This a book I think everyone should read. People in business and people in education alike. In a nutshell, the premise is that people need autonomy and a sense of purpose to thrive and to therefore work at their most productive levels. I agree. I also agree that when you couple this concept with that of Pink’s previous book about how businesses that succeed in a highly technological, global economy are those with a creative edge, it’s more important that ever that schools and businesses understand the psychology of motivation.
I hesitate to say too much. I work in a place that runs on rules so far removed from the ideals described by Pink that I’m afraid I’ll get myself in trouble by even talking about how I think it should be or how this book applies to my own situation. I will say, however, that I think a lot of the challenges my workplace faces in becoming more of a purpose-driven environment are generated not so much by the school administration as by SACS, our accrediting agency. They’ve spent the past oh-so-many years putting us through what one of my colleagues calls “the educationalization of college.” We fill out paperwork now. That seems to be the job description that has superseded teaching.
But enough of that. I can’t do anything about it. It would be a waste of time to complain. What I do want to talk about is how the idea that autonomy and a sense of purpose are bigger motivators than money and rules applies to the administration of the individual classroom as much or more than to the administration of the faculty. Pink talks about this in the book. Grades are basically a lousy way to motivate anyone to learn.
This isn’t a new idea. Twenty years ago when I was first introduced to the concept of class portfolios this was what we talked about. Students learn when you give them room to create something they can feel proud of. A single essay isn’t going to give them that sense of satisfaction, especially if it immediately has a grade slapped on it that judges its value based on a predetermined set of rules. I still believe this is true. That’s why I’m trying to find ways to move back in the direction of portfolios.
At the university where we used a portfolio system, I taught two classes at a time (and took two classes) that had no more than 25 students in each class. I moved from there to a two-year college where I taught five, six, or seven classes at a time, often with 40 or more in each class. There was a strict set of rules about how many grades the students had to have for the semester, and a strict policy about grading based on grammar. I gave up on portfolios because I couldn’t envision how to make them work in that environment.
Still, I believe that the principles behind portfolio grading are the best I know of for actually teaching people anything about writing in a classroom setting. To be honest, I think people would learn more without the classroom. I’d rather teach writing like music is taught in private lessons and small groups. It would make more sense.
Alas, I accept that I’ll never teach at a school that will invest in offering FYC as a private lesson, but within the classroom parameters, I sure hope we can rethink how it’s done. Graded essay after graded essay after graded essay is a terrible way to expect anyone to learn. It strips students of the very sorts of intrinsic motivations discussed in Pink’s book. And if anything should be learned through a sense of self-motivation and purpose, that would be writing.