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Motivating Students: Why is motivating students a vital teaching ability?

Motivating Students: Why is motivating students a vital teaching ability? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

As someone who has been to school in the USA and China, I’ve experienced the difference between student motivation in both countries. From this experience, I’ve concluded how to better motivate students in the classroom.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate JongMay U. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Cultural Differences

In the U.S. students are quite vocal about their thoughts and ideas at a young age, teachers encourage classroom discussions, and in higher grade levels teachers often encourage students to “prove them wrong”. If a student has a thought or idea that differs from the teachers, they are mostly encouraged to seek the truth and respond to the teacher. This is often a motivation for students to put time into information research and challenge previous ideas. This can bring about creativity in the classroom.

In Chinese schools, motivation is given differently. Most of the time, teaching material is fixed by the school’s curriculum. Teachers project the idea that the information taught is correct. Most things in class have a “correct answer”. There is also motivation that stems from a sense of perfection. To know certain answers are correct and by memorizing them, students have a sense of accomplishment.

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Types of Motivation

These two types of motivation are both needed within a second language learning environment. When it comes to expressing an idea and being able to create something new, students need a foundation upon which to build. Foundations are built upon solid knowledge, including certain grammar points, correct spelling, correct punctuation and so on.

As a student in the U.S., I was always challenged and motivated to create and try new things, but in my elementary years, none of the teachers focused on the basic skills that I should have mastered. Some teachers did not enjoy math themselves, and so I fell behind on a year of math class, other teachers accepted my lack of basic skills and just simply prepared me for certain examinations, without the actual knowledge of the content. Although I had the motivation to be artistic and creative, lacking the basic skills caused me to become very stressed after beginning high school, and later on trying to excel in college entrance examinations.

In Chinese schools, I was a second language speaker studying with Chinese students in their native language. In college, I noticed a lack of motivation because there was the common assumption of students that college grades did not matter, mostly it was about the college you attended, and the friends made during college years. Most students were tired out from years of over motivation from college entrance exam preparations. Their knowledge of basics was very solid, but no one had the energy to pursue, overachieve and be creative.

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What Influences Motivation?

Motivation begins from the "engage" portion of a class with intrinsic motivation. These factors would include making students fascinated with the target language through its relevance to life and the world, and a sense of accomplishment and achievement if they learned the language. Many people learn new things from a sense of "calling" or attraction to the field of study. Students in my class would likely be expressing to others that the English language interests them, learning a new language opened doors for them, that they felt good when they succeeded in my course.

Students would also have motivation from extrinsic motivators, some might have motivation from parents, or motivation to achieve certain grades, but I would make sure that I could present myself as a role model to perfecting their studies. I would also try to include motivation other than just achieving a certain grade in a class, instead of guiding them to see the advantages of learning certain knowledge through exams and tests.

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Learning Styles

To understand motivation at a deeper level, there also has to be basic knowledge of different learning styles. Deep learners are those who respond well to the challenge of mastering and completing difficult subjects. Strategic learners are motivated by reward, feeling the need to receive certain rewards before engaging deeply in a subject. Surface learners are likely motivated by the desire to avoid failure, they will do what is needed, but will not go beyond minimum requirements.

To motivate students of different levels and learning styles, there are certain strategies. First of all, becoming a role model for student interest by delivering information and presentations with enthusiasm and energy. Making the course personalized by showing my interest in the course material.

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Student-Teacher Relationships

Getting to know my students will allow me to tailor my instruction to student's specific needs. I will make sure to display an interest in my student's interests and show my faith in their abilities. Using examples often will create a big picture for my students to see concepts and techniques and how they are used before delving deeper into each subject.

Using a variety of active teaching activities, many of which allow the students to learn and participate and use their knowledge to engage in the material. Teaching by discovery is a way to allow students to master and see for themselves, also through cooperative learning activities. Cooperating with others provides positive social pressures which are on a whole usually motivating for students to perform better in class.

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Setting realistic goals for students and helping students set their own goals is an important part of a teacher's role. Teachers should help students plan out their learning process by designing assignments that are appropriately challenging for the student. As an American student in China, this aspect of the culture often confused me. Teachers would design assignments and focus on the students who seemed to have a good understanding of the material, and sometimes, due to my language restrictions, I would feel left behind because the teacher did not seem to mind if I understood the material fully.

Be free with praise and constructive criticism. This is something that I have personal experience with studying in different countries. In Asian culture, often there was not enough constructive praise, and an over-focus on criticism. This is part of a cultural misunderstanding, that caused me as a student to be very distraught. It was hard for me to see that teachers were criticizing because they wanted me to improve, not because they wanted to make me feel bad. As a teacher myself, I will always focus on maintaining a balance between encouragement and constructive criticism.

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In conclusion, I believe that motivation is the biggest factor in learning, and especially language learning. A motivating and active teacher can change the way students think of a particular subject. They can make learning knowledge fabulous and magical. Motivation stems from teaching methods, understanding of learning styles, the teacher's own experiences, and overall enthusiasm and cares that the teacher expresses to students. I want to use my own experience between cultures, to teach in a manner that all students will love and enjoy the content of the class!

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