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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More thoughts on educational motivation

After the one comment on my last blog post where I suggested paying students for learning, I realized that I need to clarify my thoughts.

The problem in education isn't necessarily that students don't want to learn. Often times they do, but they they lack the motivation (for many reasons) to do the work that school asks them to do. Yes, we can (and should) carry out the suggestions that were mentioned in the comments on my last post, but there are times that those suggestions aren't enough. I remember studying for Organic Chemistry, and Calculus 2, and Master's written exams, and Doctoral written and oral exams. I enjoyed the learning part, but the work itself was absolute drudgery. If students receive the message that learning and school work (both) are always relevant to life, and fun - then how will they handle the difficult courses in high school and college that aren't relevant to life, and aren't fun? How and when will they learn to work, to show up on time, and do the assignment as assigned by the teacher (boss), if not in school?

As I see it, schools are in the business of doing two things that pertain to this discussion. (There are a lot of other tasks they are asked to do as well, but those aren't in view here.) The first is teaching knowledge and skills in many different areas. The second is practicing and developing work habits and ethics. We tend to forget that these are two separate issues. Students can learn and never do any work. Students can do the work, and yet not learn. I've seen both. (Nevertheless, there is a correlation between working in school and learning, so I'm not advocating tossing the system.)

Consider this: most of my best students don't work in my classes for the sake of learning - they are motivated by grades. What's the matter with motivating students who aren't motivated by grades with money? Either way, it's an extrinsic motivation.

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