Saturday, October 20, 2012

Choice and Intrinsic Motivation

Some students are motivated by extrinsic factors, sometimes known as the carrot and stick approach.  Others are motivated by a true desire from the inside- an intrinsic motivator, if you will.  Years ago, I worked at a school for one year where the students were not intrinsically motivated to create.  They would rush through projects without care or intention.  They would show me their products, asking "is this good enough?" or "am I done yet?"  Their attitudes led me to believe that their creativity was not properly fostered through their elementary art experiences.  Or perhaps they developed a helpless self concept in regards to their artistic abilities at some point.  Maybe they never valued art in the first place.  I do not know the reason.  All I know is that the students at my new school are different.

A majority of students at my new school are intrinsically motivated to create art, which makes nurturing their creative development a less complicated task on my part.  I value their artistic visions in the highest regard, and celebrate their unique ideas.  They take their time with the artistic process.  They articulate and explain their art to others.   They can come up with original, artistic ideas all on their own when we have "choice" days.  Although there are elements of choice in each project (which is a meaningful motivator for students), some days are dedicated to allowing the students to chose the content AND the materials for their art.  Choice in the art classroom gives students ownership of their art-  they are not reproducing the teacher's sample, or copying a masterpiece.  

 Even if the objective for the lesson is to learn a particular skill, like drawing a self portrait for example, elements of choice can still be imbedded into the lesson.  For example, students can choose their materials, they can choose their expression on their face, or they can focus on creating an original background.  Ultimately, it is important to remember that the students are the artist, not the teacher.  If students have a desire to take a risk with their art and try something different, this should be celebrated as long as the objectives for the lesson are still  being met by the student.  

Creativity should be at the heart of an art curriculum, not the production of pretty somethings to hang on walls.  Of course it is important to display products, because art loves an audience.  And many times, these products will be aesthetically pleasing, depending on the objectives of the lesson.  But art education is not solely about the end product- it is about the creative process, and the individual ideas behind those processes that hold relevance to the artist.

My journey as a teacher is a process.  I am continually developing my beliefs and ideas, modifying and adjusting, striving to be better than I was the day before.  What I do know now is that I want my students to love art on their own terms, to find their place, their own individual voice and style for themselves, not for someone else, a grade, or a reward.    Something seems to be working, and I think that it is the element of choice.   

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