The Tom Sawyer Effect: Intrinsic(ish) Motivation in Gamification

I’ve been reading the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink, which is all about motivation.  It came highly recommended from my PLN, and resurfaces repeatedly in conversation.  In one of my Voxer groups, we had a friendly debate about using Class Dojo for professional learning, and talked briefly about Drive.

Last night during the #edtechbridge chat (for which I lurked when I could, while moderating #digcit), we talked about Drive again, and its implications for gamification models.  Chris Aviles chimed in, and said that he had intrinsic rewards in his item shop.  I thought about it, and tried to figure out how I could add more intrinsic(ish) rewards, myself.  The -ish comes from me still trying to figure it out.

At first, it sounds like an oxymoron.  If a person is intrinsically motivated (Type I, as identified by Pink), s/he does not need rewards to be motivated.  At the beginning of the year, when I set up my leaderboard, Chris’s warning against using “stuff” as rewards resonated with me.  However, I had the students brainstorm what they would want, and tried to incorporate their wishes as well.  Now, all they seem to be buying with their points is the “stuff” (i.e. headphones, cell phone chargers, fancy pens, colored notebooks, etc.).  Don’t get me wrong, the “stuff” is comprised of things they can use to do their work, but it’s still stuff.  The challenge is, now that I have this system in place with so many extrinisic rewards, how do I keep students motivated, while steering them towards intrinsic motivation?

Something struck me this morning while participating in #BFC530.  The topic was how to motivate the unmotivated.  For some reason, everything came together in a magical a-ha moment.

I can turn work into fun!

In the introduction, Pink describes the Tom Sawyer effect.  For those of you who have not read Drive or the eponymous book by Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer is a mischievous kid who tricks other kids into doing his chore (painting a fence) by saying that he is doing it for fun.  At first, the other kids want to try, but he acts as though it’s too much fun.  In the end, they bribe him into painting the fence by giving him presents.  Tom totally wins in the end.

What would this look like in a classroom setting?  Well, here is my evil master plan to take over the world, muhahahahaha…er, I mean, here’s what I have in mind.

I’m thinking of adding three new rewards to the item shop (possibly more, if I think of some):

  • Flipper of the Week!!!  I have been using flipped instruction for almost two years now.  I typically start off the year by flipping on a weekly basis, to help establish routines.  Towards second quarter, I fall off and just flip when it’s needed (i.e. project walkthroughs, etc).  My kids love to take selfies, make videos, do morning announcements, etc.  As a student, how cool would it be to do the weekly video, and be shown to both classes, as a minimum?  Even better, if they have a media release, maybe they can even be posted on my YouTube channel, and be shared to the world!* *(pending approval)  Also, the other students would probably get a huge kick out of seeing their friend present an idea.  Along similiar lines…
  • Teacher for the Day!!!  This one, I’m kind of struggling with.  I don’t do a whole lot of direct instruction, but I’d be willing to change up the structure if it’s in the best interest of the class.  One of the best ways to learn a concept is to teach it to others.  I have even experienced this myself, having to brush up on certain concepts once in a blue moon, before introducing them to my class (shhhh lol).  Hey, it’s been a long time since middle school.  Anyway, the idea here is to meet with a student, plan activities together, and have the student deliver them, with me on the sidelines if needed.
    • Edit: Doug Timm made an awesome suggestion to have multiple students be the teacher of the day, in teams!  That way, they would be able to collaborate, and it may introduce an element of friendly competition, as each group would be trying to outdo the previous teachers.  Sweet!  Last but not least…
  • Class Advisory Council!!!  I poll my students quarterly to see what works for them instructionally, and I tweak my delivery to meet their needs.  I often wonder how they are feeling between quarters.  Even though I have an open door policy that I’m very vocal about, students rarely give me feedback (except when I explicitly ask for it).  I feel like I have a very special rapport with this eighth grade class, having taught them in 2nd, 3rd, and 7th grade, and seeing them in the halls whenever I didn’t have them.  They are very generous of their time, always willing to help out.  (For example, we had about 20 kids volunteer to plan our pending trip to New York.  That’s 20 out of 37, and not even everyone was at school that day.)  I’d love to establish a fluid Class Advisory Council, where a small team of maybe three or four helps to plan the class activities for the week.

This may require a lot of time on my end, especially at first, but it’s definitely worth it.  It may end up being a win-win if we can pull it off.  I’m thinking that I will roll out these ideas one at a time (3, 1, and 2), in the order of how difficult they would be to implement.  This will help to keep the gamification system fresh.  (Sidenote: Next year, I will try rolling out my rewards in waves, to keep rewards from getting stale.)

We can at least try this out and see.  Hit or miss, it will be something new and exciting.  I’ll try to blog about our progress, but if I don’t, feel free to hold me accountable 🙂

If you have any ideas, please drop them in the comments, or hit me on Twitter.  I would love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “The Tom Sawyer Effect: Intrinsic(ish) Motivation in Gamification

  1. Sarah,

    Great post, as always. The intrinsic-“ish” discussion made me think of something that Chris Aviles said (I think it was in a Voxer group?) about the kids spending all of their points on re-naming their own teams and especially on re-naming the other teams. I wonder if you could capture some of that in your gamification plan? To lots of kids, that would create the kind of power that could even surpass being the teacher for the day. I love the Flipper of the Week idea and think that kids would go all out if they got to be in the video. Thanks again for sharing and being such a great resource & friend!

    1. Hey Chris! Thanks so much. Yes! That’s such a fantastic idea. We added that to the Item Shop, but I think I went wrong by adding too much “stuff,” which is what they seem to be going for. But it’s ok lol. Some kids are hoarding their points, which I think is hilarious. I think they are probably going to leave the school with like 500 points lol. Thank you so much for checking it out. I appreciate you, buddy!

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