Parenting and Pedagogy: Keeping Students Motivated

As a young musician, I grew up with the attitude many share when it comes to learning a new instrument. Even Rubinstein, the world-famous concert pianist, admitted that he loved to play, but hated to practice. [1] This dilemma begs the age-old question: “how do we keep young students motivated enough to not quit?” Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this, since it seems to be a challenge for both the innately gifted artist as well as the merely curious amateur.

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A well-known study released in 2008 showed that, on average, it takes approximately 10,000 hours of “mindful, purposeful, mistake-focused” practice in order to achieve mastery in a given skill. [2] That’s nearly 60 solid weeks or 417 straight days. Malcolm Gladwell illustrates his study further by examining the young Mozart. His early works were nothing special and were likely improved upon by his father. In fact, the only one that is now regarded a masterpiece wasn’t even composed until he was twenty-one—and by that time we can easily assume he had reached the 10,000-hour quota.

This study extends beyond artists in music. Neurologist Daniel Levitin says that “basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, chess players, master criminals, and what have you” all require the magic number before they can take on the title of a world-class expert [3]. The overall conclusion is that, ultimately, mastery has less to do with ethnicity, IQ, or even “talent” and everything to do with persistence and highly motivated practice over an extended period.

Reviewing this fascinating research brings to mind that one logical reason that people give up could be that somewhere between novice and expert, students simply lose motivation due to the long and arduous path. However, after conducting more research of my own, I discovered that students lose motivation throu