Thank goodness for the parents in my classroom. They are constantly on the look out for articles about play-based learning and sending them to me. I just received this fabulous one about motivation and learning and it begged to be passed on to you all. Dr. Mark Lepper, a professor at Stanford University, researched the effects of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on children’s play and developed the following theory:
“As Lepper noted, the British philosopher John Locke first observed in 1693 in Some Thoughts on Education that in teaching a child, care must be taken that learning never be made a business to him. “I’ve always had the fancy that learning might be made a play and a recreation to children, they might be brought to a desire to be taught if only learning were proposed to them as a thing of delight and recreation,” Locke wrote. Teachers — and parents — often unwittingly turn play into work, the source of a further unintended effect on intrinsic motivation. The longer children are in school, the less they seemed to be intrinsically motivated. Certainly, trappings such as grades and test scores become more important as children progress in school, but overall, such extrinsic motivation or rewards, stay fairly level. So, the final direction Lepper’s research took was a look into how to turn work into play and led to what he calls “The Five C’s.”
The first “C” for turning work into play is challenge. There is a lot of evidence that children — as well as the the rest of us — will seek out challenges, that if you give children tasks of different levels of difficulty, they’ll look for one of intermediate difficulty — the one where they’re not certain they’re going to succeed, but it’s not impossible. They think they can improve and learn and become better.
For the next “C,” remember children search for competence, evidence that they’ve accomplished something at a high level, or that they’ve improved. And they like to feel that they are personally responsible for their success, that it wasn’t just luck or the ease of the task. Only when the task is challenging do they begin to feel competence when they succeed, when they feel like effort, skill and ability entered into the success.
The third “C” is that people of all ages like to be in control. They like to feel like they’re in charge, that they’re determining their own fates. This is a particularly American or Western European concept.
The fourth “C” is curiosity. We often seek out things because we’re curious, because they’re mysterious and complex, things we sort of understand but not quite. The incongruity makes us want to learn more. Good teachers are adept at bringing out this sense of wonderment.
And finally, the fifth “C” is context, which refers to the fact that we often get great pleasure from engrossing ourselves in imaginary environments — listening to stories, reading books, going to movies, watching TV, playing video games. It’s not clear in the literature, Lepper says, precisely what the rewards are of identifying with characters, but it’s clearly a very powerful effect”.
For me, this article was another great reminder of why we choose to do what we do everyday, the way we do it: through play and inspiration and imagination, motivated by the joy of watching our children learn and be delighted all at the same time.