Intrinsic Motivation – A Key to Being Youth Driven

Neutral Zone recently launched a new weekly program ‘Jam Sessions’ an opportunity for youth musicians to drop-in and improvise with other budding rap, rock or folk performers. We modeled our program after a program offered at RYSE Youth jam at RYSECenter, one of our Music and Youth Development Alliance (MYDA) collaborators. On a visit to RYSE in February I was inspired by the motley crew of youth who dropped in and blended their eclectic musical styles in rap, metal and classic rock music.   Ali, the youth member who accompanied me on the journey, insisted we start something similar at Neutral Zone – and we did!

In mid-September on the very first day we opened up our Jam Session, we had a strong turnout of 7 youth. The first two youth who showed up were high school seniors from one of the big Ann Arbor high schools who ambled in with their instruments – FRENCH HORNS! This was a little unexpected, as we thought the majority of youth musicians would be rappers or rockers. Regardless, they jammed along with 5 other peers, complete with opportunities to solo on the French horn. All the musicians had a great time.11149550_1056717137692529_4413478774033850080_n

This story exemplifies one of the three main pillars of Neutral Zone’s Youth Driven Space approach – – tapping teens intrinsic motivation (IM). Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from within. It is not driven by grades, reward, or money but is done simply out of desire or pleasure. Furthermore the research on intrinsic motivation breaks down several components that drive IM.

  • Enjoyment – we are driven intrinsically by things that give us pleasure. Most young people love music (its what Chip Wood identifies as a ‘yardstick’ for early adolescents). Some youth are fortunate and talented enough to play and perform. Providing a dedicated space and time for this enjoyable activity to occur supports young peoples’ IM.
  • Curiosity – our desire to explore is one of the drivers of IM. Collaborating with other musicians in an open framework like a jam session drives IM.
  • Challenge – IM is supported by that space where people are challenged to push themselves, to try new things, but to also be within their proximal zone of learning (i.e. it’s not so hard that they can’t achieve). Jamming with other youth musicians provides the right amount of challenge for many teens.
  • Control – we are driven intrinsically by things we want to pursue, that allow us choices while undertaking a task.   Being involved in a jam session where teens can play the kind of music they want, improvise how they chose, and regulate other elements of musicality taps their desire for control.

Unfortunately in many high schools and classrooms, intrinsic motivation is not a big driver in pedagogical practice. Students don’t often have consistent opportunities to direct their learning around things they are passionate or curious about nor are they regularly offered authentic choices to control their educational experiences.  Guiding student learning through a greater emphasis on IM will not only improve student engagement and learning it will help to support self-directed individuals who are more equipped to enter the world as passionate, driven contributors to the communities and work places they enter.

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