Learning Center hosts motivation and learning webinar with Dr. Karolina Claxton

Lucas Cohen D'Arbeloff

The school’s Learning Center hosted psychologist Dr. Karolina Claxton in a Zoom webinar discussing learning, motivation and performance April 22.

Claxton has worked as an educational therapist, English teacher and curriculum specialist at Windward School. She also runs Perspectives Group, which provides educational consulting to schools and teachers.

After an introduction from learning specialist Grace Brown, Claxton spoke about the importance of expectancy and sense of control in shaping learning outcomes. She said another vital factor in performance is the food and drink students consume both at home and at school.

“I have seen situations where what was going on with a person neurocognitively could not account for what was actually happening with them in real life, and it turned out to be a brain-gut issue,” Claxton said. “The more we learn about the relationship between the brain and the gut, the more important we realize not just the food system but also the floral environment is as well as the entire ecosystem of gut health in general.”

After a brief introduction, Claxton answered community questions

Claxton introduced psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of motivation that ranks demands from most to least essential, starting with physiological needs and ending with self-esteem and self-actualization. Claxton recalled a situation in which a client struggled over which needs to prioritize and which others to let go.

“I had a client once who drew a triangle, and in each of the corners of the triangle, he wrote: sleep, grades and social life, [he then felt the need to pick two of the three],” Claxton said. “I thought that was really striking, and as a New Yorker who is accustomed to sleep deprivation as a badge, we really need to recognize the importance of rest.”

Claxton also said that applying concepts from class to the real world and asking teachers to incorporate these applications into their teaching can be helpful to make content more interesting.

“If you’re sitting there in chemistry, and it’s absolutely boring and you hate chemistry, jump over to the chemistry teacher and ask how this might apply to the products that I’m using on my hair and skin,” Claxton said. “What are the claims that these hair companies are making about sealing the cuticle, and how does that connect to something like acids and bases?”

Claxton then discussed the concept of the overjustification effect, the idea that parents should not try to reward behaviors that are already intrinsically motivated.

“If someone already feels naturally driven to do something, do not give them a bunch of extrinsic rewards, or at least don’t make it dependent,” Claxton said. “That doesn’t mean that if a kid works really hard because they’re mastery-driven, you don’t occasionally say, ‘Hey, great report card! Let’s go to dinner,’ it just means you’re not preemptively saying to a kid who is already really motivated that if they achieve certain goals, you will give them rewards.”