Motivation has been a thorn in the flesh of humans since the dawn of history. It has been a hotly-debated concept. People talk of extrinsic and intrinsic sides of the same coin—motivation.
It’s no less a headache in and outside the classroom. Is it the duty of the classroom teacher or the learners? Should learners wait for teachers to motivate them? Is it enough if teachers take the first step? Do they have to plan teaching such that motivation seeps into and permeate the learning acts consistently? Make learning fun, they say. Is it possible to make every classroom activity laced with fun? Or do learners have to put their best foot forward and learn?
Generally speaking, children entering school do seem to bring with them subconsciously of course an interest in what goes on in the classroom, learning occurs, but as they move upward, as they grow, this interest seems to be thinning and waning for some reason or the other. So many are cited as contributing factors—the content, teaching activities, classroom (school) ambience, teacher’s personality, learner’s personality, peers and their perceptions, encouraging or discouraging peer interaction and/ or interaction between the teacher and the taught, home or neighbourhood environment etc.
Then there is the cliché—you can lead the horse to the pond but you can’t make it drink.
Even if teachers did their best, some learners don’t reciprocate. It takes two to dialogue, it takes two hands to shake.
Phase 1 Teachers’ musings
In ELT Professionals Around the World in Linkedin, Judith Morais started a discussion: To what extent do you as an ELT teacher consider it your responsibility to address student motivation when teaching English?
Several members responded. Please find here the essence. If you’re interested in the details, you can either look for this discussion in Linkedin or you’ll find it as Topic 54 in the discussion series 17—ELT Professionals around the World datedJune 2015 in my blog: kolipakam.blogspot.in.
David Deubelbeiss says: 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).
Judith says: 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. …
She adds: 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.
She continues: 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.
Anna Murakwa declares: …it’s a part of our job to motivate our students…
David D. says: 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.
Zehaad I informs: Kohn (1999) “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.”
He says further: 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.
Richard Tomlin suggests: … 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. …
He says further: 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.
He ruminates further: 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.
Me: When someone does a job willingly and gives 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 someone 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.
Dianne Henshaw says: 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.
Frank Chesire raises a valid point: 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?
Sylvia Guinan says: 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:)
Agnes Glenn says: Of course, some will remain unreachable, untouched despite our efforts. But as teachers, we must never give up.
Arzoo Baker 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. _______________________________________________________
Sometimes it’s useful to narrate stories or real instances that might work as a spark to ignite motivation.
As a man was passing the elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.
He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”
The man was amazed. These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.
Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief that we cannot do something, simply because we failed at it once before?
Failure is part of learning; we should never give up the struggle in life.
Once upon a time a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed.
Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot.
He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter, moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing.
After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.
He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup. Turning to her he asked. “Daughter, what do you see?”
“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” she hastily replied.
“Look closer,” he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.
“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.
He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity– the boiling water.
However, each one reacted differently.
The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak.
The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.
However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.
“Which are you,” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean? “
Moral:In life, things happen around us, things happen to us, but the only thing that truly matters is what happens within us.
A frog was hopping around a farmyard, when it decided to investigate the barn. Being somewhat careless, and maybe a little too curious, he ended up falling into a pail half-filled with fresh milk.
As he swam about attempting to reach the top of the pail, he found that the sides of the pail were too high and steep to reach. He tried to stretch his back legs to push off the bottom of the pail but found it too deep. But this frog was determined not to give up, and he continued to struggle.
He kicked and squirmed and kicked and squirmed, until at last, all his churning about in the milk had turned the milk into a big hunk of butter. The butter was now solid enough for him to climb onto and get out of the pail!
Value-A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, "Who would like this $20 bill?"
Hands started going up.
He said, "I am going to give this $20 to one of you but first, let me do this." He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up.
He then asked, "Who still wants it?"Still the hands were up in the air.
"Well," he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe.
He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty. "Now who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air.
"My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.
We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. You are special - Don't ever forget it
These are but a few motivational stories about people who have had to face difficulties in one form or the other, and turned it around through sheer perseverance and enthusiasm.
But if you come to think about it, even your milkman or the security guard in your office building might have an inspiring story to tell you out of their own lives.
I know a lady who is well into her seventies now. A housewife who had never worked before, she lost her husband at the age of 40 to illness and was left with a 10-year old son and huge medical bills.
She took on her husband’s job without thinking twice, applied herself to learning new skills and brought up her son single-handedly. She is still active today, leads the neighborhood book club and has signed up for a computer class to keep up with the changing times.
If that is not motivational enough then I don’t know what is!
It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then you hear a story about people overcoming all odds to help others and it completely changes your perspective of the world. The story of Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi is certainly one of these.
Haixia and Wenqi are two 53-year-old men from China who have faced incredible challenges in their lives. Haixia was born with congenital cataracts that caused him to be blind in one eye. He then lost sight in his one good eye after a work accident in 2000. Wenqi tragically lost both of his arms in an accident when he was only three years old and has been living as a double amputee ever since.
Despite their physical setbacks, Haixia and Wenqi have remained utterly determined to live life to the fullest. These two best friends help one another navigate the world and when they’re together there is nothing that they cannot do.
A story about motivation By Peter Bengram FEBRUARY 03, 2010
I was walking back to our apartment in Manhattan, the hood of my jacket pulled tight to keep the rain out, when I saw an older man with a walker struggle to descend the slippery stairs of his building. When he almost fell, I and several others went over to help.
There was an Access-A-Ride van (a Metropolitan Transit Authority vehicle for people with disabilities) waiting for him. The driver was inside, warm and dry, as he watched us straining to help his passenger cross the sidewalk in the pouring rain.
Then he opened the window and yelled over the sound of the rain coming down, “He might not be able to make it today.”
“Hold on,” we yelled (there were five of us now) as we helped the man move around the back of the van, “he can make it.”
Traffic on 84th street had stopped. We caught the man from falling a few times, hoisted him back up, and finally got him to the van door, which the driver then opened from the inside to reveal a set of stairs. The man with the walker would never make it.
“What about your side door, the one with the electric lift?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” the driver answered, “hold on.” He put his coat over his head, came out in the rain with the rest of us, and operated the lift.
Once the man with the walker was in safely, we all began to move away when the driver opened the window one more time and yelled, “Thanks for your help.”
So, here’s my question: Why will five strangers volunteer to help a man they don’t know in the pouring rain — and think about the electric lift themselves — while the paid driver sat inside and waited?
Perhaps the driver is simply a jerk? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. Once we suggested the lift, he didn’t resist or complain, he came outside and did it immediately. And he wasn’t obnoxious either. When he thanked us for our help, he seemed sincere.
Maybe it’s because the driver is not permitted to leave the vehicle? I checked the MTA website to see if there was policy against drivers assisting passengers. On the contrary, it states “As long as the driver doesn’t lose sight of the vehicle and is not more than 100 feet away from it, the driver can assist you to and from the vehicle, help you up or down the curb or one step and assist you in boarding the vehicle.”
So why didn’t the driver help? Part of the answer is probably that for him, an old man struggling with a walker isn’t a one-time thing, it’s every day every stop, and the sight doesn’t compel him to act.
But that answer isn’t good enough. After all, it’s his job to help. That’s when it suddenly hit me: The reason the driver didn’t help might be precisely because he was paid to.
Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke University, and James Heyman, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, explored this idea. They set up a computer with a circle on the left side of the screen and a square on the right side, and asked participants to use the mouse to drag the circle into the square. Once they did, a new circle appeared on the left. The task was to drag as many circles as they could within five minutes.
Some participants received five dollars, some fifty cents, and some were asked to do it as a favor. How hard did each group work? The five dollar group dragged, on average, 159 circles. The fifty cents group dragged 101 circles. And the group that was paid nothing but asked to do it as a favor? They dragged 168 circles.
Another example: The AARP asked some lawyers if they would reduce their fee to $30 an hour to help needy retirees. The lawyers’ answer was no. Then AARP had a counterintuitive brainstorm: they asked the lawyers if they would do it for free. The answer was overwhelmingly yes.
Because when we consider whether to do something, we subconsciously ask ourselves a simple question: “Am I the kind of person who . . ?” And money changes the question. When the lawyers were offered $30 an hour their question was “Am I the kind of person who works for $30 an hour?” The answer was clearly no. But when they were asked to do it as a favor? Their new question was “Am I the kind of person who helps people in need?” And then their answer was yes.
So what does this mean? Should we stop paying people? That wouldn’t work for most people. No, we need to pay people a fair amount, so they don’t say to themselves, “I’m not getting paid enough to . . .”
Then we need to tap into their deeper motivation. Ask them: Why are you doing this work? What moves you about it? What gives you the satisfaction of a job well done? What makes you feel good about yourself?
People tend to think of themselves as stories. When you interact with someone, you’re playing a role in her story. And whatever you do, or whatever she does, or whatever you want her to do, needs to fit into that story in some satisfying way.
When you want something from someone, ask yourself what story that person is trying to tell about himself, and then make sure that your role and actions are enhancing that story in the right way.
We can stoke another person’s internal motivation not with more money, but by understanding, and supporting, his story. “Hey,” the driver’s boss could say, “I know you don’t have to get out of the van to help people, but the fact that you do — and in the rain — that’s a great thing. And it tells me something about you. And I appreciate it and I know that man with the walker does too.” Which reinforces the driver’s self-concept — his story — that he’s the kind of guy who gets out, in the rain, to help a passenger in need.
Ultimately someone else’s internal motivation is, well, her internal issue. But there are things we can do that will either discourage or augment her internal drive. And sometimes it’s as simple as what we notice.
It’s not lost on me that I too have a story about myself — I’m the kind of guy who stops on a rainy day to help an old disabled man to his van — and that it makes me feel good to tell you about it too. That will make it more likely that I’ll do it again in the future.
As we left the scene, I looked at the drivers of the cars who waited so patiently and waved, mouthing the words “thank you” as they passed. Every single one of them smiled back. Wow. New York City drivers smiling after being stuck in traffic for ten minutes? That’s right.
“Yeah,” they were thinking behind their smiles, “I’m the kind of driver who waits patiently while people less fortunate than me struggle.”
Motivation, de-motivation or lack of motivation depends entirely on positive or negative attitudes, and attitudes result from perceptions.
In the ultimate analysis, it’s building relationships, it’s the relationship that should govern teachers and learners that matters; learners subconsciously expect teachers to recognise them as human beings, understand their weaknesses, show empathy, develop social relationships. Which implies the first step has to happen with teachers. Teachers should shed their egos. Teachers must understand first that learners are human beings first, learners second. It’s greetings, smiles, enquiries, sympathy and empathy from teachers that lay the foundation to begin and develop a relationship. They must (never cast aspersions, never use hurtful looks) encourage learners’ little successes--a genuine smile, a pat on the back, greet them before they do, earn their respect, get the rest of the class to join you in appreciating the effort, make them feel the whole class is behind them.
Once learners perceive that teachers treat them as human beings, they’ll respond positively, bond with teachers, learn with smiles and tears. This is the motivation they’ll need from teachers. Nothing less, nothing more. The rest can only be supportive.
1. I speak from personal experience. My humane approach had a tremendous effect on them. I’d greet them without waiting for them to say hello. If I saw someone limping, I'd ask him/her how it happened, and a day or two later, I'd exhibit my happiness at the improvement, call them to my office, talk about family, discuss politics, films, sports. I'd arrange for assistance with a colleague from ‘discipline’ departments to help them with personal attention and assistance. I'd talk to their parents. Such care and attention did result in positive perception and attitude and improved confidence.
Some of my students had studied in the regional language medium at school and hence they had this fear complex so much they wouldn't speak at all in class. They heard English all the time from 9 am to 4 pm which hardly made any sense to them--even physics, chemistry and mathematics. For the jargon was in the garb of English. I got some willing ‘discipline’ colleagues to provide equivalent expressions in the regional medium.
I spent the first few classes for confidence-building. I introduced myself, my family, my schooling, my fears, my desires, my hopes. Then I got them to introduce themselves in five or six sentences--giving them a sample. I got English-medium students to introduce themselves first so the regional medium students heard the pattern and got used to it. When they faced the class to speak, every one clapped, many smiled to them and said words of appreciation.
Next I spoke about my interests--politics, music, films, sport (cricket is very popular here), asked for their reactions as part of my talk, responses came involuntarily, discussed certain events and films in some depth, involved them in the discussion.
Next I asked them to speak about their favourite hero (heroine), sportsperson. I made them watch English movies, Charlie Chaplin's films, got them to talk about these and respond to specific instances.
In due course, they were able to get rid of shyness or fear to a great extent. Their self-belief began to grow. By the time they were in second or third year when they need to make presentations, they were better off.
Of course, all these didn't work with some regional medium students. They were so fear-struck, they wouldn't come out of their shells. Even with one or two English medium students, their fright was so overwhelming.
Ask learners individually an extra-curricular activity they like and perform--singing, playing an instrument, playing football, surfing, gardening, collecting currencies and coins. Ask them how they got to where they are. If they don't understand the question, ask them how many days or how many hours they took to play or sing well, how they looked for source to collect antique items. Ask them if they could have sung or played that well in the first attempt. Make them understand that it was their desire, determination, practice and not minding criticism or mockery from others that made them good singers or players. Now ask them if they'd not like to learn English so they can go to college and learn things at higher levels. If the answer is a 'no', give them examples of locals or old students who because they learnt English have come up in life, enjoy better comforts. Perhaps they'd now get out of their shell. If the answer is a 'yes', tell them to start speaking, practise speaking, practise speaking, make mistakes (as they did while learning to sing or play) but learn from their mistakes (as they did while learning singing or playing).
The odds are extrinsic motivation (building relationship and the ensuing techniques) from the teacher can kindle and nurture intrinsic motivation in shy, reluctant learners. This will in itself not help learner growth, learners must want to learn, to grow--they need to develop their intrinsic motivation. The cliché quoted in the introduction acquires meaning only with regard to an odd learner or two who’ll remain untouched, unmoved, unresponsive. Let them be. They may win the battle but will lose the war.