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Motivation and motivating in the foreign language classroom
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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Generating student motivation

Ideally, all learners exhibit an inborn curiosity to explore the world, so they are likely to find the learning experience per se instrinsically pleasant. In reality, however, this "curiosity" is vitiated by such inexorable factors as compulsory school attendance, curriculum content, and grades-most importantly, the premium placed on them.
Apparently, unless teachers, inter alia, increase their learners' 'goal-orientedness', make curriculum relevant for them, and create realistic learner beliefs, they will come up against a classroom environment fraught with lack of cohesiveness and rebellion.

Increasing the learners' 'goal-orientedness'

In an ordinary class, many, if not most, students do not understand why they are involved in an activity. It may be the case that the goal set by outsiders (i.e., the teacher or the curriculum) is far from being accepted by the group members. Thus, it would seem beneficial to increase the group's goal-orientedness, that is, the extent to which the group tunes in to the pursuit of its official goal. This could be achieved by allowing students to define their own personal criteria for what should be a group goal.

Making the curriculum relevant for the learners

Many students do their homework and engage in all sorts of learning activities, even when a subject is not very interesting. Obviously, these students share the belief of the curriculum makers that what they are being taught will come in handy. In order to inspire learners to concern themselves with most learning activities, we should find out their goals and the topics they want to learn, and try to incorporate them into the curriculum. According to Chambers (1999: 37), '[i]f the teacher is to motivate pupils to learn, then relevance has to be the red thread permeating activities'.

Creating realistic learner beliefs

It is widely acknowledged that learner beliefs about how much progress to expect, and at what pace, can, and do, lead to disappointment. Therefore, it is important to help learners get rid of their preconceived notions that are likely to hinder their attainment. To this end, learners need to develop an understanding of the nature of second language learning, and should be cognisant of the fact that the mastery of L2 can be achieved in different ways, using a diversity of strategies, and a key factor is for learners to discover for themselves the optimal methods and techniques.

Maintaining and protecting motivation

Unless motivation is sustained and protected when action has commenced, the natural tendency to get tired or bored of the task and succumb to any attractive distractions will result in demotivation. Therefore, there should be a motivational repertoire including several motivation maintenance strategies. Let us have a look at two of them: a) increasing the learners' self-confidence; and b) creating learner autonomy.

Increasing the learners' self-confidence

In an inherently face-threatening context, as the language classroom is likely to be, it is important to find out how to maintain and increase the learners' self-confidence. There are five approaches that purport to help to this end (Dornyei, 2001: 130):

• Teachers can foster the belief that competence is a changeable aspect of development
• Favourable self-conceptions of L2 competence can be promoted by providing regular experiences of success
• Everyone is more interested in a task if they feel that they make a contribution
• A small personal word of encouragement is sufficient
• Teachers can reduce classroom anxiety by making the learning context less stressful

Creating learner autonomy

Many educationists and researchers (Benson, 2000; Little, 1991; Wenden, 1991; also see my article, "What is Learner Autonomy and How can it be Fostered?") argue that taking charge of one's learning, that is, becoming an autonomous learner, can prove beneficial to learning. This assumption is premised on humanistic psychology, namely that 'the only kind of learning which significantly affects behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning' (Rogers, 1961: 276). Benson (2000, found in Dornyei, 2001: 131) distinguishes between five types of practice fostering the development of autonomy:

• resource-based approaches, which emphasise independent interaction with learning materials
• technology-based approaches, which emphasise independent interaction with educational technologies
• learner-based approaches, which emphasise the direct production of behavioural and psychological changes in the learner
• classroom-based approaches, which emphasise changes in the relationship between learners and teachers in the classroom
• curriculum-based approaches, which extend the idea of learner control over the planning and evaluation of learning to the curriculum as a whole

Good and Brophy (1994: 228) note that 'the simplest way to ensure that people value what they are doing is to maximise their free choice and autonomy'-a sentiment shared by Ushioda (1997: 41), who remarks that '[s]elf-motivation is a question of thinking effectively and meaningfully about learning experience and learning goals. It is a question of applying positive thought patterns and belief structures so as to optimise and sustain one's involvement in learning'.

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