Gabi’s World
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Gabi’s World

Journal Entry 7, LCE Summer Lab: “We are not in the arts education biz, we’re in the intrinsic motivation business”

Eric Booth Keynote at the #LCEForum Summer 2017

Eric Booth is a mammoth in the world of Teaching Artists. He is facilitating one of the Labs and a series of workshops at this years forum, as well as being one of the Keynote speakers. His introduction, as are his achievements, plentiful and impressive.

“He is the first person to receive an honorary doctoral degree (New England Conservatory, 2012) for teaching artistry. He received Americans for the Arts 2015 Arts Education Award, the most prestigious award in U.S. arts education — the first teaching artist ever to receive this award. He was named in the “Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts (USA) for 2015” in Barry’s Blog, the only teaching artist, and only freelancer on the list.”

Eric’s keynote addressed several interesting ideas one of which I really resonates with me: Intrinsic Motivation. Eric says it is the number one thing that teaching artists should be concerned with, we should understand how to feed it, create environments that allow it to exist and have the capacity ourselves to recognise it. He refers to a whole body of research that emphasises the importance of understanding motivation as a key aspect to ignite the “blip of curiosity” that can change the trajectory of learner’s lives. That’s a pretty big responsibility to place teaching artists, right? But what an exciting field of work to be involved in, how epic is the challenge?

What is motivation?

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.A person who feels no impetus or inspiration to act is thus characterized as unmotivated, whereas someone who is energized or activated toward an end is considered motivated…

The most basic distinction is between intrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, and extrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome.” — Ryan & Deci, Contemporary Educational Psychology

That ignited blip of curiosity leads individuals to discover what intrinsically motivated to do, or as Eric explains, what learner year for what is the the art which they wish to make. Eric’s definition of art is the product or process of making anything you care about. I love this definition, because I believe that their can be artistry in the way a mechanic assembles an engine or the way a statistician may manipulate data.

How do we engender intrinsic motivation?

As teaching artists, educations, parents etc we have a large responsibility to ensure that our practices do not inhibit and undermine a child or learner’s capacity to be intrinsically motivated. So in order to achieve this, we need to understand what contributes to the facilitation of intrinsic motivation. Eric focused on three elements that TA’s can focus on and engender in their practice and workshop/lesson designs.

  1. Autonomy: where learners feel that they are driving their own learning, where they experience a sense of freedom and choice, they are more engaged and motivated. Over-controlled environments or compliance in a learning setting can actually be detrimental to learning. As teaching artists, we want to keep this in mind, when designing activities, we want to encourage self-direction by creating opportunities for learners to make their own decisions.
  2. Mastery: learners are focussed on the process of doing rather than an outcome or set level of excellence. If learning a new skill/capacity, such as playing the piano, is presented as a too difficult/ unattainable goal, then learners may loose their motivation. At the same time, if something is too easy, they may be quickly board and loose motivation with the activity. TA’s want to create setting wherein learners take ownership of their improvement, and experience the lineage of consequence in improving and practice.
  3. Purpose: there should be a connection to something bigger than themselves, and they have to care about that “something”. Learners should experience that the capacity or skill that they are spending their time on matters and can have impact on their world. Learners who feel a sense of purpose seem to persevere when facing an obstacle or challenge, rather than giving up.

While there is no one path or strategy that guarantees that teaching artists engender intrinsic motivation thinking about these concepts and having it in our awareness helps inform our practice. Understanding how we learn enables us to better design our activities and provides us for a lens to improve our facilitation of learning processes. After all, it is our domain to care about the creative lives and curiosities of learners, if they are not learning, then how can we call ourselves teachers?



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Hello, I’m Gabi!

Hello, I’m Gabi!


Founder of Mindjoy, kid at heart. I root for resilience & construct concepts of happiness by designing learning experiences that we call “hard fun”.