A Writing Conversation:

Welcome Amy K. Conley and everyone else to A Writing Conversation Episode 7. Today we are interviewing Amy Conley, a successful writing teacher and consultant for the Redwood Area Writing Project. Amy promotes critical thinking skills and teaches senior English in Humboldt County, CA. Ms. Conley investigates writing practices with other writing professionals. She is a trainer and instructor for California State University's Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum, in which she coaches students and adults to read and write critically. She is always looking for a way to have her students connect with the world. Her recent book,Teachers, Mindset, Motivation, and Mastery, connects motivation research to literacy.

Our conversation begins…

Virginia: It sounds like you spend a lot of time thinking about writing. In teaching, something is called “an extrinsic reward” if a child earns something for the completion of a task. For instance, if a fifth grade student brings in his or her homework, he or she will get five extra minutes of recess. Your research suggests that too much emphasis is placed on those type of external rewards.

Amy: Our American society is embedded with the idea that people do things for stuff: bonuses, stickers, free meals, cash, grades, the big payout. But 40 years of research into motivation show that humans are more complex than rats in mazes completing tasks for the cheese.

Virginia: I love to write, but I'm not opposed to doing some things for cheese….preferably smoked cheddar or havarti.

Amy: A good Dutch gouda! Joking aside, some people are surprised about non-cheese rewards. Think about it. People don't write or learn the guitar or create art or parent because of the dream of some big prize at the end. People write because they must; because it's a release, a way to communicate and also a way to find out who they are.

Virginia: Were intrinsic rewards part of writing for your book?

Amy: Yes. For instance, while I'd love for the time invested in writing Teachers, Mindset, Motivation, and Mastery to produce some kind of profit, I'm pretty enchanted that other teachers are reading and discussing these ideas to make school better for kids.

Virginia: So you're saying some human endeavors are motivated by cheese but many, or most, are not?

Amy: That's right, Virginia. Havarti you ever read a shitty book and wondered if the author just wrote it for the money? (The end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where Mark Twain was writing it as a serial and needed more cash even though the story was done!) When someone thinks that about a piece of writing-that thought is not a compliment. We can tell if people enjoy what they are doing, no matter how much they are paid. Intrinsic rewards, according to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's research into self-determination theory, promote complex thinking and creativity. So if we write what we love and love what we write; our audience can tell. Then it won't matter if the extrinsic reward of monetary gain follows or not.

Virginia: Thanks Amy, for sharing with us about motivation and thanks to everyone else for joining in! You can find out more about what parents and teachers need to know about intrinsic motivation and how to help kids be more motivated by checking out Amy K. Conley's book: Teachers, Mindset, Motivation, and Mastery; Research Translated into k-12 Practice. Find it on Amazon! Enjoy the day!