Saturday, October 3, 2009

A New Operating System for Schools

Daniel Pink, author of the must-read Whole New Mind, makes a riveting and compelling case for dedicating our attention to rethinking assessment. Although his examples are for business, it's no leap at all to apply his thinking to education. He shares the overwhelming research (replicated over and over) to demonstrate that when we incentivize - give bonuses, rewards, or in our case, A's, praise, and smiley faces - we do more harm than good. There is one exception: incentives work if the task we set is simple, clear, routine, with clear rules, a single solution and can be completed by rote. However, for critical, creative, problem-solving, ambiguous tasks, incentives dull thinking, block creativity, don't work and often do harm. Since there isn't much of a future for rote tasks, if we wish to prepare kids for the future, we must rethink our assessment practices (and the tasks we assign).

Pink argues that we need to stop doing more of what doesn't work. It doesn't matter, he points out, if we have a sweeter carrot or sharper stick. In fact, research shows that higher incentives lead to the lowest performance. Instead, we need to create a new operating system for business - and, I argue, for schools. This new operating system must be built on intrinsic motivation, where we do things that matter, because we like them, because they're interesting, because they're important. He argues that the new operating system must revolve around three elements.

Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives,
Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters,
Purpose: yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Can you imagine?