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Motivation and lying

The juxtaposition in the title of motivation and lying, meaning cheating, not lying on the grass, probably sounds a bit strange to many of you. I hope as a result the juxtaposition has aroused your curiosity. I also hope that by the end of my blog you will understand the connections between lying and motivation.

I just read an article called The whole truth in the 13 September 2019 edition of the Guardian Weekly. Amit Katwala gets our attention in the 4th line of a 4 page article when we are told that “The average person hears up to 200 lies a day. . .”

But that was just to me the first shock. The second one was when we read the research on ways to detect lies.The polygraph, or lie detector machine, has been used for almost a century. Yet its reliability is very, very low. Many who lie are not detected and many who are telling the truth are detected as liars. In spite of the dismal record of the reliability of the machine it is still used around the world!

Just as I finished The whole truth I read a draft article about the use of computer activities to enhance language learning. The author spends the first few pages quoting excerpts about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation which he found in a few of the most widely used methods books in ESOL.

He then tries to fit his activities into the extrinsic or intrinsic boxes. The way he desired the activities learners get comments like Well done if they do the activity correctly, extrinsic motivation. But he shows that the activities arouse the curiosity of learners so he covers the intrinsic motivation box as well.

I said his article would be stronger if he forgot about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I told him to video the students doing the activities and describe what they did with the aid of transcripts and describe their facial expressions and level of engagement. “Let the data speak” was the mantra I urged him to follow.

Why? Well, first because I think we learn more by analyzing what students do than be trying to fit what they do without many examples into preconceived notions of learning.

Second, I think that the idea that the complexity of learning can be fit into two categories does not describe reality.

Do we have only one emotion, motivation, divided into two types? What about liking the teacher or not liking the teacher, liking the subject or not liking the subject, anger about a conversation with another student before class, a headache, hot, humid weather, the buzzing sound from fluorescent lights in the classroom, inability to hear what the teacher or fellow students are saying because of a cold that has stopped up the ears, bullying in between classes, hunger, fatigue because of caring for a sick mother all night, etc. You can think of many other variables that influence learning.

Why do schools in poor neighborhoods usually produce fewer good readers than those in rich neighborhoods? Because the teachers do not balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

Single variables versus multiple causation is the bane of not only our field but many. “Lock up the drug users and the drug trade will wither.” Well in countries where drugs have been decriminalized and clinics set up, treatment provided for psychological problems, jobs provided, classes established to teach what learners what to learn–singing, welding, horticulture, etc.–drug use has gone down as well as crime. Thousands are killed in Mexico and other countries because of the illegal drug trade. Banks hold billions of dollars of drug money.

In Small changes in teaching I say a huge flaw in teacher preparation programs is that we do not encourage teachers to be skeptical, to explore alternatives and analyze the results. Do not believe anything I say or anyone else says! So many claims are repeated over and over in article after article and methods book after methods book with no questioning as if people are learning the catechism of the Catholic Church by rote.

If you want a dose of reality read Alfie Kohn. Here are some comments he wrote about testing which is like the war on drugs–intended to improve life but destroys many lives. Unrelated directly to motivation or lying but related non the less.

The purveyors of Tougher Standards had won, and therefore the students had lost.
Five Fatal Flaws
The Tougher Standards movement is fatally flawed in five separate ways.
1. It gets motivation wrong. Most talk of standards assumes that students ought to be thinking constantly about improving their performance. This single-minded concern with results turns out to be remarkably simplistic. The assumption that achievement is all that counts overlooks a substantial body of psychological research suggesting that a focus on how well one is doing is very different from a focus on WHAT one is doing. Moreover, a preoccupation with performance often undermines interest in learning, quality of learning, and a desire to be challenged. (For more on this point, see “The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement.”)
2. It gets pedagogy wrong. The Tougher Standards contingent is big on back-to-basics, and, more generally, the sort of instruction that treats kids as though they were inert objects, that prepares a concoction called “basic skills” or “core knowledge” and then tries to pour it down their throats. State standards documents, in particular, typically contain long lists of specific facts and skills that all students in a given grade level are expected to master. This is a model that might be described as outdated were it not for the fact that, frankly, there never was a time when it worked all that well. Modern cognitive science just explains more systematically why it has always come up short. (For more on this point, see “Beware of the Standards, Not Just the Tests.”)
3. It gets evaluation wrong. In practice, “excellence,” “higher standards,” and “raising the bar” all refer to scores on standardized tests, many of them multiple-choice, norm-referenced, and otherwise flawed. Indeed, much of the discussion about education today is arrested at the level of “Test scores are low; make them go up.” All the limits of, and problems with, such testing amount to a serious indictment of the version of school reform that relies on these tests. (For more on this point, see “Standardized Testing and Its Victims”and other articles.)
4. It gets school reform wrong. Proponents of Tougher Standards have a proclivity for trying to coerce improvement by specifying exactly what must be taught and learned – that is, by mandating a particular kind of education. There is good reason to doubt that the way one changes schooling is simply by demanding that teachers and students do things differently. “Accountability” usually turns out to be a code for tighter control over what happens in classrooms by people who are not in classrooms – and it has approximately the same effect on learning that a noose has on breathing.
5. It gets improvement wrong. Weaving its way through all these ideas is an implicit assumption about “rigor” and “challenge” – namely, that harder is always better. The reductive (and really rather silly) idea that tests, texts, and teachers can all be judged on the single criterion of difficulty level lurks behind complaints about “dumbing down” education and strident calls to “raise the bar.” Its first cousin is the idea that if something isn’t working very well — say, requiring students to do homework of dubious value — then insisting on more of the same will surely solve the problem. As Harvey Daniels puts it, the dominant philosophy of fixing schools today consists of saying, in effect, that “what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.” (For more on this point, see “Confusing Harder with Better.”)

But testing isn’t just superfluous; it was, and remains, immensely damaging — to low-income students most of all. As I argued 15 years ago, standardized exams measure what matters least about learning and serve mostly to make dreadful forms of teaching appear successful. Pressure to raise scores has driven out many of our best teachers and many of our most vulnerable students. It has taken second-rate schools and turned them into third-rate test-prep factories.

Learning is life giving, learning is exhilarating, learning is joy!

Do not destroy learning with false claims. Look at learners!

Why do 3 year olds want to push the button in an elevator on the floor where they live? Why do boys of 16 drive way above the speed limit? In states in the US where drivers have to be 20 the rate of deaths and injuries among male drivers is very, very much lower than in states where 16 is the required age. It seems that there are some connections in the brain that develop after the age of 20 regarding risk.Single causation? No just one variable.

Enjoy, enjoy.


PS The use of the polygraph like the use of extrinsic/intrinsic motivation are similar. In both cases there is no reliability or proof that the machine works or that the two types of motivation explain learning but they persist and are like the myths of old, repeated in article after article and methods book after methods book.

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