Motivation and Incentives

by Matthew Koslowski on April 23, 2010
in Anecdotes

In This Essay

“Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School?” by Amanda Ripley, TIME Magazine, Volume 175, Number 15 (April 19, 2010)
On the Surprising Science of Motivation by Dan Pink, TED
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink
Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn
 

I stopped dead as I looked at the magazine racks in my local Barnes&Noble about two weeks ago. On the cover, a little girl was sitting at a desk in front of stacks of cash, with bills falling from the desktop to the floor. The title asked: Should Schools Bribe Kids?

I felt revulsion.

Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards was one of the first books on education that I read. Although Kohn’s book focuses strongly on the effect of rewards and incentives in the rearing of children, he also discusses incentives in the workplace. His arguments were compelling and I could see their relevance in my own life. As I wrote in “Racing to the Test”, my pay-for-performance incentive plan doesn’t motivate me.

After reading Alfie Kohn’s work, I saw Dan Pink’s TED Lecture On the Surprising Science of Motivation. His work was congruent with the work of Kohn, though I didn’t see the nuances at first. I’ve watched the video perhaps four or five times now. At first, I focused on his arguments that incentives inhibit creative thinking. Pink also talks about how incentives actually boost performance for production of unit-driven tasks, such as Adam Smith’s example of creating pins or in the reading of a number of books.

Even with these two works in mind, I bought the TIME Magazine. I hoped to find that the work of the economist was one more piece of evidence supporting my conclusions.

The article describes four experiments designed by Roland Fryer Jr., the Harvard economist who wanted to test market forces in learning. The experiments were:

  • in New York City, paying fourth- and seventh-graders for earning higher test scores;
  • in Washington, D.C., paying sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders for certain behaviors, such as attendance;
  • in Chicago, paying ninth-graders for earning As, Bs, and Cs;
  • and, in Dallas, paying second-graders for each book they read.

And my predictions were mostly right. I thought they would all be failures, but one surprised me.

The schools with pay for performance did boost some test scores but not consistently. And the improved performance on specific tests did not translate to improved performance on the national tests that determine America’s international standing in education. If I were to pay you — well, most of you — right now to solve a second order differential equation, most of you could not do it because most of you have never learned to solve second order differential equations. Paying a student to get a better grade without teaching the student the techniques of how to get a better grade is much the same.

But the one program that seemed to have the most effect was paying second-graders for each book they read. The students earned their money after taking a short quiz on the book. I balked, thinking that such a program would kill a child’s natural inclination to read. Alfie Kohn makes a strong argument for incentives killing internal motivation. He describes a reading incentive program they had when I was a kid. After reading so many books, a child can earn a pizza from Pizza Hut.

And then I remembered something. Something very important that I had forgotten while reading Alfie Kohn’s book. I participated in that Pizza Hut program. I studied literature in high school and college; I love to read for pleasure; and I am well on my way to becoming an English teacher.

As much as I hate to admit it, maybe there is something to these program after all.

* * *

PS: You would think Dan Pink was paying me, considering how often I have mentioned him on Literature&Literacy. He’s not, but I like his areas of interest and research. Though I wouldn’t mind if he were to pay me.

Racing to the Test

by Matthew Koslowski on March 31, 2010
in Essays

In This Essay

“Only Two States Win Race to Top” by Neil King, Jr., The Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2010
On the surprising science of motivation by Dan Pink, TED, August 2009
Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us by Daniel M. Koretz, Ph.D.
 

I think the “Race to the Top” initiative by the Obama administration is as wrongheaded as “No Child Left Behind”.

Do not get me wrong, I believe that both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have the best interests of our children at heart. And, I believe that President Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy, who people forget co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate, had the best interest of our children at heart. But I think they all are gravely mistaken.

I have worked at banks for the past three years. I have a pay-for-performance incentive plan, based on how many checking accounts, savings accounts, home equity loans and lines of credit, and investment referrals I make.

And it does not motivate me.

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Weekly Review: October 30th to November 5th

by Matthew Koslowski on November 6, 2009
in Weekly Reviews

The Weekly Reviews are a lot of fun to write. I enjoy scouring the web for interesting articles and blog posts. But, all the same, the project had begun to become a unmanageable. There are so many websites and blogs to check out everyday. I had been afraid that I was going to miss something.

What I repeatedly missed was my own deadline. You may have noticed that the past two weeks I had postponed my Weekly Review until Saturday.

I have been working hard but I haven’t been working very smart. Then I remembered a quote from one of my favorite writers:

Novels are written in the same way that farms are made productive, or houses are kept clean, or baseball penant races are won: with steady work each day.
–Andre Dubus

Substitute “Weekly Reviews” for “Novels” and you get the same concept. Rather than gathering up work throughout the week and then trying to throw something together slapdash on Thursday night, starting this week I will be working on the Weekly Review throughout the week.

Thursday afternoon I spent some time setting up a feed reader through Google. Though I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet — unlike Gmail, the posts disappear after you’ve read them unless you ask them to stay — but I am glad to consolidate many of my different websites into one place.

In addition to that, I’ve also setup Literature&Literacy on Feedburner.com. You can now subscribe to Literature&Literacy through an RSS Reader or through email.

These Things Caught My Eye

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Praising Intellect, Praising Effort

by Matthew Koslowski on August 5, 2009
in Essays

When I was in middle and high school, perhaps even before starting with elementary school, I was a smart kid. Being smart was a major component in my identity.

Even now I can hear the voices of my mother and father praising me, “You’re so smart, Matthew.” My teachers too would tell me that I was “bright” or “smart”, one or two went so far as to say that I was “gifted.”

What if all those well meaning adults were doing me a disservice by offering me the praise that they did?

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Testing, Assessment, and Feedback

by Matthew Koslowski on July 29, 2009
in Essays

In This Essay

Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn R. Jackson
Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn
“Feedback as Assessment” by Grant Wiggins

In order to begin sailing at Community Boating, a member needs to earn the Solo Rating. To earn that members need to demonstrate:

  • that they can rig the mainsail on a Cape Cod Mercury by rigging a boat in the slip;
  • and that they have an understanding of how boats move and of the right of way rules by passing an oral quiz, the Solo Test.

Everything one needs to learn to pass the Solo Test is taught in Shore School.

Shore School is a one hour lecture on sailing. A classroom lecture. On land. With a whiteboard. In a bay with wide garage doors that open onto the Charles River and the fleet of boats and, at least we hope, sunshine. Shore School is considered one of the more difficult courses to teach.

Last Thursday, July 23rd, I attended a seminar, “Classroom Management/Learning Styles” at Community Boating so that I can teach Shore School as well as Rigging. Marcin, the seminar presenter, spoke about the teaching style of several of Community Boating’s Shore School teachers. One stood out.

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