Do you give your students stickers when they perform well? How about certificates? Candy? How many parents do you know who reward their children financially for doing their chores, or give them a bicycle/iPod/Xbox when they do well in an exam? It’s very tempting to provide inducements (bribes?) when children balk at doing their music practice or study. Yet, what if you were to discover that far from these rewards being an incentive, they are actually demotivating?
I’ve often asked myself how I can motivate students effectively, and why some students are more motivated than others. Daniel Pink’s new book “Drive” focuses on this topic and comes up with some surprising answers.
His essential proposition is that there are three basic human drives. The first dates from prehistory and is biologically motivated- hunger, thirst, and procreation. Pink calls this Motivation 1.0 . The second (Motivation 2.0) has been harnessed through the process of external rewards and punishments- the carrot and stick approach that is still so commonly used at home, at school and at work. It has been used most frequently and deliberately since the Industrial Revolution, and is based on the idea that jobs are monotonous and routine.
As Pink says: “Extrinsic rewards can turn play into work, but only if they are expected. This is because some of the autonomy is lost, making it feel more like work. Intrinsic motivation is thus undermined…Try to encourage a kid to learn math by paying her for each workbook page she completes- and she’ll almost certainly become more diligent in the short term and lose interest in math in the long term.”
Now that work is more likely to be self-directed, complex, and interesting, requiring creative thinking rather than rote learning, we really need to employ what Pink terms Motivation 3.0. He asserts that this third drive stems from three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose. The latest research (which he quotes extensively) backs this up. We humans crave the independence to decide how, when, and what we want to learn. We have an innate desire to master it. And we need to have a deep sense of why we are doing it in the first place.
So how can we provide this type of learning environment for our students? How can we encourage them to tap into this drive and develop it?
In terms of autonomy, can we find more ways to involve our students in their own program? What do they want to learn? Any particular pieces or styles? Where do they want to be in six months or a year? What excites them about learning an instrument? Personally, I find some students are very excited about creating their own pieces from day one- some love to work out how to write them down, others would prefer to record, or simply improvise a new piece each time. Sometimes they have a favorite composer or style, or a favorite piece that I might be able to arrange. Some enjoy opening up the piano to see how it works, and to thereby understand more about touch and tone quality. Getting them involved in devising their own homework is a good start.
Mastery is probably the toughest aspect of the three. It requires sheer grit and determination. It requires the desire to aim for perfection whilst knowing one will never reach it. And mastery is a mindset, according to the latest research. If we believe our intelligence is fixed, just a I.Q. number, our attitude to learning will be different than if we believe we can continue to develop our abilities throughout our lives. Pink calls this a fixed as opposed to a growth mindset. He recommends setting learning goals rather than performance goals to develop this growth mindset. The danger of a performance goal is that students may learn towards the test, but not necessarily be able to apply their learning to the next task. One example of a learning goal for music students, would be not to assign a certain amount of practice time, or the goal of a particular grade in an exam or competition, but to encourage the student to spend their homework time focus on learning a particular technical skill, or exploring a particular aspect of a piece.
Personally, I well remember “putting in the time” during practice sometimes, rather than being fully engaged, although I had a deep love of music. And I believe the epitome of this mentality would be a young woman I once met, who had done all her piano exams including Grade 8 (the final exam in the British system, where one has to perform, for example, a Bach Prelude and Fugue, an entire Beethoven Sonata and a Chopin Nocturne) and then, having put the grades on her resume, given up the piano for good.
This brings me to the final aspect of Motivation 3.0- purpose. Why are our students studying an instrument or voice? What is it that they really want? To express themselves? To excel at something? To share beauty with others? To stand out from the crowd? The more we can engage our students in discussion, and really take time to listen to them, the more their underlying purpose will be revealed, and thereby enhance their focus and energy. One of my most talented friends at university was a research chemist who was also a gifted organist. When not in the lab, he would easily put in seven hours’ practice in the university chapel. At that point in my life, I was struggling to put in three hours a day, so once I asked him how he did it. “It’s simple, ” he replied, “ I just imagine the ideal performance, and then work towards it.”
How do you motivate your students? What do you make of Pink’s hypothesis? I look forward to your responses.