We know that our English Language Learners make more progress with their language skills when they are intrinsically motivated. This is also true for most children. So...the key is to develop children who want to learn for the joy of learning. Just how can we do this without constantly handing out stickers and other little prizes?
Research tells us that three traits need to be encouraged. These are competence, relatedness, and self-determination. Competence is developed when we help children to believe they can accomplish something. We can encourage and support children to develop good relationships with one another. Finally, we should help children initiate and continue activities on their own (self-determination). These are important goals to keep in mind for both preschool and kindergarten teachers along with children's families.
How often do we ask children to work or play quietly? This may be counterproductive to developing intrinsic motivation. When children use private speech it shows they are engaged in something interesting. We want this! When children talk, this helps develop the three qualities described above.
We can and should set realistic goals and objectives for children. When what we are asking is within a child's developmental abilities, he or she is more likely to succeed. This encourages the development of competence. A child will have the self-determination to complete an activity that has reasonable and age-appropriate expectations. The child will continue the activity and hopefully talk about it because the success gives the child a good feeling. This increases the traits discussed above.
We should avoid giving children rewards for anything and everything. These rewards take the place of the internal pleasure the child feels when he or she is working toward accomplishing a task. The reward becomes the source of pleasure. While rewards can still be given in a preschool or kindergarten classroom, we should avoid giving them for activities that children already like and do well. We want the child to focus on the joy he or she gets from the activity rather than on receiving a sticker!
So, consider your use of rewards. How will you decide on handing out stickers? What can you change in your classroom to encourage more talk? Do some objectives need to be changed so that they are more realistic for the age? These are key questions as we assist children in developing intrinsic motivation.
NAEYC - 2.B.03. & 2.B.04.
Head Start - II.B. & C.