So far we have learned that rewards do not work in the long run, and students are not motivated until their hunger is satisfied. Alfie Kohn presents another opinion on how to motivate students. He believes that in order for learning to happen, we must provide an engaging curriculum and a caring atmosphere for our students (Brandt). This means, according to Kohn, educators need to be careful with rewards and punishment. For instance, if a student is already motivated to do something like reading, and we offer them a reward for finishing a book, the student will think we are trying to control them (Brandt). We learned from Zull that our brains want to be safe, and if someone is trying to be in control our brain uses survival techniques and becomes less motivated in reading, and more interested in why you offered them a reward.
How Can Something Boring Become Something Fun Without Rewards?
Kohn suggests that educators look at the curriculum and think of ways to make the content more engaging (Brandt). This doesn't mean watching a movie at the end of the unit, or giving away prizes during a review session, it means taking a look at the material and making it fun without offering bribes. According to Kohn, there are at least 70 studies showing that extrinsic motivators are ineffective and counterproductive to learning (Brandt).
Kohn believes that students deserve an engaging curriculum, so they are able to act out their natural curiosity of discovery. In this sense he is following Aristotle in the belief that curiosity comes naturally, and if we prohibit this ability, we are prohibiting a natural instinct, thus blocking the natural process of growth. Ultimately Kohn wants educators to relax a bit on the rules and allow students to explore.
Explore You Say? That's Crazy!
Everyone is born with curiosity according to Aristotle, and everyone is born with motivation according to Kohn, its not something that they need to be taught, but by the end of elementary school you may need to remind them of it (Brandt). This is not to say that we need to remind kids that their still kids, but to make sure that we are teaching things that interest the growing student. When talking about exploration, Kohn is not suggesting we let students run ramped throughout the school, but that we take topics like simile and metaphor and explore the different methods they can be taught with.
Why Should I do This?
Kohn has a simple answer: "We all want to be appreciated, encouraged, and loved."
If you teach with enthusiasm and engaging activities, you will see positive results that promote learning and cooperation. But in order to do so, Kohn, like Zull and Maslow, believes that we need to know our students and support them. We can not praise them, we have to encourage them, and acknowledge whats going on in their lives. This will not only allow for the student to feel comfortable in the classroom, but also be encouraged and engaged.
How Do I Make it Work?
Kohn suggests the three Cs of motivation: Content, community, and choice.
The first is content. Is the material worth learning.
Second comes community. Does the student feel like they are part of the group?
Third is choice. Is the student making decisions, or are you making them?
Kohn believes that students are motivated by engaging material, and being treated like they are worth something. When we treat our students like human beings, that says a lot. When we treat them like puppets, we get the reaction we want when they are under our control, but as soon as we put them down, nothing happens.