Non-traditional progressive approaches to parenting and education focus on " working with " children are informed by the Self Determination theory, a theory about human motivation, development and well-being. SDT does not see motivation as a unitary phenomenon, with differences only in magnitude. The question is not how to motivate people, but how are people motivated. If they are more intrinsically motivated identifying with the inherent value of the activity and find it interesting and enjoyable, they will be more engaged, persistent, and this will impact positively on their well-being. When the motivation is extrinsic as when they feel coerced, controlled or pressured into doing something or do not find value in what they are doing, people are less motivated, unengaged, less persistent and this impacts negatively on well-being. 40 years of research shared also by Alfie Kohn in the book Punished by Rewards has shown in the many domains of life when people's needs for autonomy (not to be confused with independence), competence and relatedness are met - people are self- determined, intrinsically motivated and experience a sense of vitality and well- being. Autonomy is not independence, but the feeling that my actions and words are volitional expressions of intentional choice and are endorsed at the highest level of reflection, and connected to my inner being. Competence is the feeling that one is competent to act affectively in the world and make a contribution to others. Relatedness is the feeling a sense of belonging to a group, a community, caring for others and being cared for.
Traditional approaches are informed by behaviorism and focus on" doing to " children with extrinsic motivators - rewards, punishments, praise, criticism, helping parents be more assertive, consistent and contingent in order to get compliance.
The consequences of autonomous motivation are that performance, wellness, interest and engagement are greater and can be maintained over a long period of time. Controlled or external motivation is doing something to get something else, to avoid punishment or negative feelings when the person feels pressured, demanded of, and obliged. In the short term, a promise of reward or a threat of punishment are very powerful motivators but in the longer term they undermine intrinsic motivation, performance and well-being.
People are often involved in tasks which are often not inherently interesting or enjoyable, yet they identify with the underlying value and purpose of the activity. This is called identified and integrated regulation. One would be willing to subject oneself to a security check at the airport because one identifies with the value and purpose of the check. You could be motivated to change your life style because of your health issues, learn new skills or mathematics because they would be necessary for a dream job, or you may even believe that it is important to know mathematics or change your life style. People may have even assimilated and integrated the goals and values into their personalities, yet while they see value, they have no interest in changing a life style or learning mathematics for its own sake and they don't find mathematics or the different life style pleasurable. Externally regulated behavior is the least autonomous and is performed to get a reward, praise, avoid punishment and negative consequences, comply with a demand. Introjected regulated behavior comes from a sense of ‘‘ought-to,” shame, ego, or other social pressures associated with a task. It is " internally " controlling. This form of regulation is brought about by contingent self- esteem and by a desire not to seem incapable in the eyes of classmates, or to receive approval positive regard from parents or teachers. It is internal like the drive for " perfectionism " or being a "work alcoholic ". While this is internally driven, introjected behavior has an external perceived locus of causality, or not coming from one's true inner -self, like externally regulated behavior. Since the causality of the behavior is perceived as external, the behavior is considered non-self-determined. Intrinsic regulation is characterized as a belief that the learning task is stimulating and interesting, that accomplishment in and of itself is worthwhile, and that studying and knowing new things is pleasurable.
The process of becoming more autonomously and intrinsically motivated is called internalization. Internalizing the value and relevance of a task or behavior occurs when the basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are supported.
Many educators are aware that punishment, consequences and threats are counterproductive. Making children suffer is unlikely to help children become ethical, compassionate decision makers and generates anger, defiance, and a desire for revenge, it models the use of power rather than reason and ruptures the important relationship between adult and child. Carrots in the form of rewards, incentives and praise, turn out to be no more effective than sticks at helping children to become caring, responsible people or lifelong, self-directed learners. So why do rewards fail.? When anything is presented as a prerequisite for something else - do this task and you can get that – the task comes to be seen as less desirable. Rewards are usually experienced as controlling and we don't like it when the things we desire are used as levers to control our behaviors. There is a tendency to associate any success to the reward and without the reward the person would not have done the task. The message the child infers is, “This must be something I wouldn’t want to do; otherwise they wouldn’t have to bribe me to do it or praise me when I do it or the activity itself is not worth doing for its own sake , so the only reason I am doing it is for the reward.” Thus Rewards reduce interest and intrinsic motivation in the task. Extrinsic motivation co-opts intrinsic motivation and this is most profound when rewards are stopped, as kids have no longer a reason to do the task. Kids who were invited to play with another child so that they could get access to his toys or were offered cookies for playing with the child, were less interested in playing with the other child on future occasions. Studies showed when kids were received a reward for evaluating puzzles or an unknown drink, those who did not receive a reward developed a taste for the drink and did not want to stop playing with the puzzles, while those who were offered the reward stopped playing as soon as they received the reward and when offered free drinks at a later date, those who were paid to drink, did not take up the offer while those who did not receive the reward took the free drinks. Students, meanwhile, become less excited about learning once they’ve been given a grade or some other reward. The focus is now on extrinsic performance goals rather than finding interest, purpose and meaning in the learning. Kids will only learn for a test and if work is graded. This leads to avoiding challenging tasks and has a negative effect on creative thinking, long-term retention, and internalization. Awards for attendance to counter increasing absenteeism have the opposite effect. While attendance increases at the beginning because of the chance of getting award, the effect wears off and when the awards are no longer given, attendance decreases. Even when awards for attendance were given unexpectedly for good attendance, attendance thereafter decreased. Giving kids an award for attendance instead of helping them find good reasons to want to come to school not only reduces interest but has also gives the unintended message that they are better than the norm and this gives them a license to miss school in the future. Just like praising a kid for effort gives a message that he is a loser so does giving an award for something expected like attendance. Rewards are addictive -The problem with rewards is that they are addictive and kids become very dependent on them. The only reason why kids do or do not do things is to get a reward or avoid punishment. Because kids are so unmotivated we repeatedly need to offer rewards which again reduces interest in the task. The problem is also that when rewards co-opt intrinsic motivation and preclude intrinsic satisfaction, the extrinsic needs become stronger in themselves. Thus people develop stronger extrinsic needs as substitutes for more basic, unsatisfied needs. They end up behaving as if they were addicted to extrinsic rewards. The claim that we need to use rewards because a task is uninteresting or kids are unmotivated is just fueling the situation and the last thing we should be doing is giving rewards because they undermine interest. Promising a reward to someone who is unmotivated or demotivated is like offering salt water to someone who is thirsty, it's not the solution, it's the problem. Rewards do motivate. Rewards motivate kids to get more rewards. Rewards impact negatively on achievement Groups that were rewarded if they were successful at solving a puzzle, writing a poem or doing something creatively did worse than those who received no reward. When people put off doing something — which often happens when a task seems unappealing — a reward offered for finishing early either didn’t help or actually led to increased procrastination. Rewards interfere with moral and spiritual development, commitment to values. A number of studies, for example, have shown that children are apt to become less concerned about others’ well-being if they were rewarded earlier for helping or sharing. When the rewards stop, people usually return to the way they acted before the program to promote being generous and sharing began. Children whose parents make frequent use of rewards tend to be less generous than their peers. A child promised a treat for being generous and acting responsibly has been given every reason to stop doing so when there is no longer a reward to be gained. Rewards promote cheating to get more rewards. Kids learn to ask what will I get or with punishments, what will be done to me, instead of asking what kind of person do I want to be, does my behavior reflect my values?. Rewards ignore reasons. Instead of helping children find meaning and reasons why they should do certain things or behave, their motivation becomes the reward. Instead of dealing with underlying problems we give rewards which only get temporary compliance and only compensate for lagging skills. Rewards don't teach skills. Rewards punish. The carrot becomes the stick when kids don't get the reward. Rewards punish because they are experienced as controlling. Rewards rupture relationships -They focus on individualism; create competition and conflict between kids where complaints of unequal treatment and playing favorites are common. It interferes with efforts to promote collaboration, cooperative learning and a sense of community which improves the quality of learning. Rewards also interfere with a genuine and trusting relationship with a teacher where a kid feels safe to be open, expose his vulnerability, admit mistakes and ask for help when problems develop. It is the judgmental nature of rewards and praise that encourages kids to try and impress and curry favor with the person handing out the rewards. Rewards are a tool for ' doing to ' kids, control and manipulation through seduction, rather than ' working with ' kids in an unconditional way. Kids feel valued and accepted only if they behave as they are told and do well in school.
A discussion focusing on informational feedback and encouragement for future progress is much better than praise or a reward. Rewards like those given on computer games are experienced as informational revealing kid's level of competence and future opportunities available to improve competence support intrinsic motivation. Perceived competence only helps intrinsic motivation when the kid feels autonomous. Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners when the focus is on competence and not performance and competition as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what and how and why they are learning.