Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 17---ELT Professionals Around the World

Please visit Post 68 and then come back here. Thanks.

Discussions—Series Seventeen

Topic 54
To what extent do you as an ELT teacher consider it your responsibility to address student motivation when teaching English?
Judith Morais Teacher at Education Queensland Top Contributor
As ELT teachers, I recognise we teach in varied setups, to various ages, and for various purposes. Is it the age of the learners the key factor in deciding whether the teacher should focus on motivation?

Hi Judith,

Great question and VERY interested in what others have to say about this important topic. I could say a lot but will wait for the comments to come in first. Interested because I'm giving a talk on this same subject next week in Europe. (find the page of resources/videos/readings and where I'll post my presentation next week here -

One thing I will add to start. Based on a very large US Dept. of Ed. research project, over 90% of student gains in achievement/scores are attributed to student-controlled factors and not those which the teacher can change/influence. However, that 10% is very, very important. There is only so much teachers can do but despite that, we can often hold a special switch that when activated can make a huge difference to student(s)
Ron BradleyTarveen Walia and 2 others like this
To EVERY extent. Some teachers delude themselves that they are "teaching" - but "teaching" is a 2-sided coin. The other side is "learning". If the student isn't learning, the "teacher" isn't teaching. If the student is not motivated - they can't learn.

Yes David, motivational theory tells us that while younger learners require extrinsic motivation, the development of intrinsic motivation is important as adolescence is reached. Unfortunately, not all young people develop this intrinsic motivation naturally as quickly as we would like. That is probably the 10 % that require that little extra. Because some of my students are refugees who have had disrupted learning, at times some students in the late teens still need that extra push.

It is the responsibility of teacher to deal with motivation deficiencies. In some cases, though, lack of motivation might be related to the 'silent period' in second-language learning.

English teacher
Call me neurotic, but I think it's a part of our job to motivate our students, and when they're not, I take full responsibility for it. Needless to say it's easier with some ages than the others
 Maha ESL TeacherTarveen Walia and 4 others like this

Yes Nelson, I have met some teachers who have not understood about the"silent period" and have mistaken it for a lack of interest or motivation.

It is quite clear that the respondents so far agree to their own role in the issue of motivation. This topic arose from another discussion thread on "challenges teachers face" where some suggestion was made that teachers should not be held accountable for this. I wonder if teaching in the higher levels might not require as much focus on motivation.

Hi Judith
Adult learners in a language classroom need to, and DO take responsibility for their learning, themselves...after all they are spending their own money, most of the times, and need to learn the language, to better their job prospects etc. Having said that about learner autonomy, keeping the class motivated, the learners engaged and sessions purposeful remains the teacher's job. It is the teacher who needs to ensure that the shy/reticent/reserved/ feeling- less -than-others' learner has his full support in terms of activities for his level, and is made gritty over a few lessons.
As Anna says, it's easier with some ages .

<if teaching in the higher levels>

I've heard many college profs say it is the responsibility of higher-ed students to provide their own motivation. Still, I don't like non-participating tertiary students, so I try to keep it interesting and challenging.

It's interesting that some teachers might think motivation isn't their responsibility. This shows that I think some teachers have a much too simplistic view of motivation - that it is the teacher that actually / directly does the motivation - like entertaining, amusing, etc .... In truth, teachers don't motivate students directly. We just provide the conditions/the environment that allows students the opportunity to motivate themselves. If they don't also take the last step, nothing a teacher can do but keep trying. The point remains, both teacher and student must participate in the motivational dynamic. It isn't a straight case of the teacher "turning on" the student.

Also important to note that extrinsic motivation is really only valuable for simple and direct types of tasks. "If you do X, you get Y" as Pink puts it. Direct cause and effect relationship. Usually very, very immediate and short term. But for most teaching/learning outcomes, intrinsic motivation is the motor which must be turned on. Learning because the student is self motivated, interested in the content, doing it because they love what they are doing in the here and now of the class.

Kohn (1999) asserts that many teachers use the word 'motivate' but what they mean is 'compliance'. In addition, teachers sometimes give ‘carrots’ for younger students’ work when they are pleased: smiley faces, praise, certificates, candy. We usually reward what we as teachers find pleasant.

He adds, “No outside influence or force can cause a brain to learn. It will decide on its own. Thus, one important rule for helping people learn is to help the learner feel they’re in control.’ If the student gets an external reward for something they have achieved, this takes away from them the feeling that they’re in control.”

One of the strongest primary motivations is the desire to understand the meaning of something. When something is seen as important by students, as relevant to their lives, that’s what the brain reacts to and is interested in. Learning that takes place through personal discovery and achievement lasts longer and may be more enjoyable for students. This kind of learning is very powerful, because it creates a sense of ownership in the learner – it’s based on the perception ‘I did it myself!’ When we discover something new, when we develop an idea that we feel is ours, we actively engage in what we do and begin to have a sense of ownership of our learning.

What can teachers do?

• Use external rewards sparingly.
• Present what you are teaching as important for students’ lives.
• Challenge students cognitively – their brain rewards their subsequent understanding.
• Give students many learning experiences that make them feel they are in control: ownership – ‘I did it myself!’

It could be that it’s not so much an external reward that gives pleasure in a learning situation, but rather, a classroom culture where students feel a sense of control and achievement of things they feel are relevant to their lives.

Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by Rewards. The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
 Ivy Antonette E.Dianna Henshaw and 1 other like this

Hi Zehaad this is a good post, are these comments and ideas similar to your own? In a couple of newspaper articles from Australia a few private schools have changed the teaching methodology throughout the school. I believe one of them was Saint Hilda's girls school in Perth, Western Australia.
They have stopped praising and rewarding students, but they have detailed the reasons why so that every student and parent is aware of their reasons. Also students are now being taught the real truth about life after school. In the event of failure to get employment, what course of action can a student follow. Can you take care of yourself when living away from home, In Indonesia this is a big problem for many students as they have close family units.
Now in my Class 12 final year we are more focussed on the next life step of life after school, travel overseas or another province has become more real than pushing the course books.
When a student admits that they didn't do well at school, then who should field the blame? I have found that a 17 or 18 year old has enough intelligence at that time to listen to and accept some good advice ( if they are willing ) than agonise or feel guilty for the next 10 years.
 Evelina K. likes this

Hi Frank. Having learned three foreign languages in adulthood, I do think that presenting lesson content as relative to students’ lives is a big motivating factor, coupled with challenging students cognitively - and this does not mean the challenge of memorization (regular/irregular verbs etc.)

Michio Kaku says it crisply in the short video link below. He is referring to science subjects but I believe it is applicable to all school learning.

<the challenge of memorization>

When I was in Primary school I had to memorize poems, and recite them in front of the class. I didn't like to do this. Later I just considered memorization as a negative.
Lately I've been memorizing songs and singing them in front of audiences. I enjoy doing this.
I think that if the rewards are sufficient, memorization will willingly be undertaken.

I think there are so many valid points here and I do agree with the desires expressed.
I also suspect that my comments on motivation may be in the back of some minds.
So, I think some clarification is required. You do everything you can to motivate your students. You are negligent in your responsibility to them if you don't. But I still believe there is no point burning yourself out worrying about it.
You monitor your successes or failures, continually try to develop new methods to improve and then get on with teaching your class.
Please don't confuse a refusal to let a lack of student motivation destroy my love for the job with a lack of care for my students. They are not the same thing. I have seen and heard to many things from teachers, not just in English teaching but in my previous incarnations back in blighty, who are so dispirited they leave the profession. Can you afford to lose good teachers to the stress?
The students do have to take a responsibility for their learning. They don't want to, they won't. You don't do their homework, you don't hold their vocabulary lists and teach them the new words on the bus, you can't listen to the radio, watch the TV or read English books for them, but these and many other learning activities are the ones that really make the difference to a students development in the long run.

No teaching can take place-in the veritable sense of the expression- sans motivation. .Unmotivated minds-whatever the pedagogy or andragogy- will never be able to imbibe the content of the material the teacher may try to get across to the target group.Such sessions are sheer waste of time.True, the heterogenous nature of the class poses many problems to a teacher. Levels of cognition, capacity to partake in the classroom discussions play a pivotal role ,and the teacher and the students should be immersed in the classroom activities.Students are not motivated day in or day out. nay, hour in and hour out and most of them bring along with them varied perspectives, tensions ,enthusiasm or motives. The teacher has to generate interest in what he aims at teaching or sharing with them. Active involvement on the part of the students will render his efforts unfructified and frustrating. Each teaching unit needs a unique kind of motivation. If the students do not find the teaching relevant or useful ,his attention will wander.The job of a teacher is really very challenging and difficult. Hence I think teaching sans proper motivation = a chance missed.. Dr. Y.p.Hathi.

Motivation is an integral part of teaching, more so in case of teaching a foreign language. Why should anybody learn a foreign language when a person can easily manage by using the mother-tongue? The answer to this question needs a good reasoning besides motivation on the part of the teacher. Based on my personal experience I must say that reasoning for the study of a language does not appeal to a learner so much as the motivation provided by the teacher. Motivation is the essence of effective teaching-learning activities. If a person gets motivated half of the battle of the teacher of a foreign language is already won. Then of course, comes the methods and teaching techniques, coupled with a bonding between the teacher and the taught. Again, the same motivating techniques do not continue to motivate a person all through. Interests keep changing. So depending on the mood and circumstances of the learner the motivating factors should also continue to change accordingly. J.K.GANGAL
 Sílvia T.Claudette N. like this

When someone does a job willingly and gives it a hundred percent, it's motivation itself; when someone cares and this expresses itself orally, vocally and non-verbally, that's motivation itself. When this happens every time, every moment that some one acts and interacts, there is motivation in the atmosphere. and if the other someone sees the acts of this someone as such then interactions start and proceed towards the same goal. Only then is the circle complete and the act whole.

In other words, neither teachers nor students have to take conscious steps to motivate each other. If they perform as teachers and learners, that will suffice.

Part of the battle with motivation is acknowledging that it comes and goes! Getting students to reflect on current motivation levels and discuss these with others can be both illuminating and a trigger for those who are in a slump. Teachers get to "eavesdrop" and find out some of the reasons some learners are not feeling motivated (eg. finding it hard to cope with the level, parents are making them study the course, relationship troubles, tiredness due to holding down a job, dull material or no relevance to them, class pace too slow, etc). Learners can compare their levels with others and may feel satisfied that they are on the right track or feel inspired to get cracking. The teacher can then reflect on what THEY are doing and whether changes in their teaching approach may also help. Here is a link to a motivation chart (downloadable PDF) that I use to start such discussions in case it helps.

Perhaps teachers should distinguish between motivation and encouragement.

Encouragement is something a teacher can give, but motivation must ultimately come from the students' themselves. A teacher merely influences a students' motivation by making lessons relevant and cognitively challenging.

I suspect those who say we can motivate another, really mean 'inspire'?

EAP Pre-sessional Tutor, EFL Teacher, Author, and Life Coach
I think it our duty as teachers to motivate students and when I see the sentence I just wrote, I think it is quite clear. Big part of the job but if you have motivated students then your job is so much easier.


OK, Zehaad, now that you have singlehandedly brought down the entire Western system of education and pedagogy, I will 'inspire' my students, from now on.
 Ivy Antonette E. likes this

Nope, not me Nelson. It was Alfie Kohn who said:

"Indeed, one of the fundamental myths in this area is that it's possible 
to motivate somebody else. Whenever you see an article or a seminar called "How to 
Motivate Your Students," I recommend that you ignore it. You can't motivate 
another person, so framing the issue that way virtually guarantees the use of 
controlling devices."

Here's the entire text;

I think that by engaging learners with relevant tasks, support and materials our lessons can be motivating. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation factors will influence whether an individual learner is, in fact, motivated. Thus, as teachers the more we understand how motivation influences our learners and why it comes and goes, the better we can help them understand and manage their own motivation levels.

In an age of critical teacher evaluations, is it fair to blame teachers for a lack of motivation which will probably manifest itself as a lack of interest. As a former teacher mentor, I know developing teachers capacity to engage students was important but when do we draw the line and stop short of making the teacher fully accountable?
 Richard Tomlin likes this

<controlling devices>

Do you mean devices as in electronic or mechanical, or psychological? I've been trying to hypothesize that anything that affects and produces change in a student is brought about by a change in the neurological makeup in the head. Basically that's what I try to do with my students - locate where the neurological sub-site is that affects a particular outcome - let's say using -ing for ongoing action; then try to stimulate that area, psychologically thru relevant exercises, or physically.

A teacher is nothing if not a motivator. It is heartening to note this group is well aware of the problems and challenges confronting the teaching community. Discussions and debates will throw much light into them.

Lately I have read tens of thousands of words relating to motivating students in the ESL classroom. The expectations are becoming unrealistic and unproductive. The posted documentation is over referenced work done by others and put together in a mind numbing jumble.
My workload is already taking effect as classes come up to speed and student numbers settle. The big hurdle that is coming through now is APATHY not motivation. Which one needs to be fixed first?
What I would like to see is reference work on students motivating teachers. Successful role-reversals, hand out material that can be given to students that will wake them up to the role that they play in the student/teacher frame.
I am sure that this group has felt demotivated in the past and managed to pull through, but did your students assist you with your remotivation?
Or do we go to Plan " B ". In 1st world countries or schools with the budget, take the teacher out of the classroom. Remote teaching with no stress, its already working for 10's of thousands of online uni students.
Richard Tomlin likes this

English Teacher Trainer for more than 15 Years at Wide Range of Schools & Centers
I do like most the ideas set here. Yet I think a great part of the problems goes back to two things: first many teachers don't understand the core of teaching and teach just because it is the only profession available, they don't have the passion for teaching. Second, lots of teachers lack Professional Development. They are not ready to think or apply new ways of teaching. Being a teacher is a life long learning profession. You can't stop learning, there is no end for it.
Arzoo BakerEvelina K. like this

<Professional Development>

Super important - at least once a month.

Assistant Manager of National Academic Department at ELTI Gramedia
Maha gives an interesting point of view here, which I agree. In my country, some think that teaching is not a rewarding job, so it is really hard nowadays to recruit teacher candidates who have the passion for teaching. They teach because that's the first, easy thing they can do after graduating, the stepping-stone to a more promising job in terms of better financial income. However, of course, there are still others who really want to teach, and language schools are fortunate to have them and develop them. Indeed, teachers professional development should be maintained regularly since on this occasion teachers can exchange experience in delivering lessons and tackling problems in classroom management. Less-motivated teachers will not inspire less-motivated students (Zehaad, I like the 'inspire' term and view).

Experienced English as a Secondary Language Trainer REVEALS THE KEYS TO SPEAKING ENGLISH as A NATIVE SPEAKER DOES 영어 선생님
Top Contributor
Inspire them indeed. I think it's very important to get your students to like you. When the students like the teacher - the motivation to study, and to pursue improvement comes out naturally in them. I say be personal and professional. When we stir the students emotions, isn't it true that that's when we really get them to speak up and to them it's like they were unleashed. When the students like you because you are encouraging - they listen, they do what you ask them to do and yes, they get very inspired that they apply everything that you tell them would work to get themselves to achieve fluency in English.

For me teaching the adults and the professionals is actually more challenging than teaching children. With the children, I just have to be cautious and conscious that what am imparting them would serve as a good foundation. With the adults - it's like an extra- challenge of reconditioning their mindset about English. It is when I have adult students that I really remind myself before I stand before them that I have to make them like me. I make it a point that I read their backgrounds, bring humor with me, a lot of positive energy and a reminder that I am not there to prove them wrong but that am there to help them see where they need to improve and how they can.

I tell myself that I am not the most important character in my class - it's my students. They're the star - not me and this makes me do my best to find ways to make my class fun, doable and simple and satisfying for both me and them. For me it's an achievement when you get to see every adult student in my class happily participating in the activities. When the students don't like their teacher I don't think there would be anyway they can easily be motivated. As the saying goes - it takes 2 to tango. When the students see we are adding value in their lives - they would of course participate, do their best and pursue whatever goal they've set with how far they want to be good at English. I believe that it can be achieve when we become personal and not just professional in our approach.

To be slightly picky I think it is more important to be honest with your students.
You stand in front of your class and you do your best. Then you tell them that if they want to learn to speak English they have to put in the effort too.

My personal opinion is that a majority of the motivation for a student must come from the student themselves. Only they can put in the 'hard yards' so to speak.
We can help in the role of mentor and guide and we can make learning in class an enjoyable experience only in so far as it does not interfere with the message and more importantly the learning experience of other students.

It may sound harsh but I really believe we have to be careful not to focus too much on the underachievers to the detriment of the class. Each student deserves an equal amount of attention from the teacher and sometimes when there are difficult students in a class that may not always be the case. We are at risk of devoting more of our energies to fewer students (Never before in the field of......)

Learning English is done mostly outside of class. We give the the students the tools and send them away to do the extra study. The reading, listening, watching, more reading, the homework, learning the vocabulary, some more reading and so on. The students who do this are the ones who progress furthest and they are the ones with the intrinsic motivation. That can't be a coincidence. Can it?

Richard...definitely not a coincidence!
I totally agree on that last part of what you wrote up there!

Teacher, Dept. Head, Gifted at Miami-Dade County Public Schools
I think it depends on the group and their need. I have taught to adults in Miami who see the need to speak fluently in order to advance in their jobs; I have taught teenagers who are content mowing lawns because that is what their parents do. They don't understand their parents' desire to get them out of the lawn care business (or laundry, or cleaning) because they expect their children to surpass them. Each group requries a different "touch."
Claudette N. likes this

Motivation in teaching plays the same role as an appetizer before eating anything. Unless a person has an appetite they will never like to eat anything. So, what a teacher has to do first is to motivate their students through various teaching techniques to learn what they intend teaching . Once the students get motivated half of the teacher's battle is already won. Motivation goes a long way to create love for the teacher, which in turn, creates love and thirst in students for what is taught. It is an established fact that the use of innovative practices in teaching highly motivates students to learn on their own. J.K.GANGAL

Teaching Assistant at Higher Institute of Languages of Tunis
Given that motivation and motivational orientation in foreign language learning are of crucial importance, teachers can promote such type of orientation by developing activities that provide students with the opportunity to interact with native speakers, for instance. Teachers can provide students with a wide range of interesting activities which will satisfy their internal desire to learn the language for its sake. For example, role play and personalization (where students have to talk about their experiences and opinions) may sound attractive activities to intrinsically motivated learners. Instructors also should emphasize the importance of the English language for students’ career. As a case in point, they can invite a “guest speaker “to the classroom to talk about the importance of the English language in so many contexts.

As for your wondering if teaching at higher levels might not require as much focus on motivation, I would like to draw your attention that teaching at the tertiary level does require that. In fact, EFL learners cling to either integrative motivation or instrumental motivation. Each one will be highly fostered by the teacher and his/her techniques to motivate EFL learners either way. I collected a research study on motivation in the Tunisian context, and I found teachers' encouragement and learners' motivation were highly important in EF learning.
Karl Perera likes this

Educational Consultant at Delhi
Motivating.. encouraging.. inspiring.. engaging.. interesting…stirring…. Stimulating…where does the teacher draw the fine lines between these?? Aren’t we in the profession expected to do all these? The levels of cognition may differ though. The different methodology we use to carry out these may differ and that is another issue altogether. There is no doubt that as teachers we are supposed to be a motivated lot and passionate about our teaching so much so that the learners are motivated to learn. All are linked and interconnected… keeping them engaged is our job, how we go about it…. may be enough motivation for the learners to learn.
We need to ensure we keep finding different ways to keep ourselves motivated enough to motivate them to be motivated learners!!

I think it's the number one priority - and it's a two-way street - if you are motivated, they will be - so look in the mirror first;)
Mohammed B.Karl Perera and 1 other like this

Nope, Think that's a bit off. Sorry.

Teacher of English at London Japanese school.
Top Contributor
As far as possible I want to encourage intrinsic motivation, I might even try to manipulate the motivation of children with stars and stickers. It is just much easier to teach when people are motivated. I don't know about it being my responsibility. I don't like the implication that I'm responsible motivation if the student or the institution I work for just places all the responsibility with me. I think we all have a role to play in it. Certainly managing expectations and helping students with having a sense of progress is important. Also helping them with strategies for dealing with problems they encounter can have an important impact on motivation. I suppose I'm saying the question is not specific enough about what the problems with motivation are or might be. Hep where you can, accept what can't be helped and understand the difference between the two.
Richard Tomlin likes this

@ Richard, what's a bit off?

EAP Pre-sessional Tutor, EFL Teacher, Author, and Life Coach
Totally agree with what you said Sylvia and I don.2t see antyhting that's off at all

Sylvia. To explain:
I don't believe that their is a direct link between your input and student motivation.
I believe as I mentioned before that there are too many other motivational factors for a simple straight line response between learner and teacher.
(I am not belittling our input but I still don't believe the teacher is solely responsible for a students motivation and indeed I think it unfair of people to load such a responsibility onto the teacher.)

I see Richard. Well, no motivation equals no learning - so we just need to explore how we 'allow' the natural unfolding of enthusiasm without feeling forceful or responsible - kind of like playing with your kids at home - kind of like setting the scene, mood, atmosphere etc.

I will allow that we can have a great influence on certain students within a class. It is just that I don't believe it is possible to have the same affect on all of the students. Everyone is different and as a result what we do has a different affect on each student individually. So a method that is constructively motivating a student in the front of the class may be having a detrimental affect on another.
I wouldn't have you think me negative in class though. I am, I believe, very motivated and think I have the best job in the world, that's why I want to rattle the cage so much. It's just I am trying to temper the theory with a little realism.
Sometimes life sends us a failure to show us how important the successes are.
Sylvia Guinan likes this

I agree with your points Richard - once I kind of expressed similar sentiments in an article about personalisation.

The formatting got messy when they updated their blog - hope you can read it ok.

Teacher of English at London Japanese school.
Top Contributor
Richard, I sympathise with your uneasiness with the word responsibility. As a teacher in both primary and junior High school I have to deal with the problem of things being my responsibility all the the time. I often give kids my, now famous lecture about why it is totally understandable for me to be uptight about what they are doing even if they think it is okay. I usually explain to them that even if it isn't my fault they get hurt it is my responsibility to look after them. So if they do something stupid I could potentially be in trouble. As an adult if I do something stupid it is both my fault and my responsibility. Consequently adults have autonomy than they do. Ultimately I believe that both teachers and text books should aim at being of no more use. Learner autonomy is the aim I aspire to and that means that I aim at them being less and less reliant on me as they progress. I would include motivation in this. This being said if I have students who are not motivated I try to address that as best I can. With children you can address that much more directly than with adults. In my experience there are sometimes 8 year olds with more learner autonomy than 40 year olds so I don't like to make generalisations.
Richard Tomlin likes this

Hi Ben, in your comment a diamond has just emerged. It has not been apparent in many of the earlier posts. In Australia its called "Duty of Care." There may be different names used but this is what I learned over 25 years ago, long before I considered teaching.
How does it relate to motivation? As many have expressed in their posts its our "Duty" to motivate students, if you dont care about the needs and wellbeing of a student then how can you motivate them?
I feel that all professional or career teachers should be obligated to spend time in a foreign country to complete their educational qualifications. I realise its wishful thinking but when I read the comments from educators that have done this I can see the difference in thinking and values.
I work now, with teachers that have no outside experience and every school day I see the same teachers just plodding through their day. I also work with University lecturers and teachers that have travelled outside their country and the motivational levels and Duty of Care is different.
Ben A.Richard Tomlin like this

My main field of teaching is adults. At a teacher training program, I asked my trainer about student motivation and how it affects me as a teacher, and how it might disrupt a good lesson. I said there were students who are simply not motivated or interested in learning. Her reply was " there will always be few bad apples, do not let it affect you in any way."

I think I am always motivating, inspiring, encouraging, etc. I have come to realize that I need to care about motivated students and work with all equally. I taught in places where 90% of students were motivated(because they were government employees aspiring to get more education) On the other hand, I taught in places where 50% or less are motivated. I believe that you have to know who your students are, and what they want! I do agree with Sylvia that you have to be motivated and inspring
Richard Tomlin likes this

Motivation is not a one time activity last simple past tense, It is a perfect continuous tense which starts in the past and flows into the present. Again what motivates one does not motivate another like some people eat to live while some others live to eat. Realising these basic facts about MOTIVATION a teacher should continue to change their teaching strategies as per the need of their students as we do while playing 'rummy' in the game of cards. While teaching a teacher must meticulously ensure that the interest of every student in the class is catered for and is fully motivated to learn what the teacher concerned intends teaching. One thing more! Only a highly motivated and teacher- by- choice teacher can motive their students-one who is a teacher- by chance can never succeed. J.K.GANGAL

Motivation can sometimes be a very individualised thing. As Richard has pointed out, we have a different effect on different students. It is sometimes very difficult to reach some students. And when we don't, we have to remember not to take it personally. As Mohammed's trainer said, we should not let these instances "affect us". However, this does not mean that as professionals, we won't try to decipher what the underlying reasons for the reticence on the part of some student is.

An anecdote: I started the year in this class of students who didn't have very high esteem. The majority of students took to me but by week two, I noticed one young man who seemed determined to act up, and not do any work at all. On one occasion, he refused to listen to one of my instructions and walked out of the class. I realised confronting him would be fruitless so I got another teacher to talk to him. After the break, the boy came to seek me out. He apologised but I could see no apology in his eyes and I knew there would be no change. So I asked him why he was apologising. That threw him and to cut a long story short, in that short conversation we had, I realised that he had somehow developed the opinion that I didn't like him and didn't care.

After that conversation, he became my best student. Sounds soppy I know, but there a few times in our career when we see that a simple action on our part can make an impact that lasts. In this case it impacted on his attitude towards himself, his work, his relationship with me as teacher, and it led to success in his results when he graduated two years later. On my part, I had been fortunate enough to read him correctly and pull the right trigger. It comes with experience I think, because I notice I have few issues in the last years. But above all, I never see their lack of motivation as"my problem". It is just another challenge to decipher in the road to ensuring learning takes place.

English Teacher at Inlingua
Top Contributor
I agree with most of you here... of course it's our duty to motivate students, regardless their level and/or age! Pupils (as we, teachers, sometimes) may feel depressed because they think they are not arriving to the required level, or that they could do more, or that because of their obligations they can't study at home... and our obligation -and I pleasantly do that- is to cheer them up and remind them that learning English -as Maths- is a process and that every step counts...

-->Who doesn't need a little bit of motivation and to see that somebody trusts you from time to time? I do!

jagdish Gangal
'While teaching a teacher must meticulously ensure that the interest of every student in the class is catered for and is fully motivated to learn what the teacher concerned intends teaching.'

I'm sorry but I still believe this 100% attitude to motivation is unfeasible and indeed a little unfair
One more time, I still think its unfair for any student to expect more than their fair share of the teachers attention and this expectation that we can tailor bespoke lessons for every one is just not in reality practical.
In addition though it may not be intended, but to suggest that the motivation of teachers is linked to the motivation of the students in such a way suggests an implied criticism of the teacher.
That a teacher with un-motivated students is in some way failing them. Bit harsh that!
jagdish G. likes this

I agree that when we talk about motivation, we should not talk about what students must expect of the teacher. Recently, we were outraged when a couple of our refugee kids ( outrageous boys!) made a comment to the effect that we teachers in the intensive language centre owed them everything because if they weren't there, we would be out of a job!!!! No. We should not look at it from that point of view.

In the same way, I reiterate the question I asked some time ago in this thread ..... Should teachers be blamed .... Should they be marked down in their reviews. Again, my answer would be "no". I can't speak for every administrator, and I know it is not always true, but when I was head of department, part of my role was to enable my teachers to create a good learning environment in the class, inclusive of motivation. But the students in the school also knew that if a teacher was driven to send a student to me, it must be so bad that that student would be close to a suspension. It takes a whole school to grow a student. The teacher who is doing his or her best does not deserve a reproach.

But we then need to look at it from our own point of view as teachers. What is our "Best"? I know of teachers who are the deliveries of content, but will not engage with students. It happens in all professions of course. But if you recognise that you are doing your best (and that does not mean reaching for a 100% score) then I think you should be comfortable with yourself and where you are.

Teacher of English at London Japanese school.
Top Contributor
Let's not forget that the choice of materials, their difficulty and how you scaffold a classes understanding and appreciation of a text has a big impact on their motivation. So to the extent that well thought out lessons and genuine attempts to scaffold learning effect motivation, it is part of our jobs. To the extent that they may be struggling with the fact that English is a compulsory subject and they don't really want to be there or they have contradictory feelings about study it may feel like too much responsibility. I suppose the things that get in the way of you doing your job are actually what your job is in the real world rather than the idealised version. I just maintain the tradition of muddling through, trying to turn mishaps into fuel for moving the situation on. Certainly my motivation is effected by the students motivation I guess I should care about their motivation too.
Faten Aloui likes this

I agree with Ben, that the planning of a lesson is vital though we might not necessarily agree on content. That does not matter, the important point is that because every student is different with different learning methods, entry level ability, motivation and expectations one lesson will not fit all and we cannot in reality prepare one to one lessons. So by definition the best planned lesson, by the most motivated teacher in the world may well still be failing someone.
Another set of problems is identifying motivation. In some it is obvious but a motivated student may not be extrovert student or a high flier. We cannot assume a quiet student or a failing student is not motivated. As with everything there are so many other factors to foul up our view of the issue. Oh it would be lovely if it was easy!

Teaching Assistant at Higher Institute of Languages of Tunis
I strongly agree with Ben. Actually, teachers' motivation and students' motivation are not mutually-exclusive. I might go further to the extent that students' motivation gains more emphasis over teachers' motivation. Students might be integrated into English, native speakers, and culture or they could be learning it just to use it as a tool to boost their careers as English nowadays has become a global language. Their hidden motives should be analysed by teachers to work more on their effectiveness in the learning process.

I'm sorry for being dense.
Analysing hidden motives?

Dear Richard,

Hidden motives refer back to “linguistic motives” or “career-oriented motives” (Allen, 2010). Such motives can be traced back to the main reason that helps English gain a wider importance among EFL learners. They represent students' influential motivational orientations: intrinsic, extrinsic, integrative or instrumental. And, as a teacher, I need to know them and analyse them among my students and divide my objectives based on that analysis.
Ben A. likes this

Thank you. Now I follow.
I can't help thinking we are getting a little deep. I don't have time for that kind of in depth investigation into each of my 400 or so students.
Diminishing returns. My lesson planning takes a greater priority. There must be a point when we have to say "That's enough"

Dear Richard,

Would you mind telling me how do you plan your lesson, please? How can you guarantee that most of your students do understand what you planned for them, please? Following your string of thoughts, what matters for you is to give your program for them whithout assessing it (please, you can correct me if I get you wrongly). In my opinion, teaching is not aimed at giving all of what I plan for them , but to make sure that they are learning what they are giving. I would say that having many students in one class will hinder my roles to do so but I will try my best to, at least, divide them based on their levels and tailor suitable lesson plan that fits all their levels (high, mid and low) based on their needs (through my analysis). As for the enormous number of students, I don't think that will be suitable for them to learn in an effective way. In Tunisia, we divide students into different classes. Having 25 to 35 students in a class is important so that students can work in teams , for instance. That way, we can understand their weaknesses and even detect their levels. I might have so many students but I will manage to know almost where they stand. I would say that is relative after all.

Hello all, I must admit I haven't found time to read all the messages, but it is true we are the ones who motivate our students. Who else? A boring teacher will bore his/her class, even with a perfect lesson plan. We use all sorts of methods, games, technology, tone of voice, personality, humour... in order to "reach" our students. Of course, some will remain unreachable, untouched despite our efforts. But as teachers, we must never give up. Sorry to get personal, but I recently met a mother who said "I want to meet the person who made my daughter like English." Great, but I'm still struggling with a couple more hermetically closed to English learning. They forget I'm optimistic.

Motivation is intrinsic to learning anything whether it is a skill/ subject / ELT and for the student to be motivated, the teacher has to be motivated first – so one must look at the metaphor for teaching – what is teaching to me ? Is it a variety show / a conversation / climbing a mountain / a menu / a symphony/ eating a meal / a football game / consulting a doctor? Students have different perspectives and frames of mind and a motivated teacher would want to look at how they want to learn – they like visuals, involvement, use of technology (they know a lot more than we do!) , music and versatility in a teacher. Once to motivate my students , I had organized a competition in digital construction of stories( this was related to content teaching )– Each group was given a story from the prescribed text to reconstruct digitally – they produced some amazing stuff – the most outstanding ones were ‘The Rose and the Nightingale ‘by Oscar Wilde and ‘ A Conjurer’s Revenge’ by Stephen Leacock. Depicting a lesson through drawing also is a motivating technique. I think students like the teacher to change her/ his style / method of teaching -- this from my experience. But I do agree with David when he says ----‘The point remains, both teacher and student must participate in the motivational dynamic.’ It takes two to Tango!!!!

Teacher of English at London Japanese school.
Top Contributor
It is sometimes difficult to avoid the traps of semantics in these discussions so I'll try say something relevant without dismissing were others are coming from. I'll state what I think about source of objections to the word 'responsibility' might be first and them I'll say why I think we shouldn't lose sight of the importance of motivation.

There is a tendency in the world of CPD's and 'professionalism' to use phrases like "Students motivation is the responsibility of the teacher.' in a way that ultimately undermines the teacher, their ability to feel that their decisions are respected and that there is a realistic acknowledgement that they can't meet all of the students expectations. This is especially the case when the motivation to study in the first place is based on the ranking function that linguistic competence serves in education and the work place rather than a genuine desire to use the language.

Also, unrealistic expectations and a difficulty in feeling that your are progressing are a huge source of frustration for students. Many language schools run on a business model that encourages insecurity about linguistic competence on the one hand and unrealistic expectations about what the teachers and the school can do about this on the other.This is often the problem with the basic dishonesty of marketing.

Teachers can also feel much more constrained in the choice of materials and in their right to apply creative solutions to lack of motivation when the curriculum, text books and management style constrains them. Under these circumstances I can understand why there would be a reaction to the the statement about student motivation. If you then add low pay and 6 or 7 hours contact time in a day, you start to see how many teachers resent being told that their job is anything more than delivering the course materials and keeping things as pleasant and non-confrontational as possible. If the student wants to go up a level and you don't want to receive another unfair complaint about your teaching that results in a line manger telling you off about your customer service orientation. You just send them up regardless of level. Then the difference between levels becomes blurred and you just sort of muddle through to the next pay check.

All of this being said teaching good lessons and motivating students as best you can is the most reliable way of making your job meaningful and the more you feel good about what your doing the better for everyone. Understanding a students needs and wants and being kind enough not to dismiss all wants as just selfish or unreasonable is the basis of establishing a good relationship with a class. So I suppose I don't care how you chose to phrase it we all want to be happy at work and in our studies.

<motivate our students>

Part of learning is the student staying in class, or in the school. If you treat your students as if they were one-on-one, and that you were getting paid by the hour for each student, and that they could leave any time they wanted, the probability of your students being successful in class would probably increase.
Isn't it simple? I think there is a strong correlation though.

Dear Faten
I thought I had done with this conversation, but as you ask I will just reply quickly
I teach around 400 young students (up to 12yr old) fortnightly in smaller classes obviously.
There are however 400 never the less. This number is not constant as there is a roll on roll off and a 'make up' approach so in each class you are never sure exactly who is going to be there.
We teach a subject a month and five different levels and following a course book.
On top of that I teach private lessons to adults as the one helps the other and keeps me up to speed as an individual student needs virtually the same level of preparation as a class. Though the motivational problems are less pronounced obviously.

So lesson planning goes like this:
What is the subject this month?
Evaluate the course books. What is useful? What is unhelpful, confusing or badly laid out?
Prepare a rough plan with general goals using the materials from the course books.
Prepare an exercise to evaluate the students 'entry behaviour'
Consider: Do the students have the knowledge to grasp the new topic. If not, prepare exercises to bring the students up to speed. (I like the students to see a logical progression and links to previous work. Unfortunately the material I am teaching does not necessarily do that)
Introduce the subject with minimal vocabulary to get the structure correct
Prepare graded exercises and games to encourage speaking and get the structure fixed. Possibly using previously taught materials too to encourage a proper context.
Introduce new vocabulary.
Prepare graded exercises and games to encourage speaking with added and 'free' vocabulary.
Prepare exercises to assess and game the progress of the students.

In addition we use songs for the younger levels and 'basic questions' to practice simple conversations.

This in 45-50 minute slots.

Of the materials I prepare for the month I will use roughly 25-30% in each class. Because every class has a different make up it is not the same material in each class. Each class will be individually tailored to an extent both before and during the lesson depending on the students makeup in class and the student reaction to any one element.
It's a busy old week, though I know I'm not the only one who has those!

A check on motivation goes like this...
Are the students happy when they come in?
Do they participate in the activities?
Do they sit through the presentation?
Do I get an aha! moment from the students or the blank face look?
Are they happy when they go out?
Are the parents happy?
Is the boss happy?

When I review all that I get a feel for what is working not working and adjust accordingly.

I'm am 49 years old and recognised as one of the most active teachers in class, I am constantly told by other staff that I never stop thinking about teaching (That's true enough) I am one of the highest recruiters and often get good feedback second hand(I like second hand feedback as it is more likely to be honest than face to face which may often be tempered with politeness.)
That all said I am not perfect and I would never push my methods onto anyone though I do freely circulate games and materials around to anyone who wishes to partake. That is what this is about to, don't you know.

I do appreciate that this method is the one I use for my situation and a different set of parameters would require a different approach. That's what being flexible is about and being flexible is the name of the game
So "This is what I do." If you don't like it fine, no problem. We can agree to differ. If you see something you like. Likewise fine, here you are, you are welcome.

There you go. I think I hit the high spots.
Sílvia T.jagdish G. like this

Dear Richard,

I asked you to have an idea how you manage to prepare your lesson plan in relation to your students' needs. Thank you for sharing your method. I believe that others' experience is a gateway to learn from and question it when needed to. Understanding the needs and wants of students is challenging for teachers. And, I am still working on that to be a facilitator for my students and not a debilitator and to "[establish] a good relationship with a class", as Ben said. And, no one is perfect after all. As a teacher, I am still learning even from my students.

Thank you once again for sharing your experience.