DigiLit Sunday: Motivation

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This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. Please be sure to visit her there to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

When Margaret posted this week’s topic for #DigiLit Sunday, I groaned. Where to begin with the word motivation?

I started jotting my thoughts as they came to me. My list looked something like this:

  • Love motivates us to do things for others.
  • A sense of accomplishment can motivate us to do things.
  • What about desire? What role does this play?
  • People are motivated to learn about and do things that are interesting to them.

None of this helped me narrow this topic down. I could think of personal examples for each point on this list, but I was curious about how these feelings work in the classroom. I had some examples from my own teaching experience, but I didn’t want to write only about anecdotal evidence.  In The Journey is Everything (Heniemann, 2016), Katherine Bomer advises writers to “Read, watch, and listen. All types of texts—books, movies, art, music, Ted Talks—provide inspiration as well as actual content for elaborating essays.”

Sure enough, a quick Google search brought me to Daniel Pink’s Ted Talk on motivation.  After about fifteen minutes of describing why carrot and stick approaches to motivation don’t work for “definitional tasks of the 21st century,” Pink went on to explain that intrinsic motivation is the best way to ensure high performance on creative, cognitively demanding tasks. Pink stated that people are motivated when they “desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, and because they’re part of something important.”

He went on to list three factors critical to intrinsic motivation:

  • autonomy—the urge to direct our own lives
  • mastery—the desire to get better and better at something that matters
  • purpose—the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

I was struck by the similarities between what I wrote on my initial list and the three factors Pink describes as necessary for intrinsic motivation. And although Pink was looking at these elements in terms of business, their application to the classroom is obvious.

My students are always more motivated to read a book they have chosen, even if I limit their choice by giving them two or three options. Writing stories and essays about self-chosen topics is a much richer learning experience because the subject is meaningful to the writer.

The importance of students setting their own learning goals is not a new idea. But I know I need to do a better job at facilitating this process with my own students. Again, we can guide students through this process, even if we give them two or three goals to choose from.

Finally, giving our students a sense of purpose, of working toward “something larger than ourselves” is highly motivating. In the weeks after 9/11, I wanted to find some way to involve my 3rd grade students in efforts to help the families of the victims of the attacks. We ultimately designed and created an afghan that was raffled off. We donated the money raised to a fund for victims’ families. The kids were proud of the fact that they were contributing, and many even wanted to learn to knit so they could help with that part of the project. 

So much has been written about motivation that it would take a person years to read all the articles and books that have been published recently. But motivating our students is arguably the most important part of our job. So thank you, Margaret, for selecting motivation as our theme this week. It’s been helpful for me to examine my own thoughts about motivation and do a little research on the subject. I also found at least two books I’ve been meaning to read right on my bookshelf about this very topic. Now I’m motivated to start reading them today!

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3 thoughts on “DigiLit Sunday: Motivation

  1. That one about working toward something that is bigger than us is the one I want to focus on this year. I want my students to know that even small things can make a difference. I’m glad my topic sent you on this quest. Ha! Did I motivate you? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Catherine, thank you for finding the Pink’s Ted Talk on motivation. I often use this topic to challenge teachers to find the sweet spot that lures their students into the learning process through choice, reflecting on honing skills, and intentionality of pursuits.

    Liked by 1 person

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