Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen, and I am your host. Today we are talking about motivating students- specifically what works in language classrooms. Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
In every episode of the Language Latte podcast, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students achieve proficiency. If you go to KidWorldCitizen.org and click on podcasts in the upper righthand corner, you will find a complete listing of all of our episodes along with their thorough show notes, and all of the links that we mention here today.
I’d like to take a quick minute to talk about my One World Trek project. I have been working really hard to finalize the details for the summer trips I’m hosting in Merida, Mexico this June! We are currently registering educators and their friends and partners at One World Trek.com to come spend 9 incredible days completely immersed in Spanish and the Yucatecan culture. If you are looking to really globalize your lessons with authentic materials, while improving your Spanish- this all-inclusive program is the answer you’ve been look for. I partnered with la UNAM– the oldest university in Latin America, who will give 16 hours of personalized Spanish classes in the mornings to participants. And then in the afternoons and weekends we visit Mayan ruins, we take a foodie market tour and have a cooking class, we explore hidden cenotes, have a beach day, experience colonial Merida, haciendas, museums, network with local teachers, and much, much more. I also partnered with California State University at Monterey Bay to offer 4.8 CEUs for the trip for teachers who need PD credit. If you are interested, tweet or message me through Kid World Citizen or One World Trek and I will answer all of your questions. When I run these programs, I pour my heart into it, and these trips- they’re just amazing. It’s going to be so much fun!
OK- back to the schedule. In this episode we are discussing motivating the students in our classrooms. As language teachers, we know that if students aren’t interested in the language we’re teaching, their progress will be stagnant, and their attitudes will affect the entire mood of the class. Motivation is at least as important as aptitude in acquisition. Today, I examine a theory of motivation, and how we can apply it in education settings. Science- and experienced teachers- tell us what works to get kids motivated and inspired in class. Then I talk to Australian teacher Simone Baluch, who shares tips and activities she uses to get her learners excited, curious, and attentive in class.
Do you have any ideas or favorite activities that grab the attention of your students? What has worked for you to increase motivation? Tweet me at kidworldcitizen and let me know what kinds of activities you’ve done in your classes to motivate reluctant students, or join in the discussion in our Language Latte facebook group.
I have always wondered why certain students seem so eager go all in- you know the ones who consistently try to do their best and are willingly try out whatever outlandish exercises the teacher puts in front of them. On the other hand, there are the students who absolutely do not want to be in class, are unequivocal about their aversion to learning the target language- even when we offer extrinsic motivation like rewards or extra credit.
Teachers, parents, coaches- we are all looking for the Holy Grail in motivating our students and kids. Some are moved by external factors such as awards, good grades, peer pressure. These are examples of extrinsic motivation. Others students are motivated by their interests, passion, curiosity, or simply their values. These internal motivations are called intrinsic. Today we are focusing on motivation within the language classroom, and the role that autonomy plays in class.
I recently read several articles about the Self Determination Theory, SDT, a theory about motivation. As always, I’m linking all of the articles in the works cited section at the very bottom of today’s show notes. SDT is based on the idea that humans have evolved to develop and grow, actively master challenges, and integrate new experiences when certain basic psychological needs are satisfied.
SDT describes three universal, innate needs:
- Autonomy (the feeling that we have responsibilities and ownership)
- Competence (feeling able to produce desired outcomes and coping with challenges)
- and Belongingness (meaning we have close relationships and support)
Scientists say that it is in human nature to be curious and interested in learning and developing your knowledge. The self-determination theory posits that when these 3 basic needs are fulfilled- when teachers can support these basic needs- it positively affects intrinsic motivation. What does that mean? It means when we satisfy these 3 needs- autonomy, competence, and belongingness- our students will get things done because they are interested and enjoying the task.
When these basic needs are not met, students experience boredom, anxiety, or alienation.
Easy right? There have been countless studies that show the application of this theory in the classroom. Let me give you a really concise overview of several of these articles to unpack this complex topic.
First step: getting buy-in from students
Students are often motivated extrinsically, with varying results. For example, when earning an award or avoiding a punishment. While this encourages behavior for some students, this does not maintain behavior once the reward has been removed. When a student perceives a task to be valuable or important, the basic need of autonomy is met and students are often motivated to engage. They might perceive it to be important because they heard it from their peers, their parents, society, or within their community.
The takeaway then is that classes should focus on learning the target language because of the benefits, usefulness and value, instead of learning the language because of the pressure of an upcoming exam. For example, learning an L2 in order to develop knowledge, to help get a better job in the future, to be able to speak it when traveling or making friends: these are related to feelings of competence and autonomy and increase intrinsic motivation. My university students often joked that their best motivation to learn English was to communicate with their boyfriends or girlfriends. I won’t argue- that is definitely an example of intrinsic motivation.
So first, students need to buy into the idea that learning the target language is valuable.
Second: teachers need to support autonomy in class.
Several studies contend that intrinsic motivation decreases from age 8 to 14 years old (and then slowly increase from 15-18 years). At an age where young teens yearn to feel more autonomous, a teacher who is perceived as controlling dampens intrinsic motivation in these students. Teachers can support student autonomy by placing less pressure on forced participation, and instead maximizing students’ perception of having a voice and a choice in classroom activities. Noels’ study on Spanish classes found that the more controlling the teacher was perceived to be, the lower the intrinsic motivation was in students, who felt they were not autonomous agents in the learning process.
The third consideration for teachers is planning appropriate activities.
One of the basic needs listed in the SDT is the idea of competence, and that students need to feel confident that the activities are do-able and worthy. If the tasks are too easy, they don’t represent an interesting challenge. If they are too difficult, they can undermine students’ feelings of competence.
Students are more likely to engage when they personally value the activities, they are comprehensible, and they have the appropriate tools and abilities to participate. It is important for teachers to provide students with positive and uncritical feedback that downplays error correction for example. It is worthwhile to spend some class time discussing the rationale for certain activities (such as WHY we are speaking 90% in the target language, and how comprehensible input will lead to proficiency). When teachers are perceived as being actively involved in students’ learning, by giving informative praise and encouragement, students feel more competent in L2 learning.
In planning classroom activities, the topic choices are also important. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), has emphasized intrinsic motivation (as they call it ‘’a zest for life”) in compulsory English studies for all 5th and 6th graders. In this program, students learn their L2 through interaction and games without any exams. Teachers nurture motivation through a low-pressure, low-stakes learning environment with a strong emphasis on enjoyment. Teachers promote motivation through supporting students’ interests, and modeling positive attitudes towards English. Using interest surveys, honing in on student profiles and their pasttimes, extracurriculars, likes and dislikes, high-interest current events, and pop culture- will intrigue and appeal to students. Making class fun, enjoyable, and interesting represents emotional engagement, and shows meaningful effects on achievement.
Finally, cultivating warm relationships.
Like we just talked about in the episode with John Bracey, student-teacher relationships and classroom community play a vital role in motivation. When a student feels that the teacher genuinely likes, respects, and values them, we are meeting the basic need of belongingness and acceptance. Research shows students have higher academic success, and more integration and willingness to participate in arduous tasks when students feel connected to the teacher. As we continue to meet the basic psychological needs, we have more satisfying learning experiences and greater academic achievement.
All of these findings demonstrate how teachers may support students’ motivation by providing an engaging classroom experience. Teachers who provide appropriate support and structure to their foreign language lessons help students to engage, which predicts student motivation. By creating a clear, interesting, warm, and well-paced learning environment, students feel connected to their peers, capable of the tasks, and personally invested in their learning, and thus engage in the learning activities.
Interview with Simone Baluch
Now, I’d like you to meet our guest. Simone Baluch teaches 4 languages: French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. I hold 4 degrees within linguistics, teaching and TESOL. She has 4 degrees related to linguistics and teaching, and has been teaching for 8 years. Currently Simone is the Languages Coordinator at an all boys independent Catholic school, in addition to teaching Italian on the weekends. She has presented at numerous conferences and also runs professional development for teachers in her free time. Welcome to the show Simone!
1) Can you tell us about your language journey? I understand you speak and teacher several languages.
2) What do you teach now?
3) You currently teach in Australia, can you give us a general overview of language education in Australia? For example, when do students generally start learning languages in school?
4) Today we are talking about motivating language students. Every language teacher will encounter at some point students who are either discouraged by the challenge of learning a language, or they are placed in our classes without really wanting to be there (either because it is a graduation requirement, or their parents signed them up). How do you keep students motivated in class?
- Set clear, realistic expectations and goals.
- Relate to the students, especially sharing your own language learning journey.
- Choosing cultural lessons that interest the students.
- Introduce healthy competition with games such as a Quizlet Live tournament.
- Mix up students so they get to work with everyone in the class.
- Getting them up, moving around, even going outside is great for kids.
- Building confidence by showing them how much they can write in the target language.
- Fun communicative games.
- Extra awards for meeting goals.
- Offering cultural exchange programs.
5) Along the same lines, which activities are your students favorites? Where they really just have fun and kind-of forget they are learning and acquiring language?
6) Where can listeners find you if they’d like to ask some follow up questions?
We’ve touched on many different layers of student motivation, and our roles as teachers! If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends and colleagues. Also, I love reading the reviews at the itunes store. Every time we get a review, Language Latte will come up higher in the search for more teachers. Finally, if you have more questions, or if you have great ideas that work in the classroom, we talk about language teaching 24/7, in our Language Latte facebook group.
I love to chat about questions or hear feedback you have about this episode, and to gather your ideas for future shows. Tell us what you’re doing in your language classroom!
To never miss an episode, subscribe on itunes, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Language Latte is made possible by OneWorldTrek.com: language and cultural immersion travel for teachers in Mexico. It was so nice to meet you all. I look forward to chatting next time, and hopefully collaborating in the future! Until then, ciao!
Gillet, N., Vallerand, R. J., & Lafrenière, M. A. K. (2012). “Intrinsic and extrinsic school motivation as a function of age: The mediating role of autonomy support.” Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 15, 77–95.
Niemiec, Christopher P. and Ryan, Richard M. (2009). “Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom ;Applying self-determination theory to educational practice.” Theory and Research in Education. 7: 133.
Noels, K. A. (2001). Learning Spanish as a second language: Learners’ orientations and perceptions of their teachers’ communication style. Language Learning, 51, 107-144.
Noels, K., Pelletier, L. G., Clement, R., & Vallerand, R. J. (2003). Why are you learning a second language? Motivational orientations and self-determination theory. Language Learning, 53(51), 33-64.
Noels, K. A., Pelletier, L. G., Clément, R., & Vallerand, R. J. (2003). Why are you learning a second language? Motivational orientations and self-determination theory. Best of Language Learning (Supplément S-1): Attitudes, Orientations, and Motivation in Language Learning, 53, 53-64.
Oga-Baldwin, W. L. Q., Nakata, & Ryan, R. M. (2017). “Motivating young learners: A longitudinal model of self-determined motivation in elementary school foreign language classes.” Contemporary Educational Psychology, 49, 140-150.