24 Sep Why Should They Bother to Learn? Student Motivation at the Teacher’s Fingertips
Author: Ilinca Stroe, International House Bucharest
Imagine: teacher enters classroom. Students are all ears. Teacher announces, “Today we’re going to do Present Perfect Continuous.” Students instantly start rubbing their hands in excitement and anticipation.
That, as any English teacher might already know, is wishful thinking. In real life, what we teach (be it a grammatical structure or a lexical set) does not automatically motivate students to learn it – the matter to be taught is not per se a motivating factor. (Indeed, some of it can even put students off studying.) And most of the times it is the teacher’s task to draw the students to the lesson’s topic, to “warm them up” to it, to make it appealing to them (including when it is grammar) – as with appeal, of course, comes better learning.
The student’s motivation, as CELTA trainees are told, is in significant part the teacher’s job. Literature on how to attain learner motivation abounds in the world of TEFL, but if we were to cut it all down to one key principle, that core concept might well be this: if you want to have motivated students, love your job. Loving what you do (i.e. teaching) keeps up your own enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is contagious: if you, the teacher, have it, (some of) it will surely get across to your students. So keeping your students motivated throughout the English course is very much a matter of keeping yourself motivated about teaching English – rule number 1.
Apart from self-management in terms of job enthusiasm, you might also want to try and ensure a good level of motivation in your students by keeping in mind and working on three classroom-related elements:
Both teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships can contribute significantly to how high or low learner motivation is in your classes. Relationship-wise, to instill motivation in your students,
- be interested in them, in their personality and thinking
- be available to them, including for counselling and advice after classes
- take on a pastoral role with your students, care for their personal development
- apply team building to your groups of students
- create a team feeling in your classes
- encourage and supervise a healthy and respectful rapport between students
- reverse roles occasionally, giving students (peer-)teaching responsibilities
Ideally, teachers should be able to create a fun, lively, safe and pleasant atmosphere in the classroom for all the students, to turn the learning process into an enjoyable experience that learners will want to be part of. In order to obtain that kind of motivating atmosphere,
- add a game element to tasks and exercises whenever possible
- make in-class activities pleasantly competitive
- set a challenging (but reasonable too) time limit to activities
- keep the lesson pace snappy
- use a “surprise” element (guessing, novel methods) when you can
- give clear explanations accessible to all the students
- plan for tasks that are challenging (but not impossible) to do
- give genuine praise commensurate with the difficulty of the task completed
- provide focused useful criticism relevant to the student’s development
- deliver your feedback in a way that strengthens not student ego, but autonomy and self-confidence
Above all, don’t forget the one element that’s key to all student motivation: yourself, the teacher. Nurturing your own enthusiasm in the classroom, your own pleasure in the teaching process, you ensure theirs: your students’ engagement, enjoyment and, most importantly, progress.
Dörnyei, Zoltán. Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP, 2001.
Wilson. Ken. “Ten Ways to Motivate Students.” Teaching English. British Council / BBC, 14 Feb 2012. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/motivating-unmotivated>