|Are YOUR students INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED?|
Last night I was (un) fortunate to witness a ten year old Turkish ESL student show another side to her willingness to work during our 90 minutes English lesson. I write, "(un) fortunately" because I am not sure which outcome is primary for me: the fact that she didn't want to do anything in the lesson (unfortunate) or the fact that I was the lucky recipient of an experiential moment in my teaching career(fortunate).
When I first met the young student she was really interested in doing extra English lessons. Her enthusiasm for the 90 minutes affixed to a session of English language and skills tuition was infectious. I would look forward to going to lessons three times a week at the end of long and tiring days at my day job in a bustling and ridiculously busy high school. I would think, ah well, it's Esma tonight for 90 minutes, I know it will be really enjoyable as she wants to learn; she will be attentive and interested in all aspects of what I present to her.
The reason for Esma's enthusiasm and willingness to engage fully was that she had attainable goals. She had purpose for doing the lessons as if she didn't, it would seriously jeopardize her opportunity to join another, and better primary school located in the city. This new school, that she was so desperate and keen to join, was a stones throw from her house. It is well known for being strongly focused on English, and half of the students who remain there into high school graduate and move abroad for further education. And, her brother went there. However, she had to pass the stringent entrance exam that many before her have tried and failed. She had gone for an initial assessment and was told that if she worked intensely for three months with a private teacher, she could sit the exam and hopefully she could get accepted. Her motives and need for improvement had been made explicit. the explicit nature of the directive from the new school had tapped into her own intrinsic values of what she had to do. Enter, me!
My job was easy. I would prepare materials based on the work expected of grade four students at the school. her mum had bought the books from the school so that her daughter would stand a chance. I mean easy in the sense that this girl wanted English lessons. She wanted to be part of the process that she was being 'forced' to be in. But who or what was forcing her? I believe, so strongly, after last night, in her intrinsic motivation and identified purpose.
So, what happened last night that has made me write a blog as a result. After the initial greetings, we got down to the lesson with the sole purpose of doing revision of some grammar (she needs tıo know and identify past-present-future well for grade 5) with the help of a busy restaurant picture, the reading of a text about a young Sudanese boy who had been imprisoned, chased by soldiers and nearly eaten by a crocodile (done through a children's story reader), the writing up of a KWL chart on the story and finally a short cartoon of a Madagascar Penguin story which would lead to a journal entry done on penzu.com.
It was very clear after only a five or ten minutes of a visual grammar activity that she had lost interest, and she started to become restless, and disinterested. I sensed it and thought it best not to labour the point and try something else within my plan. I got her to write a few sentences about her six most favourite activities and moments in her holiday. She asked cutely if it was ok, if she did only three. I agreed, but thought to myself, woah!, something weird was going on here. She then asked if she could draw that experience after only a few words of English in poorly constructed syntax. I grudgingly agreed since at that age drawing is a good way to keep them stimulated; however, I couldn't help but think that English was fast losing its interest to little Esma, my favourite young student of 2011. I asked her to read aloud, since again, that is what is expected in her new school. In any case I wanted to hear her pronunciation and ask questions of the text at the end of each paragraph. lo and behold, by the end of page one, she was slurring and not making any effort to concentrate or focus. I took over and did my best to add voices and emotion, tone and mood of the chase and tragic story of the Sudanese boy. It was confirmed that she couldn't care less about Mark (?) being attacked by a hungry crocodile, let alone doing English in any shape or form, as she proceeded to yawn very dramatically and loudly. What to do? Madagascar penguins for the last part of our session. She did pay attention to that, and she did respond to questions and she did appear engaged. Now the pros and cons of video are not for this post, but it is a particular interest of mine. But, I'll leave it there for now as I am more interested in commenting on what was about to come next.
With the "lesson" completed, her mother came into the room and asked how she had been. I relayed the above as nicely as I could muster the energy for and when asked by her mother what she had been like that, she replied nonchalantly, " Napimm, anne? Ben sinif'ı geçtim zaten. Benim için, Ingilizce dersi zorunlu değil, zaten." Which roughly translated means, "What can I do, mum? I passed the entrance to grade 5. For me, English lessons aren't necessary." Her mother and I looked at each other in disbelief. How could this be the same enthusiastic girl who lived English for three months? How could she not think that it was still important, considering the new English teacher had told here that she must continue working after the entrance exam?
So, this leads me back to the beginning of this post and the issue of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors in us all. Esma clearly felt that she has done enough to get in to the school and that she doesn't need any more extra lessons. Even though she does know, as she got frustrated when I pointed out to her (again) that there is no auxiliary verb (I didn't use meta language of course) "was" in the past tense sentence, "The otter was liked the squirrel." (final video we watched in the lesson). She has of course convinced herself that she has no reason or purpose to do English before the school starts. Her intrinsic flow and motivation to study have dried up for English.
My whole point for sharing this story is to remind us all, and myself, now a fully-fledged member of the "Oh, how wrong I was to think that it was me that motivated the student to stay focused" teacher-student paradigm, that we must always be aware that although we think the students are engaged and interested, many or maybe even most are not. Here was the evidence that makes me conclude with the notion that it is always the student who drives their own learning. Of course, I wasn't the first teacher to realize this. I recall writing a section of my thesis on this very subject. Reid (1993) states that we can only play the role of judge, facilitator and evaluator, and I would add empathize(r) as well into the mix. I am sure Reid wasn't the first either! But, what I can comment on was the sheer dismay at seeing the extraordinary power it has over a person. This hard working student had done a 180 degree negative about-turn. It is seriously something to remember when we look at our class filled with students who are disengaged and disinterested, petulant and problematic.
One shoe does not fit all and we need to investigate each student who appears to have dropped out of the lesson. When we jump the gun and retort to colleagues that the students should be more interested, that they have to learn English, and that they will fail in their future if they don't study, WE need to ask ourselves what the objectives are outlined in my lesson, course and syllabus? What measures have WE introduced that will ensure more rather than less people being interested in what they are doing in our classes. Have WE made it clear to the students that there is an expected learning outcome for THEM and that THEY can reach it if they are prepared to focus and judge for themselves that it will benefit THEM to engage and participate?
Summing all that up and leaving you and me with a thought, it was not UNfortunate for me to have experienced the attitude of my once-great student (melodramatic ending intended); quite the contrary, I feel that she has made me sit up and rethink what I need to do to convince students that what I put in front of them does have intrinsic value. That it will lead to something good by the end. So, I please ask you, those of you who read this with empathy, to wish me luck as I return to Esma tomorrow night with a different approach to my lesson planned, along with the fuller understanding that once I state the objectives and outcomes to her, and of course, as long as she wants to do the lesson, it will work out fine. If not, I suppose I will be back on here telling you all about it...