Motivating Students with Nongraded Work

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Research suggests that non-graded work can be used to motivate students. This lesson shares these ideas and gives examples of methods of using non-graded work in action.

What Motivates You?

Think about what motivates you to get things done that you may not feel much like doing, like grading a stack of papers or raking the leaves. Is it something external, like getting a paycheck or your neighbor's compliments? Or something that comes from the inside, such as a sense of accomplishment or pride in a job well done. Both of these are examples of motivation, reasons for the actions we take.

We break motivation down into two categories - extrinsic and intrinsic. The examples above of being motivated by a paycheck or your neighbor's complimenting you came from outside and are considered extrinsic motivators. In classrooms, extrinsic motivators are things like stickers on papers and compliments from teachers. Intrinsic motivation is being moved to act by a force that comes from within, like wanting to feel proud of yourself for reaching a goal. Students who are intrinsically motivated work to make personal growth or to learn new skills or concepts.

Can you guess which category grades fall into? If you said extrinsic, you're right. Much like raking the yard so neighbors will recognize your hard work, grades are external criteria put on learning. Though students may set intrinsic goals to work for a certain grade, and feel pride in their accomplishments, the grade itself is an external place. Before we talk about how to use non-graded work to motivate students, let's get a little deeper into extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Students

Research shows that when students are motivated to learn more, they perform better academically and increase self-esteem. Their behaviors are more positive, and they show a higher interest in school and peers. Yet student motivation steadily declines as children grow. These studies also show that motivation can be improved by shifting the focus from extrinsic motivators, like stickers and grades, to intrinsic ones. Why is this?

It seems that in spite of the good intentions behind smiley faces and stars on tests, extrinsic motivators send the wrong message to students. They can:

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