Thursday, May 26, 2011

Challenging and Satisfying Internal Motivation

My youngest daughter asked me for help with a mathematics problem that she was working on, in preparation for her end-of-year examination.  It took me a while to figure out how to find the answer.  I was still not quite sure why the solution worked.  But I didn’t want my daughter to wait too long, so I started to tell her what I thought was the solution, with the caveat that I could not yet explained why it worked.   It didn’t matter.  She seemed to grasp  the gist of it almost instantly, jumped up and ran away before I could fully elaborate on my hesitations.

Later in the evening, while she was tidying up her desk to go to bed, she suddenly blurted out excitedly, “I want to continue to work on these mathematics problems!”  I confirmed with her that it was because she found it so enjoyable that she wanted to continue, even though it was time for her to go to bed. 

It was a wonderful feeling, watching my little girl basking in the deeply personal satisfaction of overcoming an academic challenge.  This is the kind of internal motivation that Daniel Pink wrote of in his best seller “Drive”.   I am also fully convinced that this is the best kind of sustainable motivation for everyone, including our students.  Our job, as a teacher, is to help our students discover and leverage on this kind of motivation.  I went to bed very happy last evening, despite the many other things on my mind. 

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