This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for
a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." (Chinese
One of the ideas that occurred to me as I thought about the quotation
is that if the person is starving, perhaps it might be best to first
give the person a fish to eat, and then begin to teach the person to
fish. Next, I formed an analogy with the situation of a teacher having
important information and a student lacking this information. Should
the teacher provide the information or should the teacher teach the
student some general or specific methods on how to find, learn, and
make use of information?
The student who asks, “Miss Johnson: Is
this the correct answer?” is in some sense “starving” for an answer. It
might be better to say the student is yearning for some immediate
feedback and possible gratification from the teacher responding, “Yes.”
In any case, a good teacher uses this situation as a teachable moment,
and the teacher provides the student with help in learning to “fish”
for (determine by himself or herself) whether the answer is correct,
incomplete, or incorrect.
Both the student and the teacher face
issues of immediate versus delayed gratification, and intrinsic versus
extrinsic motivation. Taken together, these issues are a major, ongoing
challenge to all people.
Some people seem to have a very strong (sometimes overwhelming)
desire to gain immediate gratification, while others are able to hold
this desire in check and to appropriately deal with delayed
Quite a bit of formal education involves delayed
gratification. Consider a six year old beginning to learn reading and
writing. Perhaps the child thinks or feels: “It is more fun to watch a
video than it is to practice reading. It is more fun to play a video
game than it is to practice writing.” As adults, we desperately want
the child to learning reading and writing, and we know that it will
take the child a great deal of effort over a long period of time to do
so. Similar comments are applicable to children learning math and other
academic subjects, sports, and so on.
Parents and teachers are
facing an uphill battle as computer games, television,
telecommunication systems, music storage and playback devices, and
social networking systems get better and better. All provide a high
level of relatively quick (often, nearly instant) gratification.
Moreover, many people and companies are working to make these products
and services provide even better quick gratification.
this is the steady barrage of advertising that most of us face. Many
ads are designed to encourage quick gratification behavior.
has been some interesting research on a type of delayed gratification
of young children. There is an excellent May 18, 2009 article about
gratification in The New Yorker
It describes research on the marshmallow test.
the marshmallow test, youngsters are tested on whether they can delay
eating a marshmallow (or some other "treat") in order to get two of the
treats 15 minutes later. Only about 1/3 of the four-year old US
children in the original research and 1/3 of the 4–6 year old Colombian
children in research on children in that country were able to delay for
15 minutes. Follow-up research on the US children 15 years later
indicated that all who were able to delay their gratification for 15
minutes had been quite successful as students and in other parts of
Research of this sort is continuing. One area being
explored is whether teaching young children techniques to fight against
giving in to immediate gratification may help them to become more
successful in school and later life. A Google search of KIPP
will identify some of the research being done in the
Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools.
You know a lot about motivation—what motivates you and what does
not motivate you. Think about your self-knowledge in terms of your
spending the time and effort to read this Newsletter. A few readers
might say, “I know Moursund and enjoy reading his writings. I read this
Newsletter just for the fun of it.” Other readers might say, “My course
instructor assigned this as required reading and indicated there would
be a test question drawn from this reading.” Perhaps some readers might
say, “I am really interested in improving myself as an educational
leader. I have found that the ideas in the Newsletter help me to
improve my educational leadership knowledge and skills.”
for fun illustrates intrinsic motivation. Reading because it is
required and will be on the test illustrates extrinsic motivation.
Reading for professional purposes often illustrates a combination of
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Many parents, caregivers,
and others who deal with children often use an extrinsic motivation
approach when they want a child to do something. “Eat your broccoli and
you can have dessert.” “Finish your homework assignment and you can
watch TV or play a computer game.” “Practice the piano for 30 minutes
and then you can go out and play with your friends.
examples, the adult offers a reward that is typically completely
unrelated to the purposes or goals underlying the desired behavior. In
each case, the adult has decided on a desired course of action for the
child. In each case the adult attempts to bribe the child. I believe
you can see that in these examples, the child is apt to be learning a
behavior problem that may last a lifetime. It is a behavior problem
based on expecting (requiring) extrinsic motivation. The adult actions
do not contribute to the child developing intrinsic motivation.
“I need an external motivation bribe” behavior pattern is likely to be
well entrenched before the child begins formal schooling in
kindergarten or the first grade. This presents a continuing problem for
the education system and for the student.
As students grow in
their cognitive development, they can receive explicit instruction
about the ideas of gratification and motivation discussed above. Every
parent and every teacher can contribute to this instruction. The
instructional approach might well involve metacognition. Children can
begin to learn to think about their thinking, actions, and consequences
well before them begin kindergarten.
The message and
recommendation in this issue of the IAE Newsletter is
simple. Our society is raising many children to want and to expect
instant gratification and extrinsic motivation. Delayed gratification
and intrinsic motivation are strongly related to success in school and
to responsible adult life in our society. Remember the adage, “It takes
a whole village to raise a child.” Each of us can contribute to helping
children learn to deal with delayed gratification and to helping them
to gain in their areas and levels of intrinsic motivation.
About Information Age
Information Age Education is a non-profit organization
improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE
is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology
museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki
with address http://IAE-pedia.org,
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