In this series of articles, Annie McDonald, co-author of the English Result series, considers two key factors which affect motivation: expectancy of success and the value attached to success.
I suggest that if the connection between classroom activities and an overall language learning goal is evident, then learners will be more likely to value and hence be motivated in a lesson. They will be able to answer the question ‘Why am I doing this?’ With value ascribed to classroom activities, it will also be easier for learners to experience success on a more regular basis, a key to both increasing motivation and promoting effective learning.
The value an adult language learner attaches to a course depends upon the circumstances under which they are studying. If their aspirations concern, say, passing a university degree in which a language course is a component, then tapping into this kind of extrinsic motivation might prove difficult, in the first instance. Perhaps a more promising approach would be to tap into learners’ natural desire to communicate. We live in a world in which communication between people in different places is facilitated by technology and educational and professional mobility is a reality, and many language learners envision themselves being able to use the language in various ‘real’ situations.
It goes without saying that the greater the apparent relationship between a language course and an adult learner’s goals, the greater the value attached to the course. So, what type of course will suit learners who are aiming to be effective users of a language? From my teaching experiences, learners whose aim is to use language in the real world will be motivated by a course which reflects an ‘action-oriented approach’ to language and learning as described in the Common European Framework of Reference (2001). Such a course not only deals with the nuts and bolts of the language of study, the grammar, vocabulary and so on, but also offers learners opportunities to draw on what they know and to have a go at carrying out real world communicative tasks. The main thrust will be on doing rather than knowing.
Even though most language courses are designed for learners whose goals are to be able to use the language, sometimes the connection between the overall communicative goal and elements of a course is tenuous. Learners might have worked through a series of levels and had the various uses of the present perfect explained to them. Quite possibly, though, they won’t have had the opportunity to try out using the language in related communicative tasks. In other words, the theory is there, but the ‘action’ might be missing. If we can frame a lesson with an action-oriented task, the lesson will accrue perceived value in its own right, learners will see that focus of their attention has real-world significance and this will help maintain motivation throughout a course.
Imagine that the lesson you are teaching focuses on quantifiers and the vocabulary of food. Could you frame your lesson with a communicative task so learners are made immediately aware of a practical purpose to which the language could be put? You might be able to ascribe an action-oriented focus at the beginning of the class, for example ordering food in a café, explaining how to cook something or talking about their eating habits, and present this to learners as an overall objective for the lesson itself.
On a note of caution, however, once we ascribe an action-oriented focus to a lesson, we will need to check that, for the main part, the language and skills work that follows is part of the main storyline. In other words, language and skills work should be presented within the overall flow of the lesson. They should be a part of the overall practical objective, and not just there for their own sake, if their value is to be evident.