Answering the Question on Why Motivation is Necessary for the Classroom
What is the key objective of a teacher? It is simple: ensuring students learn well and don't forget what they were taught a few minutes after a course ends.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Cinzia G. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Solid and comprehensive knowledge of the subject a person is teaching is a very important piece of the puzzle. Students have the legitimate expectation, that teachers know as much as possible about the subject they teach and keep themselves up to date in this world which changes very rapidly nowadays.
When entering a class for the first time, no matter if as a student or a lecturer, you can easily see that the motivation of both teacher and students is as important as the teacher's know-how, if not more.
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Research in the field
Many studies proofed, that motivation and motivation types influence heavily the speed and quality of the learning experience, hence should be very much under a teacher's radar-screen when preparing lessons.
Before reviewing some simple tips or techniques to motivate students, it is interesting to review which motivation types can exist. There are many theories, but physiologists largely agree on a simple binary classification: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
The personal will and interests of a student drive the first ones. He/she want to learn because interested in the subject or interested in knowing more in general.
The extrinsic motivations are characterized by a purpose/objective so is more opportunistic. Learners have a reason for studying which may be chosen by them or by someone else e.g. their parents.
In general, teaching a class intrinsically motivated is easier and grant better results. Still, intrinsic learners have very high expectations and are eager to learn hence a teacher should ensure the lessons are prepared and well filled with contents.
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Proof of the findings
Extrinsically motivated people are generally a bit more difficult to teach, especially if aiming a long retention period. They may also be more stressed as the information they are absorbing is considering a step towards the achievement of something different, hence necessary to proceed towards their real goal. An example could be studying a subject to earn enough credits to be admitted to a specific course.
A teacher should leverage the first lessons to get to learn as much as possible about the students, their motivations, their interests, and needs. Monitoring what they do during breaks or after finishing given tasks can help as well to understand what would be the levers to play with, to increase the motivation of the group. Lessons plans and chosen activities should be carefully built to address the findings of these observations.
Besides motivation type and drivers, there are also some common reasons to be bored: the teacher is not engaging, the subject is not considered interesting, a student has some issues outside of the classroom but influencing his behavior.
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Now that we have all the different elements lined up to help to understand what can motivate or demotivate, let's review several useful recommendations to engage the group or individuals attending a lesson.
1. Teacher’s personal attitude
As a popular song states, let's start with “the man in the mirror”: the motivation and enthusiasm of the teacher has a profound impact on a class. Teachers who love their subject, who are interested in what is stated in the coursebook and who can explain using simple words are communicating a good wave of positive emotions to the students which definitively helps.
Connected to the above paragraph, the usage of real examples boosts as well motivation, as students can better understand explanations, connect them to their day-to-day life and detect practical usages outside the classroom.
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2. No boredom in the ESL classroom
Another good practice is to avoid that people get bored. Especially nowadays, with the easy access to endless sources provided by the internet as well as the increased freedom in school vs. a more strict approach used in the past, a teacher can tap into a large number of different activities in many different formats. Authentic readings to go closer to a subject plays to engage in a fun way, listening to radio or songs, playing popular games adapted to a class usage, etc. Alternative these activities keep the pace of the class engaging and dynamic.
3. Realistic goals
Setting realistic yet stretching goals is as well important. Asking beginners to go through complex listening exercises often makes them think they are not talented or good enough in the subject. This “pre-set” mindset is very difficult to change so a teacher must stretch a bit all the students but to a level, they can achieve with the given set of information. When reaching a goal, the teacher should praise the student or the group, as positive reinforcement is key. When outcomes are not satisfactory, a teacher should provide open and constructive feedback as soon as possible, to give students the chance to improve.
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4. Classroom environment
The next recommendation is about the atmosphere in the class. Exactly like in the “normal” life, a more relaxed environment, where everyone is respected and can express his/her opinion freely, is leading towards positive motivation. Peer-work and discussions within the class are a great tool to contribute to set the right tone. Students can easily click among themselves, discuss common difficulties and share tips.
Furthermore, the more a teacher involves the students in the lesson, the better. Assigning them a specific role and allowing them to choose among different projects or subjects contribute to creating the feeling of belonging and collaboration that, again, enforce motivation.
The final aspect to mention is related to self-awareness. This is a very powerful tool, which can be used with young learners as well as adults. It requires the student to take some time to re-think about a specific situation and analyze how the overall experience went, what he/she learned, what was great and what could be improved in the future. Spending some time for self-reflection is a good investment, as no one can teach us better than ourselves.
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To summarize the key messages in this paper: motivation is key for a successful learning experience. A motivated teacher is a conductor of energy for the class. Engaged classes are formed by people who are taking an active role in the lesson, respectfully interact with each other, find a good reason for them to learn.
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