I do enjoy your feedback. I, too, do not take it personally.
While I follow Kohn and Deming both, I can not say with certainty what Deming's source material was for integrating his ideas into his philosophy of improvement. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Kohn played a role. I did recently read an article related to Deming, that included similar research that I think predates Deming meeting Kohn. Deming's background research on the top is fuzzy.
But Kohn's is not. His works are one of the most thoroughly cited works I've ever read. So far as I've examined the sources, his conclusions seem in line with reason. It may not be hyperbole to say that ALL the research on the topic agrees with his positions/conclusions.
Specifically regarding grades, I want to insert a side note, from Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote a piece in Outliers regarding the fact that 70% of pro hockey players in Canada were born between January and July first.
I'll leave out the middle of the story, which is fascinating.
The conclusion, the selection was based on a January 1 cutoff date for age groups as young as 8 years old. This created an artificial bias that favored 'slightly older, bigger' kids. This resulted in the near impossibility of a Canadian youth hockey play born in November or December ever playing pro hockey. As you say, the system is/was at fault, not the youth players.
Yet, those youth you desired to play pro, but were born in the wrong month, may suffer from not meeting their biggest desire. They, and their parents, and other teammates, may even BLAME them for not doing better.
A child, being blamed, for something entirely out of their control.
This same result, surely exists, for American school children. I doctoral study in waiting must exist for someone to do the math. And, no future date is required. The trends could show quite easily that a bias exists even from simple calculations based on past data. In Outliers I believe Gladwell touched on this saying that at the time of publication only Denmark systematically separated content into levels at the elementary school level.
You did discuss overjustification, and you're obviously correct, that it does not negatively affect everyone. Or does it?
Dr. Deming does not refer to the issue as a problem in and of itself. He points out, rightly, that be they good grades or bad grades, all involved attribute the grades, usually in their entirety, to the student's effort. Deming, often deferring to Peter Scholtes, reminds us that this is utterly foolhardy. Family socioeconomic status is the highest predictor of academic success. Via Gladwell we learn that the Chinese cultural work ethic translates into willingness to stick with hard problems long, resulting in Chinese students with an IQ of 100 working comparably to American white students with an IQ 120. (I do not endorse IQ as measure, but some do). In other words, Chinese-American students benefit from Chinese culture, academically. (Outliers goes much further in various ways).
From Deming's view, which originated with Shewhart, establishes that in industry the individual worker affects the quality of the goods they produce between 3 and 7 percent. We would expect this in any robust system. Yet, when the worker's output result is a defect, historically their supervisor would 'blame' the defect entirely on the worker. Very similar to letter grading.
The issue then, in real life, is that children and willing workers CANNOT discern with any accuracy, whether their defect was indeed attributable to them, or if it is the result of a defective system, over which they have no control.
This misunderstanding happens, of course, for both 'good' and 'bad'. A worker may be fired over this mistake, or given a bonus for randomized successes.
Taleb reminds us that stock brokers that make large profits for five years in a row can't help but believe in themselves, that they know what they are doing, though statistically speaking nothing is happening, and they are succeeding at random.
Deming has a story related to your claim that we cannot know if a behavior is intrinsically motivated.
On arriving at the airport, the airline sent a worker with a wheelchair to assist Dr. Deming. A woman working the ticket counter badly wanted to meet him, so she volunteered.
She met Dr. Deming at the gate, and stayed with him until he entered his taxi, at which point, Dr. Deming, without thinking, handed her two dollars as a tip.
He saw his mistake immediately, in her face. He had overattributed her behavior extrinsically when her desire was purely extrinsic, (using the common meaning here, not the/your correct meaning). In this case, she had already received her reward, then had it dashed away, belittled.
I'm convinced he knew.
In addition, one can discern, occasionally, by asking a question. "Why do you like reading so much?". "Because it's fun!" Whether precisely accurate or not, we have gotten a clue from a very simple analysis.
The benefits of extrinsic motivation are not arguable. The 'goal' of it is what is in question. And if we acknowledge that there is a drastic risk due to overjustification, how do we decide whether to address the risk?
It seems to me that much of gamification is the replacement of an intrinsic reward with an extrinsic one. This replacement, with each iteration, shifts the needle from intrinsic to extrinsic.
In my work I'm blessed to work with students who are doing well academically, extremely high risk of not graduating, (and that which follows). Often, their primary concern in class is simply 'their grades'. What do they need to do to 'pass'. Barely pass. Near zero interest in learning, or approaching problems of any modicum of difficulty, unless it's required to pass.
My narrative for them is that they have moved through 12 years of extrinsic motivation, (possibly born in the latter part of the window), and due to factors completely outside their control, 'believe' they are stupid, dumb, unworthy, bad at math, bad at drawing, and a host of other false myths.
The risk, as it were, of letter grading in school, is the demoralization of children that have no ability to discern fact from fiction. This is, in my view, immoral.
Would it not be immoral to tell kids that since they were born in the last half of the year, that they don't get to go to college? The factual issue here is completely clear, but I'm suggesting that overjustification is also immoral. And the risk, to children, is just too great.
But further, successful children, perhaps born in January, grow up 'believing' they have innate talent. Innate talent in math, music, creative arts. and a few may. The rest were just born.
Deming quotes this story. In Deming's book he states, "I have no reason to believe this story is false".
The quote is from The Face of Battle by John Keegan:
As to the influence and genius of great generals — there is a story that Enrico Fermi once asked Gen. Leslie Groves how many generals might be called “great.” Groves said about three out of every 100. Fermi asked how a general qualified for the adjective, and Groves replied that any general who had won five major battles in a row might safely be called great. This was in the middle of World War II. Well, then, said Fermi, considering that the opposing forces in most theaters of operation are roughly equal, the odds are one of two that a general will win a battle, one of four that he will win two battles in a row, one of eight for three, one of sixteen for four, one of thirty-two for five. “So you are right, general, about three out of every 100. Mathematical probability, not genius.”
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Hi Michael, I honestly can't believe it's been 2.5 years since I first found this blog. Seems like yesterday. I have reviewed it a few times in those years, and followed up by re-examining Alfie Kohn's books, (and references there-in). Kohn's work is focused entirely on questioning extrinsic motivational techniques in school, and as parents. His view is generally extrinsic=bad, and his view is supported by mountains of research evidence. One of his favorite examples is the Pizza Hut Book It! program. The book it program encourages children to read books in exchange for which they receive a slice of pizza. The evidence shows that 'some' children who begin the program reading books above their grade level, out of personal interest, will shift their focus onto lower level, shorter books, and when the program ends, may never return to reading at all. The supposition is not that ALL children will experience this, but that some may, and that we cannot predict which ones. The further concern is that the children experience a shift away from reading for joy, (intrinsic), to reading for Pizza, (extrinsic), and when the pizza stops, the reading stops. In a different study involving punishment, students who were administered punishment for aggression at home often show a reduction in aggression at home, but an increase in aggression at school. This would indicate that the punishment is not correlated with aggression, but rather, with aggression 'at home'. This is very simply compared to dog training, at my house, where mom's 'no' is ignored, but dad's 'no' elicits a stop to a behavior. In the venue of dogs, we experimented by giving the dogs treats every time they went in their kennels. It was a matter of two weeks before they refused to go toward the kennel unless they saw a treat being readied. We replaced the treats with hugs and attention prior to kenneling, and in two months the dogs then began entering the kennel without a treat, but after receiving hugs and attention. (Still extrinsic) I think Kohn equates dogs (animalia in general), to three year old humans, and thus equates giving extrinsic rewards to older children and adults as a mistake.
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Greetings again Michael, First, thanks again for clarifications about the blog posts from last year. It was deeply useful in clarifying very specific points of understanding for myself and others re the distinction between motivation and rewards. I was re-reading some content to respond to a colleague and came across this blog, and the following statement. " Many extrinsic motivations are perfectly good and noble reasons, too. For example, getting good grades can be an extrinsic motivation for reading if you don’t already love to read, because you are doing it to get good grades, not because you just love to read. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to get good grades." It caused me some dissonance. You see, Alfie Kohn, (with whom I assume you are familiar), and W. Edwards Deming, (guessing you may not be familiar with him), both decry the use of grading systems, or indeed traditional evaluation systems in general terms. As a teacher and Certified Quality Engineer I have always had to walk a line between a modern view (Deming) and a traditional view (classical) of grading and evaluating in school. So, in particular, "There is nothing wrong with wanting to get good grades." seems to be presumptive. Kohn and Deming both identify numerous issues with pursuit of evaluation scores. From Kohn's side, the evaluation itself takes away from the student and the teacher's ability to focus on what 'ought' be learned. The grades, in his view, literally diminish, or even destroy, intrinsic motivation. From a slightly less dramatic position, Deming declares that any such evaluation is based on the presumption of accurate predictive outcomes based on the evaluation score. As an eminent statistician, he felt that such predictive assumptions were ludicrous, and based on pure fantasy of judgment, (reinforced, coincidentally, by Khaneman, Thinking Fast and Slow). In his own practice of teaching, at New York University, he never gave a grade other than A. A description of his reasoning can be found online. I'm wondering if you've been presented with these ideas before, and what counter reasoning you would present to make a case in contradiction to theirs. A perfect example of a common concept that occurs in relation to the two approaches is the issue of sub-optimization. If we evaluate individuals, they tend to work for the good of the individual. This is seen every day in schools and in work. If a course is graded on a curve, ( the worst example), the best student will work by himself, helping no one, in order to hold others back and thus maximize his own success. The same idea obviously occurs in the workplace. Peter Scholte's quoted a Japanese CEO as saying, "We don't give our managers rewards based on objectives because we don't want to reward anyone for being lucky." Scholtes would identify other factors those pose an issue in evaluation as well. What cost do we incur when a person achieves a badge of reasons other than individual effort, or, is prevented from receiving a badge for same? These costs are not measurable, but Deming would suggest that they still occur, and can be managed. So in saying, "there is nothing wrong with wanting to get good grades", have you not made an assumption that 'nothing is wrong'? Thanks so much for your previous discourse. I hope this comment is as well received. I look forward to your thoughts on this. -Terry
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Greetings Dr. Wu, I deeply enjoyed the clarity expressed in this blog series. Indeed, I've been trying to explain these concepts to my co-teachers in a Denver high school. So, I have to questions for even greater clarity: 1. Does pushing ever more extrinsic motivation, or rewards, tend to reduce the person's intrinsic motivation to do the task? Does the person move their internal locos of joy to an external locus which is by definition less satisfying? I'm not sure I believe that the relationship is a 'given', and yet I know of various examples that could be explained this way. 2. Are there way in which to 'boost' intrinsic motivation? I presume the answer is yes, and yet, also presume it to be know. My rationale: A. If we work to create an activity which meets our needs (as teachers), and also entails autonomy (choice of what to learn and how to learn it), mastery, (shows measurable progress [this is measured extrinsically], is performed by others in the classroom, (relatedness), and can be shown to lead to some other deeper meaning [recognizably extrinsic], can we shift the locus of motivation from outside the student to within? B. People desire recognition (work behavior premise), yet recognition is by definition extrinsic. Is there a risk of recognizing intrinsically motivated behaviors leading to reduction in the behavior? [As such, relatedness, mastery, and purpose listed above are inextricably tied to things outside the body] Thanks in advance for more engaging reading. I love your concepts and explanations. Sincerely, Terry Rosen
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