Motivation in Education – after Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’

After reading Drive by Daniel Pink, I thought it would be worth making some observations about his thoughts on motivation – particularly since he explicitly applies them to education in a short section late in the book (p.174-184).

In essence, Pink has written an excellent book about new thinking on human motivation. He is what my supervisor Gillian would have refered to as a ‘populist synthesiser’. What he does is takes a whole slew of research and theory, and packages it up nice and neatly for non-specialists. Its a term I don’t use in a negative fashion – I think writers like Pink (as well as Po Bronson, Steven Levitt and others) play an important role in mainstreaming learnings that would otherwise remain the domain of academic specialists.

In short, Pink has some recommendations for educators, based on the observation that intrinsic motivation is a powerful force – and that autonomy, mastery and purpose play important roles in creating intrinsic motivation. His recommendations are essentially;

  • give meaningful homework (re. autonomy, mastery and purpose)
  • set aside time to tackle projects that the children decide on
  • have students produce their own report cards
  • don’t link doing chores to receiving pocket money
  • offer praise for effort, in private, when deserved
  • provide the larger context for work being done
  • have students teach other students

I have to say, all that sounds pretty sensible and reasonable to me. Nothing there was a surprise – and I guess I wonder how much of a surprise it would be to most people… and hence perhaps how utterly out of touch I am!

Pink also suggests looking at unschooling, Sudbury, Big Picture Learning, the Tinkering School, Puget Sound, and Montessori. I’m intrigued at the reference to Montessori rather than Reggio Emilia, and wonder if that’s an awareness thing.

One thing that did strike me was a comment in one of the early recommendations, about creating projects driven by student interest (and we are really talking about student-directed learning and project learning… nothing particularly break through!) He suggests we “[s]et aside an entire school day… and ask kids to come up with a problem to solve or a project to tackle.” (p. 176) A day? An entire day? Is that really how bad things are in schools?! One can only hope not in all schools.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *