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Classroom Motivation

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A Systematic Approach to Classroom Motivation

Several years ago, a book on successful management and motivation in the workplace was released, which was called "First, Break All the Rules." It was based on contributions from more than 1,000,000 employees and 80,000 managers in 400 companies across all industries. The result provided new insight into what makes for a successful company or department.

And so I thought: Could these ideas be applied to the language classroom? After all, a motivated company or department produces tangible results the same as a motivated class. The former sees an increase in work output by the employees while the latter sees an increase in language output by the students. A lot has been written about motivation, but not much in the way of a consistent, systematic approach.

The book presented twelve questions that management should consider. The twelve questions were:

1: Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2: Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3: Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4: In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
5: Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6: Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7: At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8: Does the mission / purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9: Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10: Do I have a best friend at work?
11: In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12: This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

It should be noted that the twelve questions were specifically ordered. For employees to be motivated, and so meet with the most success at work, they must positively answer the earlier questions before then positively answering the later questions. In other words, and as an example, if employees don't know what is expected of them at work (question one), then it doesn't much matter if their opinions are valued (question seven).

So how might these questions apply to the language classroom to improve motivation?

Let's begin with the first two questions. I have rewritten the questions, substituting words more suitable to the language classroom. I have also written "the students" instead of "I," thus directing the question to the teacher rather than the students.

1: Do the students know what is expected of them in the classroom?
2: Do the students have the materials and equipment they need to effectively learn?

These first questions focus on the start of a new class. If students don't know the teacher's expectations, nor have the right materials or equipment to succeed, then their satisfaction and motivation will remain low.

Syllabus: A syllabus with clearly laid out guidelines and class objectives serves as one idea to set expectations. Students know where their journey will take them over the coming months when provided with a syllabus. Even in a less formal learning environment where a syllabus seems unusual, the teacher can lay out objectives and expectations from the first lesson, either with or without input from the students. For example, students will receive homework which must be completed by the next lesson; students should keep a journal to practice writing skills: or students will build fluency and accuracy skills through communicative tasks.

Textbook: Focusing on the second question, a good textbook is one place to start. The textbook should be level appropriate, match the students' needs, and resonate with interesting content. Additional resources that support the textbook's contents and also allow the students to meet specific objectives are important too, and these resources may take the form of videos, audio, articles, and worksheets, just to name a few suggestions.

Other Realia: The teacher should also consider outside materials for self-study. Students don't know the best websites, books, or methods to improve their language ability. The teacher needs to specifically show the sites, books, exercises, and even methods for students to have the right materials and equipment for success.

3: Do the students have the opportunity to do what they do best in every lesson?
4: In the last seven days, have the students received recognition or praise for good work?
5: Do I, or someone in the class, seem to care about the students as people?
6: Is there someone in the class who encourages their development?

These next questions become more important as the class continues. The perspective of the students changes over time, namely because they contribute to the class through interactive activities, assignments, group work, and all the other points that create a cooperative learning environment. Self-esteem is an important point for anyone, and students want to be valued for their work and participation.

...a syllabus with clearly laid out class objectives serves as one idea to set expectations

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Strengths, Weaknesses, and Preferences: Here we refer to the third question. The teacher should be sure to give students the opportunity to do what they do best, and thereby allow them to gain confidence and motivation. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses with regards to speaking, listening, reading, or writing. Everyone also has different comfort zones when it comes to their strengths and weaknesses.

The scope and variety of activities should be wide, which then allows students to sometimes play to their strengths and sometimes take a step back, recuperate, and then be ready to move forward with additional challenges. Student generally prefer not to spend a full hour or more pushed beyond their comfort zone.

Praise: Meaningful comments in the class refer to the fourth question. The praise must be genuine. For example, if students complete a relatively easy activity, the teacher has less need to comment on a job well done. Conversely, if students struggle, make many mistakes in a difficult activity, yet finish the work, praise is warranted. Praise should also include long-term objectives to further encourage development.

Personalized Help: Students should be viewed as individuals with personal problems, difficulties, and constraints originating outside of class. If someone misses lessons, for example, it's better to determine the reason rather than simply give a stern warning (or even fail the student). Of course, students are ultimately responsible for their own actions, but the teacher should also work towards finding effective solutions with students so that they might succeed.

We can also consider this idea of personal help and attention when the teacher provides extra work to help students reach their goals. Perhaps one student has poor listening skills, and so the teacher gives him homework that addresses this problem. Perhaps another student needs to improve her vocabulary, and so the teacher works vocabulary building exercises into the lesson or the homework. Whatever the form, the teacher provides personal help to the students so that each can excel in the lesson.

7: In the classroom, do the opinions of the students seem to count?
8: Do the students feel that their participation is important?
9: Are their peers in the class committed to doing quality work?
10: Does each student have a best friend in the class?

The similarities and differences between the students in the classroom also affect motivation. If only one or two students are focused on speaking and applying English while the majority of the class is more concerned with grades, then the former one or two students will feel quite out of place. It's always better if everyone possesses a similar focus, something which proves more feasible in smaller-sized classes.

Cooperative Learning: Students can and should participate in activities where they must rely on one another to finish tasks. Interactive learning is key, where each person can work with and support one another. In such an environment, students will provide opinions and ideas to their peers. Therefore, it's the teacher's responsibility to mix and match students to find the best partners and groups.

Study Partner / Friend: A study partner or friend in the class lets students turn to someone for help, let off steam, and so on. With a confidantes, students don't feel as isolated as they struggle with something as difficult as a foreign language. The teacher should incorporate activities that require the students to get to know one another from the start, and express the importance of having a friend or study partner in class throughout the course.

11: In the last six months, has the teacher talked to the students about their progress?
12: This last year, have the students had opportunities to learn and grow?

The final two questions look at long-term growth and development. In general, students first need to understand the expectations of the class; take responsibility for their learning; gain confidence; and understand how their ideas and contributions to the learning environment will be viewed by their peers. Each of these points have been examined in the first ten questions. the students feel that their participation is important?

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Student-Teacher Meetings: It's always a good idea for the teacher to sit down with students and talk about their long-term plans and goals. Why do they want to learn English? What do they want to accomplish? In so doing, the teacher can help the students set realistic goals. Feedback on their progress, and then additional guidance and advice, are helpful too.

Assessments: It can prove difficult for students to gauge their progress, with the result that many students don't feel as much improvement as the teacher generally witnesses. An assessment of some kind, such as a test, class project, or portfolio of work, allows students to better see how much they have learned and grown.

I believe that the majority of the solutions commonly appear in many classrooms around the globe, although perhaps not all together. The same holds true for the ideas presented in the original survey results introduced in "First, Break All the Rules." However, it's the exact combination of these ideas, and their specific order, which can improve the motivation of students. And with increased motivation comes increased language acquisition and output.

This article appeared in The Teaching Times.



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