Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More motivations

Last night we had the latest installment of the Community College class for intermediate students. Since Nigel Fogden commented on one of the posts here, I've again been thinking about what motivates students to come out to attend an 8pm class in all kinds of weather. So I asked some of the participants last night what their motivations were.

Here is what they said about it:
uses English everyday in his work, and in addition to being enjoyable, he would like to be better at it.

finds out about language

learns knowledge important for us to live

accumulates knowledge, like a hobby

boosts self confidence through self improvement

Whether I can capitalize on any of these motivations as a language teacher is questionable. What I do believe is that these answers, though they may be part of the big picture, are just the convenient, easy to discuss answers that these learners have.

Motivations that were not mentioned are also fascinating. No one mentioned anything related to a career, for example, "English skills will get me a promotion." Aside from the feelings of self confidence, no one mentioned anything about good feelings. No one said that learning was just plain fun, lots more fun than sitting at home watching TV.


Nigel Fogden said...

Hi again,

Coincidently, I did the same thing last week and many of the answers my students gave as to why they come to English class were the same as what you posted.

Not to get all psychoanalytical, but I really think that getting students to examine their own motives is valuable. Ultimately people learn what they need to. Most of us never make those motives explicit.

If students feel like they've stopped learning often the best thing for them to do go back and try to understand what their initial need was and whether it has changed. As teachers I think we're in a unique position to help them do that, and use English at the same time.

Daniel said...


You said, "often the best thing for them to do go back and try to understand what their initial need was and whether it has changed." Have you ever done this? Do you have any ideas on how to go about it?

I could imagine just asking them point blank, but I'm not sure that it would get to anything more conclusive than what we got this week. The students are probably pretty defensive about their inner lives, and though they share alot about themselves during class, they would probably not be very willing to examine, much less express, their feelings.

Also, this approach works well with students who are as self-directed as these people. All of this talk of motivation makes me think of my students who have to take English to graduate from university. I wonder about what happens in their heads. I try to offer a variety of hand holds, places that they can grab onto and make English learning an empowering experience. A few of the students even have their own direction before the class starts, but some sit by and let it all happen to them, or might try to grab on for a while but let go (flogging this metaphor, aren't I). How to excite this group into action is what I've been meditating on for the past day or two.

Salticus said...

Motivating students is hard. It would be surprising that if someone said "learning was just plain fun", though. I feel it is not considered (by them) as an answer to the question even if a few of them thought so. I'm a Japanese who teaches science in the USA, but students' responces are often "because it's a requirement." But even those students eventually find the subject interesting and become very engaging in the class.

Daniel said...

I'm not sure at what level you are teaching science, Salticus, but "core" classes or those required by boards of education or universities are important to "round out" education, and to give people a try at various disciplines. I know I didn't like English until I got into university. Thank goodness I had another opportunity (and other teachers).

Our classes, at least the classes that I was addressing in the original post, are a little different. These classes are not required for anything. The people who attend these classes attend late night classes, not even for a credit.

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