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A Few Reflections On Daniel Pink’s New Book, “Drive”

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Daniel Pink’s new book, “Drive:The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” just came out. I found it to be a very interesting “read,” though have to admit I was a little bit disappointed that — as far as practical applications to teaching — it didn’t have that much beyond what could be found in his must-see TED Talk (see My Thoughts On A Very Intriguing Video On Motivation & Incentives).

As I wrote in that post:

He cites a lot of research debunking the effectiveness of extrinsic rewards on motivation. This isn’t news to the many of us whom have read Alfie Kohn’s excellent book Punished By Rewards. However, he seems to provide a slightly more nuanced critique.

Pink basically says that extrinsic rewards do work — for mechanical work that doesn’t require much higher-order thinking.  But he says research says that it will not work for anything that requires higher-order thinking skills and creativity.

This analysis mirrors my own experience in the classroom.  In Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”? I shared the challenges I faced last year in using extrinsic motivation to get students into a new pattern of behavior, and then moving them back toward intrinsic motivation. Using “points” was definitely effective in getting the class under control. They received them for being focused and doing their work.

However, I didn’t think students started doing their highest quality work until they were “weaned” off the point system and began to gain what Pink calls “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Pink says that those are the three essential elements in generating higher-order thinking skills.

One thing I did learn from the book was that behavioral scientists define these two categories into “algorithmic” and “heuristic.”    Here is how he defines the difference on page 29:

An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.  That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it.  A heuristic task is the opposite.  Precisely because no algorithm exists for it, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.  Working as a grocery checkout cleark is mostly algorithmic.  You do pretty much the same thing over and over in a certain way.  Creating an ad campaign is mostly heuristic.  You have to come up with something new.

I was struck by the similarity of algorithmic and heuristic to what Gladwell and others have framed as “puzzles” and “mysteries.”  I’ve written more about that at Is Figuring Out How To Make Schools Better A Puzzle Or A Mystery?

Another particularly useful part of the book — related to teaching — is a good review of Carol Dweck’s research and writing, though I think you can get the same information directly from her — see What Kind Of Feedback Should We Give Our Students?; The Difference Between Praise & Acknowledgment; and Reading Logs — Part Two (or “How Students Can Grow Their Brains”).

The nice thing about Pink’s book is that he shares a lot of neat research in an accessible way.  I was also impressed by his explanation of Edward Deci’s work on self-determination theory. I also use Deci’s research in my book that will be published in April, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work (Linworth Publishing).

You can read an interview with Pink at the Wall Street Journal, which also has published an excerpt from his book.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s reactions to the book. Please leave a comment…

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

5 Comments

  1. I just finished reading Drive and thought Pink did a great job expanding on the ideas he presented in his TED Talk. I especially liked the chapter on Mastery and wrote about it briefly in this post http://21stcentliteracy.edublogs.org/2010/01/03/the-motivation-to-strive-for-mastery/

    I also had the opportunity to participate in a teleseminar with Pink the other day; my notes are here http://21stcentliteracy.edublogs.org/2010/01/01/dan-pinks-new-years-preview/

    On a related note, I’m planning to share the “Two questions that can change your life” video with the students in my advisory tomorrow and engage them in a “What’s my sentence?” activity inspired by this post http://vestaltech.edublogs.org/2010/01/03/two-questions/

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