Motivating Learners

Motivating learners is very important to enhance their performance. Image source: Oberlo
Motivating learners is very important to enhance their performance. Image source: Oberlo
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Low motivation stands in the ways of reaching the full potential of the students as a learner and, therefore, motivating learners is important. The country’s education system seriously influences the motivation of the learners. Other institutional and cultural views of language learning also prove to the causes of low motivation. Let us see how the education system of a country influences the motivation of the learners. Today highly liberal grading is engineered in our education system which encourages students not to go deep into the subject with high motivation. They just treat it as a subject and learn it just to pass the examination.

If we look at English in our country by the time the students enter college, they have usually completed at least ten years of English classes, yet most are unable to carry on a simple conversation or write sentences free of basic grammatical errors. Why is it so? The students learn it just to cross the bar of examination. Again, teachers of secondary level favour the grammar-translation method and perforce teacher-centred classroom in which little English is spoken. The lack of positive role models for English learners is another factor that has a negative effect on student motivation.

In spite of the array of factors that tend to reduce language learning motivation, teachers can use a number of strategies to increase the students’ self-confidence and interest in English. Before choosing any specific course of action, however, teachers should take the time to get to know their students individually at the start of each term. They should not assume, that students accustomed to teacher-centred classrooms will automatically understand the reasoning behind pair work or other group activities designed to create an interactive learning environment. Students who have been taught to view language teachers as authorities on correct usage may question the value of working with fellow students.

Teachers also should introduce all-new activities carefully and explain how they can help students improve their English skills. Motivation levels drop and anxiety levels go up when students are unsure about how or why they should perform certain language tasks. Making positive statements about upcoming activities, moreover, is an excellent way to increase the status of motivating learners. By saying, “I think you’re really going to enjoy our next activity and meaning it teachers convey an enthusiasm that is contagious. Creating activities that foster real communication also will enhance motivation. Teachers’ writing classes can help their students write articles for school or college magazine in the national English language dailies and motivating learners to improve their skills. Giving frequent positive feedback which supports the students’ beliefs that they can do well. Ensuring opportunities for their success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult and creating an atmosphere that is open and positive. Helping them feel that they are valued member of a learning community.

Educational psychology has identified two basic classifications of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation arises from a desire to learn a topic due to its inherent interests, for self-fulfilment, enjoyment and to achieve a mastery of the subject. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is motivation to perform and succeed for the sake of accomplishing a specific result or outcome. Students who are very grade-oriented are extrinsically motivated, whereas students who seem to truly embrace their work and take a genuine interest in it are intrinsically motivated.

Students can have increased motivation when they feel some sense of autonomy in the learning process, and that motivation declines when students have no voice in the class structure. They perform best when the level of difficulty is slightly above their current ability level. If the task is too easy, it promotes boredom and may communicate a message of low expectations or a sense that the teacher believes the student is not capable of better work. A task that is too difficult may be seen as unattainable, may undermine self-efficacy, A supportive teaching style that allows for student autonomy can foster increased student interest, enjoyment, engagement and performance.

Supportive teacher behaviours, for motivating learners, include listening, giving hints and encouragement, being responsive to student questions and showing empathy for students (Reeve and Hyungshim 2006). Being responsive to student-generated questions, such as “Yes, you have a good point” and “Yes, right, that was the second one., communicating with empathic statements to acknowledge the student’s perspective or experience, such as “Yes, this one is difficult” and “I know it’s sort hard to tell.”Asking controlling questions, such as “Can you move it like I showed you?” and “Why don’t you go ahead and show me? All these are motivating sentences which teachers should use in the classroom and in the whole learning process. Using praise as a contingent reward to show approval of the student or the student’s compliance with the teacher’s directions is essential to motivate the learners.

If students take ownership of what a teacher does in class, then they have less room to complain (though we all know, it’ll never stop completely). Take an audit of your class, asking what they enjoy doing, what helps them learn, what they’re excited about after class. Multiple choices might be the best way to start if you predict a lot of “nothing” or “watch movies” answers. If a student looks depressed or unwell, call them out after class and just ask them if they are all right. Try to keep yourself semi-occupied when you do this. Look at them when you ask but don’t keep staring at them until they answer you. If they say they are fine, don’t press them. Just say, “Alright, just thought you looked a bit down back there. And drop it and continue working just the fact that your concern is enough for them. If you see a problem or issue worth tackling, bring it up. Tell the students you want to do something about it and ask them what they think. Deal with the problem together and you make difference together.

The best form of motivation for motivating learners is self-motivation. Pupils need to connect with teachers if they achieve this. Teachers can motivate their pupils by meeting their needs for the three ‘As’: affiliation, agency and autonomy. They do this through the energizers that create a motivating learning climate; the flip side of the energizers is the drainers – things that staff need to avoid doing. The energizers provide the ingredients of the classroom climate that are needed to what pupils’ appetites for learning. The energizers effectively engage most pupils and are accessible to most teachers. The energizing points are engagement, structure and stimulation. Engagement tells how teachers show they are interested in and value pupils. The structure provides clear pathways towards the learning goals and boundaries that let pupils know what is expected of them and stimulation comes from a curriculum that highlights the relevance of activities and sets achievable goals. Giving feedback is also essential for motivating learners. It provides information that lets pupils know how they are doing, guiding them from where they are to where they need to be.

Teachers need to understand their pupils as much as possible and this model is known as pupil drivers. The pupil drivers integrate the latest thinking on emotional intelligence, self-esteem and positive psychology into an account of what motivates students. Learner needs are at the core of the pupil driver model. A need is something that, when met, promotes our wellbeing. It is our needs that give our goals their power. However, if our needs are thwarted, we may become driven to get them meet in alternative and inappropriate ways.

While there is much to be gained by a deeper understanding of the pupil drivers, it is important to remember that motivational resilience is not a quality of the learner but of the transaction between the learner and the learning climate. The three ‘As’ are not so many personal qualities of learners as acquired states that are more likely when certain conditions obtain in the classroom.

When teachers maximize the energizers and minimize the drainers, they create a positive classroom climate that engages the majority of pupils. Some students will in addition be engaged by specific stance-enhancing hooks that are tailored to particular learning stances. These are strategies that are opportunistic and are often creatively or unconventionally used. A positive stance can also be further improved by a stance-enhancing hook. Some pupils are not engaged by the staple diet of energizers and need customized hooks.

Most teachers don’t consider volunteer information as important. But they should keep in mind that it keeps the students updated with recent developments regarding their subject. If you are a science teacher, you could bring an article from a scientific journal for the students to read in class. Give the students a summary of the article, show the pictures of the article ask them questions about the concepts in the article and what certain sentences mean and tell them that you have copies of the article if anyone wants to pick them after the class. A teacher needs to understand that it is his/her job to get h student interested. He/she needs to exhibit his/her talents proving him/her more than a teacher.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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