Nov 29, 2012

Motivation, motivation, motivation, moti......

Motivation -- often we seem to talk about it like a magic spell conjured up for us by an invisible wizard. Motivation is not just a happy coincidence -- there are many contributory elements, some of which the teacher has direct influence over and others which are beyond the teacher's direct control.

Nothing is simple of course – and even if it was, certain types of academics or other authorities would need to intervene to make sure it became complex enough for ‘serious’ discussion. It turns out that, like ‘intelligence’, ‘motivation’ doesn’t really mean what everyone thought it did. It has been dissected up into bits (a quick Google search revealed 8 different motivations to me: "Are you motivated?" - "What type of motivation did you have in mind when you asked?") but like our laboratory frogs in school biology lessons – once dissected, a frog is no longer a frog and the separate bits are only relevant if we understand them as parts of a single whole amphibian. We all know that people can be motivated in different ways and by different incentives but we need to reassemble ‘motivation’ to get back to an idea that we can all usefully understand and address. The rant bit is over now.

When talking about learning English, one of the most common observations is that students arrive with their own baggage of motivation -- they know that English is relevant and useful and is therefore a good thing to learn. Fair enough, all of us teaching in private language schools probably meet motivated adults at the beginning of every course. The trick is to maintain motivation lesson after lesson through months or possibly years -- something which becomes harder in situations where students have little or no exposure to English in real situations, and without opportunities to practise what they have achieved in the classroom they have no tangible evidence of the results.

There are different attitudes both from teachers and from students about how much people should need to enjoy the process of learning. There is a persistent ‘nasty medicine’ brigade -- the approach being, “this tastes horrible but it's good for you”. And there are indeed students who have the kind of mental discipline and single-mindedness to get on with the job regardless of how gruelling it may be. I'm not saying that learning has to be laugh, laugh, laugh all the way along the line, but I do think that the nasty medicine approach will only be successful with a small minority. I think it's certainly true that someone who has enjoyed a lesson is more likely to look forward to the next one, and the experience itself will be satisfying enough to ease the load of effort and concentration.

to be continued ......

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