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Student Demotivation
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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L2 (de)motivation research

Researchers have taken an interest in demotivation, as it is considered to be a frequent phenomenon related to the teacher's interaction with the students. In L2 studies, in particular, the interest in demotivation has been aroused by a different reason. The L2 domain is most often characterised by learning failure, in the sense that merely everyone has failed in the study of at least one foreign language. So, language learning failure is directly related to demotivation.
Among others, Oxford (1998), Chambers (1993), Ushioda (1998) and Dornyei (1998b) have investigated demotivation in relation to language learning. Let us briefly review their findings.

Oxford's investigation

Rebecca Oxford (1998) carried out a content analysis of essays written by 250 American students (in high schools and universities) about their learning experiences over a period of five years. More specifically, they were required to respond to such prompts as 'Describe a situation in which you experienced conflict with a teacher' or 'Talk about a classroom in which you felt uncomfortable'. In this analysis, four broad themes emerged:

1. The teacher's personal relationship with the students, including hypercriticism, belligerence, a lack of caring, and favouritism

2. The teacher's attitude towards the course or the material, including lack of enthusiasm, sloppy management and close-mindedness

3. Style conflicts between teachers and students, including multiple style conflicts, conflicts about the amount of structure or detail, and conflicts about the degree of closure or 'seriousness' of the class

4. The nature of the classroom activities, including overload, repetitiveness, and irrelevance.

Chambers's investigation

The basic assumption permeating Gary Chambers's (1993) study is the view among language teachers that 'Arguably the biggest problem is posed by those pupils who are quite able but do not want to learn a foreign language and make sure that the teacher knows it!' (ibid.: 43). To find out what goes on inside the heads of students who 'dismantled' L2 lessons, Chambers visited four schools in Leeds, UK, and administered a questionnaire to 191 year nine students enrolled in eight classes. Seven teachers also filled in a questionnaire. According to the latter, the main characteristics of the demotivated pupil are the following; he or she

• makes no effort to learn; shows no interest; demonstrates poor concentration; produces little or no homework; fails to bring, or claims to have lost, materials;

• lacks a belief in own capabilities;

• demonstrates lethargy, 'what's the use?' syndrome, and gives negative or nil response to praise;

• is unwilling to cooperate, distracts other students, throws things, shouts out.

Interestingly enough, the participant teachers perceived the causes of demotivation as related to a variety of reasons (which, of course, did not include themselves): psychological, attitudinal, social, geographical, historical. On the other hand, the students' responses were different. Although only 14 % view the modern language component of the curriculum as a 'waste of time', 50 % go on record as not enjoying or even loathing language learning. Some blame their teachers for

• going on and on without realising that they have lost everybody;

• not giving clear enough instructions;

• using inferior equipment;

• not giving sufficient explanations;

• criticising students;

• shouting at them when they don't understand;

• using old-fashioned teaching materials, etc.

Based on his data, Chambers drew only few conclusions about the exact impact of the language-learning experience. At any rate, demotivated learners in the survey appeared to possess very low self-esteem and were in need of extra attention and praise. As Chambers (ibid.: 16) notes, 'pupils identified as demotivated do not want to be ignored or given up as a bad job; in spite of their behaviour, they want to be encouraged'.

Ushioda's investigation

Emma Ushioda asked the participants to identify what they found to be demotivating in their L2-related learning experience. According to her, almost without exception, these demotives related to negative aspects of the learning context, such as particular teaching methods and learning tasks. Ushioda also stresses that the learners that took part in the survey managed to sustain or revive their positive motivational disposition in spite of the various negative experiences, by dint of:

• setting themselves short-term goals;

• positive self-talk;

• indulging in an enjoyable L2 activity that is 'not monitored in any way by the teacher or by essays or exams' (Ushioda, 1998: 86), such as watching a film or even eavesdropping on the conversations of L2-speaking tourists in the shops.

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