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Another Voice: Lisa Parsons - Show Me the Carrot

I recently finished reading Daniel Pink's book Drive.  As an administrator in a residential facility for at-risk youth, I've been thinking about how I could incorporate what science says can be effective in motivating the learners I work with.

My students live on the far end of the reluctant learner continuum.  Most don’t have the supportive home environment research recommends for school success.  These are Teflon kids who never bought into the scratch and sniff sticker rewards of primary school.  The frustrations of not learning literacy skills onCarrotsgross pink-1   schedule with their peers lessened their ability to be compliant while they moved along on the conveyor belt of our factory model education system.

Before working in a residential facility, I worked with kids with similar issues in public school.  I felt strongly that all students were entitled to learn and regularly told my students that no one has the right to interfere with the learning of others.  But, hey, wait a minute --  doesn’t our present day school system interfere with the right of these at-risk kids to learn at their own pace, in their own way, on their own time? Haven't we taken away what Pink calls their “autonomy” for learning?  It’s one of the concepts Pink contends works as an effective motivator.  Pink's view is that autonomy isn’t independence, but choice and interdependence.  Isn't this what all our 21st century learners need?

Cornell professor Kirabo Jackson suggests that "paying for grades,” may work with some high school kids.  My experience with kids in residential placement suggests  that extrinsic motivators don’t work.  Instead, maybe we should ask the kids what they know, what they want to learn, and where they want to go.  Let's think about how we can put them in the driver's seat for their own learning.  Add to that a teacher’s personal investment and maybe we could actually make a difference -- one kid at a time.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.