The topic of motivation is something that I have had in mind since the moment I started working as a teacher, but it was already present when I was a younger student. It is such a big concept which can be thought of in so many different ways and perspectives that sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming.
As I mentioned in the last post, I researched several theories and viewpoints related to motivation and I thought this topic deserved its own post to be discussed more. Therefore, I want to approach motivation from the point of view of the different aspects that can influence its rise or fall. These aspects are mainly related to teachers’ behaviours, family support and students’ personalities and environment.
According to Ryan and Deci (2000), there is a “connection between students’ motivation and many positive learning effects”.
“When students are highly motivated, they tend to stay engaged and persist longer, and acquire knowledge in a more coherent form, apply their knowledge more often, and achieve higher academic performance over the long term”. (Deci and Ryan, 1994; Reeve, 2009).
Then, a question should come to our minds: how do we achieve this motivation or how do we keep it? To find out, we first need to get to know the different kinds of motivation.
In general, there are two basic types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation involves any external stimulus, while intrinsic motivation is related to enjoyment, fun and self-interests without the need of an external reason. In other words, intrinsic motivation comes from one’s own curiosity. This is represented in the mind map below:
Some researchers (Ryan and Deci, 2017; Sheldon et al., 2004) also divide the kinds of motivation in two big groups called autonomous motivation and controlled motivation, which are divided in two subgroups.
Autonomous motivation (intrinsic):
Intrinsic motivation: when an individual chooses to engage in an activity for its own sake, whether for interest, pleasure or satisfaction. (e.g.: I love classical music, so I want to learn piano because it will be fun).
Identified motivation: when behaviors are freely chosen by individuals because they are personally important to them. The behavior represents the individual's own goal. (e.g.: I would love to learn piano because listening to piano music makes me feel good).
Controlled motivation (extrinsic):
Introjected regulation: when behaviors that are only partially internalized are performed out of guilt avoidance or ego enhancement. (e.g. I am studying piano a lot of hours every day because if I don’t do it my concert will go wrong).
External regulation: behaviors that are controlled by external means, such as rewards or external authority. (e.g. I study piano a lot of hours every day because this way I will succeed in the Piano Grade Exam).
After explaining the different types of motivation, it is very remarkable that extrinsic motivation weakens intrinsic motivation (as it is mentioned in the image above). In my personal experience as a piano teacher, I have observed this very often. When a student needs external stimuli to be motivated, he/she normally becomes dependent on them, and when he/she lacks these external reasons to be motivated, there is a loss of interest. However, when students find motivation simply by enjoying the process and having fun (intrinsic), it is much easier to keep this engagement/motivation level for a longer time without a need of external stimuli.
On the other hand, I believe that teachers and families are some of the main factors which have a great influence on students’ motivation and their positive or negative behaviour towards piano learning.
Teachers’ language and its influence in students’ motivation
After my experience as a teacher as well as as a student, I have come to the conclusion that the language I use in my lessons is one of the most powerful tools I have in order to motivate my students or influence their behaviour.
To explain this, I will give a situation, which is a concert my students will have in the next few days. Let’s say a student comes to the lesson and he didn’t study enough, knowing that the concert is in one week. I could say “If you study hard during this week, you will enjoy the music much more and it will be more fun” or “If you don’t study hard enough, you won’t enjoy the concert as much and you will feel nervous”. In both sentences, the goal is the same: encourage the student to work harder for the concert. It is very likely that the student will study harder in both situations, but the way he will approach the concert will be very different. In the first case, he will study hard during this week and he will go to the concert with a calmer mood. However, in the second case, the student will also study but he might go to the concert with the fear of failing and feeling nervous. On the other hand, “studying hard” doesn’t sound like a very engaging and fun activity for the student, so it is the responsibility for teachers to further explain this concept, dividing this “study hard” into smaller steps which are more accessible for the student and defining these steps (by explaining and showing the student or by letting him/her explore and try).
This is very related to recent research about the influence of teachers’ engaging messages in education. According to Santana et al. (2022), “teachers’ engaging messages have been defined as the different messages teachers rely on to engage students in school tasks. These messages are characterized by focusing on the consequences associated with certain outcomes, which can either be favorable (referred to as gain-framed messages) or unfavorable (referred to as loss-framed messages)”. This means that gain-framed messages emphasize the benefits of engaging in a specific activity, whereas loss-framed messages highlight the expenses of not doing so.
As a piano teacher, I always keep these things in mind and I notice that the way I communicate influences my students a lot. However, I believe that it is very difficult to make a real difference if parents or other relatives don’t think of this. If I try to motivate my students in a positive way but at home they listen to comments which are goal-oriented in a negative way (e.g. “If you don’t study hard enough, you will fail in the concert or you will feel nervous”), the room for improvement is very low.
The role of parents in students’ motivation
In my experience as a teacher, I have always found it very difficult to define and find a balance in the role of parents in students’ motivation. I think that communication between teachers and parents is essential, as a piano lesson is normally an activity in which only teacher and student are involved. If a piano student takes lessons once a week, the responsibility of engaging and motivating the student belongs to the teacher only in the moment of the lesson but afterwards only the student and his/her parents are responsible.
Therefore, how can teachers strengthen the communication with parents and at the same time make parents be part of their children’s motivation development?
In the past year, I started using Google Classroom and it turned out to be the tool which solved all these dilemmas. Google Classroom is an educational platform created by Google that allows teachers to upload all kinds of materials, assignments, assessments and even write posts about any topic (such as giving feedback). What I like the most about this is the layout, as it looks like the Facebook feed where you can post something and people just comment very easily. But in this case the interaction happens between the teacher and parents/students!
In my case, I decided to create an individual classroom for each student and I invited parents to the classroom, so they are aware of every step we make because I write it after every lesson. And the best part is that it keeps parents aware of the process but it also helps me to keep track of my students’ progress. If you want to know more about Google Classroom and how it works, you will find a guide here.
Besides Google Classroom, there are other platforms which offer this opportunity of the teacher-parents interaction, such as Moodle or Trello. In my case, I decided to use Google Classroom some time ago because you can just create rooms for free and it is very easy to connect with parents (whether they have a Google account or not). Do you know more options? You can let me know in the comments.
In conclusion, motivation has very positive effects in students’ learning process. That’s why there are some factors to take care about to increase or keep the motivation, such as the language used by teachers, positive feedback and a healthy support at home. Of course, every student is different and it is very important to keep and respect their individuality, so it is the role of the teacher to find ways to engage students individually and motivate them.
Alderman, M.K. (2008), Motivation for Achievement: Possibilities for teaching and learning), Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Barry, N. (2007), "Motivating the reluctant student", American Music Teacher, 56:5, pp. 23-27.
Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M. (1994). Promoting self-determined education, 3-14.
Deci, E. L., Koestner, R. and Ryan, R. M. (1999), "A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation", Phychological Bulletin, 25:6, pp. 627-68.
Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M., (2000). The “what” and the “why” of goal pursuits: human needs and the self-determination of behavior, 227-268.
Lepper, M. R. (1988), "Motivational considerations in the study of instruction", Cognition and Instruction, 5:4, pp. 289-309.
Reeve, J., (2009). Why teachers adopt a controlling motivating style toward students and how they can become more autonomy supportive, 159-178.