Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nature vs Nurture? How about Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation?

When understanding human behavior, the debate about nature vs nurture has been around for a long time.

The definition of nature: by nature, as a result of inborn or inherent qualities; innately.

The definition of nurture: the sum of environmental influences and conditions acting on an organism.

The earliest philosophers, and the psychologists that followed, have talked about human behavior in relation to how one's nature is relevant and/or more influential than one's nurture (environment); and vice versa. We still debate this today, but this will not be the topic of this post. The topic of this post is far more important to humans and the technology that enables us.

As a species, here on earth, there shall be a greater debate to be had. In time we evolve as a species. We are rapidly changing as a species; especially our behavior. Nevertheless, we are still an animal, a living thing that interacts with the biotic and abiotic factors found in its environment. Above and beyond these important factors, we will soon have a catastrophic phenomenon called "Intrinsic" versus "Extrinsic" source of motivation of our species.

The definition of intrinsic: belonging to a thing by its very nature.

The definition of extrinsic: being outside a thing; outward or external; operating or coming from without: extrinsic influences.

Believe it or not, there was a time when Homo sapiens were not extrinsically rewarded for "doing the right thing" or for doing what they were supposed to do. The prefrontal lobes in our brains maintain the intrinsic motivation that we have and which is developed over time. It is this archaic characteristic of internal responses and self rewarding behavior that is evolving. Evolving at a rapid pace.

As a social organism, Homo sapiens are evolving from an intrinsically motivated species to an extrinsically motivated species. Can you picture a cave man or cave woman gathering food or killing an animal with the thoughts that he or she would get an external reward for providing for himself or family? What about a female homo sapiens from about 5,000 years ago thinking that if she holds her offspring to keep it safe and warm, she will get some social reward?

Let's take it one step further since we are animals. Have you ever seen an animal such as a lion or wolf hunting its prey to provide food for its pride or pack and then it comes back and a member gives it a ribbon or sticker?

As a member of this species, I see how we are overly extrinsically motivated as a whole to "do the right thing." What's in it for me? Do I get a bonus? Do I get a sticker?

As a teacher, I see first hand how, overall, students are extrinsically motivated to learn. Often there is a, "What is in it for me?" attitude. What about the fact that you are learning and bettering yourself?

Where and when was this lost? Why is it that there is such an emphasis on external rewards?

Where will this evolving characteristic lead us? What kind of interactive species will we become?

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What can we do as progressive thinkers, as parents, as educators to change this?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Shift in Thinking, A Shift in Believing

Since my October 3rd post titled "Challenging Students to Think for Themselves," there has been a shift in my students' thinking. Making every effort to not answer any question a student asks me that he/she can answer his/herself, the students have been redirected a countless number of times since my post about this movement in my class. Some students have even come to the point where they start to ask me a question, but stop and answer their own question. Actually, it is more than answering their own question. It is that they are "THINKING," therefore they don't have a question to ask. This change is because they are starting to realize that if they give themselves a little time to think about what ever it is they are questioning, that they can actually figure it out on their own. As per many of my encouraging comments about the students believing in themselves, giving themselves a chance or even giving themselves credit, the students are now appearing to have a shift in believing. Believing in themselves and their own ability.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking Time to Remember the Important Stuff

Now-a-days there is a specialist for everything in a school. As a "regular" education teacher some days I wonder how will I ever get through the curriculum I am supposed to when there are so many interruptions. Between students being pulled out of the class, a specialist coming into the class, going to chorus, band, or strings during the school day, there isn't much time left for students to learn new concepts.

As I meticulously do my planning for the week, I think about how I can keep the students engaged and inspired to learn. More importantly, I try to think about how I can inspire them to make good choices, treat themselves and those around them with respect, how to motivate them to be an active learner and to take responsibility for their learning.

During the school day, I try to take time to remember the important stuff. Like encouraging the students to reflect on their beliefs, their learning, their actions, their thoughts, their choices and the world around them.

At the end of my school days, I like to reflect on what I did to remember the "important stuff." As I try to start my day off during our "moment of silence," I remind my self of what kind of teacher I want to be that day, what kind of person I want to be and who I want to be for and to my students.

Even though there are so many interruptions throughout our school day, I believe that if I remember the "important stuff" it will not matter how much time I have spent with my students. It will be how I spent my time with my students that is important in the end.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Power of Empowerment, Empathy and the Strength found in Numbers

One day this past school week, my students came together and were empowered to take control of a situation.

One of my students bullied another one during their lunch. I am not present during their lunch time. As soon as my class returned to our room, one of my students informed me that someone was crying.

Usually, right after lunch I read our "read aloud" story. I asked one of my students to fill in for me while I addressed what had happened at lunch.

Out in the hall, I found out that the "victim's" personal notebook was taken and the other student refused to give it back. The notebook apparently had personal notes in it and the victim's privacy was being threatened. After many firm requests and teasing from the bully, the notebook was finally given back.

After speaking to the victim, whom was clearly upset, I then called the student who did the "bullying" out into the hall. I sent the "victim" to the lav to wash his face and to have a few minutes to himself.

After strongly encouraging the "bully" to write on a piece of paper what he did, why it was wrong, and why he won't do it again, I returned to the class. During the time he was writing in the hall, I sat to read for a few minutes. The "victim" had already returned to our class, but was still clearly upset. Ironically, the theme of the chapter we were reading was all about "empathy." As I wrapped up the chapter, the bully returned to our class. Considering the context of the chapter and the incident at lunch, this was the perfect opportunity for a meaningful whole class discussion.

Remembering what one of my students had written about in her reflection journal early in the day, I called on her to ask "What was this chapter's theme?" Refreshing her memory and encouraging her to think about what she has written about, she smiled and said, "Empathy."

This led the whole class conversation, during which many students contributed to. It was great. Next I asked, "How can we relate this to what has happened today?" Mind you that all of the students were well aware of what happened during lunch.

During this meaningful conversation, the victim was still having a hard time to pull himself together. So I called him to come up to talk to me. I could see he was still upset, so I asked if he wanted a few more minutes to himself. He said, "Yes." I allowed him to go out in the hall to sit in one of our hall desks.

Right after that I wrapped up the whole class discussion, which touched upon topics like being a family, repsect, how we have to be together for 180 days, 6+ hours a day, empathy, thinking before acting, how one's actions can effect the whole group, etc.

My last question to my students was "Who is going to go get "student's name" so he knows that we care about him?" One by one all of my students got up and walked out to the hall to make him feel better. It was very moving. Even the one that did the bullying went out there.

I feel that the students were provided an opportunity of empowerment where they could take control of what had happened. The chance to demonstrate their empathy. They weren't told to do anything. Instead, they were asked then they chose to get up.
I sat back and watched.

Needless to say the student came back in and was comforted.

The next day I noticed a special smile on the boy's face upon entering the class in the morning.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Please Stay Standing for a Moment of Silence?

This is only my second year as a teacher, but I have been very disciplined to take notice of all the important little apsects of the day that can make or break a nurturing environment. By nurturing I mean an environment that fosters a safe learning environment where meaningful life skills and academic learning occurs.

Every morning two sixth grade students lead the whole school through the Pledge of Allegiance,our school pledge, and miscellaneous announcements over the intercom. It is what the students say right after the pledges; "Please stay standing for a moment of silence" that has made me question what the students think this really means.

Last year I didn't say anything to anyone about it. I would just stand there and personally make a mental note about what kind of day I wanted to have and that I was thankful for having a job as a teacher.

But today I couldn't take it any more and I had to say something. After mentioning my concern to a few teachers, I had a conversation with my class. Since it is my students that take turns with another 6th grade class to make the announcements, I felt that it was a neccessary conversation. I need to mention that every time the announcements have been made the "moment of silence" literally has lasted about 2 seconds. It has almost been comical because I can't even gather my thoughts before the students say "please be seated."

To lead off the whole class discussion I first asked my students, if they knew what or who has given them the right to sit in their desk and to learn? I was pleased to hear one of my students say that it is because of the US soldiers. This led to me ask, what do you think the moment of silence after the pledges is for? The students just sat there and stared at me. So I asked more questions to get them to come to the realization that it is really about thinking about our freedom, those that have sacrificed themselves for our freedom and safety, maybe our faith, a moment to reflect on what we are thankful for or what kind of day "I" want to have.
After our discussions we came to a concensus that who ever does the announcements, they need to count 7 seconds so everyone can have enough time to do one of the choices we came up with.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Challenging Students to Think for Themselves

Throughout any given school day, many students in my class ask questions that they could positively answer for themselves. It is apparent that many of them have always had others answer these kinds of questions right away without even giving the individual an opportunity to think for themselves. When my students ask me a question, I tell them to stop and evaluate what they are asking me. Then I ask them their question or a closely related one. They usually smile and answer their own questions. This encourages them to think on their own. I also let them know that since they can usually figure out the answer on their own, they are not giving themselves credit by asking someone else. They discount their ability to be a problem solver.

Every time I hear a student say, "That was easy," I correct them by suggesting that instead of saying "That was easy," they need to say "I am good at this/that." This encourages them to give themselves credit for being good at something instead of minimizing their ability. Also, when they say something is easy, they could discount someone else in the class because maybe other students are not good at it. Therefore, if they hear someone else say that was easy, then they will feel bad about themselves because if it is easy, why can't they do it? Even though we have only been in school for about 4 weeks, students are now encouraging other students to say, "I am good at this." This is nice to hear.

"Use your problem solving skills," is something I say often. Being accountable for their own learning is another topic for discussion in my class. When students are accountable for their own learning, they are encouraged to ask questions when they don't understand a new concept or idea. One of my mottos is to "Ask questions if you don't understand something." Motivating my students to also advocate for themselves is something else I try to do in my class. They should learn how to advocate for themselves to get the most out of their education.

With the internet, enabling parents, and a generation of people that rely on a quick answer, we must nurture a learning environment that indirectly forces students to think for themselves to maximize learning on an individual basis.

We need to foster a learning environment where our students "OWN IT." They need to internally own what they are learning, thinking, doing. It can't be the teachers, but the students must own whatever it is for true meaningful learning to occur. The way to do this is to force them to answer their own questions, stop allowing them to be day dreaming in the classroom about what they might be doing in the future or what they could be doing, and force them to acutally believe that they can do whatever it is. Now or in the future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Reflection Journals and Student Responses

One of my reflection journal questions this month was "Why should we care about people we don't know?" This prompt was after several whole class discussions that were closesly related to that prompt. Most students shared their thoughts, and one student was puzzled as to why one would even consider helping someone that they didn't even know. I took this as an opportunity to shed some light on a concept that I wish wasn't so foreign sounding.

After reading my students' response, I felt like I needed to share some of them.

Student A's response:

"We should care about people we don't know because their difficulties may be your own in the future."

To me this student's response was very insightful and sees it as an opportunity to learn.

Student B's response:

"We should care about other people because if you help you might get help in return. Also you should help because everyone will know you as a nice young man or young girl."

This student's response demonstrates the belief that the reciprocal benefits of caring for others are beneficial to the "self."

Another Reflection Journal response that I want to share is for the prompt: "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is wasted." (Courtesy of Aesop)

Student response: "It is good to be kind all the time because if you do something good someone will be kind to you. So it is like god is repaying you."

Very sensitive and sweet response from a male student.

The last Reflection Journal response I would like to share today is for the prompt: "How can one person make a difference in the life of another?"

Student response: You can make a difference in the life of another by giving them care and shelter and filling their heart with joy."

It is because of the responses I have shared that I have hope that future generations will be compassionate people.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What our Public Education is missing!

These videos are a documentary of an amazing teacher. A teacher of LIFE LESSONS!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Beyond the Textbooks

Almost everyday I have my students write in a reflection journal. For part of their morning work students must copy either a quote or a question from the board and then reflect on what the quote means to them or answer the thought provoking question. All of the quotes and questions are usually based on life lessons, character, dreams, choices, etc. Most students truly enjoy doing this. Every two weeks I collect all of the reflection journals, read each one, and then write comments back to the students. This means a lot to them and it shows that I care about what they have to say.

The following is an example of a quote that I have used in the past:

'Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail'.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you question whether or not this is the job for:

The power of being a teacher is great. Read the story at the link below. Feel free to comment.

It is the little things that we can say that make such a big difference

At the end of my first year as a teacher, I had my class write down something nice for 8 different students (which were randomly chosen). After collecting and compiling all of the comments I picked out the best ones for all 27 students. During the last week of school I passed out a typed document for each student with about 5-8 nice things about them. Some of the students were so happy that their peers had something nice to say abou them. For some it was apparent that they were not used to such nice compliments from their peers.

When I started searching for inspirational stories to add to my website, I came across this story and it made me think about what I did.