ESL Development 9: Motivation Techniques (2)

In the last article we talked about students’ attitude in class and how to change a passive and sometimes disruptive attitude into a positive and motivated one. I concluded with the reactions I get from colleagues. Now I wish to deal directly with these issues.

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Questions teachers keep asking:

So how do you set all this up and make the system work?

  • You must think of all the activities you pursue in class that the students could very well do on their own. For example: correcting a multiple choice questionnaire, a listening comprehension exercise or a cloze (fill in the gap) activity.
  • You just need to hand out easy to understand keys and have the students correct their own work.
  • Of course if you give one key to each student this will become a silent, "individual", written activity, whereas if you try "intensive pair work" and give only one key to each pair of students and tell them the corrections must be given "orally", you will immediately have all the students speaking or listening attentively to their classmates.
  • The trick is to tell the learners half of the class will be acting as "teachers" and that in the middle of the exercise they will switch roles.
  • Naturally, this will create a "noisy" environment, but is that not far better than having to repeat "Be quiet!" in a class where you are supposed to be teaching them to "speak"?

What is the teacher’s role if students work on their own?

  • Don’t think you are not being a "teacher" simply because you incite students to do things on their own. Learners don’t want to be "told" everything. They want to discover new concepts and practices on their own. Our Web 2.0 society shows us that people don’t want to be passive. They want to be heard and they are often capable of teaching themselves very well. Moreover, the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else!
  • Your role as a teacher is to choose the activities, provide the materials or indicate how to access them, and finally explain what you expect from your learners.
  • Why be up front "lecturing" to the students, if they can find the same information on the Internet? Why think your explanations will be much better than what they can read in books or on a computer. What counts is what they learn, not how great your own presentations are.

How do you “teach” if you are not simultaneously speaking to all the students, asking questions and soliciting answers from them one at a time—as we do in traditional teaching?

  • Why are we still so set on continuing our "ping-pong teaching"? As I have demonstrated in other articles on this site, simultaneous teaching (which has been around ever since free national education was introduced) favors "teacher talk". Only one student at a time is participating—even if the teacher gets several answers to questions asked. "Individual student speaking time" or "student talk" is radically reduced to more or less two minutes maximum per hour in a class of ten. And we all know most of our classes have many more students—thus even less "student talking time".
  • With traditional teaching students spend their time "answering" questions. They don’t get much opportunity to "formulate" questions and often are incapable of doing so for lack of practice. This is not a very authentic situation. Asking questions is a vital aspect of communication.
  • When students do pair work the teacher can walk around the classroom and answer individual questions coming from the students. Advantages: first the students get used to asking questions and second they will be incited to ask questions that they might not dare formulate in front of their peers for fear of appearing stupid.
  • Lastly, why should the teacher take time explaining to everyone something perhaps only a few individual students didn’t grasp. The same goes for correcting. Why correct one student in front of everyone else? This is often ineffective and above all it can be very humiliating for the person concerned. Individual correcting in tutorials or quietly and discreetly during intensive pair work is a far better technique.

Good reasons to flip the classroom

Recently, experiments in the US with "flipping the classroom" have been very successful. Basically, it means that what students can do on their own is best pursued outside of class, during "study hall" or as homework. This leaves ample opportunity during actual class time for aspects of teaching that really require the presence of a teacher.

  • Promoting oral exercises: making sure everyone is "speaking" and not just doing written work. This is particularly valid for shy students who tend to work alone during and outside of class.
  • Giving positive feedback: a little encouragement can go a long way. Students don’t just want to hear where they went wrong in their thinking or where they made a mistake. They need to know what they are doing is valued by the teacher.
  • Maintaining deadlines. Students need to learn to complete assigned work for when it has been scheduled.
  • Creating a less stressful and more inspirational environment. A teacher who is smiley, pleasant and encouraging will be compensated by a motivated attitude on the part of the students. Remember it is only by showing respect for others that you will be respected.

In the next article I will pinpoint activities you can begin with to start increasing "student talking time" and learner autonomy. In the meantime you can go to the page on this website entitled Sample Materials to Organize and Start Off a Course. You will get lists of activities in the curriculum plus exercises for Day 1. These activities can be used any time during the year though they are a good way to break the ice at the beginning of a term.



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