Bob Sullo

Consultant K - 12

Sandwich, MA


  • Posted 8 Years ago
  • 5.4k

"The Motivated Student" Archived chat 4-22

Tim: Welcome all to the second round of Bob's chat series. For those who are new, you

 can Edit your nickname by clicking on "edit nickname in the lower left hand window.

 Then just follow the prompts. (It asks for age just to make sure everyone is 13 or

 older. The age won't be displayed.

Tim: We'll get started shortly once Bob arrives.

bob: OK. Great. Glad to see some familiar names!

bob: In chapter 4, I advance the idea of internal control psychology.

bob: I see a disconnect between what we say we believe in (freedom and

 responsibility) and our practices (trying to control others with rewards &

 punishments) What do you think???

smartaleck: One of the big news magazines, Time or Newsweek, just did a cover story

 on how "bribing" kids to work in school can work if done the right way. Your take?

bob: I go so far as to say we won't have significant improvement until we align our

 practices with our stated beliefs.

Nat: I am wondering what they mean by done the right way?

Steve G.: Bob, I tend to believe that motto that school has to teach control otherwise

 freedom has little meaning. We have to have the ability to teach limits as well as


bob: For me, it's all internal. I think each of us interprets reality differently (although

 there is undoubtedly a lot of overlap.)

Nat: I agree

smartaleck: Are rewards necessarily a bad thing? What about rewarding students

 who act in a responsible way?

jb: I think kids see the disconnect as well.  Even though they may not be able to put it

 into those words they recognize the hypocrisy and it makes us less effective with

 them.  Even the "good" kids.

Nat: I think rewards within reason could be effective.

bob: When we behave in ways that are consistent with our values and beliefs, the

 brain naturally rewards us. So I'm not against rewards. Physiologically, we've already

 got that! The paradox is that EXTERNAL rewards interfere with the natural reward


bob: Language is very important to me so I am often accused of being a bit &quot††††††††††††††

icky." I see a significant difference beteween rewarding and affirming.

Nat: Isn't the internal rewards the rewards we want to help our students develop or


jb: So you are saying that rewarding is giving something tangible and affirming is more

 like a pat on the back?

smartaleck: How can we help students *want* to behave responsibly, so they will be

 rewarded internally?  Often, behaving responsibly seems to involve making some kind

 of sacrifice.

bob: No. The pat on the back can be external, too. It's more the sequence:

bob: first help the student self-evaluate. Then you can affirm but the kid has already

 acknowledged their success to themselves and let the "natural" reward system kick


Nat: smartaleck that is what has become difficult because of the over use of external


bob: Smartaleck is on to something big. The key is figuring out how to help others

 build that internal picture.

bob: When kids WANT to act responsibly, they will do so (to the best of their ability.)

 When they don't want to act responsibly, they'll only do what is necessary to get you

smartaleck: A lot of pop culture glorifies a me-first attitude, while acting responsibly is

 depicted as "square." So we have to counteract that influence. No easy task.

bob: In both cases, the motivation comes from within.

Steve G.: Bob, you've talked about 'our values' -- but there seems to be some

 distance between the extremes on that. For example, is it within all our values to

 look at ends over means. Or care about means as well as ends? Some might differ.

bob: Steve, you are right. Any conversation about "values" becomes tricky. I have no

 trouble talking about MY values. The issue comes when we are working with others.

 Now we have to identify OUR values.

bob: smartaleck, another strange paradox: internal control psycholoy is about a

 "me-first" orientation....but at a very deep level. It's not about immediat

 gratification. It's about identifying who I really want to be.

Steve G.: I think there are many out there who believe "whatever it takes"

 "Whatever it takes" to "what"??? What is the goal?

smartaleck: Bob, what are some suggestions for helping students care about trying

 their best in school? Too often, teachers and students seem to be adversaries, when

 they should be going after the same goal--student learning that will serve them well

 in life.

Tim: I've heard for example, something I don't believe -- Geoffrey Canada is one --

 who says: "Whatever it takes to get kids to learn, we'll do. Rewards.

bob: If the goal is to get kids to prform better on tests, rewards may be effective.

 They create tunnel vision and focus. they create life-long learners? The

 research suggests they don't.

Tim: What does everyone else think?

Nat: I don't believe rewards for doing will foster life long learning mentality. I fear it

 will hinder life long learning

smartaleck: This is a difficult question. As adults, we are motivated by rewards, aren't


Nat: If a student only does what he/she has to in order to get a reward, what are we

 actually teaching them and are they really learning the material being taught?

bob: Nat, the research supports what you say. That's why I get a little nuts! We

 continue practices that seem doomed to keep us where we are rather than bringing

 to where we want to be!

Nat: I have to admit, I avoid our reward system in my building and I even get the

 speech every month that I haven't written enought "cat cash". I am punished in

 away for trying to rediscover the internal motivation of my students

bob: Smartaleck, for what it's worth...I'm not being paid to do this. The reward is the

 good feeling I get from engaging in vigorous conversation about ideas I find


Steve G.: Like I've said, I agree with all of you. I just don't think some of my

 colleagues might. And they are just as important as I am.

smartaleck: I guess the challenge is to make students feel internally rewarded by

 learning, but unless they are intrinsically interested in a subject, that might be a

 difficult thing to bring about.

jb: I think the tests have changed things.  The adults in the schools are more invested

 in the results than the kids are and it sets us all up to be adversaries.

Nat: Steve speaking from experience, the majority will not. My goal is to show them

 that in my little corner of the world I don't have to give them something to a certain


bob: Smartaleck, that's another key. You are right: only a minority will be in love with

 what you teach. But everyone will want to feel good about themselves and feel a

 sense of pride. That's where we can begin.

Nat: jb, that is definately he case in my building - I teach 8th grade and after this

 year the students don't take the "test" they take a different test so this test means

 nothing and they are not afraid to express that

bob: Yes, Nat, we can operate within our "little corners." What is exciting for me is

 when I get to work with a whole school or district and there is a real interest and

 commitment to change and really challenge the status quo.

smartaleck: Do your students believe that learning with empower them in their future

 lives, or do they see it as a pointless exercise?

bob: So I think in our little chat room, we all value internal motivation and the ideas of

 internal control psychology make sense.

smartaleck: Agreed, but it seems easier to use extrinsic rewards

bob: I think kids need to see some immediate benefit to fully engage. To talk with kids

 about how wonderful things will be in a distant future is pretty pointless. But to have

 them identify how they feel NOW to be successful makes sense

Nat: smartaleck it is easier to use extrinsic, face it that is why it is used so often

bob: Easier to use external rewards: true. Question: are we looking for what is easier

 or do we want something else? (I know my answer).

jb: Easier in the short term only.  It is hard to keep up the rewards forever.  And they

 stop working - they want more.

bob: When I consider who I wan to be as an educator (and parent), I want to help

 others connect to the power of internal motivation. I don't want to impede that with

 rewards and punishments.

Nat: Bob do you think in order to move from external to more intrinsic motivation a

 good way to take that step would be by slowly taking the external away?

bob: Smartaleck, when I would be dealing with a 5th grade kid, it made no sense to

 talk about "after graduation." It did make sense to ask, "What would it be like for you

 if you did well on this assignment?" That's immediate.

bob: The kid could then begin to connect the dots and see that being engaged, being

 responsible, and putting in maximum effort BECAUSE SUCCESS FEELS GOOD. It's

 internal and it's immediate.

smartaleck: What do you recommend for students who lack the confidence to

 engage, who don't think effort will lead to success?

bob: Nat...might sound weird, but I'd move very slowly. As I have often said in

 workshops "coercion is the glue that holds the school together." We need to move

 slowly from an external to internal approach

bob: Kids frequently lack confidence because they are afraid of our judgments. Better

 to be the class clown and disengaged than to try and still fail. So I try to create a

 situation where a student is judged on what he/she can control: their effort.

Nat: Bob that is what I thought and have actually been doing.

Steve G.: And Bob, following what smartaleck is saying, what are ways teachers can

 make the classroom "comfortable."

bob: Steve, ritual and predictability (ch 5) is one way to help the class be

 comfortable. Ritual doesn't have to be fun or a gimmick. It can be as mundane as the

 &quot††††††††††††††roblem of the day" or the Friday vocab test.

Nat: I do, we spend the first week of the school year learning them and revisit them

 throughout the school year.

bob: Regardless, when there is predictibility in the environment, it allows kids to feel

 safe and secure. The more predictibility there is, the more students can effectively

 handle the novelty involved in learning.

Nat: some examples; political cartoon mondays, primary document reading Fridays,

 fun/work days.

smartaleck: Bob, don't you think schools are set up to use grades as extrinsic

 rewards, but this approach doesn't work with all kids? Can we really shift the focus to

 intrinsic rewards when test scores and grades are given such emphasis?

Steve G.: To the point you made in your blog though -- at least I think you were

 making --what if ritual becomes "too ritual" -- there is a need to change things up,

 no? Without putting the class on edge.

Nat: smartaleck, my students haven't been very motivated by their grades

bob: Nat, I'm curious. It seems like you use a lot of rituals. Do you find your students

 are more willing to take risks because the environment has so much ritual included?

smartaleck: Nat and others, when grades don't motivate your students, what have

 you relied on instead?  It's hard to be fascinating five days a week.

bob: Yes, Steve, it's important that rituals don't cross the line and move into

 mind-numbing boredom. We need a balance. Ritual and novelty are two sides of a

 coin and equally essential.

bob: Grat question!!!

bob: Or "great" question for those who type as fast as they think!

bob: Stange as it may seem, I DON'T want my kids motivated by grades! I want them

 excited about learning and gaining new skills and being able to do something or know

 something that they didn't know before. Allof that feels great!

Steve G.: I would agree with smartaleck. What motivates kids if not grades. Long

 term isn't in a kids vocabulary. At least not many I've seen.

bob: Ch 4 (internal control psychology) identifies the needs that drive all of us.

 Included is the need for power/competence. Kids want to be successful (regardless

 of what they may tell you.) No one wants to fail.

Nat: My colleagues tell me this takes to long, but the end result of my 5 minute

 conferences outwieghts the time it takes and I really enjoy getting to know my


jb: I use my relationship with the kids to motivate sometimes.  I work hard to know

 them and communicate that I care about them - even when they are not making

 good grades.  I find that lots of times &quot††††††††††††††roblem" kids are not a problem in my


Steve G.: Bob, I think that's very true. But isn't success defined as grades for the

 kids. Not for us, per se. I think the reality is that the kids see good grades as

 something they "hold up to others"

Steve G.: recognition in a sense.

bob: Thanks, Nat. The 5 minutes you "invest" in a student may seem like it's "way too

 long" but compare that to the hourbob: Thanks, Nat. The 5 minutes you "invest" in a student may seem like it's "way too  long" but compare that to the hours spent when we don't succeed!s spent when we don't succeed!

bob: jb is on to something. I think we address this in more detail in a later chapter,

 but relationships are crucial.

Nat: I agree and it is very rewarding when a former 8th grader expressed how

 he/she appreciated what I did for them...that is my reward

bob: When a &quot††††††††††††††roblem kid" acts responsibly in one class but not in another, it

 is illuminating. The label &quot††††††††††††††roblem kid" is really a reflection of the environment

 or relationship.

Nat: environment I believe and we create the environment

bob: Nat, I'm glad tou got that validation. But...believe have been just as

 helpful to others but just never been told! That's why waiting for the external reward

 is pointless. Learn to self-evaluate (another chapter!)

bob: OK and part of creating the environment is how we present ourselves to the

 kids. In ch 6, Lenny Blair is this wonderfully enthusiastic teacher. Do you think

 teachers "should" be enthusiastic. (Lenny does.)

Nat: I have to admit self-evaluation is a weakness for me

jb: I don't think we can all be Ron Clark, but I think the kids can tell if it is just a job.

bob: Thanks for the honesty, Nat. Not a surprise. All of us have been rewarded and

 have succeeded. So we're good at the reward/punishment game. It takes time and

 effort to develop effective self-evaluation skills. But it really is very libersating.

Nat: I think if you are to enthusiastic at least for my 8th graders they think I am

 phoney and don't take my enthusim for history seriously

smartaleck: Bob, how can we help our students become internally motivated to

 behave in ways we believe are in their long-term interest (e.g., study), when other

 behavior (e.g., goofing off) has a more immediate reward?

bob: Nat, you are right. You've got to be genuine. I think in Ch 6, the kids talk about

 Lenny Blair being "real." If the kids thought he was just posturing, his enthusiasm

 wiould be a joke.

Steve G.: Enthusiasm is one way to put it. I think what Nat says -- it's really being


Nat: smartaleck, I am going to add my 2 cents worth, stop rewarding the other

 behavior - what I mean is if the "goofing off" is daily and then one day no goofing

 don't give them a reward for not goofing.

Steve G.: Not everyone has that "energy"

Steve G.: But I think the more sincerity that comes across the more kids see that.

bob: nicely phrased steve. "sincerity" is kind of "energy neutral." whereas,

 "enthusiasm" can sound daunting and a bit unrealistic

bob: smartaleck, i think one of my roles is to help kids begin to develop the capacity to

 see beyond the immediate. I enjoy sports and use that to connect with lots of kids.

 they easily see that practice is necessary for success in sports.

bob: goofing off would be much more immediately enjoyable. when they make that

 connection, they can begin to see that long-term success sometimes means denying

 the immediate. But again, it's all internal. Who do you wan to be?

Steve G.: Bob, what do you think about that MI theory idea that you can tell kids'

 "intelligence" by the way they goof off?

Steve G.: In other words, the lingual kids, will talk a lot.

Steve G.: The interpersonal one will chat with friends etc.

bob: We are driven by multiple wants. part of my job is helping kids want what i want

 during our time together - to gladly sacrifice the immediate goofing off because THEY

 want something else - something that involves being on-task and ficused.

smartaleck: How do you get them to care about the learning and not just the grade?

 Assuming they even care about the grade.

Steve G.: smartaleck, maybe part of it is not so much caring about "learning" or the

 grade as just learning because you're making it interesting.

Steve G.: Everyone quickly rips on video games for example. But kids 'learn' through

 video games. Some of them pretty educational.

Steve G.: how that applies to the classroom, it's a tough, I'll admit.

bob: we are naturally curious beings. if we create lessons that tap into that natural

 curiousity, we'll have more success. that said, some subjectsd lend themselves to

 that more easily than others.

Steve G.: I try to figure it out and am not successful many times.

jb: I think sometimes I get kids doing what I want them to do and the learning

 happens by "accident".  They were not so interested in learning per se but they

 enjoyed what we were doing.

bob: i rad a book last year. I think the title is "everything bad is good for you." it

 challenges lots of our assumptions about video games, tv, etc...

Steve G.: yes, jb said it much better than I did.

jb: I teach math and one investigation involves putting pennies in a cup attached to a

 slinky.  It is a fun day and they learn something about linear functions along the way

smartaleck: Providing the right level of challenge (as video games do) is important,

 and that ties into differentiated instruction.

bob: here's one tidbit i kind of remember. a person who scored in the top 25 % on a

 standard IQ test years ago, would be in the bottom quarter today! Despite all the

 negativity, kids know so much more today!

Nat: video games provide immediatel feedback and kids (at least my own) aren't

 playing for an extrinsic reward, but more for a feeling they accomplsihed or beat the


bob: we really have done a great job and kids today are much more capable problem

 solvers (that's one of the skills video games teach!)

smartaleck: Thanks, Bob!

Steve G.: thanks Bob. Once again

bob: a quick reminder: no chat next week. I will not be home. So we gather again 2

 weeks from tonight.

Nat: I have also enjoyed our conversations, thanks bob see you next time

Tim: We'll see you all next time. Thanks again for coming tonight and tell your friends

bob: encourage your colleagues to join the conversation and become part of the

 "inspiring student motivation" group on EDge. Together, we can make a difference!


1 Comment

1000 Characters Remaining


23 Apr 10, 08:41 AM

Interested in reading what was said during the April 22 live chat? Visit:


100 Characters Remaining

Back To Top