Monday, October 31, 2011

Comptence - Recognitions - SDT 2

In order to understand the role that recognitions play in meeting a kid's need for competence, and in general how we can promote competence in kids , I decided to share here Alfie Kohn on competence from his classic ' Punished by Rewards'.

When we give school kids ' recognitions' for their achievements we ought to boost interest in learning  tasks since 'recognitions ' offer evidence that a job has been done well, which makes the kid feel competent, which in turn is highly motivating .
According to the research however, 'recognitions' have a negative impact on intrinsic motivation. The problem is that they are judgmental and controlling. They are destructive of autonomy because not only control what kids can do but how well they have to do it.
 When we comment , compliment, or recognize what kids have done we need to keep in mind  2 principles .
 Self Determination

– do the comments help the kid feel a sense of control over his life, encouraging him to reflect and make his own judgments of what constitutes a good performance or are we attempting to manipulate his behavior by getting him to think about whether he has met our criteria?

Intrinsic motivation -

  Do our comments trigger kids to become more deeply involved in what he is doing – improving competence  or do they turn the task into something he does to win approval or prove his competence.?

The problem with feedback , -even when it is done right – informational in a neutral tone- , is that it can be interpreted as verbal praise when it is positive feedback ,or criticism when it is negative feedback. It is not easy to strip the information from its emotional weight and this is especially difficult for kids who are less intrinsically motivated. Instead of criticism, we can frame the interaction as cps – collaborative problem solving focusing on solving problems and finding ways to improve. Instead of kids using our positive feedback to experience a ' good feeling '  of perceived competence ( which in any case lasts only for 2 minutes ), we can help them regard feedback as information they can use in the process of learning.

The way to go is to bring kids in on the evaluation process that focuses on the learning process rather than achievement. They can participate in determining the criteria by which their learning can be assessed and have them do much of the actual assessment as is practical. Ak quotes Mark Lepper – that to a considerable one's perception of competence at an activity will depend on .. whether one has to succeed by his or her own standards or by someone else's.

It is important that kids get informational, non-evaluative feedback about their academic progress and classroom conduct but more important to motivation is to provide them opportunities to learn new skills, improve their existing skills and to acquire and demonstrate competence. Demonstrating competence is more about the process , proving competence is more about achievement , grades and awards. And of course the content – curriculum should try to be engaging, enjoyable, meaningful and relevant. Competence can be improved across many skills but having a variety of tasks that require different skills and provide the right amount of challenge. In this way we give kids an opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment. That feeling of having worked at something and mastered it , of being competent, is an essential ingredient of successful learning. And, as one researcher notes ' classrooms that provide a variety of concrete activities for many learning ability levels do not need reward stickers or praise to encourage learning.

I prefer that schools focus on helping kids improve and learn new skills- acquiring a  growth mindset ( rather than be busy proving competence ) ,  be given opportunities to give expression to these skills in meaningful ways and participate in assessing the process, their contributions and work.

The questions of self worth, esteem and accomplishment are relevant when they are missing. When they exist, we don't think about them and if we do , they are just moments of good feeling. Maybe it is also about a confidence that a kid with a growth mindset has when attempting new tasks and challenges but still it is focusing on me as a  process.

The important thing to note according to AK is that  it's true that recognition isn't always extrinsic, it's also true that competence doesn't always require recognition (from others) and the two ideas shouldn't be conflated.  We run the risk of that conflation when we overlook the substantial difference between recognition from others and from oneself.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recognitions – Behaviorism & Self Determined Theory/ CPS

A Canadian school district – New Brunswick is using Self Determination Theory to promote mental  fitness of students. In a poster the needs for 'competence, autonomy and relatedness' are also presented as recognition=competence, choice= autonomy and belonging= relatedness. 

The words choice and belonging can be used in a discussion about autonomy and relatedness. Recognition however , may impact on 'perceived competence'  but in the absence of meeting objective needs for competence ,  giving recognition is more about  behaviorist practices , extrinsic motivation  than SDT .


'I have abilities, strengths and gifts that are recognized by myself and others. When I use them to meet goals and help others I feel a sense of accomplishment and worth.'

I have reservations about using the word recognition.

 Recognition is another word for verbal rewards like praise, awards or actual rewards given in recognition for ' good jobs'. The problem with recognitions is that they are judgmental and controlling.

The idea is that when we ' catch children being good' and   we  recognize their achievements , behavior is reinforced , and they will be encouraged to behave and do well at school.

There is also the belief that children do well if they want to.  They have an 'inner wealth'  which  is hidden by a lack of motivation ,self esteem or belief. All one needs to do is change a kid's perceived competence by praising them as much as possible and creating an illusion of success by setting up the kid to be successful.

The question is asked -  should we not recognize ' excellence', provide feedback and encouragement. ?

We can respond without any evaluative comments about the kid and focus on what the kid is doing – the process, being very specific on what we notice, asking the kid questions like ' why did you decide to end the essay this way or how did you feel when you helped your friend.

Typical school recognitions are done in public, focus on the kid, often using comparisons /competition to encourage other kids as well. Phony praise with lots of energy is used as a deliberate strategy.  Instead we can show warmth, support and encouragement by being genuine.

According to CPS , the  collaborative problem solving approach – children do well if they can . They are not doing well , not because they lack ' perceived competence' , but actually lack skills that enable them to be more flexible and adaptive in school settings. If we want kids to have ' mental health fitness '  - they need to be competent and have the skills needed to be successful. 

Actual competence is the meat , perceived competence is just the spice.

According to SDT , the less extrinsic motivation we use and the more we use ' understatement' , neutral descriptive language we leave room for the kid to come to his own conclusions . This allows him to  internalize the message and  thereby become  more self determined and intrinsically motivated.


I feel that I belong and am connected to important relationships that support and encourage me. I also support and encourage others in spirit and action.

Perceived competence also fits in here. Feedback, support and encouragement are  very much part of a caring community. Kids need to feel they are accepted for who they are, rather than how they behave or how well they do academically. This is what we call ' unconditional acceptance and love. Typical school recognitions give the kid a message that they are only valued when they perform  -  acceptance is contingent on their behavior.

It is great to talk about values such as community and belonging, but schools need the structures that give expression to this.  School structures are usually competitive and focus on the individual. In a co-operative learning environment, where there are no grades or ranking kids against each other ,  the structure promotes belonging , relatedness and caring


'I have a voice and I am able to make decisions about things that are important to me and others. Others support me in my choices'

Traditional schools and parenting sometimes talk about giving choices. The idea is that when you give choices , kids are most likely to comply with teachers' demands.  Here giving choices is what CPS calls Plan A – adult will.  Do it my way -   A, B, or C.  Choices that give expression to autonomy are not pseudo choices , but like the ones described in the poster -  giving the kid a chance to generate choices , not just choose from options provided by teachers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Negative behaviors - one self as an object - SDT

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   - Deci and Ryan

Self Determination theory examines factors which affect our intrinsic motivation to engage in positive and meaningful behavior.

What about negative behavior ?  Can  people who are involved in negative behaviors be also intrinsically motivated ?

B -  People who are self determined are connected to their inner beings , reflect on their actions on  higher levels and try to inject values and meaning when engaging the world. 

They are 'subjects' who give of themselves , rather than objects.

When people are involved in drugs , negative sexual relationships , unhealthy eating etc they are not self determined or intrinsically motivated. Why not ?  Do they not find drugs , eating and sex intrinsically rewarding ?

 They do get pleasure    --------   but as objects .

Their actions are not an expression of freedom and choice but the drugs, sex and food create an illusion of a need. When we put a packet of sweets before a kid , the all powerful candy makes the choice, not the kid, the kid is merely being manipulated . 

This is not being self determined or a subject , but an object . When we use rewards or other extrinsic motivators we turn people into objects. A choice made by an ' object ' is not an expression of freedom and choice.

( Here imho SDT differs from Glasser's Choice theory , Glasser seeing the man=object making a choice )

People can become subjects even when it comes to very physical activities like eating, drinking , having sex or other activities that care of our physical survival .

 When they imbue these activities with dignity , values, caring for others and spirituality , they connect with their inner beings and operate in a self determined way.  If we operate only on a physical dimension we are essentially objects being fed, stimulated etc

ON second thoughts if we deny that people have a divine spark or soul, we could say that there inner beings are the source of their values and the actions of these evil people , like genocide may be  intrinsically motivated.

Negative behaviors and intrinsic motivation - SDT

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   - Deci and Ryan

Self Determination theory examines factors which affect our intrinsic motivation to engage in positive and meaningful behavior.

 Can  people who are involved in negative behaviors be also intrinsically motivated ?

A - negative behaviors are an expression of the unmet SDT needs  - autonomy , competence- lagging skills and relatedness 

B Being self determined we operate on higher levels as subjects not objects -( see next blog article )

  I think Ross Greene's Collaborative problem solving approach for challenging children -  compatible with SDT -  can offer some insight.  

CPS says that children do well if they can ,- the same I believe goes for adults - they would prefer to be successful and adaptive , so their negative behaviors and problems are a product of demands placed on the kid that outstrip their skills in the context of unmet needs or concerns.

In other words negative behavior happens when the basic needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are not met. Positive behavior occurs when these needs are being met.

Greene's says our interventions will hinge on the function we attribute to negative behavior - Lost at School 

' For the unfamiliar, a functional assessment (sometimes called a functional analysis) is a procedure through which the function (causes, purposes, goals) of a kid’s challenging behavior is identified. Though FBAs are common in schools, the information gathered through and inferences drawn from a functional analysis vary depending on the orientation, training, and experience of the evaluator conducting the procedure.

A core assumption guiding most FBAs is that maladaptive behavior is “working” for a kid by allowing him to “get” something desirable (e.g., attention, peer approval) or “escape” or “avoid” something undesirable (e.g., a difficult, tedious, unpleasant task). 

The belief that challenging behaviors are somehow “working” for a kid leads many adults to the conclusion that those behaviors are purposeful -- what might be referred to as the intentionality attributional bias -- and this can set the stage for misguided statements such as, “It must be working for him or he wouldn’t be doing it.” This mentality invariably sets the stage for interventions aimed at punishing kids’ challenging behaviors so the behaviors don’t “work” anymore, and rewarding adaptive replacement behaviors to encourage ones that “work” better. This is the foundation of most school discipline programs.

But this definition of “function” reflects what I call the “first pass” of a functional assessment. There’s an indispensable “second pass” – a deeper level of analysis – that, regrettably, often goes neglected: What lagging skills account for why the kid is getting, avoiding, and escaping in such a maladaptive fashion? This question springs from the core mentality of the CPS model (Kids do well if they can) and from the assumption that if a kid could get, escape, or avoid in an adaptive fashion – in a way that “worked” without causing all the misery that accompanies his challenging behavior – he surely would. When one is focused on the “second pass” of a functional assessment, it becomes clear that the essential function of challenging behavior is to communicate to adults that a kid doesn’t possess the skills to handle certain challenges under certain conditions. This belief sets the stage for interventions aimed at teaching lagging cognitive skills and helping kids solve the problems that are precipitating their challenging behavior