in-trin-sic, adj.

I remember the exact day that I learned the word “intrinsic.” I was in the 6th grade, and my teacher, Mr. Coords presented us with the week’s vocabulary list.  

Mr. Coords started every week with new vocabulary words that came straight from the Reader’s Digest’s “Word Power” list.  Even today, there are certain words that take me back in time to that 6th grade year when they were first emblazoned into my memory.  

Some of the words I learned that year that immediately come to mind are entrepreneur, optimistic, pessimistic, incongruous, impeccable, reciprocate–just to name a few. I also remember seeing the vocabulary words from friends who were not lucky enough to be in Mr. Coords’ class and thinking how boring and simple they seemed. 

While our friends across the hall were sniffing the blue inked dittos (some of you will catch that reference), we actually got to copy our words from the board ourselves and then add the definition as Mr. Coords read from the magazine.  

The thought of our words coming from a fancy, mature magazine like the Reader’s Digest, made me and my classmates feel special. (Remember, this was 1981 and the guys who invented Google and Amazon.com were still in grade school.)  I couldn’t wait to get to school on Mondays to see what the Reader’s Digest and Mr. Coords would have in store.

That brings me back to the word intrinsic.  Mr. Coords’ approach was hugely impactful, and awakened in me an internal excitement about learning. It’s ironic that “intrinsic” is among the words I learned that year, and that the process of learning was so pivotal in  jump-starting my ability to experience intrinsic motivation. 

But why?

Mr. Coords understood how to tap into and nurture students’ intellectual curiosity by making learning fun.  By using the Reader’s Digest as our vocabulary resource, Mr. Coords made us feel like we were being treated differently than other students in other classrooms. As much as I looked forward to getting the new vocabulary list every Monday, it paled in comparison to the pride I felt as I shared some of those big, new words with my parents.

Of course, vocabulary wasn’t the only thing made special by Mr. Coords’ approach.  We learned math by drawing floor plans and sketches (to scale) of our dream house, which I also couldn’t wait to share with my parents or my disadvantaged friends from other classes.  We also learned literature by acting out scenes from the books we were reading, and we learned the parts of speech by writing our own creative stories. 

I’m not sure when I decided that I liked doing all the things I like doing today, but I am certain I understand what it means to be motivated because of the way Mr. Coords weaved having fun, feeling pride and creating into the learning process.  

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