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Idea Exchange: The Progress Principle

by Kristin Shoemaker

On October 10th a group of MacPhail Center for Music faculty members came together to talk about the importance of progress and its direct impact on student motivation. The discussion centered around findings from Amabile and Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle, and veteran MacPhail teachers Bob Adney, Joy Moeller, and Andrea French shared from their experiences.

Idea Exchange: The Progress Principle
Kristin Shoemaker facilitates a panel discussion featuring MacPhail faculty membere, Bob Adney, Andrea French & Joy Moeller
[Video has been edited for clarity and flow]

Amabile and Kramer worked with 238 employees in corporate settings and analyzed 12,000 anonymous diary entries from those workers. Their research addresses positive “inner work life, ” and its effect on creativity, productivity, work commitment, and collegiality. Even though their work is targeted to the corporate world, many of their insights have relevance in music instruction:

  • Their research revealed that the best way to motivate people is by facilitating progress – even small wins (Probably no surprise for music teachers)
  • “… making headway on meaningful work brightens inner work life and boosts long-term performance. Real progress triggers positive emotions like satisfaction, gladness, even joy. It leads to a sense of accomplishment and self-worth as well as positive views of the work…. Such thoughts and perceptions (along with those positive emotions) feed the motivation, the deep engagement, that is crucial for ongoing blockbuster performance.”
  • Three types of events stand out in supporting inner work life, in this order:
  1. Progress in meaningful work (small wins, breakthroughs, forward movement, goal completion)
  2. Catalysts - Events that directly help project work (setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing resources, giving enough time, helping with the work, learning from problems & successes, allowing ideas to flow)
  3. Nourishers - Interpersonal events that uplift the people doing the work (respect, encouragement, emotional support, affiliation)
  • Over 28% of small events triggered big reactions. Here’s the rub:  All things being equal, negative events are more powerful than positive events. (So how do we minimize those in teaching?) 
  • Our teachers shared some thoughts on how to remove setbacks to progress, and how they’ve dealt with students who have lost interest in taking lessons. The discussion can be viewed in the video above.

    On a related topic, last spring David Birrow gave a fantastic Idea Exchange session on the power of video games, and their ability to keep progress visible. Curious to hear what tips other teachers might have for making student progress tangible….

    For more on this research, check out these links:

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