By identifying an appropriate lesson objective, or short-term goal, we are creating a vehicle by which learners can more easily judge the usefulness of the task in reaching their future, long-term goal.
This not only prevents them from losing sight of what they are learning, it helps them feel that the overwhelming task of language learning is manageable. It also allows them to recognize their achievements and become more aware of their gradual progress.
As Dörnyei (1998) points out, ‘goal-setting theory is compatible with expectancy-value theories in that commitment is seen to be enhanced when people believe that achieving the goal is possible (cf. expectancy) and important (cf. tasks)’. Short-term goals play a pivotal role in cultivating success-expectancy, the second of our key motivational factors.
To generate success-expectancy, we need to do more than simply present a series of tasks on which learners are bound to do well. There needs to be an appropriate element of challenge in place for them to perceive they are making progress and so moving nearer to their overall goal.
Assuming the difficulty level of a task is appropriate to move learning forward, we will be in a position to provide learners with the strategies and the tools they need to succeed. These might include helping them employ an appropriate strategy when dealing with a listening or reading task with a particular purpose in mind, or teaching them how to overcome difficulties in communicative situations, for example, by asking for clarification or repetition.
This not only mirrors an action-oriented approach, but also generates confidence by enabling learners to overcome difficulties. This, in turn, helps them attain their goals and provides a higher sense of self-efficacy. ‘The greater the perceived likelihood of goal-attainment and the greater the incentive value of the goal, the higher the degree of the individual’s positive motivation’ (Dörnyei 1998). In other words, learners who are able to employ appropriate strategies in a range of situations will be more effective learners.
An individual’s success-expectancy will be influenced by their past learning experiences (attribution theory), along with their perception of their own abilities (self-efficacy theory) and a desire to maintain their own self-esteem (self-worth theory). Weiner (1979) points out that if our past learning experiences have led us to believe that we have a low ability, and that we believe that this is uncontrollable, we will be unlikely to expect to succeed.
If our teaching is to be success-oriented and students’ learning effective, we need to show that ability is not fixed, and the efforts a learner exerts will make a difference to their performance. Telling them why they did well on a task, and what they might need to do in order to improve will help them focus on perceptions of their own abilities and remove the likelihood that they see difficult tasks as personal threats to be avoided.