. C. (2000) Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Psychology Press.

Glasser. W. (1990) The Quality School: Managing Students without Coercion. Harper and Row Publishers, New York.

Jones. F. (2000) Tools for teaching: discipline, instruction, motivation. Jones Publishing

Kohn. A. (1999)  Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. Houghton Mifflin