Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


4 Comments

Language teachers need motivating too! | Tammy Gregersen

In this article, I am reaching out directly to my colleagues – language teachers from around the world – to have a conversation about what motivates us. As language educators, we have many unique collective features that bind us together and forge among us a distinct identity. To demonstrate my point, I invite you to take a moment to look inward, reflect, and think about your own personal and professional experience in five different scenarios:

First, have you ever noticed the positive ways your language learners respond during those classes when you are really “on your game” (and vice versa, their apathetic sluggishness when you are less than your enthusiastic self?)?

Second, think back to the early days of your career, and even before that, when you were making decisions about what you wanted to do with your life. I’ll bet that for most of us, we thought that teaching would provide at least a modicum of meaning and purpose.

Third, when was the last time you were so engaged in something that you were passionate about that you lost all sense of time and place? Interestingly, there are conditions that must be met for us to find that state of “flow”.

Fourth, look back over the past week. Can you see dips and surges in your motivation inside the classroom? Can you attribute them to specific sources? My guess is that many of us share similar triggers.

Lastly, when was the last time you savoured a professional achievement?—not just felt a sense of pride – but really truly savoured something?  Amazing feeling, right?

If you agree to join me during my ELTOC webinar, I’m going to address the five ideas I’ve just touched upon, and just to whet your appetite and convince you it won’t be a waste of time, in continuation is a bit of a summary.

Connecting teacher and learner motivation

I will begin my talk by suggesting that the motivation we feel as teachers is not only imperative for our own wellbeing but also for that of our learners.  This is because teachers play a vital role in their students’ engagement and motivation, and in particular, our enjoyment of positive emotions and our confidence in teaching positively influence these elements in our learners. That is to say, if we are motivated and passionate about our work, the chances are much higher that our learners will be too. Concentrating on our own wellbeing and motivation is not selfish – but rather it is pivotal to being an effective teacher because it fosters the best learning conditions for our learners.

Initial Motivations: The passions

After outlining how important teacher motivation is for teachers and learners, the second part of my talk will consider the initial motivations involved in why individuals might become language teachers. An appreciation of these motives is essential to gaining insight into teacher engagement and our long-term commitment to the profession. We can draw enormous strength from reminding ourselves of the purposefulness of our initial motivation and aligning our current practices to allow us to repeatedly re-live the values of what enticed us to the job in the first place (Toward, Henley & Cope, 2015). Whereas in certain educational contexts across the world, social status and other extrinsic reasons may figure into our choice to teach, for many others, intrinsic factors dominate (Richardson & Watt, 2014). The key is to find meaning and purpose in what we do. In positive psychology, contentment springs from using our strengths in meaningful ways that also contribute to something greater than ourselves (Seligman, 2011) and teaching is idyllically suited to engendering that brand of positivity when harnessed effectively. This is a fantastic website, use it to aid you in discovering your own personal strengths.

Finding day-to-day motivation and flow

The next consideration in my talk will be to contemplate ways that language teacher motivation fluctuates on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, it is perfectly normal for our motivation to go up and down across the course of a day, week, or academic year. It is important to recognise when we are experiencing a motivational dip so we can consider strategies that incite a re-discovery of enthusiasm. Can you distinguish between temporary drops in your motivation and those originating from issues that are more fundamental? In my talk, we will identify personal and institutional threats to our motivation and ways in which we might tackle them. That motivation is highly individual is a non-starter, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

A heightened form of motivation, “flow”, is “when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992, p. 3). Flow has two prerequisites: possessing the skills to do the task, and having a task that suitably challenges these skills. Flow boosts the spirit transitorily and builds psychological capital over time, which is a major component of human growth and motivation. I will focus on what flow means and how we might foster it in our professional and personal lives.

Tackling apathy and demotivation

Next, I will reflect on additional threats to motivation and specific causes of demotivation and apathy. Apathetic individuals feel they have nothing towards which to strive and, as a result, the mental, physical, or emotional energy for accomplishing what in the past they may have valued disappears (Selzer, 2016). To combat these feelings, we can engage in a variety of activities—some of which I will share in my talk. We can also look ahead and set goals for our own development and growth, including creating future visions for ourselves.

A Sense of Achievement

The final key source of motivation that I will address in my talk is a sense of achievement, which can come from successes in language teaching as well as a sense of improvement in our competences as and those of our learners. I’ll talk about different ways we can capture such feelings of accomplishment from both small day-to-day experiences as well as larger achievements. One key way of promoting this is to engage in appropriate and self-selected professional development activities. Boredom can be just as damaging to motivation and wellbeing as stress, so there is a fine balance to be struck between not taking on too much while still challenging ourselves. I will discuss individual needs for stimulation and the problems of overstretching ourselves while considering specific strategies and activities for teacher self-initiated and self-directed growth.

Concluding words….

The notion that we are all language teachers – no matter from which part of the planet – brings us together with common purposes and goals. No matter where I’ve travelled across the globe to meet up with language teachers, I have always felt the camaraderie of shared passion. Please join me during my ELTOC talk so that we might learn a bit more from each other! 


ELTOC

Tammy Gregersen
is running a webinar on this topic for OUP’s free English Language Teaching Online Conference in March 2019. Register now to secure your place by clicking here.


Tammy Gregersen is currently teaching and researching at the American University of Sharjah where she also coordinates their Masters in TESOL program. She has co-authored/co-edited several books, with three more in press, on topics such as individual differences, nonverbal communication, positive psychology in the language classroom and language teacher education. 

Tammy has presented at conferences and taught in graduate programs across the globe which deems an incredible privilege because it taps into her passions for traveling and exploring new cultures.


6 Comments

5 Ways Graded Readers can Motivate your Students

_MG_1827Jacqueline Aiello PhD (New York University, New York) specializes in research concerning Curriculum Theory, Teacher Education and Teaching Methods. Jacqueline was the lead qualitative researcher in an impact study on the Read On! class library project in Italy.

English is widely featured in students’ entertainment and social media platforms: in Hollywood movies, worldwide gaming communities, celebrity Twitter accounts, Facebook, music and so on. This English – cool, dynamic and exciting – is different from the English students are confronted with in school. For many students, English is just another school subject and, often disengaged, they approach English learning sluggishly or even reluctantly. Bridging this divide, then, is a challenge worth tackling.

An effective way to motivate students to work hard to learn English is by implementing extensive reading projects in language classrooms. As extensive readers, students get to freely choose from a wide variety of graded readers that are at the right level for them. How does it work?

Here are the 5 ways that graded readers motivated students who participated in the Read On! class library project in Italy to learn, use and study English:

1. Love of Choice: As participants in the Read On! project, students chose what they wanted to read from a library that offered a selection of 90+ graded readers of different genres and topics. When students have choice in learning, they become more motivated to do it. One student said: ‘I really liked this project because we could choose the books that we wanted to read, and read them at our own pace, without anyone rushing us. The Read On! library was stocked very well and it included every genre that I could imagine. In short, there was something for everyone!’

2. Authentic English: The fact that English is an instrumental international language might be enough to motivate some students, but research has shown that motivation really kicks in when students feel that their English classroom provides access to the English they can actually use for the things they want to do. Undoubtedly, communicative competence in English is a necessary skill. Reading books at the right level provides students access to both standard written English and real interactions in English, which may include authentic colloquial and informal language. The audio that accompanies each graded reader allow listening practice of this real-world English.

3. Reaching attainable goals: Graded readers make it possible for students to find books at the right level. One Read On! participant explained: ‘It is truly satisfying to be able to finish a book, at whatever level, without needing translators or dictionaries to understand the words or the whole text.’ Unlike other more challenging reading materials, students were quickly reassured that finishing multiple books – even in a foreign language – was an attainable goal and a doable feat. Not only did students feel a sense of accomplishment when they completed an entire book in a foreign language, but they were able to track their progress from one level to the next level as they read more graded readers.

4. Perks of Reading: Before beginning their extensive reading experience, the idyllic image of curling up to a great book on a rainy Saturday afternoon wasn’t quite vivid for Italian Read On! students. Participation in the Read On! class library project allowed students to discover the perks of reading. For example, one student realized that through reading, learning occurred: ‘thanks to the project I started reading the books, and I learned many things.’ Others explored the new worlds – both actual in non-fiction and imagined in fiction – described in the graded readers. Ultimately, as one student said: ‘[Read On!] was able to reawaken in me the desire to read, which I thought was long gone.’

5. Confidence boost: Seeing improvement in performance and outcomes is one of the most powerfully motivating forces. The better you are at something, the more likely you will dedicate yourself to it. Students were surprised to find that by reading extensively, their vocabularies, implicit knowledge of grammar and automaticity in their target language improved. As one student remarked, ‘I believe that [the Read On!] project has helped me learn and develop in a number of ways. It gave me the chance to learn English differently, by having fun. It has also enriched me. Above all it has really improved my English. There isn’t a better way to learn!’ Together, by listening and reading authentic English, students gained knowledge of English and their confidence grew.

Want to set up a class library and get your students motivated? Watch this video by reading expert, Verrisimo Toste, on how to get started.