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Motivation and Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom

Free essayThe concept of learning epitomizes a number of aspects and processes; however, its essence is often defined as modification of behavior and responses brought about by a wide range of psychological factors. From biological and psychological standpoint it has been proved that no organism would ever modify its behavior unless there is a need for such adjustments. Thus, the fundamental and essential principle of learning consists in motivation. The latter has been a focal point of research in all major spheres of human activity for a myriad of decades. Educational psychology and language acquisition are the two fields where strategies and approaches towards motivation are of salient value and importance as theoretical findings can find their direct application in the setting of a language classroom.

History of the Concept in Psychology and Language Learning

According to Gollwitzer and Oettingen (2001), the key in demonstrating the development of the concept of motivation lies in examining how the two central issues of the concept, namely basic human needs and action control, have been viewed differently by traditional and modern psychology. In the history of motivation, the needs were quite often regarded as a starting point for theories on motivation. There has been a series of studies and suggestions concerning basic human needs. McDougall listed eighteen basic needs, or instincts, such as self-assertion, submission, curiosity, etc. Meanwhile, in his Motivation and Personality, Maslow puts forward an entire hierarchy of needs, in which the higher categories are related to growth needs, such as the need to realize one’s potential, the need to achieve, etc. (Gollwitzer & Oettingen, 2001). Many scholars placed great emphasis on researching the need for achievement and the power motive. By applying such criteria as universality, non-derivativeness, and substitution, Baumeister and Leary (1995) conducted an analysis which revealed that the need for high self-esteem is an ultimate human motive.

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Action control is another crucial element of motivational research. Early theories on motivation described people as reactive organisms forced to act by internal and/or external forces beyond their control. These forces included incentives, compulsion, instincts, etc. Such theories as Hull’s learning theory, Lewin’s field theoretical approach suggested that actions occurred without conscious reflections and self-regulation, while motivational forces projected energy outside awareness. On the other hand, some later theories portrayed people as fully aware of their actions. Expectancy-value theories claim that human beings choose goals rationally, based on the probability of attaining their goals. Attribution theories claim that people constantly explore the causes of their behavior. Bandura’s self-efficacy theory is based on high self-efficacy beliefs which are associated with choosing aspiring goals and demonstrating strong effort to reach these goals (Gollwitzer & Oettingen, 2001).

At this point of examining the evolution of the concept of motivation it would be reasonable to account for the area of language learning. Motivation within the framework of language acquisition becomes a rather complicated notion with a myriad of variables involved in such a complex task as a long-term endeavor of foreign language learning (Winke, 2005). One major reason for such importance of motivation in this sphere is the fact that learning a foreign language is different from learning other subjects in the sense that it is viewed as an essential component of one’s identity. According to Williams (1994), learning a foreign language incorporates an alternation of self-image, acceptance of new social and cultural behaviors and realia, as well as ways of being (Williams, 1994).

A research into such a significant dimension of language learning was inspired by Howard Gardner, Richard Clement, and their colleagues who claimed that motivation in the language classroom was influenced by learners’ attitudes towards social perception of the second language and its speakers, their interethnic contact and the resulting degree of linguistic self-confidence. Gardner’s socio-educational model of language acquisition viewed motivation to learn a foreign language as a set of constructs that involve desire and effort, as well as favorable attitude towards learning the language (Winke, 2005). The framework provided by Gardner with regard to types of motivation among students appears to form a substantial basis for teachers who want to engage learners. Gardner suggested the following types of motivation: integrative motivation (desire to integrate with the community of the target language); instrumental motivation or external/extrinsic motivation (desire to achieve a practical goal/obtain particular result); intrinsic or internal motivation (based on joy or pleasure from language learning itself) (Gardner & MacIntyre, 1991). The scheme of Gardner resonates with the one put forward by Ryan and Deci (2000), even though it was based on the degree of autonomy or self-determination. The scheme includes such types of motivation as amotivation (lack of any intrinsic or extrinsic type of motivation), externally regulated motivation (motivation initiated by an environmentally created cause, such as a reward), introjected motivation (comes from an internalized and pressuring voice that makes one act to avoid guilt), identified motivation (motivation to act because the action is viewed as useful), and intrinsic motivation (incited by the reflection of interest and enjoyment). The common denominators of the two schemes are extrinsic and intrinsic types of motivation.

As it was mentioned previously, motivation for language learners is a complex entity that is prone to change over time for separate individuals. Changes in the intensity of motivation may be related to temporal components, such as small tasks during classes, or more permanent components connected to the language course of an entire academic year. Thus, students’ motivation comprises three major stages: preactional, actional, and postactional. Preactional stage consists in generating motivation which helps students select the goal/task and encourages them into action. This stage of motivation can be influenced by a number of factors, such as student’s own values, attitude towards the learning process, perceived likelihood of success, the amount of mental support, etc. During the actional stage, motivation is to be maintained and protected during the particular action or a set of actions. Finally, postactional stage presupposes retrospective evaluation of the learning process in order to determine the type of activities to be pursued next (Dornyei, 2003). Successful completion of all three stages depends on both the teacher and the learner. Thus, according to the processing approach to motivation, students apply self-motivation strategies, while educators implement motivational tactics in their classrooms to enhance the quality or initiate motivational process for better efforts and perseverance of a learner.

Strategies and Approaches to Motivation in the Language Classroom

Some of the first theories with regard to motivation were connected to the idea of a psychological need. The latter is an inherent source of motivation that initiates a proactive desire to engage in interaction with the environment in order to enhance one’s personal growth, psychological well-being, and social development. The four psychological needs that any student wants to be satisfied in a classroom are autonomy, competence, curiosity, and relatedness. These four needs being satisfied will give the learners an opportunity to grow and motivate them to go on with their academic endeavors. Teacher’s motivating style is crucial in this case, and can be viewed as a line that extends from highly autonomy-supportive style through neutral style to highly controlling style. An educator who wants to motivate his /her students intrinsically, increase educational and developmental benefits, and boost classroom engagement should support their autonomy (O’Donnell, Reeve, & Smith, 2011). Motivating autonomy-supporting teachers should practice some of these strategies: nurturing students’ inner motivational resources by giving them an opportunity to initiate and regulate the instruction of a task (when asking students to begin a new lesson, teachers can demonstrate their solicitation of students’ suggestions as to how to proceed); providing explanatory rationales (communicating the value of a task or a number of tasks within a lesson, especially for relatively uninteresting activities and requirements); using non-controlling language (non-controlling language refers to communication which is non-evaluative, informational, and flexible; it avoids rigid and pressuring phrases); displaying patience and giving time for self-paced learning, etc. (O’Donnell, Reeve, & Smith, 2011).

Dorneyi’s stages of motivation in the language classroom incorporate a number of practical pieces of advice to follow. In order to demonstrate how the stages can work with specific tasks, let us consider a particular activity with long-term goals in a language classroom. Motivation is a major concern in improving student’s reading skills and consequently fostering their literacy. Second language learners do not always have a chance to engage in real life social situations where they have to practice their language skills. Therefore, it is through reading and differentiating how words with the same meaning but different style and connotational content should be used in social circumstances that learners acquire their literacy skills and are able to operate their discourse with respect to situations. Thus, during the preactional stage of motivating students to read and analyze the style of words, the teacher should help the students understand that grammar and vocabulary are not always enough for successful communication. This can be achieved by assigning to read an article about the value of being literate and aware of the social situation for using the second language (e.g. James Paul Gee’s “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction” etc.), or by giving students a possibility to choose the work they want to read as a bigger assignment later. Maintaining students’ motivation during the actional stage is quite crucial for enhancing their efforts. During this particular stage the teacher should promote cooperation and avoid competition, helping the students understand that mistakes are natural and necessary for learning. Moreover, it is suggested to use contracting methods with students in order to formalize their goal commitment. This can be achieved by drawing up written agreements with separate students or entire groups to specify what they will learn, how the teacher will help during the process of achieving the learning goals, and how the students will be rewarded. Another strategy presupposes designing clear tests that would allow learners to negotiate their final grades. Moreover, students should be able to maintain their positive social image while being engaged in the activity (Dornyei, 2001). Postactional stage is no less important for a successful completion of the cycle. The process that occurs at this stage resonates with the concept of Donald Schon’s reflection-on-action both for teachers and learners. In particular, by looking back and evaluating what has been learnt, receiving a constructive and reflective feedback from the teacher, the students get a chance to acquire their own sense of what the activity taught them, measure introspectively their level of self-confidence for potential real-life situations connected to the material covered. When it comes to a specific example of literacy in discourse and speech style, the students may be asked by the teacher to produce different pieces of text on the same topic to demonstrate the discrepancy of social situations these texts would be aimed at. Such activities may also help students enhance their feeling of identification with the target culture and language community (enhancing integrative motivation) because these skills are pertinent to a serious language learner.

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The Flow Theory of Csikszentmihalyi can be also appropriately mentioned with regard to the language classroom motivation. According to the scholar, there are three key features that promote the “flow” of any experience: clear set of goals, immediate performance feedback, and optimal challenges. The clear set of goals is crucial in setting the direction and purpose to students’ behavior. It helps to structure their experience. Immediate performance feedback helps to adjust learners’ behavior to the constantly changing activity demands. Optimal challenges are the ones that are neither too easy nor too difficult to handle. According to Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” model, the main goal to achieve is a healthy balance between perceived challenges and perceived skills applied to the action. As a result, attention is channeled from stimuli unrelated to the task at hand to the very task, and the attentional involvement applied to the assignment allows for the maximum of enjoyment and engagement in the activity. On the other hand, attentional involvement can also be present in an extrinsically motivated activity (Abuhamdeh & Csikszentmihalyi, 2012). Therefore, a key to motivating students and engaging them fully lies in setting a clear-cut goal in front of them, providing them with optimal challenge while assessing their abilities and potential, and giving immediate feedback. However, the question arises about the content of feedback. The latter is considered to be closely connected to extrinsic motivational strategies, which appear to be the common denominator for many scholars in their approaches to the types of motivation.

One such type of extrinsic motivation that should be mentioned is praise. According to the cognitive evaluation theory, extrinsic rewards should be given to students in an uncontrolling and informational way in order not to interfere with their need for autonomy and competence. Praise functions as an effective way to extrinsically motivate students, control their behavior to a certain extent and nurture their sense of competence if the previously mentioned conditions are preserved. If the teacher presents the extrinsic motivator in a controlling way by saying “If you do X, then you will get Y”, the motivator will interfere with autonomy and reduce student’s intrinsic motivation. If the teacher presents the extrinsic motivator in an informational way by saying “Good job, you are making progress”, then the extrinsic motivator will support autonomy, competence, and increase student’s intrinsic motivation (O’Donnell, Reeve, & Smith, 2011).

The issue of demotivation is of major concern for both teachers and students. The former experience demotivation due to a number of aspects and formal characteristics of their job, such as working conditions, structural and physical characteristics, salary, teacher-administrator relationships, curriculum, course books, lack of materials, heavy workload, advancement, lack of teaching autonomy, as well as job security (Aydin, 2012). The latter group, on the other hand, experiences demotivation due to the feelings of learned helplessness, fear of failure and harsh negative evaluation upon poor performance, fear in the face of social and emotional consequences, public shame, and anxiety in the face of anticipated shame and humiliation. Another engagement-draining motivational deficit is amotivation, a term which refers to a state of motivational apathy that arises when the learner experiences unmet needs in the classroom. The concept consists of three major elements: maladaptive ability beliefs (amotivated student believes that his or her actions will not be effective enough to produce a desired result); maladaptive effort beliefs (the amotivated student feels inability to maintain the necessary effort to reach the learning goal); low value placed on the task offered by the teacher (O’Donnell, Reeve, & Smith, 2011).

By discussing the development of the concept of motivation from the viewpoint of general psychology and educational psychology, one has a chance to gain a better understanding of the term with regard to language learning and teaching. The task of the teacher as a motivator consists in a number of steps: meeting the need of autonomy, curiosity, and competence of a student; fulfilling the three stages of motivation with appropriate activities and strategies, setting clear-cut goals in front of students, providing them with optimal challenge while assessing their abilities and potential, and giving immediate feedback with extrinsic motivational influences in the form of non-controlling and informational praise. As a general conclusion to what has been mentioned with regard to motivating students in the language classroom, it is appropriate to mention Dornyei and Csizer’s (1998) so-called ten commandments to be followed by teachers for motivating language learners: setting a personal example with one’s own behavior; creating pleasant and relaxed classroom atmosphere; presenting the task in a proper way; developing good relationships with learners; boosting learners’ linguistic self-confidence; making language classes interesting; promoting learners’ autonomy; personalizing the learning process; increasing students’ goal-orientedness; and familiarizing them with the culture of the target language.

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