According to Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden motivation is “a state of cognitive and emotional arousal, which leads to a conscious decision to act, and which gives rise to a period of sustained intellectual and/or physical effort in order to attain a previously set goal“. [2, p. 115] Motivation is regarded by both experienced and inexperienced teachers as a driving force of effective learning. If a student does not want to learn he will hardly ever succeed at school or university. Being a lecturer in English at Tomsk Polytechnic University I had enough time to get evidence that the majority of students of technical specialties consider Foreign Languages to be a subject of minor importance. The reason is obvious: very few of them are brave and determined enough to make working abroad their ambition. Thus, Foreign Languages in general and English in particular seem to be a subject of no necessity. So, a teacher has to work very hard to increase the students’ motivation. If you are going to operate some mechanism, first you need to know how it works and which tools are used to fix it. Motivation can also be regarded as a kind of mechanism and a teacher needs knowledge and a set of instruments to adjust it.
British author Geoff Petty points out seven factors which influence motivation in a positive way (or “reasons for wanting to learn”).
Students are more inspired to learn if they understand that the things they learn are useful to them. [1, p. 43] They should either have an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom in everyday life or be given the examples that relate to their own experience.
Students learn better if they can see that the qualification they are studying for is useful to them. [2, p. 43] Some students dream of a prestigious well-paid job and the prospects of career development that is why a qualification can be included in the list of motivators.
Students make a success of their learning which increases their self-esteem. [2, p.44] It is considered to be the main motivator because it is always a pleasure to succeed. The mechanism of this motivator is illustrated by the following cycle:
The faster the cycle goes the stronger effect it has. It is claimed that the addictive effect of video and computer games is based on this cycle. So, the nature of motivation is also addictive.
Successful learners get the acceptance of their teacher and peers. [2, p. 44] This motivator is also connected with self-esteem and our social nature. People need to belong to some community and get its approval. Even if a student does not enjoy learning itself, he will enjoy the praise and recognition of his teacher, peers and family members.
Students learn better when they know about the unpleasant consequences which happen immediately after their failure. [2, p.44] In secondary school this motivator depends on teachers and parents equally, as for higher university establishments teachers have more opportunities to punish (many university students live on their own or even move to another city to make a degree, and they are too old to be punished like school children).
The things students are learning coincide with the fields of their interest. [2, p.44] Each person gets pleasure doing the activities he or she likes and we have to overcome our reluctance to the tasks we do not enjoy doing.
Motivation increases if the learning activities are fun. [2, p.44] This factor is also connected with our social nature. We get pleasure communicating with other people. If the process of learning can provide us with this pleasure it becomes more and more attractive to us.
From the first and the second points we can clearly see that motivation depends on the student’s awareness. But these factors work only if the students are mature enough to realize their future benefits. If they are not, a teacher is the one to make these tools work effectively. Students can be offered to join an English speaking club where different issues are discussed; you can invite a native speaker of English to the classroom (but not all native speakers are teachers, so, he or she might need your assistance in preparing the class and conducting it). You can inform students about the Academic Exchange Programs which give an opportunity to study abroad.
The third motivator is closely associated with success and self-esteem. All of us enjoy doing things we are good at but who enjoys doing things he is bad at. If the first experience of learning a foreign language is positive a learner is likely to become a keen one, but if a fault happens at first steps it will be very hard to encourage a learner to resume his attempts. Geoff Petty in his book “Teaching today” explains it through the so-called “learning engine”. When motivation grows a learner works harder to cope with the task, the quality of his work improves, so, he gets praise of a teacher and his peers, his self-confidence and self-esteem increase. (Motivation growth – success – reinforcement – self-belief) But the “learning engine” can work in the opposite way. Low motivation leads to a failure, a learner is criticized by a teacher and peers, and his self-belief fails. (Motivation drop – failure – criticism – self-belief drop) On the other hand, if a person keeps doing well in some subject, once he may believe that he does not have to work anymore to achieve good results. In such a situation accurate teacher’s criticism may cause a motivation increase. It is necessary to mention that teacher’s praise and criticism play special role. If a teacher pays attention to the advantages and does not mention the drawbacks, a student can not see any directions to develop. Though, if a teacher points out the shortcomings only, student’s self-esteem fails, consequently, motivation fails, too (this cycle was given above).
The fourth motivator is based on people’s necessity to be accepted by society. People can not live in isolation; we have a necessity to be members of some community and we need to know how good we are among the members of that community. Thus, we need an opportunity to compare our achievements with the achievements of our groupmates. That is why different kinds of competitions and games are often used in the classroom. It is necessary to mention that teacher should be very careful while preparing and adopting competitions in the class, because the winners get their “portion” of motivation but it can hurt the self-esteem of the losers severely. We should also take into account the abilities of our learners. If we ignore this factor we can create a situation in which more gifted children will constantly win, while weaker ones will keep losing. So, sometimes we should “put” them into situation of success artificially in order to start the learning engine. You can do it in different ways: you can suggest a learner some task he will definitely cope with or suggest him working in a good team (strong enough and helpful). We should remember that the teacher’s personality contributes to the motivation growth: I like and learn the subject because I like the teacher. So, teachers have to learn to be interesting and attractive to their students.
It goes without saying that tests are an integral part of learning. All motivators can be divided into two groups:
short-term motivators. [2, p.45]
We do not always have a chance to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom very soon and we cannot obtain a qualification in a couple of days. Thus, long-term motivators are less effective than short-term ones. Short-term motivators allow us to compare our results with the results of our peers, with our previous results, with the results we have expected and give us a chance to see how much we have improved (if we have) for a period of time, how good we are among our peers and whether we have been assessing the quality of our work correctly. Also, we learn with bigger enthusiasm when we know that our knowledge will be checked in the next class. Oral and written tests work as a kind of scale to measure our achievements. But they should not happen all of a sudden. Testing makes a good motivator only being used on a regular basis. This way it improves not only motivation, but discipline as well. This point is connected with the previous one (the desire to be accepted by the community). Testing is a hidden competition because students usually compare their results with the results of others and see the position of their achievements among others. Giving comments on the results of a test teacher praises the successful ones and everyone wants to be included into this list.
Tests are also tightly connected with the fifth point given above. According to the test results a teacher and parents take decisions on awards and punishments. In higher education establishments these awards and punishments are all in teachers hands. A teacher should have a set of punishments for those who do not work hard enough and students should be informed about these punishments in advance.
Learning is considered to be a boring process which requires much effort and rote-learning. No one likes monotonous work, but when the issue discussed in the classroom covers the sphere of the learner’s interest motivation increases instantly. It was mentioned in points six and seven above. Students learn not because they are made to or because they are having a test tomorrow, but because they are carried away by what they learn. But technical students seldom happen to be interested in learning foreign languages; consequently, teachers have to awaken this interest. Making this process interesting requires much of the teacher’s effort. There are a number of things a teacher should remember to make his classes more interesting for students:
Be enthusiastic. [3, p.50] If you look indifferent you will hardly be able to inspire anyone, but if you are full of interest and energy students “get infected” with your enthusiasm.
Focus on curiosity-inducing questions rather than delivery of facts. [3, p.50] The process of searching for the answer is much more interesting than getting ready made answers.
Show the relevance of what you are teaching to the real world. [3, p.50] When students have an opportunity to apply their knowledge or at least see how and where they can do it they learn more willingly.
Make use of student creativity and self-expression. [3, p.50] It works because students do not read the texts written by somebody else or do sets of exercises, but can design their own products. They can also demonstrate their talents and skills not related to language learning directly, for instance, teachers can use activities which include drawing, creating stories, singing etc.
Make sure students are active. [3, p.50] Firstly, the harder the students work, the more they value the result. Secondly, when everyone is involved in the activity it increases the competition and excitement.
Change the students’ activity regularly. [3, p.50] Students get tired faster if they keep doing one and the same for some time. But if the activities are changed regularly they do not notice for how long they have worked.
Very few of us, teachers, are lucky enough to have the classrooms filled with students willing to learn. But, as far as motivation is one of the keys to successful learning, not only students but also teachers are interested in increasing it. For this reason the tips mentioned in the article can be rather helpful for teachers, especially for those who are at the beginning of their career.
Petty G. Teaching Today. A Practical Guide. – Nelson Thornes, 1997
Williams M, Burden R.L. Psychology for Language Teachers. A social constructivist approach. – Cambridge University Press, 1997
Petty G. Evidence Based Teaching - A practical approach // 2006. URL: http://www.geoffpetty.com/evidence_based.htm (15.07.2011)
Petty G. – Active Learning // 2006. URL: http://www.geoffpetty.com/activelearning.html (15.07.2011)
Hattie J. – Visible Learning; a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement (London; Routledge, 2009) // 2010. URL: http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm (15.07.2011)