Drive - Connections to Education Part 2 - A Closer Look at Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
I've been cruising through Part 2 of Daniel Pink's newest book, Drive. Last week, I made some connections to education with part one. This week, I dive into the meat of his work, his explanations of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, and make some reflections on what this means for the classroom teacher. These concepts were major motivators for me in becoming a fan of Mr. Pink as I reflected on earlier this year. 
One of the things I noticed and appreciated most as a teacher was how much autonomy I enjoyed. I would often hear from friends about relationships (mostly negative) with their bosses, and I never really encountered any such instances. Teachers mostly report to a department chair or perhaps a principal, but we are more or less in control of what goes on in our classrooms.To this extent, we are very autonomous. 

The question is do our students enjoy the same autonomy? I would argue that in most classrooms, the level of student autonomy is minimal. I tried to offer more opportunities for my students to become engaged in the structure of the class, how our 42 minutes were organized, and having them become responsible for some of the daily tasks such as attendance, peer review of homework, and grading of assessments. I know of teachers who have students engage in discussions of what will be studied, and how they should study the material.  

Here are some possible scenarios to see the 4 Essentials applied to education:
  • Task: What if students had input on projects that interested them, but still related to the curriculum? It would be the responsibility of the student to sell the project as making a connection to the subject.
  • Time: What if students were allowed to budget their time how they needed to, with the goal of completing a specified curriculum firmly established?
  • Technique: Students often find different ways to reach a solution, and they should be rewarded and encouraged to continue "thinking outside of the box." This may take time to develop, as many high school students seem to have had their creative juices dry up by the time they get in the building.
  • Team: Web 2.0 can play a big role here, in that students can easily find collaborators on projects, similar like-minded people who share nearly any interest that they do. Allowing students to connect with others outside of their classroom can be a powerful experience that prepares them for future collaborations. 

Student success stories are often tied to their individual conquests. I would often yearn to inspire a student, to later have them return and tell me how I helped them become interested in science and if they became a Chemistry major, even better.  The reality is that few of the hundreds of students that I have worked with over ten years ever did this. Did I consider myself a failure as a result? No. I realized that I helped students regardless of whether they eventually came to love chemistry or not. Students often appreciated how I helped make Chemistry approachable when it was often viewed as a very challenging subject.

However, I always had this internal struggle in mind. How could I get my students to want to master the material? I would often take a line I heard from Thomas Friedman, in that I wanted to teach my students to "learn how to learn." Even if they did not remember what a mole was or how to calculate a limiting reagent, my goal was to have students engage in the learning process, to become excited or at least confident that they could navigate through science and should they want to master a particular piece, they would leave my class with the skill set to do so.  

Looking at the three laws of mastery according to Pink, we find some connections to education:
  • Mastery is a Mindset: Teachers have engaged in book club discussions about Carol Dweck's work, and we have encouraged discussion with our students about the fixed vs. growth mindsets. Students have responded positively thus far to talks in the classroom.
  • Mastery is a Pain:  Similarly, we have been working with our teachers about lessons on Effective Effort. By educating our students on how to use time management along with other valuable study skill strategies, we hope to help them achieve mastery through this increased effort.
  • Mastery is an Asymptote: This is a classic application of the teacher's use of scaffolding to make a challenging subject more approachable. By setting reachable but challenging goals for the class, and preferably for the individual student through differentiation, we can start to see more mastery on the part of our students. 
The major piece in convincing students to want to master the material was selling them on its purpose. Again, I had a challenge here, in that unless I found a relevant real world application for each and every student, I was sure to miss some of the 100+ students I had each year. Thus, I often focused more on teaching my students how to learn. Tapping into the intrinsic motivation would often take more time, but ultimately, I felt that I would make a stronger connection with students if I was able to sell them on this. If students felt that learning was for a greater good (namely, their own future post-education), then they would be more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn Chemistry, English, or any subject.

I'll complete the trilogy with Part 3: Lessons from the Type I Toolkit.


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