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.


  1. Unfortunately, this is a war that cannot be won apart from a child's parent guarding and offsetting our culture. This is, to me, mostly a cultural problem, that is to say, that every direction we turn, there is something that runs in diametric opposition to "intrinsic motivation," thus making it a regular part of the fabric of Western culture. So unless sound parenting steps in and nurtures and encourages "intrinsic motivation," the educator that sees this child for a few hours each week, hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell.

  2. boo hiss to your communist "blog owner approval"...what about free speech?:)

  3. Very good points. I have never really thought about rewards in that light. And as a side note, I know Lewanda - she is a great kid and I love her.

  4. Gav,
    1. Thanks for the comments! Keep 'em coming...just because you're murdering YOUR blog doesn't mean you have to quit reading mine!
    2. Love the metaphor. :)
    3. I was attempting the blog owner approval option because I wanted to allow non-members the opportunity to weigh in on different thoughts, BUT with all the spammers and psychos out there, I thought it too risky. I've turned it off now, so we'll see how it goes from here.


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