Dance, Drama and Performance and Motivation

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General Motivational Strategies

Capitalise on Students’ Existing Need

Students learn best when incentives for learning satisfy personal motives for enrolling on the course of study. Motives will vary from student to student and could include the following: a need to learn something in order to complete a specific task or activity, the desire to seek new experiences, the need to perfect skills, the need to overcome challenges, the need to become competent, the need to succeed and do well, the need to feel involved and to interact with other people. Satisfying such needs will be rewarding in itself, and such rewards sustain learning more effectively than achieving good grades alone. (Source: McMillan and Forsyth, 1991).

Make Students Active Participants in Learning

Students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, solving. Passivity dampens student motivation and curiosity. Questions could be posed to students instead of telling them how to do something. Encouraging students to suggest approaches to problems or guessing the results of experiments will help them to solve problems. (Source: Lucas, 1990).

Ask Students to Analyse What Makes Classes More or Less ‘Motivating’

Sass (1989) asks his classes to recall two recent teaching sessions, one in which they felt highly motivated and one in which they felt less motivated. Each student is asked to make a list of specific aspects of the two classes that they feel influenced motivational levels. Students are then asked to meet in small groups to discuss the characteristics that contribute to feelings of high and low motivation. In over twenty courses, Sass reports, the same eight characteristics emerge as major contributors to student motivation:

  • Instructor’s enthusiasm.
  • Relevance of the material.
  • Organisation of the course.
  • Appropriate difficulty level of the material.
  • Active involvement of students.
  • Variety.
  • Rapport between tutor and students.
  • Use of appropriate, concrete, and understandable examples.
Hold High but Realistic Expectations for Students

Research has shown that a tutor’s expectations have a powerful effect on student performance. Acting as if it is expected that students will be motivated, hardworking, and interested in the course, will ensure they are more likely to be so. Setting realistic expectations for students with regard to assignments, giving presentations, conducting discussions, and grading examinations, will also help them to achieve. ‘Realistic’ in this context means that standards are high enough to motivate students to produce best work but not so high that students will inevitably be frustrated in trying to meet those expectations. To develop the drive to achieve, students need to believe that achievement is possible – which means providing early opportunities for success. (Sources: American Psychological Association, 1992; Bligh, 1971; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991 and Lowman, 1984).

Help Students to Set Achievable Goals for Themselves

Failure to attain unrealistic goals can disappoint and frustrate students. Students need to be encouraged to focus on continued development and improvement, not just on the next assignment or exam. Students can be assisted in this by encouraging them to critique individual work, analyse strengths, and work on weaknesses. E.g. asking students to submit self-evaluation forms with assignments. (Sources: Cashin, 1979 and Forsyth and McMillan, 1991).

Tell Students What They Need to do to Succeed on the Course

Don’t allow students to struggle to find out what is expected of them. Reassure them that they can do well on the course, and tell them exactly what they must do to succeed. An example of this might be to say to students "if you can handle the examples on these problem sheets, you can pass the exam." Or, instead of saying, "you’re really behind," tell the student, "here is one way you could go about learning the material, what can I do to help you?" (Sources: Cashin, 1979 and Tiberius, 1990).

Avoid messages that reinforce the tutor’s power as an instructor or that emphasise extrinsic rewards. Instead of saying, "I require," "you must," or "you should," stress "I think you will find…" or "I will be interested in your reaction." (Source: Lowman, 1990).

Avoid Creating Intense Competition Among Students

Competition produces anxiety, which can interfere with learning. Bligh (1971) reports that students are more attentive, display better comprehension, produce more work, and are more favourable to the teaching method when they work co-operatively in groups rather than compete as individuals. Refrain from public criticisms of performance and from comments or activities that pit students against each other. (Sources: Eble, 1988 and Forsyth and McMillan, 1991).

Be Enthusiastic About the Subject

An instructor’s enthusiasm is a crucial factor in student motivation. A bored or apathetic tutor will encourage boredom amongst students. Typically, a tutor’s enthusiasm comes from confidence, excitement about the content, and genuine pleasure in teaching. When interest for the subject wanes, tutor’s should think back to what was attractive about the subject – these aspects of the subject matter could be brought to life for the student. Devising exciting ways to present material could be seen as a challenge, however dull the material itself may seem.

Work From Students’ Strengths and Interests

It is helpful to find out why students are enrolled on the course, how they feel about the subject matter, and what expectations are. This enables tutors to devise examples, case studies or assignments that are relevant to students’ interests and experiences. Take time to explain how the content and objectives of the course will help students to achieve personal educational or professional goals.

If Possible, Let Students Have Some Say in Choosing What Will Be Studied

Give students options on term papers or other assignments (but not on tests). Let them decide between two locations for a field trip, or have them select which topics they want to explore in greater depth. If possible include optional or alternative units within the course. (Sources: Ames and Ames, 1990; Cashin, 1979; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991 and Lowman, 1984).

Increase the Difficulty of the Material as the Semester Progresses

Give students the opportunity to succeed at the beginning of the semester and then gradually increase the difficulty level once they feel they can succeed. If assignments and examinations include easier and harder questions, every student will have a chance to experience success as well as challenge. (Source: Cashin, 1979).

Use Varied Teaching Methods

Variety reawakens students’ involvement in the course and motivation levels. Break routines by incorporating a variety of teaching activities and methods within the course: role playing, debates, brainstorming, discussion, demonstrations, case studies, audiovisual presentations, guest speakers or group work. (Source: Forsyth and McMillan, 1991).

Emphasise Mastery and Learning Rather Than Grades

Ames and Ames (1990) report on two secondary school maths tutors. One tutor graded every homework assignment and counted homework as 30 percent of a student’s final grade. The second told students to spend a fixed amount of time on homework (thirty minutes a night) and to bring questions back to the class regarding problems they could not complete. This tutor graded homework as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, gave students the opportunity to redo assignments, and counted homework as 10 percent of the final grade. Although homework was a smaller part of the course grade, the second tutor was more successful in motivating students to do homework. In the first class, some students gave up rather than risk low evaluations of ability. In the second class, students were not risking personal self-worth each time they did homework but rather were attempting to learn. Mistakes were viewed as acceptable and something to learn from.

Researchers recommend de-emphasising grading by eliminating complex systems of credit points; they also advise against trying to use grades to control non-academic behaviour (e.g. lowering grades for missed classes) (Forsyth and McMillan, 1991 and Lowman 1990). Instead, assign ungraded written work, stress the personal satisfaction of doing assignments, and help students measure progress.

Design Tests That Encourage the Kind of Learning Students are Expected to Achieve

Many students will learn whatever is necessary to obtain the grades they desire. If tests are based on memorising details, students will focus on memorising facts. If tests stress the synthesis and evaluation of information, students will be motivated to practice those skills when they study. (Source: McKeachie, 1986).

Avoid Using Grades as Threats

As McKeachie (1986) points out, the threat of low grades may prompt some students to work hard, but others may resort to academic dishonesty, excuses for late work or other counterproductive behaviour.

Responding to Students’ Work

Give students feedback as quickly as possible. Return tests and papers promptly, and reward success publicly and immediately. Give students some indication of how well they have done and how to improve. Rewards can be as simple as saying a student’s response was good, with an indication of why it was good, or mentioning the names of contributors, e.g. "X’s point about X really synthesised the ideas we have been discussing." (Source: Cashin, 1979).

Both positive and negative comments influence motivation, but research consistently indicates that students are more affected by positive feedback and success. Praise builds students’ self-confidence, competence and self-esteem. If a student’s performance is weak, they will benefit from knowing that the tutor expects them to improve and succeed over time. (Sources: Cashin, 1979 and Lucas, 1990).

  • Introduce students to good work completed by peers.
  • Share the ideas, knowledge and accomplishments of individual students with the whole class.
  • Pass around a list of research topics so that students will know whether others are writing papers of interest to them.
  • Make available copies of good examples of previous essays.
  • Provide class time for students to read papers or assignments submitted by classmates.
  • Have students write a brief critique of a classmate’s paper.
  • Schedule a brief talk by a student who has experience or who is doing a research paper on a topic relevant to the lecture.
  • If negative feedback is necessary, make sure it is specific and relates to the particular task or performance and not the individual student as a person.
  • Many students may be anxious about performance and ability – being sensitive to this when phrasing comments avoiding offhand remarks, will help students to remain positive.
  • Ask students for a possible approach to a problem.
  • Praise students for small, independent steps.

In following these steps, students will learn that it is acceptable not to have an instant answer. They will also learn to develop greater patience and to work at individual pace. And by working through the problem, students will experience a greater sense of achievement and confidence that will increase the motivation to learn.