Let's start with my classroom. You may or may not know that I am conduction action research on the effect of choice on high school chemistry students. You can read more about that here. One lens through which I am viewing my research is that of motivation. Will students be more motivated if they have choice? The short answer is yes, but only to a degree. What I have observed is students getting excited about topics they choose and motivated to find answers to their own fierce wonderings. However, this motivation for a project takes a back seat if grades or other deadlines are in the picture. Case in point, my students had a work day for their project on the same day they had a rote memorization test in one class (gross) and a project due in another. Instead of working on their chemistry projects (which they were so initially excited about) they were scrambling to finish the immediate tasks at hand. In this case, it appears that extrinsic motivation (points and deadlines) won out over intrinsic motivation.
I've observed the same attitude in myself. The 20% project has been a struggle for me. The demands on my time are high between teaching my own classes, the stress of the multi-week application/interview process for my dream job, conducting action research, and trying to fit in workouts/yoga for my own sanity. As a result the 20% project, something that should be enjoyable for me, gets pushed to the back burner in favor of these other things with looming deadlines and consequences for failure to complete.
Is this how we live our lives? Pushing aside those things that we want in favor of the demands of others?
It was a sad revelation for me and makes me wonder, as long as other teachers are enforcing strict grades and consequences and administering useless tests will I ever be able to implement the type of student centered learning I want to? Or will the extrinsic motivators used by others trump the intrinsic motivation I hope to foster?