Incentive Theory

 Today as I walked the campus, I was so pleased to see numerous examples of learning happening in the coolest places. I first visited our own ASES Tiny Town and experienced our earliest learners taking turns on the trikes and role-playing running their own city. I then visited with Lower School students who were facing a challenge in the sandbox and watched as they worked together to solve a problem with retrieving their tools. Then I looked across and saw Middle School students collecting coastal grass for our tortoise Mr. T. They explained the variety of greens that they were providing and how each worked together for a healthy diet. As I walked back towards the Learning Farm, I came across a second grade class reading together at the barn. They shared that they love reading outside on beautiful days and that their teacher lets them choose. I then walked up to the chicken farm and saw some upper school students stopping by to check on the hens.

As I was walking I reflected on the passion and enthusiasm I had seen in the students as they shared their learning with me. It made me think back on research I studied in graduate school regarding Incentive Theory. Simply put, this theory states that intrinsically motivated behaviors are performed because of the sense of personal relevance and satisfaction. On the other hand, extrinsically motivated behaviors are performed to please others or avoid certain negative outcomes. It has always made sense to me that if we could have students intrinsically strive for the learning and higher level thinking we would go further and deeper. In too many learning environments the main motivators are extrinsic motivators such as grades, rules, rubrics, etc. I believe that if we foster learning ecosystems that build pathways for intrinsic motivation and then develop structures with extrinsic reinforcement students can experience student agency and authentic learning that is transformational.

I certainly know that my walk today was full of learning with intrinsically motivated students that were powered by their own curiosity, empathy, and initiative.