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Mark Crocker

Alumni Experiences

The Impact of Positive Motivation on an ESL Classroom

Student motivation is very important when it comes to being a successful teacher. As teachers, our results are highly dependent on what we are able to teach our students and students are far more likely to succeed if they are motivated. Student motivation also far exceeds the bounds of just learning English and extends into the other subjects they study and even their daily lives. A well motivated student will be more disciplined, attentive and willing to participate than an unmotivated student. Having motivated students is great for teachers as it means you are able to do your job much more efficiently.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Richard Z.

The Two Categories of Motivation

There are multiple kinds of motivation or reasons for students to undertake their study. These motivations fall under two categories which are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation involves the student enjoying and being interested in the subject they are learning about. In contrast, extrinsic motivation involves students chasing some kind of goal or reward in order to make up for expending their resources on something they do not love doing. While intrinsic motivation is much better in the long run, extrinsic motivation still has value in motivating students. Over time, extrinsic motivation may give rise to intrinsic motivation if we are able to make the student enjoy the subjects we are teaching them about.

Some of the motivations that students carry with them, aside from already enjoying the subject, can include gaining skills for their career, having an existing practical use for the subject, or to improve their grades. Aside from improving their grades, the other motivations listed can easily give rise to intrinsic motivation as the students are able to have a practical and potentially long term use for the skills they learn in class. Improving ones grades is essentially a short term goal and may not be enough to get the thought of, "Why am I learning this subject when I will have no use for it after school?" out of the student's head. It is important for teachers to help intrinsically motivate their students by giving them practical uses for learning the subject that they are teaching.

Also read: 5 Simple Ways to Motivate Your EFL Students

Factors That Affect a Students' Motivation

There are a few different things that can affect a student's motivation. These involve their environment, relationships, abilities and interests. We may not be able to control all the factors affecting student motivation but we must remember that all our interactions with our students have a potential effect upon it. During our interactions with them in the classroom, or wherever we may be teaching or interacting with them, we must be mindful of how our actions will affect them. Within the classroom, we can control the environment, the teacher student relationship, and the content we give them. But how can we positively influence the students' motivation when we can only control the classroom, our communication with them and the content we teach?

Also read: Motivation in the Classroom - What Works and What Doesn’t

Ways We Can Aid Our Students' Motivation

You can play to their extrinsic motivation by giving them goals and rewards for the improvements they make during the time you are their teacher. Further down the line, when you know a little more about your students, you could introduce ways to practice the skills learned in the classroom within their hobbies or other life aspects. We should also encourage them to try without fear of failure. Other reasons may be possible, but fearful students are usually afraid of receiving a punishment or looking bad in front of their peers when their performance is not high enough. We should endorse the fact that they participated and encourage them to take a shot at the problem since you cannot learn if you do not try.

This ties into giving the students a positive learning environment as well as potentially helping them develop a more professional attitude. We can teach them things that are within their range, but difficult enough that they need to face new challenges. It is essentially the same as the flow concept in game theory where the players are given appropriately difficult tasks for the amount of progress that they have made in a game. Using this flow theory, we can maintain the students' interest without boring them or making them give up.

Also read: How to Motivate High School Students in the ESL Classroom

The Positive Outcome of a Motivated Classroom

By motivating our students adequately, both students and teachers should receive benefits. The benefits for teachers include an increase in student discipline and effort expended in class. This leads to smoother and more enjoyable lessons for both parties. Students, on the other hand, are able to enjoy themselves and potentially gain a better attitude that can also help them in their other studies and their future careers.

Also read: Top 10 Qualities Every Great Teacher Should Have

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