Thursday, February 24, 2011

Making learning relevant , learning by doing

Teachers are often looking for ways to motivate students to be successful in school. Unfortunately they rely on extrinsic motivators like grades or  a little bit better helping kids to redefine their ' possible selves '. Kids are shown that brain size and intelligence is something one can change through effort . So  having a ' growth mindset '  makes one more resilient and helps one to overcome obstacles , setbacks and realize personal aims and goals , therebby realizing ' their possible selves' .

This approach ignores the ' intrinsic value ' of learning and education and just sees school as a stepping stone to higher education, a job , or a diploma.

Kids can be very motivated by these personal aims and goals. But when the goal becomes the sole motivator , there is every  reason why kids will avoid challenging assignments and even cheat in order to get a good grade or diploma.

In a school environment where there is little choice , teachers can still focus on helping kids be intrinsically motivated to learn by showing how the learning is relevant to their lives, interests and needs. In an article quoted below ' Avi Assor ' says that Choice is good but relevance is excellent.

Assor et al, Choice is good , relevance is excellent

'The emphasis on relevance-fostering as an important autonomy-supportive

behaviour is consistent with Ryan and Deci’s (2000; Deci et al., 1996) view concerning

the contextual features that promote the experience of self-determination in schoolwork and other human activities. Thus, self-determination theorists do not necessarily

assume that most school activities should or can be intrinsically motivated (see Deci et

al., 1996). Rather, they view many of those activities as having an extrinsic origin.

However, they also assume that, under autonomy-supportive conditions, those

activities can be internalised, and therefore can be experienced as fairly autonomous

despite their initial extrinsic source.

To foster the relevance of schoolwork for children, teachers need to take an

empathic-active role in relation to their students. This role requires the teacher first to

understand students’ goals, interests and needs, and then to link school tasks to those

goals, interests and needs. The emphasis on an empathic-active approach that aims to

enhance the relevance of schoolwork is consistent with Ryan’s claim that adolescents’

need for autonomy should not be identified with the need for independence, and

certainly not detachment, from parents (Ryan, 1993; Ryan & Lynch, 1989).'

WE need to create a school environment where kids can generate their own choices and are guided by teachers who help them make their learning meaningful and relevant.

So to summarize we need CHOICE and RELEVANCE to foster kid's intrinsic motivation for learning.

But if we take a look of the Deci & Ryan definition of to be self- determined , we see that ACTIONS , and freedom TO DO is important.

' To be self-determined is to endorse one's actions at the highest level of reflection.'

'When self determined people experience a sense of freedom to do what is interesting , personally important and vitalizing'

Too often school is a passive activity , throwing back information when taking ' standardized tests' .

Deborah Meier said – ' teaching is mainly about listening and learning is mainly about talking' - and through the process of collaboration kids can ' construct modern knowledge ' by doing and most important construct their own meaning and relevance. Kids not only Learn by Doing ,  experience and produce learning, but find the activities meaningful and intrinsically motivating. This is why Project Based Learning PBL is the way to go

Project Based Learning - You tube

It is unlikely that teachers can pass on a love for learning in an high stakes standardized testing environment , but at least in the lower grades teachers can focus on real learning and try to make learning relevant to kids . It thus becomes important to share how SDT principles are implemented in the classroom. Here is a recommended blog post by Josh Stumpenhorst.

Resigning from teaching


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Health incentives - SDT, CPS , 12 steps

A attitude amongst politicians and some behavioral economists is to give money directly to people contingent on them getting good scores on health tests - for eg loosing weight or quitting smoking. This they say is more effective than spending on health services aimed at helping people lose weight or quit smoking. Companies are also giving incentives to employees to get good scores with their weight or smoking issues.

In an article –" Can incentives make us healthier "?, Alfie Kohn shares a SDT perspective why incentives not only don't work but may make things worse . He has a link in the article to a review of the research on incentives and health, and a link to a one hour talk on incentives in general and health issues in particular. I highly recommend the talk.

Can incentives make us healthier ? Alfie Kohn

A better approach is to use working with approaches rather than ' doing to ' people- trying to motivate them and ' incentivize ' them. CPS – collaborative problem solving addresses the underlying factors and the intrinsic concerns of people , gives them skills and fosters caring relationships. MI – motivational interviewing does the same. CPS and MI satisfy the SDT needs of autonomy , competence and relatedness.

Incentives undermine autonomy, competence and relatedness of peole trying to loose weight or quit smoking.


1 people feel ' being controlled and manipulated'

2 no commitment to the intrinsic value of ' wellness or healthy life styles'


1 people attribute their success to the reward, they begin to think of themselves as extrinsically motivated.

2 rewards impair creative and exploratory thinking by narrowing focus especially on tasks which require attention to quality and thinking.

3 rewards make people less cooperative , not sharing information or helping each other. This is even more problematic when rewards are made scarce – awards in a competitive environment. Their success is measured against others and dependent on the failure of others.

4 Focus is on ' behavior ' and money and not the intrinsic concerns and problems that are getting in the way of the person.

5 Rewards give the message that the valueor program  is not intrinsically worthwhile. We would not being involved if it was not for the money.


Relatedness refers to the people giving the rewards, others in the program and the program itself

1 people feel controlled by the people giving the rewards . Rewards turn people into objects - you do to them - incentivize them ' , rather than working with them

2 It shows lack of trust. People would not try or do their best if it was not for the reward.

3 Rewards set up competition and non-cooperation between members of the program.

4 Rewards negate the promotion of a ' caring community and support groups ' by focusing on rewards individuals are getting.

5 Rewards convert the value of ' wellness' from a social norm, a value into an economic norm. One relates to ' quitting smoking or losing weight ' in terms of money or economic benefit. So the decisions are made on whether the program is economically justified , how much money we will make. Instead the focus should be on converting money and other resources into '  experiences '  and processes ' , investing in wellness and a healthy lifestyle. To use a term from Eric Fromm  - To Be or to Have , rewards  foster a'  to have '  mindset , rather than a ' to Be ' mindset .

This reminds of the ' neighbour ' who approached a kid to take care of his dog , while he was overseas.
Neighbour asks the the kid -  How much - for looking after my dog while I am away
Kid - I am willing to pay  $10

6 The focus is on ' results ' - losing weight or quitting smoking and not on the process , a healthy lifestyle and a commitment to wellness..

The process – a healthy life style and a commitment to ' wellness' is a life time commitment.

The mistake people make is not to think of dieting as a life time activity.

In order to be successful in dieting people need to be competent in providing alternative meals that replace existing habits , have time for exercise , have the support of family , be involved in support groups ( for life ) and feel autonomous in their decisions. They have to deal with the underlying issues of the smoking or weight gain. Even if we stick to a diet and work out , if we are stressed out we will still gain weight. The hormone cortisol converts muscle into fat to help us deal with stress.

Cortisol and weight gain

There are many supports groups that use the ' 12 steps program' . It is not what you eat , but what's eating you that is making you put on weight.

Here is a link to an online support group. I am sharing ' working the steps ' of a leader called ' Lawrie' , the 3rd quarter of 2008 .

Working the 12 steps recovery group
The recovery group 2008 , 3rd qter- Lawrie


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Changing Paradigms Part 2-Selling the idea / asking questions

Marketing and sales people are beginning to recognize ' SDT' principles. They are learning that aggressive selling might make a sale , but does not produce committed clients who will be regular buyers of your product. When you help a customer perceive his purchase as an ' autonomous decision that meets needs that you have helped him to identify , that he has made a competent and well informed choice and feels related and supported by the sales person , you have created a regular and committed customer.

The same goes for selling ideas or approaches to parenting, education or care in treatment facilities.

The last thing we want to do is lecture or tell what CPS/SDT is all about . We have to be sales people and use a ' selling by attraction ' plan , so people sell CPS to themselves.

We can use CPS with them to address their concerns. We need to rely on the 'power of questions' so we are directing the conversation , but they are doing the speaking and we the listening.

So we are the ones who ask the questions and when we give answers we end off with a question . We need to ask questions in a way that leads to a ' yes' answer.

Here are some questions

Would you not agree that kids would prefer to do well , be successful and fit in adaptively ?

If kids are looking bad – hitting, screaming, yelling, throwing, biting etc is it logical to say that they prefer ' looking bad' to being successful and adaptive ? Attention seeking , trying to get what you want , or avoid doing things are one explanation for their behavior , but don't we all seek attention, try and get what we want , or avoid certain things ? Would not the difference be that we have the skills to get attention, what we want and avoid things in an adaptive and appropriate way , whereas these kids don't have these skills , wouldn't this be a more accurate explanation ? When a kid does not complete his tasks, and we call him lazy or defiant we are offering only one explanation. But even if we accept this premise , where do we take it ? How does defining the problem of laziness or defiance help us and the kid. Will 'making him ' want to cooperate or do his tasks deal make him less lazy or less defiant ? What's going on in his brain when we use carrots and sticks to control him ? What lesson or skills is he learning ? Would you not agree that what matters is the lessons kids learn and not what we think we are teaching them ?

For the last 30 years the researchers Deci and Ryan ( see Alfie Kohn's writings) have been exploring human motivation . Would you not agree that their findings are logical , that when people can direct their lives and feel that they are acting in an autonomous way they are likely to be more intrinsically motivated and committed to what they are doing than being manipulated by levels , rewards etc , do you agree ? Would you not agree that engaging kids in thinking and reflection will help their acquire life skills ? Would you not agree that kids learn to trust care givers when they help them come up with a better plan rather than punish them ? Would you not agree that incentives and rewards send a message to a kid , that we don't trust them to do their best without being bribed ? Would you not agree that a close and trusting relationship leads to better learning ? Would you not agree that helping kids articulate their concerns , hear your perspectives , solve problems in a collaborative way , reflect on the impact he is having on others rather than what's going to happen to him , a better way of empowering him than rewards or punishments ?


Changing paradigms to a CPS/ SDT way of thinking - Part 1

One of the difficult challenges facing parents of challenging kids is advocating for their children and dealing with the school system. Parents have the task of changing the perceptions of staff and help them make a paradigm shift - We no longer believe that 'children do well if they want to ' , but see things through different lenses -' Children do well if they can ' and when they are not being successful the problem is not one of motivation but lacking skills.  One parent who understands the benefits of CPS may have the same challenge in helping a spouse make the paradigm shift. Staff who are trying to introduce Collaborative Problem Solving at hospitals and other facilities have the same difficulties as parents dealing with schools trying to convince other staff members.

I believe that the fear of relinquishing tools of control and seduction and focusing on one's ability to reach out to a kid and ' work with ' them is getting in their way of staff in these facilities, parents or teachers.

Traditionally, the focus of treatment in treatment facilities is medication and treating the symptoms with behavior modification. It is much easier ' doing to ' a kid than ' working with ' them. It also gives you a feeling that you are doing something – give meds , behavior charts , points and levels - you have 'data '. The pursuit of data gets in the way in helping kids meet their essential needs and treat them with compassion and empathy.

Suffering at the hands of autism – from ' share your story '

My son is injured, I try to imagine his suffering

16 years of "services" and all he has to show are labels

Oppositional, Defiant, Noncompliant

They want to know the function of his behavior:


Am I the only one who can see he has no effective or reliable

communication skills?

Data collection gets in the way

of compassion and empathy.

There I said it.

So what does this ' data' tell us . We can conclude that the meds are working or not , or we need more ( of what's not working ) extrinsic motivation. Rewards etc that seem to work , have a problem that they may make a kid look good in the short-term but have no impact on long term measures, generalization and commitment to values. Behavior modification and medication treat behaviors. This is so much easier , much less of a responsibility than to treat the whole child , engage his personality and thinking , drill down with questions so you understand his concerns, and build trust etc.

So how do we get teachers and therapeutic staff to move away from rewards, consequences etc. ?

We need to help parents, teachers and staff to focus on the long term goals we have for kids and not just getting kid's compliance in the short term. We need to help caregivers see their role as helping kids meet essential needs of ' autonomy, competence and relatedness.' - SDT Self Determination Theory

Alfie Kohn says ' In my workshops for parents I like to start off asking, “What are your long-term objectives for your children? What word or phrase comes to mind to describe how you’d like them to turn out, what you want them to be like once they’ve grown?”

Take a moment to think about how you would answer that question. When I invite groups of parents to come up with the most important long-term goals they have for their kids, I hear remarkably similar responses across the country. The list produced by one audience was typical: These parents said they wanted their children to be happy, balanced, independent, fulfilled, productive, self-reliant, responsible, functioning, kind, thoughtful, loving, inquisitive, and confident.

Is what we’re doing consistent with what we really want? Are my everyday practices likely to help my children grow into the kind of people I’d like them to be? Will the things I just said to my child at the supermarket contribute in some small way to her becoming happy and balanced and independent and fulfilled and so on–or is it possible (gulp) that the way I tend to handle such situations makes those outcomes less likely? '

Alfie Kohn is questioning why parents and parenting literature focus on compliance and quick fixes, and is pointing out that docility and short-term obedience are not what most parents desire of their children in the long run.

'Teachers and schools tend to mistake good behavior for good character. What they prize is docility, suggestibility; the child who will do what he is told; or even better, the child who will do what is wanted without even having to be told. They value most in children what children least value in themselves. Small wonder that their effort to build character is such a failure; they don't know it when they see it. '

- John Holt

How Children Fail


Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Kitchen classroom

The core belief of CPS – collaborative problem solving approach is that children do well if they can and the preferred choice is to be successful , adaptive and act in an effective and appropriate way. They display a lack various cognitive skills especially when the demands placed on these skills outstrip their coping skills and leave us with many unsolved problems.

The problem solving process does many things - it solves outstanding problems, trains the various cognitive skills on-the-job , in the real environment and of course improves the relationship between care giver and child.

We don't have to just focus on unsolved problems to train the various cognitive skills . Cognitive skills can be learned and trained when we collaborate with kids in day-to-day living. If we engage their thinking, support their autonomy and try to find as many opportunities as possible to engage them and work with them , we then promote these ' dynamic ' cognitive skills. A big advantage of these activities is that they are non-emotive and can be fun. Problem solving often comes along with ' emotional baggage' and stress.

RDI ' relationship development intervention ' focuses on promoting thinking and other cognitive and communication skills when the care giver guides the child by collaborating in real life activities. The approach is being used for many behavioral challenging kids including kids on the autism spectrum. Instead of teaching skills in a top-down clinical way so the skills are static, skills learned in the context of a relationship and real life experiences are dynamic.

I have written about RDI  - september 2010

An example of this, is using the ' Kitchen as a classroom'. Collaboration in the kitchen teaches so many skills -

executive functions - planning , organizing , making space , consequential, sequential thinking , problem solving , buying , cleaning up

social skills , cognitive flexibility - perspective taking , taking into account other people's view

language processing skills etc

It can also be important one on one time , where general chatting and perspective taking around the kitchen activity also promotes connection and relationship.

Here is a blog post by the author of ' The kitchen as a classroom '. She is a mom of a child on the autism spectrum and uses RDI with her son around day-to-day activities

Cooking our way through RDI