Zull explores the brain and determines that in order to get ideas about learning we need to look within the brain (Zull, 17). He also draws upon the research done by David Kolb, who suggests that learning originates in concrete experience, requires reflection, developing abstractions, and actively testing those abstractions (Zull 18). Simply put, learning is a scientific method.
Zull believes that in order to better understand learning, we need to know where it happens, and what parts of the brain it happens in. He does not want us to assume that learning only happens in one place. Zull believes that the learning cycle is about life itself (Zull, 48). And that regardless of what we think, our brains are always learning and taking new shape, its just a matter of accepting and wanting those changes.
What Does the Brain Want?
Darwin said it, our species depends on it, and our brains want it. So what is it?
The key to everything is Survival. The human race has been doing this for as long as time has existed. Without the brain, this would not be possible. The brain senses, it processes, and determines what is safe, and how to stay safe. Zull states that survival depends on control, and when the brain thinks its in control, it feels safe and happy (Zull, 49). In order to get to euphoria, the brain has to analyze and predict, and develop strategies. These processes involve order of operation and strategic mapping, all of which happen in the brain. Zull explains that before we can motivate a student, we need to know the processes that the brain goes through. That way, when we encounter a student who is not engaged, we can make predictions why they are disengaged, determine a route of action, and test to see if works.
Got the Method, Now Show Me the Motivation
Our best chance to help another person is to find out what they want, and what they care about. The trick is not to get them motivated, but to use what already motivates them (Zull, 53). According to Zull, we think that our students are motivated by extrinsic rewards and bribes: gold stars, grades, scholarships, and even praise (Zull, 53). But these rewards are not everlasting. What we should be focusing on, is intrinsic rewards that are automatically connected with learning and what we want.
Whats Wrong With Rewards?
There is no outside influence or force that can cause a brain to learn (Zull, 52). So bribing a student with a reward isn't going to make that student want to read the prologue of the Canterbury Tales. Zull makes it clear that extrinsic rewards are not useless; they are used incorrectly. Zull suggests that rewards are a good starting point to get a student on task. They can also sustain learning at times of pressure and difficulty (Zull, 54). Zull wants us to know that rewards are not wrong, but they should be used as a means to get the ball rolling.
Okay, But I Still Don't Know How to Trigger Motivation!
Zull doesn't give us a clear cut way to help trigger motivation, but he does gives us a glance into how the brain processes information. We first looked at the scientific methods of learning. After cycling through the brain we predicted that it wants to survive, and be safe. After hypothesizing we came to the conclusion that the brain learns by motivation and learned that our brains are not entirely motivated by extrinsic rewards, and most learning happens when we enjoy what we are doing.
Zull wants us to understand what our students are thinking, and he believes that triggering motivation doesn't happen unless we know what is going on in our student's mind. After doing this, we are then able to make a game plan to promote positive learning.