The Concept of Motivation
The eternal question over how to conquer learners’ hearts and minds is being confronted by foreign language teachers since the foundation of learning and teaching methodology. Motivation is a multi-dimensional concept and the exact nature of its components depends greatly on human cognition and complex contextual factors.
Specifically, motivation is influenced by a range of psychosocial factors both internal to the learner and present in the learner’s social environment. When considering motivation for learning, three broad fundamental principles have to be taken into consideration. The first of these focuses on the emotional influences on learning, which are affected by the learner’s emotional state, beliefs, interests and ways of thinking. The second concerns the learner’s creativity, higher order thinking and natural curiosity while the third principle refers to the effect of motivation on extended learner effort and guided practice. However, no model of motivation is complete without considering the final outcome of the motivational processes which is called volition in educational psychology. Volition is defined by Corno as a “dynamic system of psychological control processes that protects concentration and directed effort in the face of personal or environmental distractions”.
By Despoina Nikolaidi
As far as the importance of motivation is concerned, it has been scientifically verified that true motivation shapes a profound teacher-student rapport and increases learners’ goal-orientation. It not only creates a supportive classroom atmosphere and a cohesive language learner group but also develops learner autonomy and self-evaluation. Additionally, it inspires a feeling of progress which is deemed essential for building a positive identity as a successful learner. As a result, the motivated learner is persistent and attentive, experiences reinforcement from success and utilizes a variety of strategies in order to achieve this sense of self-determination.
Motivational strategies are techniques that promote the individual’s goal-related behaviour. In other words, they refer to those motivational influences that are consciously exerted to achieve some systematic and enduring positive learning effect.
Collaborative relationship with learners and their parents
Teachers who share warm, personal interactions with their students are more likely to inspire them in learning issues than those who distance themselves from their learners. Establishing trust in a classroom is a gradual process whose components include teachers’ acceptance of their learners, their ability to listen and pay attention to them as well as their availability for personal contact. All three parameters revolve around a positive attitude. For this reason, there is a whole variety of small, yet significant gestures which can convey personal interest. Greeting students and remembering their names, learning a unique trait about each student, noticing interesting features of their appearance (e.g. new haircut) or smoothly incorporating personal examples about students in the discussion are some of the available techniques.
Supportive atmosphere within FL classroom
Language learning is one of the most face-threatening school subjects because the FL teacher confronts a rather limited language code. An alluring and supportive classroom enhances a norm of tolerance that encourages risk-taking since mistakes are considered natural parts of the learning process. An additional tool to improve the classroom atmosphere is the use of humour. Humour constitutes an extremely potent learning factor, although it is often underestimated in theoretical writings on motivation.
Teachers should also take into consideration that the L2 classroom is not merely a psychological but primarily a physical milieu which is strongly influenced by the class decoration: posters, bulletin board displays, flowers, funny objects etc. Nevertheless, it is not the aesthetic qualities of the surroundings themselves but rather the personalisation of the classroom that inspires a relaxed learning environment. This is basically related to the abstract notion of the ownership of the classroom. Personalising the classroom could be seen as students exercising increasing control over their surroundings.
Development of group cohesiveness
Group dynamics is a well-established discipline in social psychology which is entirely devoted to the study of how groups (as social units) display a powerful influence on their members. Two aspects of group dynamics that have direct motivational bearings are group cohesiveness and group norms. Whether or not a language class becomes a cohesive community is not a haphazard matter.
There are a number of specific factors that can positively contribute to this process and many of these are within the teacher’s control. The introduction of interactive pair work, such as role-play performances, problem solving, filling in worksheets activities along with the sharing of genuine personal information would reinforce proximity and cooperation among learners. FL teachers may occasionally include whole-group tasks which generate a satisfying visible product, thereby allowing learners to indulge into the rewarding nature of intragroup experience and competition. Group members who spend a considerable amount of time and effort reflecting on the group goals will inevitably develop a sense of commitment towards group cohesiveness.
Expectancy of success
An undeniable fact in motivational psychology is that “we learn best when we expect success”. In their position of group leader, teachers embody the class spirit. Unless they show commitment towards the students’ learning and progress, their learners will adopt a disruptive behaviour. Besides the obvious prerequisite that teachers should not provide tasks that are too difficult for learners’ potential , they can make sure that learners encounter no serious impediments to success (e.g. time limitations, distracting obligations, inadequate resources, disturbance by other learners etc.). Additionally, sufficient pre-task preparation and transparent success criteria will enable learners to self-evaluate their learning as they proceed.
Other ways in which the teacher could express his/her interest towards the students’ learning issues are the following ones: by offering concrete assistance, responding immediately when help is requested, arranging extracurricular instructional programmes and assessing tests and papers promptly. Painstaking research has shown that it is essential to have sufficiently high expectations for what learners can achieve since these expectations act as future self-fulfilling prophecies.•
(to be continued)
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Despoina Nikolaidi is a 4th year university student in the faculty of English Language and Literature at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.