Intrinsic Motivation?

Today I was among a group of educators who discussed the following question:

What kinds of classroom practices tend to extinguish intrinsic motivation? What kinds of problems might you encounter if you tried to eliminate such practices?

Educators know that intrinsic motivation is the inner desire or motivation to accomplish a task or fulfill an expected behavior. Its role in the learning process is vital because kids come to us with a spark of desire to learn and part of our job as we pass those minds from one classroom to the next is to fan that flame. The greatest teachers are able to pour gasoline on it.

Our supreme desire is to have a room full of students who are eager to be there and gobble up whatever crumbs of wisdom you throw their way. To be frank, it doesn’t happen. Ever. The interesting question there is why? What is it that we do to kids over time that takes away their yearnin’ for learnin’? Some thought that perhaps it was all of the paper-and-pencil activities that we require of students. Lower-level thinking lessons encourage kids to be low-level thinkers. I agree with that. I also think that we reward children for every little thing they do, and that takes away from wanting to do something just because it’s a good thing to do.
“Lawanda brought her permission slip back for the field trip signed. Here’s a piece of candy.”

“Gabe raised his hand to answer a question. Pick something from the treasure chest.”

“Hannah won the review game for our quiz tomorrow. 5 bonus points to Hannah!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not demonizing rewards, because they do play an important role in motivating students. But too many students today, when asked to complete a task, ask the question “Well, what do I get?” That is when a person’s intrinsic motivation has been tainted and extrinsic motivation supercedes.


Memoirs of a Geisha

Being a firm believer in experiencing a story in the form of its original intent (i.e. if it was first written as a book, I want to read the book), Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden has been on my must-read list for quite some time. Finally I was able to check it off!

I’ll admit, I loved the book because it was so, well, different. At the same time, it’s difficult to blog about because there are so many different topics one could tackle. Gender roles, economics, culture, love, and war are only a few different elements that are vital to this story.

The book is unique in that there is nothing in our American culture with which to compare the geisha of Japan. They aren’t really prostitutes, yet their virginity is given to the highest bidder. This description of a successful geisha’s life was filled to the brim with irony. The girls who are “lucky” enough to become geisha are trapped by their profession while simultaneously are grateful for a means to some degree of independence.

What was incredibly bothersome was that in addition to this being a recounting of the life of a geisha, it was also intended as a love story. Yet, the entire story (including the sprinklings of sexual encounters) had nothing whatsoever to do with love. There was no talk of love, no mention of the word. Chiyo/Sayuri (the main character) never mentions love at all, neither in relation to her family nor to the men for whom she grows to have strong feelings.

It makes me wonder whether people are taught to love or whether they have the ability to do so inherently. In our culture people talk of love from the time our babies are newborns. By the age of 5, kids know even that there are different types of love. Would they know these things without our lavishing it upon them? Something to think about…

*April 7, 2006 addition: I finally watched the movie! While the theatrical presentation deviated from the original manuscript, it was still a pretty good represention. It actually helped me understand the life of a geisha a little more. I will concede this: the movie version does a better job of contrasting the Japanese and American cultures in the 1930's. I found myself wishing the people of our country were as graceful and dignified as the Japanese people. Still, I maintain that you should definitely read the book before watching the movie!