Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rewards vs. Intrinsic Motivation?


I had the opportunity recently to read a thoughtful book by New York Times Best Selling author Daniel Pink: Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I am looking forward to hearing him speak at the upcoming American Montessori Society Conference in Boston. Pink shares insights on behavioral research conducted over the past several decades and reveals what many find to be an astonishing conclusion: people who are motivated intrinsically regularly outperform those motivated by external rewards. Those of us in the Montessori community, however, are not surprised, but are rather nodding our heads in agreement. Maria Montessori's work nearly a century ago confirms this with children - and is why Wilmington Montessori teachers are focused on identifying and developing that intrinsic motivation in our students. We see it every day in the classroom as children take joy in completing difficult tasks, not because they did it better than someone else, but because it gave them satisfactiion to complete. Students explore topics deeply because they are genuinely interested, not because they have a test to complete. Peers help each other learn new skills because they recognize the satisfaction that comes with sharing knowledge. As other researchers that I have referred to in earlier blogs confirm, children who are in schools that focus on "what did you learn?" and "performing your personal best" rather than "how did you do?" are children who learn to think innovatively and creatively.


While Pink's work is encouraging corporations and businesses to rethink how employees are motivated, it is an important message for those of us in education as well. In the closing section of the book, Pink identifies five schools or models of education that provide an environment supporting the development of intrinsic motivation. It is not surprising that he specifically recommends Montessori education as a model of education that prepares children for the future world. If you would like to learn more about Daniel Pink or Drive, visit his website http://www.danpink.com/.