Problems With Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is encouragement from an outside force; behavior is performed based on the expectance of an outside reward, such as money or praise. Extrinsic rewards can be abused to bribe or coerce someone into doing something that they would not do on their own. Unfortunately, these types of reward systems are often found in classrooms in the form of stars, red-light green-light, or WOWS, to name a few. Ryan and Deci (1996) describe these rewards as task-contingent; the rewards are contingent on the completion of the task. The problems with these types of extrinsic motivators are numerous:


Extrinsic rewards do not produce permanent changes

First and foremost, studies have shown that extrinsic rewards do not produce changes that are permanent. Thus, changes in behavior, as a result of extrinsic rewards, are due to an external motivator, not to an innate desire. Token economies, a system of providing money-like tokens for correct behaviors, have been proven to be ineffective. Kazdin and Bootzin (1972) provided one of the first major reviews of token economies. They concluded that in general token economies do not contribute to permanent behavior changes. Specifically, removing the reinforcement returns behavior to its initial level and generalizing the reinforced behavior to other situations does not occur.

As Kohn (1993) explains, "The fact is that extrinsic motivators do not alter the attitudes that underlie our behaviors. They do not create an enduring commitment to a set of values or to learning; they merely, and temporarily, change what we do" (p. 784).


Extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic interest

Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973) found that rewarding children with extrinsic rewards can actually reduce their intrinsic interest in something. The researchers observed preschool children drawing. They then randomly selected some of the children and asked them to draw some more, promising rewards for the best participants. The rest of the children just drew pictures, without the promise of a reward. Two weeks later, the drawing behavior of the children was observed and the researchers found that those who had been rewarded before drew less, but those who had never been rewarded still drew at the same rate. Hence, the rewards had reduced the children's interest in something that they had previously enjoyed.

Deci (1971) found similar effects with using money as the extrinsic reward. He offered college students money for solving problems, while another group of students just solved the problems without any external reward. Deci found that the unpaid students were more willing than the rewarded students to solve the problems later on in the study.

A common rebuttal to this is that although extrinsic rewards may reduce intrinsic interest, extrinsic rewards are still useful when there is no intrinsic interest to start with; then it is okay to use extrinsic forces to motivate a student. An example given by Chance (1992) is that as adults we recognize the importance of knowing how to add, like when we need to count change, but as children they have no intrinsic interest in knowing what 2 + 3 is. WRONG, children have many intrinsic reasons for knowing what 2 + 3 is. If mom brings home 2 pizzas for dinner right after Domino's just delivered 3 pizzas that you and your brother ordered, how many pizzas are you having for dinner? If children can not find intrinsic interest in something that is covered in school, then it is the teacher's job to help the child make the connection between what seems like an abstract problem to something that is meaningful and applicable to this big world that they are trying to understand.

Furthermore, if teachers bribe children with extrinsic rewards to do something in school, then what is that saying about the activity? It is telling them that the activity must not be very important if one has to be coerced into doing it; the activity must not be exciting on its own. By motivating children with extrinsic rewards, then the intrinsic value in the task is undermined by the task-contingent reward. As Kohn (1993) describes it, "extrinsic rewards turn learning from an end into a means" (p.785).


The use of extrinsic rewards by parents is related to less generous and less intrinsically motivated behaviors by their children

Similar problems have been found with parenting styles that use extrinsic rewards. Fabes (1989) found that children who had been raised by parents who used tangible rewards or praise frequently tend to be less generous than their peers who had been raised without so many extrinsic motivators. Eskeles-Gottfried, Fleming, and Gottfried (1994) studied two types of motivational styles used by mothers: encouragement of task-endogeny (focusing on the intrinsic value of the task) and utilization of task-extrinsic consequences. The researchers found that children's academic intrinsic motivation is related to the parenting style used by their mother. Children who were encouraged with task endogeny tend to be more intrinsically motivated in academics; whereas children who were raised with task-extrinsic consequences tend to be less intrinsically motivated in academics.


Extrinsic rewards can be controlling

The very nature of extrinsic rewards should be addressed. By promising a reward for behaving in a desired way, the teacher is essentially controlling his or her students by tempting them with external factors that do not even relate to the task itself. Kohn (1993) explains, "In the classroom, it is a way of doing things to children rather than working with them" (p.784). This view of management disregards a child's ability to think and reason on their own, not allowing them the chance to develop self-determination or independent thinking. Aren't those skills just as important as reading and math? And it has been found that qualities such as creativity and cognitive reasoning are diminished when students are working for a reward, as opposed to the task at-hand (Lepper & Greene 1978).


What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic means innate or within; hence intrinsic motivation is the stimulation or drive stemming
from within oneself. In relation to learning, one is compelled to learn by a motive to understand,
originating from their own curiosity. Intrinsic motivation is often associated with intrinsic rewards
because the natural rewards of a task are the motivating forces that encourage an individual in the
first place. Paul Chance describes intrinsic rewards beautifully,

We learn to throw darts by seeing how close the dart is to the target; learn to type by seeing the
right letters appear on the computer screen; learn to cook from the pleasant sights, fragrances,
and flavors that result from our culinary efforts; learn to read from the understanding we get
from the printed word; and learn to solve puzzles by finding solutions (1992, p.202).

The basic idea behind intrinsic motivation and intrinsic rewards is that learning, both searching for
answers and finding those answers, is reinforcing in itself. And children are the most curious,
naturally driven learners on the face of this Earth. This is why an intrinsically motivating classroom
works: it is utilizing the natural learning energy of children! Kohn argues that it is our society's
emphasis on grades that deteriorates this natural intrinsic motivation in children by the time they
reach the end of elementary school (Brandt 1995). Grades are just one example of an extrinsic
reward. Others, such as tokens or praise, are the flip side to this debate. Regardless of bias, experts
agree that intrinsic rewards are by far the most successful reinforcers because they teach on their
own. The problem lies in children who do not recognize their own sources of intrinsic motivation
(Chance 1992). This is where the role of the teacher comes in with the use of management methods
which tap into students' natural motivation.

Factors That Encourage Intrinsic Motivation

When a classroom is run on children's natural motivation, emphasis is on learning and being part of
the environment, not on rewards and other external reinforcers that take away from the essentials of
school. Much research has been done to determine which factors encourage intrinsic motivation in a
classroom community. This page describes these factors; for specific classroom ideas, please click
here. The following areas are all valuable in creating a learning environment in which intrinsic
motivation is fostered (please click on one to learn more about it):

Control orientation of the teacher
Teachers' understanding of their students
Intrinsically motivating curriculum
Creating a community

The style of a teacher can have a powerful effect on a student. In the case of teacher control,
students' intrinsic motivation is often related to the control orientation of the teacher. Valas and
Sovik (1993) studied seventh and eighth grade math students and found that students who believed
their teachers allowed more student autonomy tended to have higher intrinsic motivation in math
than students who believed their teachers were more controlling. The students with higher
motivation also perceived themselves as more competent in mathematics, in addition to having
higher achievement scores.

Specific Classroom Ideas

In order to create a learning environment in which students' needs are addressed, teachers must
really understand their students interests, beliefs, and concerns: in short, their motivations.
Middleton (1995) found that teachers often struggle with predicting their students' motivational
constructs. Kohn says it well, "We need to stop asking 'How motivated are my students?' and start
asking 'How are my students motivated?'" (Brandt 1995, p.16). Strong, Silver, and Robinson (1995)
address this issue in their article, "What Do Students Want (and what really motivates them)?" They
discuss four issues which are essential to meeting children's motivational needs: promoting success,
arousing curiosity, allowing originality, and encouraging relationships. Success can be developed by
clearly defining what success is, valuing it in the classroom, and helping children see how they can
attain it. Curiosity can be aroused by making sure that lessons offer fragmented or contradictory
information, which puts children in an active role by solving the unknown; in addition, meaningful
issues also awaken curiosity. Originality can be promoted by allowing many opportunities for
students to express autonomy. Finally, by encouraging relationships, children's innate need for
interpersonal involvement is fostered. When factors like these are included in a classroom, children
are naturally involved and driven to learn because their intrinsic motivation is heightened.

Specific Classroom Ideas

Often children's intrinsic motivation is affected by the nature of the task itself. Hence, the curriculum
plays a valuable role in maintaining children's natural interest in school. A child will assess an
activity's motivational value in determining if intrinsic interest exists. Perceived fun, arousal, and
control, interact to influence a child's interpretation of an academic activity as intrinsically
worthwhile. Arousal is achieved through challenge, curiosity, and fantasy, while an optimum control
level is obtained when a child perceives free choice in the activity and the task itself is challenging,
but not too difficult (Middleton 1995). Matthews (1991) found that children who felt they had more
control in regards to decision making and the general functioning of school had higher intrinsic
motivation in reading, social studies, and science.

Specific Classroom Ideas

Establishing a caring, cooperative learning environment is essential to fostering intrinsic motivation.
When children feel safe, the need for extrinsic rewards is eliminated (Brandt 1995). By being
encouraged to take risks, be independent thinkers, and be responsible, a classroom community can
be developed in which children interact successfully for the sake of maintaining a harmonious
classroom. In his book, Life in a Crowded Place (1992), Peterson does an excellent job of describing
elements that are essential to creating a caring classroom. Some of the areas he discusses include,
celebrations, rituals, and empowering students. In describing the beginning of the school year,
Peterson says,

The primary goal at the beginning of a new year or term is to lead students to come together,
form a group, and be there for one another. At first students are concerned foremost with their
own welfare. It is by establishing values of caring and trust in the classroom that social ties and
interest in one another's welfare come into existence (p. 16)

It is these underlying values which Peterson discusses that become a backbone of a classroom, not a
reward system which overlooks the intrinsic value in being a contributing community member.

Specific Classroom Management Methods

In my studies to become a teacher, I often found that many concepts were explained from a
theoretical standpoint, but lacked the practical ideas that could be used in a classroom. This page
contains specific ideas one can use in their classroom to implement some of the ideas this web site
discusses. Please click on an item below to learn more about how to implement it in a classroom:

Fostering Student Autonomy

provide choices
minimize pressure
allow alternative solutions
Understanding The Children

encourage originality
promote success
be aware of their interests
Engaging Curriculum

make lessons stimulating
create meaningful lessons
focus on learning
Creating Community

develop rules together
allow rituals and celebrations
use positive feedback

Fostering Student Autonomy

provide choices

During reading time, provide a selection of books from which they can read. Reading groups
can then be formed from those students who have selected the same book.
Give students several options for completing the same project. For instance, if studying the Civil
War, allow students to do research reports, construct models, write plays, or compose songs.
If assigning a series of tasks, allow students to determine in what order they would like to
complete them in.

minimize pressure

Encourage group work or cooperative learning. The Jigsaw method is effective for eliminating
competition. For instance, the class is studying trees; a group of students studies bark, another
group studies roots, etc. Then new groups are formed with each group having one member of
the original groups; hence, each new group has a member who is responsible for a different part
of the tree. The members of the new groups compile their knowledge to have a complete
knowledge base about trees.
Do not emphasize grades. Work with each child to create a portfolio that they feel reflects their
best work. Focus on progress and demonstrated learning in their work.
When transitioning, do not single out those who are still finishing their work. Start a song or a
short game that tells everyone you are switching activities.

allow alternative solutions

When solving problems, allow children many methods. There is not only one way of adding
2+3. Allow those who want to use manipulatives, their fingers, or mental math do so. As Meyer
and Middleton (1993 ) state, "...there should be choices regarding solution strategies so that all
students, regardless of their ability, can make progress on the task" (p. 290)

Understanding the Children

encourage originality

Allow opportunities for self-expression; this is what fosters creativity and hence originality.
Specifically, when developing creative lessons, include room for students' personal ideas and
concerns (Strong, Silver, and Robinson 1995).
Alter the audience. Instead of having students produce work that is shared with the class, have
children write, perform science experiments, or read for people outside of the school, for
instance, nursing homes (Strong, Silver, and Robinson 1995).

promote success

Create a criteria for success and always provide feedback to students about their own personal
success (Strong, Silver, and Robinson 1995).
Model the skills needed to succeed in order to demonstrate how attainable success is (Strong,
Silver, and Robinson 1995).
Encourage the children every step of the way. Helping them view themselves as successful
individuals (Strong, Silver, and Robinson 1995).
Work with each child to understand their expectations for success. Do not hold the same criteria
for each child.

be aware of their interests

Spend some time just observing your students. At the beginning of the school year, provide
activities that do not require much intervention by you, so that you can sit silently and really
watch how each child behaves: their patterns, likes, and dislikes.
The first few weeks of school, have students and parents fill out surveys, indicating the child's
interests, goals, and hobbies.
Then, put these interests in the forefront when creating lessons. Ask yourself, "What are they
going to think of this? Will they really enjoy it? Is it stimulating?"

Engaging Curriculum

make lessons stimulating

Meyer and Middleton (1993) discuss three ways to ensure stimulating lessons: novelty,
challenge, and fantasy. Novelty is exciting because it provides different ways of looking at the
same subject. For instance, comparing The Three Little Pigs to The Real Story of the Three
Little Pigs is usually stimulating for children because they are comparing a new perspective to
an old known story. Challenge is essential to making the effort and success of the activity
meaningful. An example would be having children solve a mystery. The challenge of the
mystery makes the work and the reward of solving the problem meaningful. Fantasy is an
excellent way to inspire creativity. Having children write tall tales, allows them to imagine and
take risks.
Make sure every lesson, even the short ones, are exciting. I was observing a classroom once
when the teacher had a few extra minutes before lunch. She discovered that their butterfly had
broken free of its chrysalis. Instead of holding it up and discussing what happened. She quickly
brought it to their attention and had them act out the life of the caterpillar, turning into the
butterfly. The children were so excited about their butterfly that they really enjoyed acting out its

create meaningful lessons

When planning a lesson, look at the objective and decide how can I make this meaningful to my
students? How can they relate to the lesson personally? For instance, if doing a lesson on
money, don't settle with the workbook activities that have them circle the correct amount.
Instead, have them create a mall in the classroom where they have to actually use currency to
purchase and sell different goodies the class has made.
Kohn explains it well, "In the context of a task that matters to students, the specific skills we care
about can be taught naturally without sugarcoating, without games, and above all without
offering kids little doggie biscuits for doing what we tell them" (Brandt 1995 p.14).

focus on learning

Focus on the excitement of what is being learned and children will understand the value in the
lesson, as opposed to focusing on a reward that is promised when the students finish. For
instance, a teacher could be doing a lesson on periods by having a paragraph without any
punctuation. She could say, "Okay, as soon as we figure out where to put the periods, we will
have free time" or she could read the paragraph sounding really long-winded and then say "Now
doesn't that sound silly. Who can help me figure out where to put some periods in, so that I can
take a breath when I read this?" The same objective is taught, but the second teacher definitely
focuses on the importance of the lesson.
Meyer and Middleton (1993) explain, "Make sure that the motivating aspects of any educational
activity are focused on the learning afforded by the activity. If the motivation is focused on
aspects peripheral to learning, like on obtaining treats or getting out of class, then anything that
is learned will also be peripheral to the content objectives" (p.290).

Creating Community

develop rules together

On the first day of school, have the whole class sit down and decide on the rules that they think
are important. They become part of the process of developing what is valued in the classroom.
This empowers the children, so that they feel more accountable for their behavior, encouraging
self-respect and self-reliance.

allow rituals and celebrations

Rituals are the symbolic acts that represent the classroom's functioning as a community
(Peterson 1992). Many classrooms have rituals when it is story time. Pillows are taken out,
everyone becomes silent, and all eyes focus on the reader.
"When we celebrate in the learning community, we recognize that people have the power to
incorporate the joys and achievements of other people into their lives. Celebration not only
dignifies the lives of individuals and the group, it contributes to a sense of belonging" (Peterson
1992, p. 42). There are many different reasons to celebrate in the classroom. One of my favorite
is author celebrations. After studying an author's work and life for a few weeks, or even
months, the children love to celebrate the author with letters, plays, or songs.

use positive feedback

Research about praise often obtains mixed results because of the tendency to pile all verbal
responses into one category. However, there is a large difference between praise and positive
feedback. Kohn (1996) makes the distinction by describing praise as "a verbal reward that is
constructed as manipulative", while defining positive feedback as "purely informational
feedback about one's performance" (p. 1). Many problems emerge when praise is used: students
behave to satisfy the teacher, there is often unequal distribution of praise, it can foster unhealthy
competition, and students become dependent on the praise, in addition to all the negative
ramifications of extrinsic rewards (Marshall 1995). Feedback includes providing new,
constructive information, and acknowledging work well done (Brandt 1995) and if the
information communicates appreciation for the quality of work, then the verbal feedback can
actually enhance intrinsic motivation Deci and Ryan (1985).
Encourage self-evaluation instead of dependency on teacher approval. If a child has completed
an assignment do not say,"Good job Billy!" Instead, bring them into the evaluation, "I see that
you finished! How do you feel that you did?"
Avoid "I" statements, like "I like the way Susie is listening. She is sitting quietly and her eyes are
on me." This often neglects the children who were also doing the same and sends a message to
those who weren't that they don't have the teacher's approval. Instead, state directly what you are
looking for and why, such as "I am going to give some instructions so I need to see that you are
listening. Please show me your eyes and listen with your body."