Why do some kids arrive at secondary school already motivated to work hard,
while some arrive demotivated to exert much effort at all in lessons?
Picture two students you’ve taught: one who works incredibly hard, and one who seems
incredibly lacklustre and avoids making effort.
What explains this difference? How does motivation work?
In a series of five blogposts, I plan to explore what we as teachers can do about motivation,
self-control and willpower in school. There’ll be stories of elephants, chimps and bees;
mindsets, biases and self-fulfilling prophecies. The heroes of the story will be Carol Dwek,
Daniel Kahnemann, Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein, Jonathan Haidt, Kelly McGonigal
and the Heath brothers. Going beyond the I’ve been exploring,
this is a journey into our social, intuitive minds.
In the first post of the series, I want to see how two approaches from the field of economics
might apply to the question of motivation: game theory and behavioural economics.
But to start with, why is motivation so important? I think capture it well:
The hypothesis is that what drives motivation
is not so much the relevance of the content as the challenge of the task.
For instance, when you are given a Sudoku puzzle, crossword or mental arithmetic problem
that is too hard, like working out 23 x 79 in your head, how much do you feel like attempting it?
How about a question that is far too easy, like 5 + 5?
We are motivated by problems that are both challenging and attainable – otherwise
we get frustrated, bored or complacent. Teaching should stretch but not overwhelm students.
But that’s certainly not all there is to motivation. What about pupils’ perceptions and expectations? That’s where game theory comes in.
In one of the most thought-provoking blogposts I’ve read all year, Trying is Risky,
David Thomas used game theory to model a pupil’s choice in a lesson: whether to exert effort or not.
What I like about this model is that it’s subject-specific,
and it locates the solution in the teacher’s sphere of control,
whilst acknowledging other factors outside the teacher’s influence.
I’d like to unpack those external factors in the next few blogposts,
whilst also challenging game theory’s assumptions.
The greatest challenge to economic modelling is that of the .
People – especially pupils – don’t always act rationally.
There’s little rationale for sabotaging their own learning in the way some seem to,
and it doesn’t always result in social success.
Behavioural economics offers another way of looking at motivation.
Daniel Kahnemann is the chief exponent of this approach, in his book .
In this view, our minds are made up of two agents: fast, intuitive, effortless
and automatic system 1, and slow, deliberate, effortful, and reflective system 2.
We demand extraordinary efforts of cognitive work and self-control from pupils every day.
Some pupils have weaker system 2 than others. The paradox is that our pupils with weak self-control need it most but find it hardest. David Thomas is right to say that
The only way out of the paradox is this
of self-control to get it increasingly on autopilot. Where might we, as teachers and school leaders, start?
Frame tasks for optimal challenge in your subject
Frame lessons to ensure demotivated students
Strengthen pupil’s attention spans and their deliberative, effortful system 2
with meticulous planning and persistent practice
Reinforce effort exertion and set the bar at 100% of pupils on task every task
Train pupils’ control of attention and teach explicitly
Ensure reinforce system 2 effort exertion and self-control
Create a with practice routines to automate the habit of self-discipline
On exploring the rationalist delusion, Jonathan Haidt said: ‘
Next week, I’ll look into the
affect how hard pupils work.
You can TCR software and engineering manuals for spontaneously recall – or pass that exam.
I can Turbo Charge Read a novel 6-7 times faster and remember what I’ve read.
I can TCR an instructional/academic book around 20 times faster and remember what I’ve read.
Introduction to Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
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Perhaps you’d like to check out my sister blogs:
www.innermindworking.blogspot.com gives many ways for you to work with the stresses of life
www.ourinnerminds.blogspot.com take advantage of business experience and expertise.
www.happyartaccidents.blogspot.com just for fun.
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The more that you learn; the more places you'll go.”