"The true pride in and intrinsic motivation for our work is degraded when it is turned into such a carrot-and-stick exercise. As Alfie Kohn recently wrote, 'When we deal with people who have less power than we do, we’re often tempted to offer them rewards for acting the way we want because we figure this will increase their level of motivation to do so.'”
I am reminded of this need for intrinsic motivation as I flip through social media and see the plethora of worksheets being shared online. And I need to confess right now that I used worksheets during my first few years of teaching. The department I joined basically ran with packets. Six weeks of grammar packets followed by 6 weeks of writing packets followed by 6 weeks of literature packets. Repeat. The concept was that this was self-paced, that kids worked at their own speed. If they completed their work, the reward was time for free/independent reading. I realized quickly that this sort of approach was not working.
First, I was reading the work of Hillocks and came to understand that teaching grammar in isolation was not effective (see here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/02/the-wrong-way-to-teach-grammar/284014/). Writing packets were reinforcing misconceptions as well: the 5 sentence paragraph (intro, 3 supporting sentences, conclusion) and the 5 paragraph essay (still a Holy Grail in some classrooms. Literature packets began with a focus on the short stories from our anthology with worksheets, quizzes, etc. to check comprehension.
All of this required rather low level thinking to boot. My practice was conflicting with my developing pedagogy. Fortunately, I had an administrator who was open to change, to new approaches, to research. Gradually, I weaned my students from the packets. We chucked the spelling textbooks in favor of some lists of survival words (instead of picturesque, one of the words on a list in the text, we learned how to spell the name of our school, principals, teachers, etc.) and the grammar books were used as a reference when needed.
There was no extrinsic reward for me or for my students. No carrots and no sticks either. We became a community of readers and writers. The power in the classroom resided in us all. While I still enjoy a carrot and will do my best to avoid the stick, my motivation comes from seeing readers find books that speak to them, from listening to the discussion as they talk about this books with me and with one another, and from reading comments from students using and after the class.
All of this is swirling, of course, as classes begin at the university. Students are giving brief introductions of themselves. They are sharing photos, anecdotes, etc. as we begin to know one another. How and what they share is up to each individual. I shared some vacation photos and a picture of Scout (of course) and a couple of sentences about my passion for books and reading. Slowly, we are getting to know one another. After 40+ years, this is still my favorite part of teaching: fresh, eager students who stand on the threshold of a new career, a new adventure.I stand there, too.