(203) 453-5067 Laura@HandleEducation.com

The “Secret” of Intrinsic Motivation

What constitutes a rewarding life?  What spurs some people to pursue their interests actively, while others remain passive observers?  Motivation is a crucial factor for achievement in personal and professional pursuits.  Yet, working for some extrinsic reward, whether tangible like money, or intangible, like fame, may not provide a deep sense of fulfillment even after one does achieve the pinnacle of “success.” One need only glance at headlines to realize the hollow success of many cases of celebrity. On the other hand, working at something for the sheer enjoyment is the hallmark of intrinsic motivation:  Intrinsic motivation is defined as performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself . .  . the inspiration for acting on intrinsic motivation can be found in the action itself. Shouldn’t the goal of education be much more than the recitation of facts for content areas? Wouldn’t helping students find their passion provide them with a pathway to a fulfilling life? To quote Maya Angelou: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them . . .” The lesson here is that learning for its own sake can be enormously rewarding. It  can perpetuate a sustained desire to become proficient in an an academic subject, a skill, or a talent.  Couldn’t the development of the intrinsic motivation to learn help to decrease the drop-out rate in some of our nation’s communities?  Is it well worth attempting, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on knowledge workers? While research studies point to the importance of intrinsic motivation, few actually provide the “how to.”  Teachers can… Read More »

Language and the Mind/Body Connection

In a past blog, I discussed how use of language affects morality. But the power of language expands far beyond moral issues.  In a lecture series in Great Courses,  Dr. Peter Vishton elaborates on the intricate connections between language and mind/body. He provides research-based proof that an individual’s thoughts manifest themselves even on a person’s physiology. Dr. Vishton states, “Language is a central feature of how our brain makes sense of the world around us . . . so the language we use can greatly affect our thinking.”  He cites research by Dr. Vanessa Patrick regarding the effects of self-talk and motivation. Her research paper, “I Don’t versus I Can’t: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior,” demonstrated that when a group of dieters were offered a piece of chocolate cake, those who replied, “I don’t eat chocolate cake,” were much more successful at resisting temptation than those who responded, “I can’t eat chocolate cake.” She maintains that the word “don’t” indicates intrinsic motivation, so dieters who had that self-talk were making a choice and, thus, felt empowered. Yet “can’t” indicates asking permission, which is related to extrinsic motivation.Thus, the concept of Think Yourself Thin may appear to have some basis in reality.  Furthermore, she contends that this principle extends beyond dieting. If someone wants to eliminate a bad habit, using self-talk with don’t versus can’t appears to be a more effective strategy. Furthermore, Dr. Vishton discusses another research study that indicated that the language centers of the brain influence calorie expenditure. He cites the work of Dr. Crum of Stanford and Dr. Langer of Harvard, who enlisted hotel housekeepers to test their hypothesis about changing their mindsets regarding how they viewed their work.  The… Read More »

Make Mistakes and Learn!

  Alexander Pope wrote, “To err is human . . . ” Making mistakes is inherently human, so people can take the opportunity to grow and learn from their errors. In her book, Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz explains. “Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition.  Far from being a moral flaw. it is inextricable from some of our most human and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage . . . wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change.” When people share their mistakes, they can adjust their behavior and learn.  In an Edutopia article, Dr. Richard Curwin addresses the positive aspect of educators sharing mistakes: “When a teacher forms strong relationships with another teacher or two, they share their problems freely, ask for and give advice, and learn from each other.  . . . An important side effect of discussing mistakes might be to change the perception of mistakes, not only for teachers, but for students as well. When teachers learn from their mistakes, they might be more willing to let students learn from theirs.” Teachers can promote a positive learning environment by demonstrating that mistakes are an integral part of the learning process. Admitting mistakes provides the opportunity to practice an open mind-set.  In order to engender positive thinking, teachers can embrace the chances for “teachable moments” in a variety of ways.  First of all, they can share their own mistakes, thus demonstrating that the classroom is a safe environment for learning. They can explain what mistakes students made and allow them to correct and re-do their work.… Read More »

Why all the UPTALK?

  I’m sensitive to language, both oral and written. When someone utters a grammatical faux  pas or malapropism, I try hard not to make a face, even though I cringe inwardly.  So, I am miffed by the content barrage of uptalk everywhere I turn. For the uninitiated, let me explain the term.  An article in Psychology Today, by Hank Davis, defined it as follows: “Uptalk. That ever-growing tendency to end statements with upward inflections to make them sound like questions. Like you’re not quite sure what you’re saying is true. Or clear. Or will be acceptable to your audience. To suggest that you’re willing to back down, or restate your point, or change your viewpoint altogether if your listeners don’t nod their approval.” When we learned sentence structure in our early elementary school years, we associated different sentence types with their respective punctuation marks and inflections. Declarative sentences, those that convey a statement, wish or desire, end in periods, and a person’s voice lowers at the end of that type of sentence. For example, “Today, I bring you the latest news.” This sentence should be declared with assurance and a lowered inflection. Interrogative sentences, on the other hand, are questions, and their punctuation is a question mark. In this case, a speaker’s voice ends with an upward inflection. “Televised news establishes linguistic norms for millions of people.” So, when news commentators use uptalk, are they reading tele-prompters filled with question marks?  (Now that deserves an upward inflection!) Every time someone utters a sentence in uptalk, he sounds tentative. And I use the male pronoun purposely, because although this phenomenon probably started with girls, it… Read More »

The Prodigy Myth

  Stories abound of individuals born with innate abilities whose talent astounds most mortal beings.  These include figures from a wide range of fields from the arts to natural sciences, mathematics, and sports: Michelangelo, DaVinci, Mozart, The Beatles, and Tiger Woods are just a very few examples.  Mozart starting performing classical music at the age of five. Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox left fielder was nicknamed “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.” However, what most people fail to realize is that these “prodigies” displayed certain traits that may have caused them to appear innately blessed and effortlessly gifted. They had the opportunity to excel through persistent and extraordinary effort. Of course, few people would diminish Mozart’s musical abilities. However, they  should take into account that his family situation certainly contributed to his musical talent. According to Mozart.com, “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was tremendously lucky to have an experienced musician as a father with Leopold Mozart. Leopold immediately recognised the potential in Wolfgang. He dedicated his life to supporting his son’s talent.” The young Mozart had the interest, and his father oversaw many hours of deliberate practice. Centuries later, the quartet known as The Beatles acknowledged that their success came from sustained practice: “In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours.” Furthermore, how many fans were aware that Michael Jordan, one of the most famous NBA players, did not make his high school basketball team? He was determined to succeed, so he put in many hours of practice to perfect his athletic skill, and the results were extraordinary. The lesson here is that effort is the key to success. Of course, having some talent… Read More »

Attending to Attention: Providing “Brain Breaks”

According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, the ability to focus is imperative to mastering cognitively demanding tasks. Certainly, absorbing challenging academic content requires deep work. Trying to do so in an environment that provides a multitude of distractions such as a classroom can be a daunting undertaking.  The first step a teacher can take to optimizing the classroom environment involves communicating clear and fair behavior guidelines before content instruction begins.  Once the teacher establishes and reinforces desired classroom decorum, students can pay attention, and the essential work of instruction can begin. A recent article in Edutopia by Dr. Desautels, a professor of education, highlights the importance of attention, because students need to be calm and focused in order to absorb new material. Breaking content into smaller segments is an effective means to absorb content.  When instructing students on time management at home,  I suggest that they spend no more than 45 minutes on any particular task without taking a short three to five minute break. Physical movement like stretching or going to the kitchen for a drink of water can help avoid fatigue. It can also avoid overstimulating the brain, which can lead to a loss of attention. Dr. Desautels suggests providing brief “brain breaks” in a classroom. “We can use brain breaks and focused-attention practices to positively impact our emotional states and learning. They refocus our neural circuitry with either stimulating or quieting practices that generate increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, where problem solving and emotional regulation occur.”  This short break can actually help process the information. Incorporating brain breaks… Read More »

If schools were permitted to have just one training, this is the one!

This training will help to raise test scores for your students, decrease discipline challenges, and improve classroom rapport. You will learn how to meet students where they are and lead them where they need to be, capture attention, and promote deeper learning.