Mindsets, Motivation, And Performance: 12 Tips

For The Music Educator

Marjorie LoPresti 732-613-6969

musicians--students, teachers, and profes- sionals alike. The effects on our students can impact individual learning, performance, and the progress of whole classes and en- sembles. Some recent topics of discussion among neuroscientists, psychologists, and educators can show us ways to help our stu- dents--and ourselves--to cope better, learn more, and perform at a higher level. The tips in this article are distilled from numer- ous books, professional conferences, and collegial discussions, and may help in your everyday work with students.

M Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets

Fostering a growth mindset in students is a hot topic in some schools. Do you (and your students) view challenges as opportu- nities to flex and improve your musical, in- tellectual, and emotional muscles? Or does dealing with something new, different, or harder present a threat that could make you look bad? In her readable book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck’s tells of Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg’s journey. This true story of a violin prodigy who got stuck while making the jump to world-class musician is instructive for everyone, not just music teachers. Salerno-Sonnenberg had a fixed image of herself, and had to pro- tect against anyone seeing or hearing her go through the messy process of learning and growing.

Tip 1: Create a judgement-

free space for students to learn and improve. By actually welcoming mistakes to diagnose and correct problems, we encourage students to let go of the fixed idea of who they are,


otivation. Practice. Stress. Performance anxiety. These are topics well known to

and imagine who they may grow to become. Reinforce the idea that notes on a page, the sounds coming out of an instrument, and (harder to handle) the notes being sung do not define any individual. Praise risk-taking when it comes to trying new techniques and musical challenges. Reading Mindset will be well worth

your time. In addition to providing a wealth of real-world stories, Dweck clearly explains the research and science of mindsets in con- versational language, and provides relatable examples from all walks of life. Throughout, she encourages the reader to explore his or her own thinking, catch a fixed mindset in action, and consider use of language care- fully in how we program our own thinking and relate to others. As educators, we all know that those who put in the work get results. That’s the growth mindset in action. Often, however, we fall into the trap of talk- ing about talent or innate ability. Those are fixed mindset qualities.

Tip 2: Compliment students

based on effort and specific action steps. This inspires more hard work and leads to real growth. Other students will hear the praise of the work, reinforcing that process gets results.

Promotion vs. Prevention Mindsets How do you motivate or encourage

your students when giving instructions? So many of us only think about the growth mindset student. Typically, they are the stu- dents who want to know what to do to earn an “A” or get a top rating. Growth-minded students can also be seen as having a promo- tion mindset, though the two do not cor- relate all of the time. Prevention mindset


students try to avoid looking bad or having bad things happen. Many high achieving students have a prevention mindset based on a fear of getting any grade below an “A.” No person is ever wholly promotion or prevention minded in all situations. Even a growth-minded person might fear a poor performance at an audition, and get stressed out practicing one particular etude. Mind- sets may vary from day to day, depending on prior events or expectations of an upcoming situation. In their book Focus, Heidi Grant Halvorson and Toby Higgins outline ways of identifying which mindset is in action at any given time, and ways to meet the needs of people with both mindsets.

Tip 3: Phrase instructions and expectations in two ways, since we cannot know the mindsets of every student every day. The promotion- minded student is more likely to be a self-starter and will take cues from your instructions, so phrase directions this way: To earn an A on your performance as- signment, practice effectively, keep a con- sistent tempo, play in tune, and follow all expression markings. For the prevention minded student,

use greater specificity while acknowledging the fear of failure: To avoid a poor grade on your performance assignment, don’t miss even one day of practice, check your tempo with a metronome, refer to your tuner, and be sure to notice and perform all tempo, dynamics, articulation and other markings correctly. Using different angles to reach differ- ent students is an easy way to tweak verbal instructions, since every educator repeats instructions multiple times. When provid- ing written instructions, use both encour- aging language for the promotion-minded

MAY 2017

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