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Reviews: Motivate to accumulate

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Wayne Trotman explores a book looking at how to spur on students and, most importantly, teachers

Motivational Teaching
By Nick Thorner
Oxford University Press
978-0-19-420042-4

Motivation levels are generally high at the start of the academic year. Even lazing on the beach has become a drag for both learners and teachers, and everyone seems keen to get down to some serious effort in the classroom.

Pretty soon, however, hidden agendas begin to emerge and, even for experienced teachers, language lessons can soon become a familiar chore. Motivational Teaching is therefore a timely publication as it’s devoted to both creating and maintaining what it takes to keep eager students of English interested and focused.

The first part of the book focuses on the individual learner and looks at how to increase students’ anticipation of key concepts concerning motivation: those of reward and pleasure. Since developing intrinsic motivation is the aim, pages are filled with short tasks to help generate a pleasurable classroom environment.

Tasks labelled as ‘try this’ can be introduced and repeated, such as introducing a topical ‘word of the day’. Maybe ‘boiling’ for an afternoon lesson when the sun is still high in the sky, or ‘gloom’ when the latest exam results are shocking. ‘Word posters’ are another suggestion; learners can create posters of synonyms for over-used words such as ‘nice’ (pleasant, tasty, lovely). In addition, the book looks at activities that encourage positive learning behaviour. These include asking learners to design and implement ‘token systems’ in which tokens are awarded for stated and noted behaviours such as patience or enthusiasm.

The second part of this title focuses on the learning context and considers how to create a more rewarding classroom environment.
I couldn’t agree more with the author’s comment that ‘a well-liked teacher is a motivating teacher’. This might appear obvious to most language teachers, but the trick is to get the class to like you and maintain this throughout the course. Opening the lesson with some casual chat while remaining seated is one suggestion; dealing politely with latecomers is another; and let’s not forget interjecting a little humour.

Getting students to help with letters is one of the ‘try this’ tasks I use every year, asking the class to help me with a letter of resignation as I can no longer control them. Ending the lesson by passing out slips on which students can provide personal and private feedback is another useful suggestion. Inexperienced teachers should certainly try this from time to time in order to gauge their perhaps assumed popularity or otherwise.

Part three focuses initially on how teachers may respond to factors that can have a great impact on the learning and teaching context, such as the gender, age and overall personality of individual students. One interesting trick is using computer-generated seating plans to dissolve certain groups in class who enjoy disturbing others. This of course enables more suitable classroom seating management without having to explain exactly why. Showcasing students’ work in online portfolios is another I intend to implement in my own teaching context.

The book ends with the equally important issue of maintaining teacher motivation, which is not always easy on a windy afternoon towards the end of the course when grades are low. I’m not so sure about the suggestion of workshops at which teachers can exchange classroom tips, but I certainly like the idea of all colleagues turning up to a meeting in Hawaiian costume where tropical soft drinks are the order of the day. In fact, I think I’ll go now and organise this.