Motivation: Growth, self-beliefs, and attributions, oh my…

This week I had the pleasure of giving an invited talk for the IU student chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (IU SNATS). I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with extremely fine singers and committed vocal pedagogues on a regular basis in my courses and very much enjoyed speaking with the students of IU SNATS.

The talk I gave was on issues related to motivation for learning. I’ve attached a pdf of the powerpoint to this post via the image below. You’re welcome to download it to see the range of topics we discussed if you’re curious. The powerpoint also includes some basic texts and resources for reading about motivation in general and motivation in music learning more specifically. There is also a slide that includes links to some interesting web-resources for exploring these ideas further.

Miksza - Motivation presentation for IU SNATS - 2015

What was particularly enjoyable for me was that the talk gave me a chance to step back and think broadly about how several theoretical perspectives could be synthesized to address the components of music learning that are often heavily impacted by student motivation. The following set of reflective questions captures some of these components:

  • What drives you to choose to engage in learning in the first place?
  • What kinds of things contribute to the “degree” of energy you invest in this learning process?
  • What kinds of things contribute to the “degree” of quality and deliberateness you will apply to your learning process? In other words, the degree to which you’ll try to approach learning situations critically, thoughtfully, creatively, etc.
  • What will help you persist when you inevitably hit roadblocks and find yourself at a learning tableau or dipping into a negative attitude state?
  • What will stop you from giving up if learning gets tough?

I framed the main part of the discussion by describing how human needs for self-growth, flow, intrinsic satisfaction, and self-determination can lead people to seek out new experiences, work for mastery, and find personal meaning in their experiences. We also spent some time thinking about how social contexts created through teachers’ behaviors, studios/classrooms/rehearsal rooms, learning environments in general, etc. can serve to either support or thwart someone as they strive to satisfy these needs. The following points are a sample of what was addressed:

Contexts can be supportive or not…

  • Balancing the amount of structure/scaffolding provided and opportunities for independent work/decision making is important
  • Providing informational instruction (clues and ways to achieve objectives) vs. controlling rules (specific ways to do things) makes a difference
  • Giving opportunities to make choices vs. emphasizing interpersonal control in general is critical
  • Communicating evaluations as opportunities for improvement vs. as how something ‘should’ have been performed

We then moved through a cyclical set of motivational beliefs that have been shown to be related to learning in compelling ways. The powerpoint linked to this post includes summary points of some of the implications for pedagogy that each theoretical perspective suggests.

  • Mindset (Dweck)
    • Beliefs that abilities can be either fixed- or growth–oriented…
  • Self-efficacy (Bandura)
    • An individual’s beliefs in their own ability to produce an intended outcome on a specific task
  • Achievement goal orientations (Elliot)
    • The reasons why people aim to be competent and how they frame their own goals
  • Attributions (Weiner)
    • How the reasons people give for their successes and failures can impact their motivation and achievement in the future

We then ended the discussion by talking about some common motivational problems students experience and some general ideas for how to help them.

If a student’s needs are not met

  • The environment must feel like a safe place – physically and psychologically – this clearly has much larger ramifications for situations involving poverty, violent crime, discrimination, and/or harassment, etc.
  • Employ active approaches to help students develop positive feelings of competence and autonomy for the sake of esteem and self-determination
  • Employ active approaches to help students form productive relationships with each other
  • Provide preparation for students for how to interact with civility in a community
  • Employ active approaches to reducing the stressfulness of potentially competitive and high-stakes environment

If students are amotivated or lacking in apparent intrinsic motivation

  • Interventions can require altering the social context to help students integrate values of the environment to their own self
  • Make connections between activities and the students’ life goals and values
  • Make connections between activities and the values the students’ peer group recognize
  • Make connections to the values of the students’ significant others e.g., those they regard highly as role models
  • Provide opportunities for choice and for the student to feel in control of the environment
  • Give a secure foundation for building a sense of readiness – do not “throw into the fire”
  • Steer students away from performance-based goal orientations and towards mastery-oriented ideals (i.e., self-improvement)

If students demonstrate learned helplessness or self-handicapping

  • Vary goals according to individual students’ needs
  • Structure learning with an emphasis on short-term goals and develop them with the students
  • Provide frequent opportunity to acquire mastery and frequently document and display evidence of their growth (to them, not the class)
  • Teach students to avoid comparisons with others and encourage mastery goal orientations
  • Make it safe to ask for help by building it into the learning process as a required step
  • Do not over-assist and inadvertently communicate your belief in their lack of ability
  • Consider cooperative learning approaches
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