Intrinsic versus Extrinsic motivation

I’ve noticed many teachers suggest using stickers or stars or some other sort of rewards system in their classroom. I know a lot of buxiban’s use these throughout the school as a whole to discipline/manage their students.

But everything I’ve learned in University in terms of behaviour modification and teaching theory say that using extrinsic motivators are much less successful than instilling intrinsic motivation in their children.

Extrinsic motivators (candy, stickers, stars) are effective in the short term, but often lead to increases in undesired behaviours because the students are identifying learning with an “object” and not an emotional response.

The scientific research in Teaching Theory suggests that using extrinsic motivators is not a good idea, so why do so many teachers here employ these methods? Is it simply being misinformed? Is it being lazy? Can anyone shed some light on the subject? (I’m thinking Puiwaihin will have something to offer)

There are two different issues at stake here:

  1. Using extrinsic motivators to encourage learning.
  2. Using extrinsic motivators to aid in classroom management.

Extrinsic motivators have been shown to decrease intrinsic motivation over time when applied to learning, and shown to have little to know long-term benefit when applied to behavior.

But that does not mean that these means of motivation do not have their place. The problem is with an over-reliance on these sorts of systems, and a near utter lack of attempting to increase intrinsic motivation with most systems.

Using things like stickers, homework passes, and even grades to motivate students to learn is not a good idea. Rewards for doing well on a test or for answering questions in class will likely end up having a negative affect. Learning should not be rewarded with stickers.

On the other hand, using these sorts of external motivators as a classroom management tool is a different matter. While students will initially behave in order to gain an external reward and not out of a sense of duty or sense of love of the class, a system like this can achieve order. Getting students to move beyond the extrinsic rewards is essential to long-term classroom management. It is true that extrinsic rewards don’t change behavior permanently, but they can create an atmosphere where a teacher can then build rapport with students and then that rapport and the actual learning become the primary motivators for good behavior.

Truthfully, we are always using some kind of extrinsic motivator. If it isn’t stickers and privileges, it’s grades or extra work for failure to complete an assignment. For students who are already unmotivated you need to find a way to get them active and participating. Without that intial participation, intrinsic motivation will never develop.

How do you, as an English teacher, instill intrinsic motivation in children?

The basic idea behind intrinsic motivation and intrinsic rewards is that learning, both searching for answers and finding those answers, is reinforcing in itself.

Research shows that intelligent students are often out performed by less bright students with HIGH MOTIVATION! (So how do we promote high motivation?)
- Emphasize learning!
- Recognize and promote success.
- Define what success is.
- Value success.
- Show children how success can be obtained.
- Set goals and provide feedback.
- Model success and skills.
- Focus on process not product.
- Encourage. Help students see and appreciate their personal successes.

In terms of action, this means you should:

  1. Focus on improvement and overcoming obstacles.
  2. Praise both publicly and privately.
  3. Minimize pressure.
  4. Reduce competition.
  5. Allow for students who need time.
  6. Vary scope of activities.
  7. Hold high expectations
  8. Create meaningful assignments.

But, it is a lot easier to just give stickers, I guess.

That’s not what we usually see here. Usually we see a lot of kids with almost no motivation. Kids who get out of school only to go to another school. Kids who have pressure from their parents, and schools that have the same kind of pressure from those same parents.

Some students are already intrinsically motivated. It’s the rest of the class that is the concern.

- Emphasize learning!
- Recognize and promote success.
- Define what success is.
- Value success.
- Show children how success can be obtained.
- Set goals and provide feedback.
- Model success and skills.
- Focus on process not product.
- Encourage. Help students see and appreciate their personal successes.[/quote]
That all sounds nice, but most of the kids sitting in your class will not respond to this sort of approach quickly. While you’re defining success and modeling the skills, they are slacking off and not learning a thing. They don’t want to be in the class, and they are not ready to be enlightened about self-motivation.

Sure, a good teacher will achieve these ideals given enough time. But what do you do during the first 3 months time when half the class wants nothing to do with what you’re trying to teach them?

[quote]1. Focus on improvement and overcoming obstacles.
2. Praise both publicly and privately.
3. Minimize pressure.
4. Reduce competition.
5. Allow for students who need time.
6. Vary scope of activities.
7. Hold high expectations
8. Create meaningful assignments.

But, it is a lot easier to just give stickers, I guess.[/quote]
These are good principles. But…

#2- Public and private praise is an extrinsic motivator.
#3- You can’t minimize what you don’t control. Kids will get pressure from their parents, their school, and their peers.
Some students are completely without pressure. Their affective filters are high because they lack any motivation whatsoever. In some cases you need to increase pressure to get any result at all.
#5- 95% of teachers posting here do not have control of the schedule of the classes they teach. Time is a luxury you cannot give students because you are not in control of the curriculum.
#7- high expecations are good, but when students choose to make minimal effort, or no effort, your expectations are irrelevant.

Most of the research done in education focuses on the US model of students attending daily classes, with teachers in full control of what and how they teach. That is not the case for the majority of teachers in Taiwan.

It’s not that you should “just give stickers”, it’s that you have to do something to get students in some classes to engage in the first place. Once you have that minimal level of response you can start trying to apply principles of pedagogy.

Great thread!

Thanks for the imformation.

Some more practical ideas for implementing a more intrinsic approach to the average teacher in Taiwan would be great.

Good thread… And need all the help I can get.

it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? a lot buxibans want classes taught in a certain way, if you alter that, you’re bound to get conflicts with the boss. Also to note is that a lot of the time students just want you to give them the answer… asking them a question and getting them to think and answer doesn’t work all that well from my experience thus far…

another factor why you see mostly extrinsic motivation being used so often is that there are teachers working really only for the purpose of working to make a living in Taiwan… using an extrinsic motivation method gives the illusion that actual progress is being made, and they don’t have to put in more effort… as long as the parents and boss are happy, there’s no need to care about the students right?

The OP’s points are all very good. Teachers should try to put them into practice. But they are also extremely general and not suited to the common teaching situation in Taiwan.

That doesn’t mean we should discard them and just bury our heads in the sand. I think we can explore how we can adapt them to our situation, work elements of these principles into the system we are teaching in, and refer to them to evaluate ourselves.

What I think we need now are solid, practical ideas that can be used in many different systems to implement the principles that were brought up.

Ploor’s question, “how do we do it?” is still the one we need to answer.

Some very good points made above. Not really specific to language teaching though.

If what is being communicated in the target language is interesting or amusing to the students, and the level of the language is not unrealistically high, the majority of them will be motivated and will learn.

What makes me very happy is when a student who was previously a bit behind the level of the other kids in class suddenly “gets it”. That kind of student often becomes one of the most voluble, and the confidence and fluency that he/she exhibits are inspiring to the rest of the class. (Of course, he/she will still need to work on accuracy!)

Good ideas, but with the way bushibans work, it is, I think, not really suitable. Teachers spend such little time with the students, and teachers change, classes combine, kids quit or join. It’s wonderful if you can be with the same group of students, 6 hours a day for a year, but not really reasonable in bushiban systems. Stars and gifts work for me!!

When you use stickers and other material motivators, though, you start getting students “What’s in it for me?” Syndrome. I made the mistake of slipping a little this year…me of the “NO STICKERS FOR WORK” started giving them out for doing extra pages in their workbooks when they finished. Then I got a little lazy and gave them for being able to complete a trying task. The second I assigned something and the kids asked me, “How many stickers will we get?” I pulled the sticker reward thing completely. Now they get rewarded with material things randomly and often without warning and only when they try their best at doing something above and beyond expectations. Even if it isn’t perfect. I find, “Wow, you really understand this question! Would you like to share your answer with everyone?” works much better than one of my thousands of little stickers did in motivating them to try. Even just praising them for the little things does wonders.

Just today, one of my more reluctant students had his hand up to answer every single grammar question today and read aloud. He’s not the best in decoding words and as much as I would have loved to give him the entire spotlight, I still had to be fair to all the other students in the class. I just smiled really big and wiggled my fingers down to signal him to put his hand down and told him he was doing such a fantastic job I didn’t want to leave others out from getting to share too. When he came in to school with his head down and mumbling his usual quiet hello (greeting me is one of my many expectations for my students to do since I greet all of them, and the other students, by name), I asked him to take in some papers for me to pass out and thanked him for being so helpful. I don’t know if that was what set him on fire today, but it was definitely a change from how he entered.

I agree that extrinsic motivators aren’t good in the long run. The problem is the way the buxibans are run. The average student has no intrinsic motivation to learn English. Many of my junior high school students are exhausted from studying constantly - they are not doing it because they want to.
The younger students usually enjoy my classes, but still, the boss and the parents expect me to give tests and grades, and a lot of homework. The kids aren’t intrinsically motivated to deal with all that pressure; some may be intrinsically motivated to take part in class because it’s fun or interesting, but to perform at the level their parents expect, they need to be forced. Extrinsic motivators like stickers for a job well done seem better than the Taiwanese version of the extrinsic motivator - physical punishment for any and all mistakes.

You moved from one kind of rewards schedule to another in operant conditioning (behavioral psychology). In truth, that’s what you’re supposed to do.

You started with total reinforcement-- a sticker for every exercise completed. But if you stick to that, the behavior will quickly be extinguished when you stop giving the reinforcement. By moving to a scheduled rewards system you are encouraging long term behavior change.

Of course, children aren’t dogs, cats, or mice. They are much more complex. But the principles involved do have an effect on human behavior.

I think your example shows how to move from one rewards system to another to build from extrinsic motivation towards intrinsic motivation.

Aha! All those child, behavioral, and educational psychology classes I took in school have paid off!

Like the light switch/slot machine parallel:

When you push a light switch up, the light will always comes on. If a light is burnt out, you will only try switching it on only a few times (or once or twice if you’re not so skeptical) before giving up. The payout from a slot machine is less predictable so people will keep turning the handle over and over because they don’t know when it will pay out.

In buxiban programs it is hard because schools are rarely run by people who have a background in education (or psychology, I suppose) so they tend to have no clue about what makes a student want to do well without needing the proverbial carrot on a string. There is a section in the book The First Days of School on helping students to become motivated to learn and to give them tools to learn with simply by saying the right thing (no, it’s not a matter of quick fixes or simply saying a preset list of magic words and phrases). A lot of it flows around the idea of making the students feel welcome in the room and of showing (rather than telling) them the importance, meaningfulness, and relevancy of what they do in class so they want to do it. I lent the book to my school’s secretary, though so I don’t have a way to share some of the tips right now. One of the things I’ve learned along those lines from it and the other professional development resources I’ve had access to includes what I did for the boy yesterday - by making him responsible and helpful, he fulfilled my expectation of being responsible and helpful.

It’s also why when I mocked my students’ good behavior as they went to the library independently and were quietly reading and selecting books when I came in a few minutes later, by claiming they weren’t my students, thinking that I was funny, they rewarded me by fulfilling that expectation by becoming the students I implied they really were.

Yeah, that’s a great book. Love the chapters on routines and procedures and classroom management.

I found some information on levels of extrinsic motivators which I thought some of you might like:

Power Point Presentation

[quote=“Dr. Mac”]
Level 1. Challenging oneself for self-evaluation purposes
-evaluating one’s own work (strengths and weaknesses) and identifying ways to improve
-evaluating the work of one’s peers on material that s/he believes s/he has mastered
-designing the master key
-recording personal performance on a graph and setting goals for oneself

Level 2. Deciding how s/he will learn the material
-class discussion
-film strips
-language master
-reading/library research

Level 3. The work products effect the look of the classroom
-designing and making a bulletin board that shows what has been learned
-meeting a certain performance level allows the privelidge of making room changes
(e.g., seating arrangement, paper taped over the door window)

Level 4. Student decides upon the conditions under which s/he works
(as long as s/he is on task)
-dim lighting
-music playing
-students decide when they have learned the material and may stop at that point (for eval.)
-deciding on the order in which to study different subjects/topics

                     Highly motivated learners can perform above this line 

Level 5. Response Topography (Students decide how they will display/evidence their
-writing their work on the board
-writing in magic marker
-recording their answers on audiotape

Level 6. Social Approval (working for the recognition and approval of others)
-displaying work on the “Super worker” board
-telephone call home to parents/guardians

Level 7. Special Priviledges (effort/performance earns preferred duties)
-filmstrip projectionist
-collecting assignments
-line leader

Level 8. Contingent Activities
(The “Premack principle”—You must do the activity you dislike to earn the one you enjoy)
-playing a favorite game
-learning a new magic trick from the teacher
-looking out the window at the construction crews

Level 9. Tangible Rewards(something that can be held/touched, but is not eaten)
-achievement badge
-tokens to be used toward prizes

Level 10. Edible Rewards (“Primary reinforcers”)
-peanuts (watch out…lots of kids have allergies to these)
-carrot sticks
-pieces of chocolate (many people now question the use of “junk food” in reinforcing youngsters)
-corn chips (see comment for “chocolate”, but what if your student doesn’t like “healthy” food?) [/quote]


There is some great information in this thread. I will look back at it in more detail when I get time.

Regarding language learning in particular, there are other kinds of “motivation” we can utilise. As I said before, there’s a very direct connection between interest in language content, and acquisition of language forms. There are a great many ways to make language use interesting and meaningful. One of the best is personalisation: talking about stuff that is relevant to the students.

There is also an interesting difference between two types of intrinsic motivation: instrumental motivation (students want to learn the language for practical reasons) and integrational motivation (students like or feel some kinship with people who are native speakers of the target language). While both are important, the second factor is in some cases more powerful than the first in determining success in second/foreign language learning.

I know that I only started to take school French seriously when we got a language assistant from France in our class. (It helped that she was very pretty.) Before that I didn’t really believe in my heart of hearts that anyone actually really spoke the language. I knew it intellectually but I didn’t feel it.

A woman I know tells me that the foreign language she speaks best is Korean. But it’s also the language she learned last, for the shortest amount of time. The difference between Korean, Japanese and English, for her? She had some good Korean friends. (She studied English from elementary school, lived in Japan for four years of high school then lived in Korea for two years of college).

I’m not sure how this relates to our own practice of language teaching, but it’s something interesting to think about.