Archive for Tag: motivation

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Feel the (English) Burn

By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

Boot Camp

I am not particularly athletic, but in order to counter my Belgian chocolate and french fry addictions, I have found that I need to exercise a whole lot. So, I recently signed up for a ‘boot camp’ type of class with several other expat women here in Brussels. On the first day, the instructor, a mild looking guy named Dan, had us doing hundreds (oh, I wish I were exaggerating) of lunges and these jumping jack/squat combinations that left my legs trembling. It was brutal. The next day and for days afterwards, my legs were so sore that climbing the stairs had me making little gasping noises and getting off the sofa involved my husband’s help.

So, as you might imagine, when I woke up on the morning of the second of these torture sessions, I was filled with more than a little dread. This time Dan had us alternating sprints up and down a long, cruel hill with planks and other contortions designed to do something called ‘engage the core’. About 2/3 of the way into the lesson, when Dan shouted that we needed to race up and down this hill yet again, I wanted to cry. I felt like I couldn’t face that hill again. As I lined up with the other ladies, I felt tired and sore and a bit sick. When Dan shouted, “Go!” I just wanted to go home. But, I ran. We all did. And, when we got to the bottom of the hill and Dan cheerfully told us that we would have a moment to rest and then run it again, I rested and ran again.

How does Dan do it?

As I was laboring up the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder at the fact that this young, kind, friendly guy was getting a bunch of women to run up and down a hill as fast as we could again and again. It was painful and awful, but we were doing it. How? How was he managing to motivate us to do this? Well, obviously there was a huge amount of self-motivation at play. We paid for the class and we were all there to counteract our own personal Belgian chocolate and french fry addictions. But, there was more than that. Dan did a couple of essential things to get us running and doing all those difficult core exercises that I think all good teachers do to motivate their students.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Star Chart

By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

Teaching Teenagers is a Whole New Ball Game

It is a bit of an understatement to say that there are some big differences between teaching adults and teaching teenagers. As I noted in a previous blog, this year I broke out of my teaching comfort zone and, after years (and years, and years) of teaching adults, I took a job teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL) to international teenagers who hope to matriculate to mainstream classes in a British private school here in Brussels. I had a lot to learn in a very short time. I even bought a book called “Your First Year as a High School Teacher, which made the History teachers on my floor laugh.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was learning how to manage my classroom. Unlike most adults, teenagers aren’t always in the class because they actually want to be. In addition, teens have that whole “center of the universe” thing going on, as well as hormonal changes, brain development, growth spurts and all sorts of physical and emotional issues that make them difficult to teach at times. Even though I really do love my students, I cannot deny that they cry and fight and manipulate in ways I was totally unequipped for. And, let’s face it, sometimes the last thing they want to do is answer questions about a reading on coffee growers in Bolivia or take notes on what Bill Nye the Science Guy has to say about how we see colors.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Can a Teacher Motivate Every Student?

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

Like many teachers, I have seen a lot of movies about teachers. Many of the movies, especially those “based on a true story,” have a similar theme: A smart young teacher goes to a poor, inner-city school, faces a class of recalcitrant students, each one displaying a different attitude problem, and through her (or his) unwavering dedication to the students as people and ideals of education as a whole, leads the class to success. I like these kinds of stories. They inspire me as a teacher, and when I show them to my classes, they inspire the students.

A good example is the classic 1988 “Stand and Deliver,” based on the story of Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher from inner-city Los Angeles. In one of the more moving scenes, Escalante talks to his class of poor, racial minority students about the challenges they face:

“When you go for a job, the person giving you that job will not want to hear your problems; ergo, neither do I. You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else. And the only thing I ask from you is ganas. Desire. And maybe a haircut. If you don’t have the ganas, I will give it to you because I’m an expert.”

And he does give them the desire. He goads them, urges them, threatens them, praises them, rewards them, yells at them,… and he takes them from their failing status in his remedial math class to passing the notoriously difficult AP Calculus exam.

(Any student who has ever taken the TOEFL will cringe in sympathy watching these students take that test.)

It’s every teacher’s dream, isn’t it? To be able to supply motivation. And to some extent, I think we can. Every class is a sort of sales opportunity, and you sell your subject area and even the minute details, such as the importance of distinguishing count and non-count nouns.

How responsible are we, though, for every student’s motivational level? We might see them for 90 minutes a week, or three hours a week, or in some rare intensive class, even 10 hours a week. That’s still a small slice out of a student’s life that encompasses work, family, friends, hobbies, romance, and much else that we cannot affect. Sometimes―just sometimes―what we teach in English class is NOT the most important thing going on in their lives, and we need to accept that. Motivation can also be affected by a student’s character, personality, and state of mental and physical health. That’s a lot for one English teacher to cope with.

To the extent that it’s possible, we should of course motivate students as individuals and the class as a group. I don’t think it’s possible to list techniques that “work” for motivating others because it depends too much on the personality of the individual teacher as well as on the specific class and students in question. However, I do think that the teacher’s overall level of enthusiasm for her subject and class is infectious―and that is something that every teacher can work on.

When you fly, there’s no more chilling moment for a parent than when you hear that announcement that in the event of an unexpected loss of cabin pressure, you are to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting your children. Anyone can understand the wisdom of that, but you know in your heart how tremendously difficult it would be to not help your child (or, really, anybody’s child) first. It’s a similar situation with our classes.  Our energy level affects the students.

You can’t motivate your students if you yourself are exhausted, burned out, in poor physical health, overworked, in a bad mood, or unsure of the value of what you’re teaching.

I would argue then that one very good way to motivate your students is to ensure that you do not assign homework faster than you can grade it; that you get around eight hours of sleep a night; that you use your weekends as work-free periods; that you eat protein with your breakfast every day; that you exercise regularly. These are areas of someone’s life that you do have control over, because it’s your life. When your life is running smoothly, you’ll be more likely to have the energy and enthusiasm to lead, cajole, or prod your students into finding their desire.

Finally, I’d like to recommend a different sort of movie about teaching, “The Emperor’s Club,” based on the short story “The Palace Thief” (Ethan Canin). Truthfully, I don’t know if this was a popular movie or not―I never heard of it in theaters in the US and have never seen any reviews, but I watched it on three different airplane trips, sometimes more than once, so I came to know it well. Mr. Hundert, the teacher, works in an expensive private preparatory school, teaching a class of motivated, hard-working students. Enter a new student, a poor-little-rich-boy type of much promise and intellect, but no motivation and of course the requisite poor attitude.

Hundert tries everything he can to motivate this student, at the expense, in fact, of a more deserving but less flashy student who does not present himself as “troubled.” I’ll throw in a bit of a spoiler, because what’s important about the movie is not the plot line, but the more subtle dynamics of personality. The troubled rich kid succeeds in life―but not in the right kind of motivation, nor in appreciation for education. Hundert is left for years to question his decision of spending a disproportionate amount of energy on this one student. Could he have been reached in another way? Is it possible to reach every student? What students are pushed aside when you reach out to the most glamorous troublemaker? Those are good questions for both a teacher and a class to discuss.

This article was previously published in the Think Tank section of The Website for English Teachers in Japan

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Chocolate Museum

Photo courtesy of EuroMagic, available here.

Recently I had the good fortune to do some curriculum advising and teacher training at a large English language institute in the Middle East.

One area of concern for many of the teachers was teaching reading; many of the students didn’t read much in their own language, and didn’t have any particular love of reading in English either. We talked about both intensive and extensive reading, and pre-, during, and post-reading strategies, all that good stuff, and then had some time for questions and answers.

One teacher asked about how to handle a reading selection that was part of her textbook. Every term, she said, she got to that same passage, and students were never interested in it. Yes, chimed in other teachers, they’d struggled with that one too! The passage in question, from Interchange Third Edition, Level 2 (Richards, Hull, and Proctor, Cambridge University Press, 2005), is in a unit called “It’s Really Worth Seeing,” which as a topic covers landmarks and places of interest around the world. The grammar of the unit is the passive voice, and of course there is target vocabulary and a pronunciation point and a writing assignment and the usual things you’d expect to find in a coursebook.

The reading passage is a called “A Guide to Unusual Museums,” and describes the Kimchi Museum (Seoul, Korea), the Gold Museum (Bogotá, Colombia) and the Chocolate Museum (Cologne, Germany). I asked what the problem was. Vocabulary? Sentence structure? Level? Length? No… the problem was that students simply weren’t interested in any of those museums. (And no, it doesn’t matter that I happen to like chocolate and gold; the point was, they weren’t interested.) What to do about that? the teachers all wanted to know.

I’ll pause here for a bit to let everyone come up with his/her own answer. You have the question, right? Here is a reading passage that will come up every term, on the Chocolate, Kimchi, and Gold Museums, and you know there is a good chance students won’t be interested in any of them because students in your past classes haven’t been interested in them. What are you going to do about that?

Got your answer? OK, I’ll share mine too. Nothing. That’s right—I’m not bothered by students who aren’t interested in the Chocolate Museum, because we’re not on a tour. This isn’t a class on museums, or even landmarks. We’re not taking a field trip, and we’re not voting on destinations. It’s an English class. Now, if the reading is at the wrong level (which it isn’t), or it doesn’t work on reading skills (which it does), then we have a problem. But if students don’t like one topic, one day, in one reading, in their entire study of English—no, I am not bothered by that, and I don’t think they should be either. If whether they personally would or would not want to visit the Chocolate Museum seems important, then it’s the teacher’s job to gently remind them what they’re doing in class—learning a language, and learning how to learn that language, and that is going to involve meeting new words and new topics. They’re not going to be riveted by every sentence, and it doesn’t matter. Language isn’t about one sentence, or one reading passage, or one topic. It’s so much larger than that.

Now, I’ve written a number of textbooks, and worked as an editor on a good number as well, and I can assure you that authors try to choose engaging topics around which to weave their language points. There probably isn’t a topic that interests every student in every country, but still, no one begins writing a reading passage by saying, “Well, this is going to bore them all to tears.” Of course not.

However, “an interesting topic” is not the only consideration. For many writers—and for me—it isn’t the most important consideration. A reading passage that helps students learn and practice English, and learn and practice reading—that is the most important consideration.

Does an interesting topic make it easier for students to learn English? Perhaps. It could increase motivation, and that can make learning easier. But perhaps we do our students a disservice if we focus too much on entertainment and pleasing them with every topic, and keep them from the inevitable work of learning. What if students learned to find the joy in the learning itself, and in the results they achieved, and not the topics of the passages they used to accomplish those results?

I’m not suggesting that you not endeavor to make your classes interesting. Before you launch into a reading passage, activate students’ background knowledge with discussion questions on the general topic. Give them prediction questions so they’ll feel they have a reason to read. Give them adequate time to digest and then discuss the reading passage. However, make sure they also realize how they’re recycling vocabulary they’ve already studied, and learning new words from context. Let them see how the grammar they’ve studied in isolation is now used in a fluent whole. Guide them to respond emotionally and intellectually to the content of what they’ve read—even if that emotion is “I would never want to visit that museum”—because then they’ll really know that they can read in English.

And isn’t that what your reading lesson is all about?

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net