Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation

SelfDeterminationTheoryMany years ago when I was an elementary music teacher, I challenged students in my 4th grade classes to compose and record original works for a grant-funded project. One particular student became more engaged than his peers. He asked if he could give up recess time and come to my room to work. He asked if he could stay after school to work. He used every free minute available during the day to work on his project. The level of intrinsic motivation displayed was quite remarkable.

How can we help all students reach this level of intrinsic motivation? In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey recommends bringing Self-determination Theory and its three core components into our classrooms (pp. 133-137):

  1. Competency (the sense of effectiveness and making progress): Break long-term goals into smaller chunks to create opportunities for “wins” throughout your projects. Give specific, process-based feedback about the progress students are making. Encourage students. Let your words reflect your belief that students can achieve. Have students report their progress.
  2. Relatedness (the interaction and connection among people and the learning environment): Interact with students as they enter and exit the classroom. Give students clear expectation for times of group collaboration. Create opportunities for peer-to-peer feedback. Have fun. Laughter builds community. Share your experiences as a learner. Embrace and celebrate the diversity present in your classroom.
  3. Autonomy (the sense of independence and choice): Create options for learners to develop their own learning path. Create many opportunities for engagement, representation, action, and expression. Reflect with students. Let them talk about the choices they made to improve their progress and learning.

As you prepare for next week, think of ways that you can incorporate Self-determination Theory into your classroom. You and your students will be glad you did!

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