Motivating children to exercise, move, or participate in vigorous physical activity can often be a painstaking task. Many of today’s children seem to be less interested in being active and more interested in be entertained. This obviously poses a threat to their well-being through increased levels of obesity and heart disease factors. Motivation typically occurs from two different perspectives: Extrinsically and intrinsically. Extrinsic motivation is the most common form of motivation found in schools. It is a form of motivation that evolves from outside of the person and is usually associated with a bribe, threat, punishment, or reward. It is more or less a form of manipulation, with the bribe, threat, punishment, or reward used to entice the individual to do something to either get the reward or avoid the punishment. Extrinsic motivation is fairly easy to use and works reasonably well. In other words, it doesn’t take much effort to get people to do something you want them to do if you use the right bribe, threat, punishment or reward. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation is a very short-term form of motivation. It works as long as the bribe, threat, punishment or reward continues to be offered. However, once the extrinsic motivator is removed the motivation it was creating decreases rather quickly. Also, because it is based on manipulation, extrinsic motivation has a tendency to interfere with the development of self-responsibility, a necessary skill if a person is expected to become self-motivated.
Intrinsic motivation on the other hand is more internal. An individual decides to do something because he or she sees the value in it or appreciates the benefits that come from doing it. Intrinsic motivation is more of a value a person develops inside him or herself. It’s not based on manipulation, but rather on self-responsibility and self-respect. It takes time and effort to develop intrinsic motivation among students. Unfortunately, not all teachers are willing to put the time into the development of intrinsic motivation, or they don’t feel they have the time to do so. In addition, many teachers are unfamiliar with the best methods to enhance intrinsic motivation among students. And, although every teacher will tell you that they are interested in turning their students into life-long learners, a characteristic which requires a student to also develop a systematic awareness of intrinsic motivation, they continue to rely on extrinsic motivation within their lessons, basically inhibiting the very thing they say they’re trying to accomplish.
It’s no secret, intrinsic motivation can be difficult and time consuming to develop among students. However, just because it may be difficult and time consuming shouldn’t be an excuse for teachers to disregard it and simply rely on extrinsic motivation. Developing intrinsic motivation is well-worth the time, effort and energy. In fact, it should be one of the primary goals of education. Think about it this way…what is the purpose of teaching a child to read if the child decides to never read? Sure, the child may know how to read, but it becomes a fairly useless skill if the child doesn’t develop the intrinsic motivation to utilize the skill. What’s really frightening about this is that there are currently 5 year-old Kindergarten students out there right now who already are turned off by school. At 5 years old they’ve already decided that they don’t like it or there’s no value in it. And, what do many teachers do with a student like this to help turn him around? They bribe, threaten, punish or reward him, obviously. Which, unfortunately just reinforces what the child already believes and feels.
To help develop intrinsic motivation among students, teachers should focus on the 5 C’s of intrinsic motivation: Control, challenge, curiosity, creativity, and constant feedback. The 5 C’s basically replace the need for bribes, threats, punishments and rewards. They work like this:
- Control – Offer the students choices and allow them to make decisions.
- Challenge – Make each activity challenging and always offer challenges of varying degrees of difficulty so that the students can progress at their own level.
- Curiosity – Make students curious by implementing activities that are new to them or are performed in a novel manner. Allow for discovery, exploration and investigation in your lessons or activities.
- Creativity – Do things that are out of the ordinary. Use equipment that is non-traditional or perform an activity the opposite of the way it is normally done.
- Constant feedback – Let the students know how they’re doing. And, don’t try to be the only source of feedback. Let students help each other or let them video each other and critique their performances.
Bribes, threats, punishments and rewards, although the most popular way we typically use to motivate our students, don’t create and develop the type of students we honestly want. Try using a few of the 5 C’s of intrinsic motivation. It works, it’s long-lasting, and it develops self-responsibility, which is what all of our students need if we expect them to be active and healthy for the rest of their lives.