Does Participating in Evaluative Performances Increase Student Motivation?

By Mitchell, Nancy | The Canadian Music Educator, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Does Participating in Evaluative Performances Increase Student Motivation?


Mitchell, Nancy, The Canadian Music Educator


Evaluative performances, such as festivals, competitions, and conservatory exams, frequently serve as summative evaluations in music instruction. One of the main reasons evaluative performances are so prevalent is that they are assumed to increase students' levels of motivation (Davidson and Scutt, 1999). As in the case of standardized academic testing, the expectation is that when students have the threat of a poor performance (or the potential reward of a good result) in front of them, they will work harder, show greater levels of commitment, and will produce a higher quality performance than they would without that incentive. However, research into high-stakes academic tests has called into question whether these types of evaluations really bring out the best in students and teachers (Kelleghan, Madaus & Raczek, 1997; Phelps, 2005). This article will explore four theories of motivation in conjunction with characteristics of festivals, competitions, and exams in an effort to understand the impact of participation in evaluative performances on students' desire to engage in musical activities.

The first motivational theory to be examined is the intrinsic/extrinsic spectrum, which attempts to explain why people engage in certain activities. An intrinsically motivated person will pursue an activity because he or she enjoys it. This enjoyment provides the only reinforcement that the person needs in order to continue to engage in the activity (Schunk, Pintrich & Meece, 2007, p. 236). Intrinsic motivation is generally viewed as being more adaptive to learning (Lacaille, Koestner & Gaudreau, 2007). Extrinsic motivation, in contrast, is based on receiving external rewards for engaging in a particular behaviour. When these incentives are removed, engagement in the activity stops. Extrinsic rewards can have a particularly damaging impact if a person was previously intrinsically motivated to pursue an activity, as the reliance on rewards can take the place of the intrinsic motivation. In this case, the person becomes dependent on the rewards and will discontinue a previously enjoyed activity when the rewards are removed (Stipek, 2002, p. 32).

Most music educators would agree they want their students to enjoy making music. Evaluative performances can have a negative impact on student motivation because they encourage an emphasis on external rewards for musical performance rather than on engaging in music for the purpose of personal satisfaction. Both the curriculum of study and the evaluation criteria are externally determined rather than being based on the students' own interests. Even if a student likes the required repertoire, he or she is unlikely to practice without some regard for the end result (i.e. the mark or rank). Evaluative performances can be useful in the short term for motivating students to practice music or technical skills that they might otherwise neglect; however, there is always a risk that an intrinsically motivated student will lose his or her interest in music when there is too much emphasis on results.

Another useful perspective on motivation is attribution theory. This theory addresses people's explanations for their successes and failures (Weiner, 1986). Attributions are characterized based on whether the reason for success comes from within the person or from an external source and on whether the outcome is influenced by factors that are stable or changeable. For example, ability would be considered an internal, stable attribution because ability is situated within a person and is generally regarded as unchanging. Effort, on the other hand, is an internal, unstable attribution, as individuals can vary the level of effort they expend depending on the situation. Task difficulty (external stable) and luck (external unstable) are two other common explanations for achievement. In most educational settings, effort attributions have been shown to be the most conducive to continued learning (Legette, 1998; Freedman-Doan, Wigfield, Eccles, Blumenfeld, Arbreton & Harold, 2000). …

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