People are probably familiar with Dan Pink’s “TED Talk” which is one of their most popular of all time, and some are familiar with the RSA Animation of another one of his talks on motivation (I’ve embedded both below).
A few days ago RSA posted another animation of a talk he gave on his most recent book (by the way, for what it’s worth, Dan interviewed both my wife and me for it). I’ve embedded this new video first, followed by the other older two.
Some school reformers and researchers have suggested that providing merit pay for entire schools is an alternative, though I’m not a supporter of those kinds of group incentives for similar reasons why I’m opposed to individual merit pay.
What’s your take on the whole idea of group versus individual incentives?
To me, the difference is less about groups versus individuals than about other, deeper factors. For instance, the big problem with “if-then” rewards isn’t the rewards but the “if-then,” the contingency. Those types of mechanisms are forms of control. Control can be effective for simple, algorithmic tasks — but a disaster for more complex, creative, conceptual ones. So the real issue here is whether the rewards are controlling — or whether they’re operating as forms of feedback and information. Also, a big problem with contingent rewards are that people can game the system. Individual rewards are much harder to game than group ones. For example, I can cut corners and shift around orders in order to make my own monthly sales look good. But it’s tough for one person to singlehandedly manipulate and distort company profits. One reason that group incentives can sometimes work better than individual ones is that they’re harder to game — so people end up just doing their jobs.
Do you share a concern about its “workability” in a school situation and, to make the question even broader, do you have any thoughts about a general criteria to apply or thoughts to keep in mind to distinguish between incentive ideas and strategies that might be appropriate for businesses but not in schools? This is of particular concern to many of us in education who find ourselves dealing with some efforts to “run schools more like businesses.”
Absolutely. Here’s what people never seem to realize: Schools aren’t businesses. Even people who think schools are businesses can never tell me whether students are the product or the customer. But most parents don’t want their kids to be either products or customers. They want them to be human beings who learn and grow. The idea that we can accomplish that singlehandedly through teacher or school bonuses is silly.
What are your thoughts on the use of group incentives in education and Daniel Pink’s other comments?
It’s ninety-minutes long, and I’ve only had a chance to watch/listen to the first thirty minutes. So far, I would especially recommend the section from about the ten minute mark to the 25 minute mark. I’ll be listening to the rest of it later tonight.
As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of Daniel Pink’s work. Tonight, there was an #HRBookchat with him, and I created a “Storify” highlighting what I thought were key comments that were made (of course, it was particularly nice that he encouraged people to read my post in The New York Times today ).
Daniel Pink was recently interviewed on a local Washington, D.C. television show along with a local university official. You watch it all here, but I thought the few minutes he spent discussing the role of grades, autonomy and inquiry in education to be particularly thought-provoking. I used Tube Chop to “chop” those two brief segments and have them embedded below. I don’t know if they will come through on an RSS Readers, so you might have to click through to my blog in order to view them.
It’s really an exceptional conversation. Roberts is a gentle skeptic at times of Pink’s points, and it creates a situation where Pink talks about his research and perspective in a somewhat different way than I have heard him talk about it before — I’ve usually just read what he has written, or heard/read interviews from people who are in complete agreement. It was very helpful.
The last half hour of the interview is entirely devoted to incentives in education, but don’t just go to that part. I usually am not a fan of podcasts, but his one is worth listening through in its entirety.
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.
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).
I regularly highlight my picks for the most useful posts for each month — not including “The Best…” lists. I also use some of them in a more extensive monthly newsletter I send-out. You can see older Best Posts of the Month at Websites Of The Month (more recent lists can be found here).
Here are some of the posts I personally think are the best, and most helpful, ones I’ve written during this past month (not in any order of preference):
Carol Dweck and others have developed an online program focused on helping students develop a growth mindset around math. They are invited teachers to participate for free. You can find more information about it here.
Here are links to two articles that don’t really provide any new information on motivational issues (at least, they’re not new if you’ve been following this blog). However, they do provide good short summaries on the topic. I’m adding them to The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students:
Yet another study has found that extrinsic motivation is not a effective in enhancing motivation. Since there is so much research showing this already, that’s not really big news.
But it’s the details of this study that are particularly intriguing.
Daniel Pink has written and spoken about research showing that extrinsic motivation is effective in enhancing mechanical work that doesn’t require creative or critical thinking. To be honest, I’ve never looked into the research he cites, but this new study reinforces that conclusion. The experiment was a little convoluted but, basically, participants were promised bonuses based on their “test” results (either a high or low reward) and had to answer questions and were given cues. Sometimes the cue was an arrow pointing right next to the word “Right” (or pointing left with the word “Left”) and sometimes the cue was an arrow pointing right or left with the opposite word next to it.
If I’m reading the research correctly, and I believe I am, they found that the people promised high bonuses did well when the arrows and words were “congruent,” but worse than the low-reward group when there were not congruent cues.
In other words, the promise of bonuses helped mechanical thinking, but actually made it more unlikely that they would perform tasks successfully that required critical and creative-thinking.
The researchers point out that this result was specifically for participants with high levels of dopamine, but it appears that either they or the writer of the report for the Association For Psychological Science suggest that it could have broader implications.
I was also particularly intrigued by a couple of other comments in the report:
It appeared the participants with a lot of dopamine in their systems were so distracted by the potential reward that they had trouble concentrating on the task.
In reporting on their findings in the journal Psychological Science, Aarts and her colleagues suggest that for people with naturally high dopamine levels, the promise of a bonus for good performance could actually “overdose” the reward centers of their brains.
Here are my choices for The “All-Time” Best Videos For Educators (let me know which ones I’m missing — I’ll also be adding to this list after I do a complete review of videos I’ve published on this blog):
Of course, the “graphic notetaking” video of Daniel Pink’s speech about his book, Drive, has got to be on this list:
Alfie Kohn has written several books, including “Punished By Rewards.”. Dwight Schrute is the well-known character in the television comedy, “The Office.” What might the connection be between the two of them? Watch this two minute video clip to find out:
Here’s Bloom’s Taxonomy According To The Pirates Of The Caribbean:
The PBS News Hour produced this segment on self control and young people. It uses financial literacy as an initial hook, but it’s mainly about the famous marshmallow test and a recent updated study:
“Farmers and gardeners know you cannot make a plant grow….The plant grows itself. What you do is provide the conditions for growth. And great farmers know what the conditions are and bad ones don’t. Great teachers know what the conditions for growth are and bad ones don’t.”
In this video, some ducklings were able to get over the curb on their own. However, several found that it was just too high. Look at how someone provides assistance to those having trouble, and how he doesn’t tell them what to do. Instead, he offers it as an option, as a choice they can make. It’s an example of an old community organizing axiom, “If you don’t give people the opportunity to say no, you don’t give them the opportunity to say yes, either.”
In addition to my teacher advice column at Ed Week (by the way, tomorrow I record the first of what will be weekly radio shows with the BAM! Network interviewing people who contribute guest pieces to that Ed Week blog), I’ve really enjoyed writing weekly posts for The New York Times on teaching English Language Learners (previously, they just appeared monthly).
The title of this “The Best…” list is pretty self-explanatory. What you’ll find here are blog posts and articles this year (some written by me, some by others) that were, in my opinion, the ones that offered the best practical advice and resources to teachers this year — suggestions that can help teachers become more effective in the classroom today or tomorrow. Some, however, might not appear on the surface to fit that criteria, but those, I think, might offer insights that could (should?) inform our teaching practice everyday.
For some, the headlines provide enough of an idea of the topic and I haven’t included any further description.
It’s a refinement on what I’ve written about the importance of saying “I’m sorry” to students. I tried out Bregman’s advice in class. A student was upset because I didn’t get over to him as quickly as he would have liked when he had a question (a chronic reaction from this particular student). We’ve talked before about how I have many other students who need my help, and, typically, I just quickly say “Sorry” when he expresses his impatience and move on to his question. This time, though, I said, “Sorry, I can see that you wanted to get this work done and were frustrated you had to wait to get my help before you were able to move on” and then got to his question. He clearly was able to “let go” of his anger quicker than usual and re-focus on the work. It’s just one more positive classroom strategy to have in one’s “back pocket.”
This is definitely one of the most interesting and useful TED videos I’ve seen (it’s actually a from a TEDx event). Marc Chun talks about Diving Into Deeper Learning. Unfortunately, since it’s a TEDx video, and not one from TED, they don’t have a transcript available. But it’s definitely worth watching. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About The Concept Of “Transfer.”
The BAM Radio Network interviewed several guests, including Daniel Pink and me, for a program on student motivation. You can listen to it here.
An article entitled Choice Words by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey has been published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and it’s an exceptional commentary with practical suggestions on giving effective feedback.
I especially like the framework they use — dividing helpful feedback into ones that emphasize student accomplishments, identity and agency.