Friday, March 2, 2012

Intrinsic Motivation: How To Build On It, Not Kill It

My friend, Aimee Buckner Haisten, author of Notebook Know How and Notebook Connections once said to me, "When a colleague, parent, administrator, or student enters your classroom, he/she should know immediately what you value."

When you enter our classroom, you won't find charts with stickers or stars to signal who's read the most pages or is winning the contest for best spelling. You won't find papers with grades marked in red with the highest scoring papers hanging on the wall. You won't see rules posted anywhere or those "teacher supply store" motivational posters and quotes. You won't find supplies hoarded in individual desks, and a teacher's desk is nowhere to be found.

Why? I'm not a teacher who believes that students are motivated by points, grades, money, contests, fear, or any kind of extrinsic factor. What do I believe in? I believe in children and I work my hardest not to kill the intrinsic motivation students naturally bring with them to school. We can't ever force a child to be motivated, but we can create democratic, collaborative work spaces that stimulate curiosity, invite choice, and honor the children who live and learn there every single day.

I begin every year setting up the classroom with guiding principle #1 in my head and heart: Build On Intrinsic Motivation, and then allow the room to grow with the children from the first day of school. Below are a few pictures of our classrooms (both primary and middle school) over the past few years.....
It's a privilege to learn from my students and be intrinsically motivated to be a better teacher because of them.

And as Phyllis (my fabulous principal and friend) says...
To the possibilities of this next month of writing and learning from writers everywhere!


  1. Yes I agree wholeheartedly. When passion for work comes form the inside, from the heart, that is the most wonderful thing. If my students aren't motivated then I question the value of the assignment I've given them. Luckily they usually are these days. Thanks for sharing pictures of your classroom!


  2. I agree and love your pictures as well. You were the inspiration for the self portraits my first graders made the first days of school. I hang them in my windows with clothes pins attached to them to attach their beautiful work. I had the pleasure of listening to you last summer in Warsaw (after reading your book). I just wanted to say Thank you.

    First Grade @ Klinger Cafe

  3. Thank you Ann Marie for taking us into your classroom and your pedagogy. As teachers it is vitally important to be able to articulate what it is we believe -our vision for the children in our care. You captured this passionately and clearly. When you walk into a teacher's classroom it immediately tells you what they value. The footprints of the shared learning journey should be apparent to the viewer. Enjoyed reading this immensely.

    1. It's true, Ann Marie! You always talk about "The Why."

  4. Love that connection to intrinsic motivation, and sometimes, I feel as if my students have less and less of it, and I worry it is me: Am I doing enough of what you are doing? Ack. I don't know.

  5. Love looking into your classroom. It makes me so happy and I find I pick up something new I can try in my own room. Hope you are well AM!

  6. I couldn't agree with you more! That first step into a classroom tells SO much. And I'll second what Katie said... peeking into your classroom was wonderful! :)

  7. Whenever you open the door to your classroom(s), it is so powerful for all. What I love even more is how passionate you are about making sure others understand you the things in which you believe. Thanks for pushing my thinking to make sure my beliefs are visible as well, AM!

  8. I love the photos of your classroom - and the pictures of the kids are awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  9. You are so inspiring! I wish my kids were in your class! I also appreciate how reflective you are of the conversations you have and put it into to action.

  10. Ann Marie,
    I think you are right in reminding us that sometimes what we don't see is as important of a statement as what we do see. Our school is beginning a push for data binders. Though I'm trying to keep an open mind I have many concerns. Mostly, I feel my students' work speaks to their strengths, the new things they are learning, and the understandings that might be next for them. I like the reminder that our classrooms should be owned by the children that work within them and their voices should be visible throughout.


  11. Ann Marie,

    I just LOVE your classroom pictures! I am having a linky party for Classroom Library pictures/set-up, etc... I gave you a shout out. : )

    Thanks for being such an inspiration!