Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog

Leave a comment

Keeping the vision alive: Completing the loop

Female student at a desk smilingAccording to Atkinson & Raynor (1974), our decision to do something is influenced by a force which is the product of the value attached to the goal and success expectancy, and these have been the most researched factors in the area of motivation. When one or the other is zero, there is no motivation to perform an action. In my previous posts, I have considered motivation to be a ‘process whereby a certain amount of instigation force arises, initiates action, and persists as long as no other force comes into play to weaken it and thereby terminate action, until the planned outcome has been reached’ (Dörnyei, 1998).

Our learners will value and be more attentive to what happens in the classroom if they can perceive the link between a short-term lesson goal and their long-term goal. With a relevant short- term goal in place, we keep a learner’s vision alive, increase success-expectancy and encourage learners to use appropriate strategies to complete a task. We can then offer informative feedback, acknowledging progress and providing pointers to future action for further improvement. In this way, we encourage learners to persist by actively engaging them in the learning process, we provide them with the means to further success and we drive intrinsic motivation and effective learning. When we consider how we might realise value and success expectancy in the language classroom, it becomes apparent that the whole might be bigger than the sum of the parts.

Annie McDonald, co-author of the English Result series.

Bookmark and Share

1 Comment

Keeping the vision alive: Feedback feeds motivation

Man and woman smilingHaving explored two factors that affect motivation in adult learners – the value of success and the expectancy of success – Annie McDonald, co-author of the English Result series, now considers the importance of feedback for learners’ development.


If learners ‘have a go’ at a communicative task, let’s say, explaining how to cook something, we can provide them with informative feedback. We could, for example, comment on the content of their explanation (whether there was sufficient information for a person wanting to cook the dish to be able to do so); coherence (whether the explanation contained sequencing words like first, then, etc.); and, say, vocabulary (whether ‘cooking verbs’ were used appropriately).

The criteria we select for feedback should be traceable to lesson activities and could be given to learners at the beginning of a task. Feedback needs to be informative and positively oriented, focusing on what an individual ‘can do’ in order to protect an individual’s self-esteem.

In the first instance, teacher feedback on the extent to which a learner has achieved an objective is of crucial significance if success-expectancy is to be maintained and effective learning is to continue.

Williams and Burden (1997) point out, however, that we need to exercise caution and be aware of the dangers of an over-reliance on hollow praise. Instead, we need to provide feedback which enables learners to ‘identify specific aspects of their performance that are acceptable and capable of improvement by some specified means, it should be both helpful and motivating to them to move into the zone of next development’. Informative feedback can drive effective learning.

Continue reading


Keeping the vision alive: Success expectancy

Male teenager smiling confidentlyFollowing on from her post about the value of success, Annie McDonald, co-author of the English Result series, now considers the second factor that affects motivation: the expectancy of success.

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.

Continue reading


Keeping the vision alive: Maintaining motivation and promoting effective learning

Young adult male learner smilingIn 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.

Continue reading