(Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation)
Recent theories suggest that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not two opposing constructs, but rather two ends of a motivation continuum (Alderman, 2000). The intrinsic / extrinsic motivation continuum represents the extent to which actions are controlled by reward and the extent to which actions are self-determined (Alderman, 2000). A person can engage in activities to simultaneously fulfill both intrinsic and extrinsic goals. For example, when someone chooses a career that is also intrinsically rewarding, working can produce both intrinsic rewards (i.e. interest and enjoyment) and extrinsic rewards (i.e., salary and prestige). As educators, we must find a way to make school both intrinsically and extrinsically rewarding for our students.
If a student is not intrinsically motivated to do well, using extrinsic motivators such as rewards or punishments can sometimes prod the student into action. However, using rewards and punishments effectively is an art. Sometimes using extrinsic motivators can backfire. As a general rule, positively reinforcing good behavior or high achievement is far more effective than punishing bad behavior or low achievement. However, even rewards need to be used carefully, since even rewards can have an adverse impact on subsequent motivation. In Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn argues that rewarding students for activities that are intrinsically motivating can decrease their motivation to engage in those activities in the future. While we disagree with Kohn’s conclusion that rewards are ineffective and controlling, we would suggest that rewards are more effective if you follow a few general guidelines.
Strategies for rewarding students: (From Brophy, 1998)
- Offer rewards as incentives for meeting performance standards on low level tasks or skills that require a great deal of practice or drill and repetition rather than as primary incentives to do things that you hope will be intrinsically motivating for the student (such as reading, interest based research projects, participating in volunteer projects, etc.)
- Rewards can act as motivators only for those students who believe that they have a chance to earn the rewards if they put forth reasonable effort. For example, if the teacher offers a reward for the neatest paper, the sloppiest child in the class is unlikely to try to win the award.
- Rewards are only effective when students value the reward. For example, if students don’t care about grades, then using grades as a reward for good performance does not serve as an extrinsic motivator for the child.
- Rewards are most effective when they are delivered in ways that provide students with informative feedback about their performance. Explain the importance of learning, performance, and improvement, and use the incentives as markers for mastering key concepts or improving skills, rather than as the entire point of doing the work.
Decreases in performance and intrinsic motivation may occur when…
- Rewards are presented in ways that call a great deal of attention to them in front of the rest of the students. This can be very embarrassing for the student who receives the award.
- Rewards are given for mere participation in an activity rather than contingent on achieving specific goals. Rewarding participation can result in subpar performance.
- Rewards are artificially tied to the behaviors as control devices rather than being natural outcomes of the behaviors. Ideally, if you can design a system where a behavior is naturally reinfocing, you will have the best long-term outcomes. However, sometimes it may be necessary to offer “carrots” for particular achievements. This is effective in the short run. However, when you stop offering the carrot, you are likely to stop seeing the desired behavior. Therefore, rewards can be a great “quick fix”, but they are rarely a long-term solution.
Final Note: Remember, what may seem like it would be motivational to one person, can actually be antimotivational for someone else. Consider the following scenario taken from the motivation and motivational tools website, www.motivation-and-motivational-tools.com (website no longer available)
Then one fateful day, Mrs. George, who had been waiting for opportunities to help Cole feel successful and more confident in his own abilities, asked him a direct question in class. When Cole responded correctly, she praised him quite emphatically. Cole was mortified. He blushed and ducked his head and felt more embarrassed than he had in months. He thought that he’d been made to look like the teacher’s pet and would be alienated by his newfound friends. He vowed never to answer a question correctly out loud after that.
So in effect, what Mrs. George had intended as positive reinforcement turned out to be serious disincentive for the behavior she’d been hoping to cultivate.”