Relationship Building

Can Intrinsic Motivation Be Developed? (Ep. 010)

A classroom where every student is intrinsically motivated is an art teacher’s dream, but it’s rarely a reality. In this episode, Tim brings back AOE writer Abby Schukei to continue their discussion from Episode 002 on how to best motivate our students. This time, they are also joined by art teaching superstar Nic Hahn, author of the blog Mini Matisse.

The three discuss how we can teach students to value their work (12:30), whether students have the ability to develop intrinsic motivation (15:30), and how to work with students that don’t like art (17:00). The show raises important questions to help all art teachers reflect on what they do for their students and why. Full episode transcript below.

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Art Ed Radio Ep 10



Tim Bogatz: Welcome to Art Ed Radio the podcast for our teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Can intrinsic motivation be developed? This question is something we wonder about as art teachers, as parents, and as artists. This question is going to guide our conversation throughout this show. This episode is an Art Ed Radio first. A follow-up to an episode we’ve already recorded. Back in episode 2, Abby Schukei and I discussed how to create an authentic audience for our students and their work, and more importantly how that authentic audience serves as a motivating factor for our students. The conversation about that episode went on for days on social media. I received so many positive messages about the show via email, Twitter, and Facebook that it only seemed natural to continue the talk on another episode. Abby is back for this one, and we’ll also be joined by Nic Hahn, elementary art teacher from Minnesota, and the author of the ever popular blog, Mini Matisse. We’re going to talk about motivation, how it’s developed, and they will be on in just a moment.

Now, this entire conversation began with a thought provoking question that was first brought up by Nic Hahn. Do we really want our students to base the value of their work on the response they receive on social media? My personal answer, we may not have a choice. It may be outside of our experience, or what we can conceptualize as teachers, but social media interactions are such a huge part of our students’ lives. We can’t get around it, and honestly it doesn’t make sense to fight it. The thing that really brought his realization home to me was reading the book, “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.” It’s by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, and it clearly delineates our experience with technology in opposition to the younger generation who’ve known nothing but technology for their entire lives. Our current students are the first generation to really feel the effects of how social media is infiltrating all aspects of our lives.

Coming to an understanding with those experiences makes me kind of look at the digital world with a little less disdain, I suppose. Just because that digital focus is present in their lives, it doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we can or should use to motivate our students. If our motivation stops at the Instagram likes they get, we aren’t doing our job as teachers. There’s another world out there outside of the phone in their hands, and it’s our responsibility to share it with our students. Part of that is to help them develop that sense of motivation, that sense of self-worth, and that intrinsic motivation that will propel them to success, not only in art, but in everything that they do.

If I can tell you just some of the things that have worked for me in my classroom to kind of help students develop that self-motivation, develop that intrinsic motivation because I think it can be done. Now, obviously I have the advantage when I work with high-schoolers of seeing them every day, and sometimes for three or four years. That repetition and seeing them over and over really gives us the opportunity to instill some of those habits. We start with small things, but if you can build up that confidence, and if you can build up that work ethic, kids really learn how to handle challenges, how to take on things that may seem a little bit intimidating at first.

If you can develop that motivation, then soon they’ll be ready to work, and excited to work on those things that challenge them. It may start really small with checklists of here’s what we’re going to learn, or calendars that say, “This is what we’re going to do here. This is what we will be teaching you here.” They can see that progress. As they make that progress, I’m celebrating every single success. Like, “Hey, that contour line is spectacular”, “That shading is really good,” “Hey, your realism is really starting to develop,” “I love the expression you have with this one.” You just celebrate every little thing. You build that confidence. Eventually that confidence, and that success will lead to that motivation that we’re looking for.

What starts with extrinsic motivation, whether you’re bribing kids, or just showing them here’s the end result that we’re going for, eventually with enough work that can develop into the intrinsic motivation that we’re looking for. One thing that kind of brings this point home, Daniel Pink in his incredible Ted Talk on motivation, says that intrinsic motivation comes down to three things. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Those driving forces are always going to  work better than the old carrots and sticks approach. Maybe you start with those carrots and sticks, but eventually you want to show the kids the path to autonomy. You want to show them how to master those skills. You want to give them a purpose when they’re making their art. That’s how we develop that intrinsic motivation because the most motivated people have that unseen, intrinsic drive. How we develop that drive is going to be the guiding question as we kind of run through this conversation tonight.

Let’s bring on Abby and Nic. All right Abby, I’m going to start with you. Nic raised this question, as did multiple listeners who emailed me, and I’ll direct it to you. Is it okay to have our kids base the value of their work on social media approval?

Abby: I’ll first answer that just by saying no. Value certainly does not equal likes, but I do think that social media approval certainly holds weight to our students. That doesn’t mean that it necessarily represents value, but it is going to have a meaningful impact on our students. I think another point to bring up is that the likes of social media are more or less, I think this current time now, it’s kind of a movement. It’s relevant right now. I had a conversation today in my classroom just talking about how students use social media, and some of them are honest saying, “If I don’t get enough likes on something” … They do take enough value in it, that they say, “I’m going to take it down.” I think if it’s used in the right way that students use it to not necessarily seek approval, but to showcase something that they’ve done, or their proud of something and they want to be recognized. I certainly don’t think that … It can add value, but that should not be the sole source of what value is.

I did have an experience today when I was on my school’s Instagram account, and I share my student artwork all the time. I had a student that was following me, and she actually reposted one of her pictures that I had posted of her project a couple months ago. Her caption on it was just, she just had this simple photo and it said, “I was so proud of making this.” I just happened to see it, and I was like, “Wow that’s really cool.” Like I would’ve never known that because she verbally didn’t tell me that. Then I was able to write a comment on there, and I was like, “I’m so proud that you’re proud of it.” I think that if it’s used in that way where students are posting because they genuinely do want to share because they are proud of something, then maybe there is some value in the likes in that way, but I think it’s coming from two entirely different places.

Tim: Yeah and I think that brings up a good point. One of the things I talked about in the introduction was just, as adults, we don’t necessarily understand, and we can’t necessarily make sense of just how wrapped up in technology, and in social media that our kids really are, but that story really gives a lot of context to kind of show us where things are with our kids and how they understand those social media likes. Nic, I think you had something that you wanted to say in regards to social media as well, right?

Nic: Yeah, absolutely. I know that social media is a huge motivator for our students, and I would say even our current population. It’s not just our kids, it’s adults as well. I do find value in using social media as a motivator for sure. Especially for those students who maybe aren’t necessarily motivated by art, or being in your art class. Possibly they can be motivated by their peers then, which often is a high motivation for many students. I was thinking about it a little bit further, and likes really aren’t that much different than well, now this is going to date me, but using friendship bracelets exchanged in my day. It was how many friendship bracelets could you have on your wrist to represent how many, basically likes or people that like you, you had. Every generation finds their own way to communicate this I believe.

Tim: Yeah that’s an excellent point. I’ll kind of ask this of you because you’re starting to go this direction, apart from the social media likes, you talked about friends, but what are some of the other aspects of approval that you have kind of found in your teaching experience that help serve to motivate students?

Nic: Yeah, I think about what I want for my personal children actually. When I’m talking with other parents I know that they have a hard time communicating, and especially with their middle schoolers, like that communication, but I know it’s still valued whether they want to admit it or not. I have my students’ email home their artwork, or text, I’ll let them text a picture of it just with some qualifications like, “This is what we learned. This is what I was going over. What do you think mom and dad?” I always have them blind copy me on it, or CC, just CC me on it. Just that interaction between parents and students is really powerful.

Tim: Yeah that’s really cool.

Nic: Yeah, yeah. It works out really good. Of course, having a relationship with students as a teacher is a high motivator sometimes. Not always, because you’re not going to connect with every kid, but for some yeah that’s going to work. Using peer feedback in a low-tech way, or a high-tech way is both good. Then, always just offering a variety. When you’re working with kindergarten through eighth grade, they don’t have choice to be in your classroom. If you can give them just a variety of mediums, or subjects, or experiences, giving them the wow factor, like shrinky-dinks, or painting on their hands, or doing color mixing, those are the things that can motivate some students. The buildings, like building with blocks, that’s not going to motivate all of them, but then you offer some technology and that’s going to get a few more. You just want to make a variety in your art world, and your art class, right?

Tim: Yeah, I think that works really well. I think if we can kind of move on to from the motivation factor, we’re going to work our way into the actually work that kids are being created. The big question I guess is, I’ll direct this one at you Abby, how do we teach students to value their own work, the work that they’re creating?

Abby: Well I think if students are truly going to value what they’re doing, it has to be meaningful to them. Like Nic was saying, that might mean that it has the wow factor, or it’s something that they are at least fascinated in a little bit. They’re excited about the process to figure out what the end result will be. I think the struggle comes with how do we teach our students to gain that value? I think part of it is allowing students to learn from their experiences. I’m a big believer in constructivism, allowing students to take what they already know and to go with it. That way students might have a passion for something and they’re motivated to show that in their artwork. In turn, it creates some type of value to it.

I think one of those things … Artwork is not necessarily always going to have meaning in it as students create it, but I think if it’s personal to them that there’s going to be at least some sort of success, or some sort of accomplishment that they’ll find from that, which makes it valuable. I think another one of the ways that we can help students teach them to value, is just by our positive feedback and our positive praise. That can kind of change the mindset of students I think, in the way as if I’m walking around my group of students throughout a class period, if I say, “Oh you’re doing a really good job. That looks awesome.” Eventually I would hope that that kind of creeps into their minds and kind of mind warps them a little bit thinking, “Hey, I am doing a good job.” I think just by saying that it can make them think that, and there’s the value there for that.

Tim: Yeah I think that’s good. That’s something that I talk about quite a bit. Just celebrating every success, like no matter how small it is. Especially with kids that our struggling. Like those small successes eventually add up, and that can create a great motivator. Nic, what you want to throw in here?

Nic: Yeah, no I just wanted to really concur with Abby. I think going a step further with the positive, not just giving that positive feedback because you can’t give that energy constantly, but if you’re passionate and excited about what you’re teaching it does rub off on those kids. Just having that positive environment, that safe environment for your students, creates motivation as well.

Tim: Yeah, that’s very true. Yeah I don’t know, I find myself like that positive energy is tough to come by some days, but it’s definitely worthwhile when you can bring it. Nic, this is something that you and I have talked about before, and just with both of us being parents, I think this is a lesson that kind of goes beyond what we do in the art room. Like you said earlier, there are things that you think about, and things that you want for your own kids. How do we teach our kids, at home or at school, do develop that idea of self-motivation?

Nic: Yeah, I’m still working on that one. I really am. When I was responding to your guys’ podcast it was truly just questions. I don’t know. I want to know more peoples’ solutions. I think the other thing is, I think it’s individual. What’s going to work for one kid isn’t going to work for the next one, which makes this answer extremely difficult.

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Hey you know what? Like I said though, we don’t necessarily have all the answers here, but if we can get people to think about what they do in the classroom, there’s value in that as well. Just raising the right questions, whether that be in this conversation, or people raising those questions in their own classroom, there’s value in that. If we can start thinking about what our students need, and what we can do for them … Like you said, it’s different for everyone, but to think about that and to figure that out are important steps that teachers need to be at least attempting to take.

Nic: Right, right. The other question is, do we need every single student to be in love, and engaged, and self-motivated in every single subject? That’s a tough question to answer, and a tough question come to terms with. When do you live and let live, and when do you motivate students? When do you try to push them farther?

Tim: Yeah, and I think one thing that you’ve brought up before is if we decide oh I don’t want to push that kid any further, then you kind of have that feeling of guilt. Like am I giving up on that kid?

Nic: Yeah. Right. Right.

Tim: I don’t know. It’s a balancing act, and it’s a tough rope to be walking. Like I said, those are things that everybody needs to think about. Abby, I wanted to kind of circle back around to something that we touched on in episode two, and something that I guess Nic just brought up right now. Not every student’s going to be excited about being in your class, and not every student has the ability, and not every student has the want to. Do they have to be self-motivated to be successful? If you don’t think so, kind of going back to those talented and terrible kids that we talked about, what can we do for those students who don’t have a love for our subject?

Abby: Well I think it’s one of those things that you kind of have to embrace it. I always tell my students that if I introduce something and I can just tell when they hate it. I just know. There are times that I’m honest with them and I’ll tell them, “There are some things in life that I just absolutely hate, but I still suffer through it and try to do it, and eventually I kind of find a way to cope with it, and I might actually enjoy it.” I always give the example too. Like my dad’s a huge baseball fan, and I hate baseball. Like if he wants me to go to a game with him, I’ll go. I might suffer through it a little bit, but I might enjoy the experience. I think it’s definitely about embracing it, and not fighting it, but maybe what are your teaching techniques and methods that you’re doing to help them hate it less?

I think that’s going to be by creating variety. Giving that wow factor. Bringing in curiosity. If somebody’s interested in something … I go back to your article that you wrote last month about the wacky and wild art history, the of art history. Art history can be boring, but if you present in a wacky and wild way, like kids are going to eat that up. I think it’s just all about the delivery and making sure you tell them why it’s relevant. I think one of the other big things for me is to have your students have a little bit of control, so that it becomes more about this is not what I want you to do, but it turns into the student saying, “I’m doing this because I want to.” It’s just all those little techniques in there that can hopefully, like I said, help them hate it less a little bit.

Nic: Yeah, great.

Tim: Very true. Go ahead Nic. What were you going to say?

Nic: No, I’m over here giving spirit fingers for all of that [crosstalk 00:20:42]

Abby: Well you know what. I am actually wearing a couple of friendship bracelets right now. I’m feeling [crosstalk 00:20:51] over here.

Nic: I’m mad that you have more likes than me.

Tim: That’s fantastic. All right, well hey I think that’s a good place to end it there with great quotes about making kids not hate art, and friendship bracelets. That’s a good place to close it. Abby and Nic, thank you both very much.

Nic: Yeah thanks for having us.

Abby: Thanks so much.

Tim: As Nic just said a couple minutes ago, this episode may have asked more questions than it has answered, but that’s never a bad thing. It’s important for us as teachers to reflect on what we do, and also what we could be doing. Tonight’s takeaway is this: When it comes to motivation, there’s not a one size fits all approach. Different kids will be motivated by different things. The world of social media will fill that need for some, the ability to create interesting, and relevant, and meaningful art will work for others, and still others may be looking for something completely different. It’s up for us as teachers to find that need for each of our students and help them start on the path to success. Once they are on that path we guide them toward those principals of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When they discover that autonomy, and when they find their purpose our students will begin to develop that intrinsic motivation that servers them so well, both in and out of the art room.

If this conversation is something that has piqued your interest I would encourage you to look into the Art of Ed’s course called Instructional Strategies in the Art Room. There are just so many topics covered throughout the class, and the plethora of new projects you see and develop are sure to engage and motivate your students. Instructional Strategies, like every AoE class starts on the first of the month and you can find more information and sign up on the under the classes tab.

Art Ed Radio is developed, produced, and supported by the Art of Education with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Please subscribe on iTunes where we are on the new and noteworthy page, by the way. We appreciate your support and your ratings help new listeners find the show. You can find additional content under the podcast tab on the We will have the write-up of this episode with links, quotes, and resources you can use in your classroom. New episodes are released every Tuesday, so check back and we will talk to you then. Thanks for listening.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.