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How to 'intrinsically motivate' children to learn

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Looking back at how my students develop a relationship with guitar over time, I cannot help but analyze how some students have intrinsic motivation to learn, but others don't. Independent learning starts when a student takes the wheel and the teacher is at the passenger seat, evaluating.

I say 'intrinsic motivation' because when a student reaches a point in their playing where they cannot depend on motivation to practice, it becomes problematic. Intrinsic means natural. I see this more of a trait to establish good practice habits, rather than a reason to practice.

During my first 2 years of teaching, I created a framework that helped me communicate with students on a more personal level that also helped set aside the pressure from parents to motivate their child's learning. The idea is to create a sense of accountability and independence especially for children who are just starting out with learning an instrument.

A teacher's first role is simply to hear a student out. This means getting to know the goals of a student (if there are any). Often you'll hear that it may only be a result of others decisions for them, which should be normalized and approached in a sensitive way.

Structure and methods will come secondary, but initial motivation should be there. It is necessary to understand that flexibility and patience are required in all learning situations, regardless of the level of motivation that a child starts with.

A beginning sign of frustration may start with a loss of energy and excuses on the student's part. To avoid this scenario, a teacher should always be prepared mentally to level with the child and approach the frustration in an open way.

Here's an infographic for intrinsic motivation that you can use when dealing with obstacles in teaching. This method works well for beginner students when trying to establish security and good practice, but not so much for those who have more serious music goals:

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.    


Clay P. Bedford


The contents of this post are based on information and strategies that the author has personally applied in her teaching. Additional research to supplement this approach is recommended.

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