Two Classroom Scenarios
Child A goes to school each day. He has his own space, a desk which is one of twenty in a classroom, all in neat rows.
The classroom is quiet as the class works individually on a worksheet practice page. A neighbor of Child A sneaks a peek at his paper and the teacher notices and puts his name on the board...the first warning. Sarah in the front row finishes early and the teacher puts a gold star on her paper.
As children begin to finish the teacher hands out the results of a test. Some children have done well and received stickers, and others did not do so well. The teacher announces the plans for the rest of the day and then discusses with them a new independent reading program whereas the person who reads the most books gets a coupon for a free ice cream. The class cheers in unison. She announces the date of the school's spelling bee and celebrates the children in the classroom who were able to pass the initial test to be part of it.
Child B starts the day in a group, discussing a newspaper article that has been read by the day's table leader.
Later the teacher discusses the thoughts of the various groups as a whole class. The teacher then tells them to get out their books and head to their reading groups to dicuss the last section of the book they read and to choose more pages to read for that day.
After, the class stops everything and the children go off to the reading corner to choose books to read quietly and independently. They carefully follow the guidelines they came up with as a class to see this time each day is not interrupted.
During silent reading the teacher meets with Child B to hear him read and make notes about his progress. After, the teacher assigns the groups an investigation in math, and sets them off working on this investigation for later discussion.
Clearly in both scenarios the teacher has found ways to motivate her students, but in the first case she has motivated them by dangling a carrot in front of them. Much of what they accomplish is going to be in order to obtain the sticker, coupon, or highest grade. In the case of being part of the spelling bee, children are motivated to study and learn so they are not excluded. Imagine sending a message to a child that he cannot be included if he does not know as much as his classmates. In this type of class the teacher has to wonder what the students would do if there were no stickers, grades, or coupons? Her entire reputation has just been revealed as her ability to control the actions of her students, which in my mind is not much of an accomplishment.
In the second scenario the teacher motivates the students by providing activities the students would want to do. She allows them to discuss their thoughts and ideas with each other, gives them choice in how the classroom is set up and run, gives them choice in what to read, allows for interaction, and meets with children to assess their needs, but not in the context of assigning a poor grade to someone who has not reached a certain point.