Showing posts with label motivation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label motivation. Show all posts

Extrinsic "VS" or "AND" Intrinsic Motivation?

In the last couple of weeks prior to restarting classes, I've been watching a lot of television. The weather's not been particularly nice and I'm too poor to do anything else.  That's the downside to being a student at my age, I guess.  The upside is: imagine the best conference you've ever been to and think of one of the great presentations - one that has really had an impact on your teaching... now imagine that instead of a 45 minute session you get to have access to months of amazing lectures, group discussions and articles to read to follow up and challenge yourself with.  So, poverty is worth it, I guess.

But anyway, back to TV, one of the theme songs, from Weeds, has become a real earworm.  It goes, for those of you who don't know it,

"Little Boxes, little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and yellow one 
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same..."

The song makes me think about motivation, a lot.  Or maybe I was thinking about it before the song and it just drummed it in.  We all know that learning doesn't happen without motivation.  But what is it really?   Where does it come from?

Usually, it gets boiled down into three categories:

Extrinsic Motivation (external influences)
e.g. money, rewards, good grades, trophies, certificates, job position

Intrinsic Motivation (internal influences)
e.g. enjoyment of a task, passion, a drive to seek challenges, autonomy, inherent satisfaction

Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something simply because it is enjoyable while extrinsic motivation is more about getting a specific value or outcome based on what you have done (Ryan and Deci, 2000).

Amotivation is basically when you can't be bothered.

It has also been determined, through extensive empirical research by Deci & Ryan, Vallerand and others over the decades, that extrinsic rewards put a damper on intrinsic motivation.   I think though, that we have to be a bit cautious with this sort of thinking as it could very easily lead one into an assumption that extrinsic motivation is bad and that intrinsic motivation is best.  A dangerous position I feel, because for the most part, whether we like it or not, our adult language learners are more likely to come to us extrinsically motivated than intrinsically.

They want to learn English to integrate into society, to get a job promotion, to ensure job security, to get a better pay cheque, to speak to their foreign colleagues and close the deal.  If not this then they want to know that when they go on holiday, they won't get lost.  Sure, there are a handful of housewives who just fancy learning it, but usually because someone else told them it is the "thing" to do. And the teens mostly just want to pass the course, get the certificate, and get on with life.

So where it all gets a bit sticky for me, is that sometimes our extrinsically motivated learners really enjoy learning.  Why not, after all?  Sometimes we teachers can inspire them and sometimes their colleagues do and sometimes they develop an interest for the language - but all this interest and high from learning a second language does not take away their primary extrinsic goals.

In more recent research, Ryan and Deci have made a point of re-examining extrinsic motivation more closely, placing extrinsic motivation on a continuum and have created this taxonomy:

The idea is that learners can be in a state of external regulation (wanting rewards or avoiding criticism), or one of introjected regulation (constraints are internalized and set by the learner).  Identified regulation means that the behavior is thought of as being self-determined and finally the last type is integrated regulation - the person learns willingly because it fits in with the rest of the life activities and life goals (Vallerand, 1992).

Despite the fact that there is so much literature on extrinsic and intrinsic motivations and I'll continue reviewing it all, I really can't help but wonder if motivation is not actually something quite fluid. Can't you (or our learners) be one type and the next day, another?

But more importantly, if by categorizing motivation into boxes and then onto further hazy sub-boxes, might we be missing out on the fact that humans are infinitely complex creatures who can be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated at exactly the same time?

What d'ya think?


image credits:
plant fondo oscuro by eric caballero

Ryan, R. & Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25, 54-67.

Vallerand, R. & Bissonnette, R. (1992). Intrinsic, Extrinsic and Amotivational Styles as Predictors of Behavior: A Prospective Study. Journal of Personality. 60:3. 599-620.

Does Gender-Segregation in Classroom Lower Second Language Acquisition?

(Guest post by Brittany Lyons)

For decades, proponents of gender-segregation in classrooms have argued that separation of children by gender fosters a successful learning atmosphere. However, recent studies have shown that segregating classrooms by gender impacts student learning negatively.

The negative effects of separate classrooms are apparent in linguistics especially, where girls tend to develop strong academic abilities earlier than boys. Establishing gender-segregated classrooms denies boys and girls the opportunity to learn from each other, and reinforces the long-ago debunked idea that "separate but equal" is effective in institutions of learning.

Research conducted at Tel Aviv University suggests that girls help foster a stronger learning atmosphere in classrooms, and that both boys and girls benefit from being in mixed gender classes. The study found that test scores were higher overall in many areas, including reading comprehension, science and math, when boys and girls were in mixed classes. Test scores increased for both genders, and a high ratio of girls was linked to enhanced learning.

This data is supported by older education studies, which found that girls tend to excel in language arts as young children, while boys consistently develop later. This difference is true of children in many countries, and from many different linguistic backgrounds—not just in English-speaking high-income families with parents who can afford the cost of further education, be this at home, sending their children abroad or even via a distance learning program such as an online PhD education.

Whether the disparities in language acquisition are based in the brain or in upbringing, marked differences do exist between boys and girls, especially in elementary school classrooms. Listening to their female peers speak and interacting with them during classroom and playground activities helps boys to develop stronger language arts skills.

Schools who have attempted to institute gender-segregated classrooms have often seen an overall decrease in test scores, which shows that gender-segregation in schools is not effective for either boys or girls.

Another chief drawback of segregated classrooms is that they do not allow children to share their knowledge and experience with each other, but rather perpetuate gender-based cultural disparities. Learning how to interact with different people is seen as a key goal of education, especially in early childhood. Children who are deprived of the chance to interact with peers of different genders may have trouble relating to or communicating with individuals of the opposite gender later in life.

Many psychologists who focus on child and adolescent development have voiced concern that gender-segregated classrooms impact the social skills of students well into adulthood. They perpetuate unfounded stereotypes about how men and women are different, and contribute to gender-based prejudice.

The effects of gender-segregated teaching can have an impact on older students as well. Decreases in test scores occur in single-gender classrooms in both middle and high school, and grade point averages in general fall. This decrease in GPA can adversely affect students as they apply for college and scholarship opportunities. Depriving students of their best chances to enter excellent colleges and secure funding does them a disservice. The goal of public education should be to prepare individuals for successful careers and successful relationships, both of which are harmed by gender segregation.

Many of the ideas that proponents of gender-segregated classrooms have introduced into public discourse are nothing but old prejudices in new forms. These individuals argue that boys and girls are inherently different, and that they should thus be separated in classrooms. They argue that boys are more aggressive than girls, and that girls can only learn in cooperative environments. As the American Civil Liberties Union has noted in lawsuits against school districts with sex-segregated classrooms, none of these beliefs have been substantiated by science.

  • But what do you think - should boys and girls be separated? Why or why not?
  •  Have you noticed any differences in the way that males and females learn languages?

Blog post author
Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog. 

Image credit
Wikimedia commons, Daytona School

"The Dog Ate My Internet"

...was the smart retort from one of my professors, Gary, today when I gave a reason for not being able to do my required Blackboard discussion homework on top of the articles we had to read. 

In the last few weeks I've been using a pay-as-you-go-dongle and its bytes were being chewed up at a very costly rate... which, on top of the life-changing move, is why I've not been around much in the last couple of weeks: not on the 'net, not writing emails, not FBing and all that.   It was all quick in and quick out.  Also, alas, my grandfather died recently and I'll be heading to his funeral on Friday.

But anyway, yay! The Internet is now installed at home, I have finally got my bed from Ikea although I haven't put it together yet, I have curtains up instead of propped up pieces of cardboard, I have a schedule, I have lightbulbs...  I know where my highlighter pens are although I think I may have lost my glasses.

The course tutors have been piling on the work, reams and reams of articles, 25 - 50 pages long plus book chapters to read and I swear that when they list out what else they recommend reading that there could well be an evil-grin-glint in their eyes.

That part, because I'm so keen :-) you know, trying to read it all, (even some referenced articles mentioned at the bottom of assigned) ...  all wound up becoming a bit overwhelming and on Monday I ran on over to the disability office (I'm dyslexic) to say I was freaking out.  

Nice counselor there told me it was normal to freak out and I instantly stopped freaking out.

I think I need to take a more eclectic approach - but oh,oh,  it's so hard to choose - what if I miss out on something truly groundbreaking... complain as I might about pages of stuff to read, the truth is by golly, even with the articles I don't really like, that I want to simplify and break down into you know, English, teach so much.   

This old dog is definitely picking up some new tricks.

Beyond Approaches, Methods and Techniques

The most interesting work for this module that I read last week was perhaps Diane Larsen Freeman's concluding chapter of Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching.  She has a really good voice - easy and clear, and warming - she's a really-have-been-there-and-done-that-author.   In this chapter she discussed the changes in methodology over the years and provided a really good overview of the different approaches.

I found this particularly interesting laid out, like this, as I can't say that before now I have never actually thought about how much the way that an adult learner might have been taught previously might well affect the way he learns now or how he wants to learn now.  

I thought her statement "What makes a method successful for some teachers is their investment in it" particularly interesting - I wonder if dogme works in my classroom because I simply believe it does.  

Two other phrases which really caught my eye were "learners are very versatile and can learn well sometimes despite a given method rather than because of it" and "teachers who teach as if their practice causes learning, while recognizing that they are not in control of all the relevant factors, and that at the least they are in partnership with their students in this enterprise, can be true managers of learning."

I am not fond of the term, managers, managers are a little too much like a throw-back to the top-down boss effect.  I like coaches better.  I wonder if that's a sign of the times, of these times, 2011 influenced as we are by the Business gurus and their pop psychology.  But, I tend to think that a coach encourages, motivates, builds his team.  And a classroom pulling together needs a strong, warm lead.

Psychology of Language Learning

I'm auditing this class which means I participate as a guest and have to do the assignments but won't get assessed at the end.

I really would wish it could be one of my core modules but I'm planning on doing an ISS in year two and I need to save the credits.   Our Dutch professor is a very interesting character... a coach.  

He gave us an article by Susana V. Rivera Mills and Luke Plonsky called Empowering students with language learning strategies.  This is probably the most marked up of all the texts I had to read last week and the only one I read through more than once and then reread the comments in the margins again, prior to class. 

In class this morning, Juup had us critique and analyze some of her core points and terminology  and it was jolly good fun to give it a (respectful) bashing.  I highly recommend reading it, looking out for phrases like "instructors whose students posses misconstrued notions about language learning need to provide guidance to avoid their tendency to use less effective strategies" but don't expect any real practical advice on how to do that.

In her introduction she repeated a vital question raised by Dick Allwright in 1984 - a question I have been asking for years "Why don't learners learn what teachers teach?"  But her article was pretty theoretical, so I didn't walk away with any 'a-ha' moments.

Still it discussed things like how good strategies affect motivation and wound up reminding me of my own questionings on whether or not, the term I probably incorrectly refer to as "peer-induced-motivation," has any influence over the end-"product."

Evaluation and Design of Educational Courseware

I thought I was going to wind up in the quagmire... blinded by statistics and non-educational examples and too-much-for-the-brain-to-take-in-lists of principles, on printer-costly chapters from Dix and Norman, in the random pursuit of a main point or two.

However, the briefer Wilson, in Raising the bar for instructional outcomes, did serve one up and that is this: 

e-materials need to be 



and engaging.

He also talked about mythic story structure in e-design, referencing Joseph Campbell's journey of the hero (usually used in Hollywood -see my dogme post).

I really suspect I'll be reading more of his work and that I may well have more to say on this subject in the coming weeks/months.


p.s.  For the next two years, Tuesdays are now going to be taken up with my self-reflective, what did I learn on my MA-EdTech&TESOL.  I hope you don't mind the diary style sort of entries and I might well waffle on a bit...  if you want to skip these, then Thursdays will be for the more lesson oriented stuff and Sundays will be the EdTech-SocialMedia comments/tips posts.  

p.p.s. For all you amazing folk who've sent your good wishes via blog and FB and Twitter and for your interesting comments here on the blog last week, so sorry - the dog ate my internet - I'll respond this week :-).

Freeman-Larsen, D.  (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Ch.12.
Rivera-Mills, S.V & Plonsky, L. (2007) Empowering students with language learning strategies: a critical review of current issues.  Foreign Language Annals, 40(3):535-548 
Wilson, B. Parrish, P. & Veletsianos, G (2008).  Raising the bar for instructional outcomes: Towards transformative learning experiences. Educational Technology. 48(3), 39-44

Image credit
Caught surfing flickr by derekGavey on

Learner Autonomy in Language Learning: A Myth?

Unicorn & me (4)
Does language learning have to be teacher-led in order to work?

Is the very concept of learner autonomy simply a very fancy way of describing will-power, and thus, limited to those who have already have this - i.e it's not something achievable by the mere masses of students which go through our hands but instead belongs to an elite body of super-motivated learners? 


Is it theoretical possibility... but not realistic probability?  Hmm....

Can a teacher ever "teach" it? 
Can a learner ever "learn" it?

What do you think?

The sin of assumption: motivation in adult learning

I've really been meaning to post up this presentation, done at TESOL Spain earlier this year, and finally have had a chance to run through the slides and update them slightly so that they make sense - without my voice giving instructions or explanations!

Here they are:

To scroll through the slides, use the arrow keys at the bottom of the presentation:

What do you think?

  • Are textbooks too pedagogically based?
  • Is it important to design materials that take in the differences between adults and children? Why?
  • Do you think that children can also benefit from an "andragogical* approach"?

Do let me know what you think, and/or don't hesitate to ask questions if you have them!


p.s. one of my teacher-trainees in a professional development course last week thought that the term shouldn't really be called andragogy because it really means "man-leading" and instead should have a term that refers more to "adult-age-learning/leading." Google and Wikipedia haven't been too helpful on finding sources for these differences however - thoughts, ideas?

Foxy Voxy: #mlearning meets motivation in language teaching

In a rant, several weeks back I emphasized my thoughts on how I really, simply, can't see how mobile phones and language learning/teaching are ever going to lie in a bed together...  partly because of the size of the tool itself, issues related to internet access on the go, but also, most importantly to be quite frank, my main suspicion is that, like Thornbury's suspicion of products developed for IWBs, is all we're gonna wind up with is a rehash of tired and out-dated methodologies spiced up for diamond-sharp-screen-technologies (gap-fill, random-name-that-photo anyone?) but these materials won't be personalized nor learner-centered, and undoubtedly won't be an interactive learning tool and sure as heck, won't be motivational.

I sure do love being proved wrong.

Folks, it looks like a fox has slipped into the henhouse with something really rather innovative.


At first contact, when they emailed, I scoffed and almost reached for the mark-as-spam button.

Oh, here we go, I thought,  I mean just how many emails do I really have to receive each week with someone wanting to be promoted on my blog?  But this email was very different.   It didn't congratulate me  and tell me how much they just love my blog but instead I got a long, professionallly laid out  list of solid reasons why their product was worth taking a look at.  

I clicked through.

I emailed back.

We Skyped.

I put it to the student-test.

Unanamious votes all round:  they said "cool" "guile" "very cool".    They asked "can we download it in German?"  I told them not yet.  But I hope soon.

The company who've created this incredibly simple concept of sending out a 3 minute SMS/email/app with a lead in in the students' own L1 is called Voxy, headed up by Paul Gollash (who lists in his claim to fame, working within Richard Branson's venture capital wing). 

His killer team includes Manuel Morales - in charge of community outreach; Gregg Carey (co-founder) and Ed Menendez who are developing the product; Laura Martinez (journalist and blogger) their Editorial Director - she currenlty creates the daily streaks.  

Linguist Jane Sedlar and language coordinator Sandra Rubio keep them on andragogical track... and their secret weapon?

Rudy Menendez who comes in with a background in creating addictive games.


The language learning tool came out of a simple wish to make language learning more interesting, they ask:

Why is language learning so un-interesting? Languages are, after all, empirically exciting, useful, and empowering to all of us. Does studying it have to suck? We don't think so.

Voxy was first conceived over cold beers at a Yakatori bar in the East Village of New York and the business plan was written shortly afterwards while in San Sebastian, on the northern coast of Spain. It grew out of a fascination for evolving media (including magazines, newspapers, digital and social), and a passion for language learning in an increasingly global community. At Voxy's core is a fervent belief that there is better way to learn a new language.

Voxy raised a seed round of capital from a group of angel investors with experience building successful businesses in the for-profit education space, and a history of creating powerful consumer brands.

Software in the back records what the students are interested in, what stories they tend to click on and flashcard games based on the lexis that the students have chosen themselves goes into a personalized bank.

Voxy is a young company, founded in Feb 2010 but has already been written up in the New York TimesCNN money and TechCrunch. In the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield (video), Gollash quotes Chomsky saying that 98% of language teaching is just about keeping the students interested and they've met that challenge head on by creating an application which adapts seamlessly into adult life, converting relevant, topical content and turned this into a game.

Voxy uses an incremental approach, important in minimizing cognitive load.  Language is also offered in chunks - no grammar-based curriculum here although there is grammar: highlighted in context. (Hear my gasp!)

New material is presented at a level of difficulty  just beyond the students' current ability.

Students receive points based on how often they log in and play these streaks, the words they accumulate and the games they play.

Want to get involved?
As I mentioned earlier, Voxy is a young company and very eager to get real feedback from teachers and students.  The website is completely free (the i-phone app will cost a dollar) so if you happen to be a teacher reading my blog, based in the US or in Central or South America or Spain - basically anywhere where you have Spanish speaking students learning English then why not head on over to the Voxy website, mess around a bit  and then if you like, show it to your students.

If you'd like to ask questions or send in your thoughts, contact the very friendly Manuel Morales: manuel (at) voxy (dot) com.

Useful resources: 

and if you thought I was kidding when I said I am mostly suspicious of mobile technologies... do please have a thorough look at David Reed's blog on mobile ESL, he reviews products there and talks about the use of the phone in the classroom.  Well-written posts but as far as I can tell, personally, really can't figure how these apps he reviews are supposedly thinking outside the cage...   watch out ELT.


Another post on motivation

Focus of AttentionIn the ELTchat last week, a few tweeters raised the issue of grades being motivating for students...

and I mentioned that I'm not a fan of them myself.

In fact, pretty much, quite passionately, I hate 'em.   They've got little place in my classroom today.

(thankfully I teach adult Business English -
don't know what I'd do if I was in a institutional setting...

Maybe because as a dyslexic with, apparently a high IQ, (whatever that means, yet another test, one could argue) I was consistently either given an A+ one day and an F- the next...  The teachers said I was a lazy child, obviously, who couldn't be bothered to work - because, see, the rhyme and the rhythm to all that yo-yoing depended, usually, on whether or not I was able to adequately memorize.

(I used a color system and could learn entire chapters off by heart;  
entire Shakespearean plays but life got way more difficult once I hit Higher Ed.) 

And the thing was... even by the age of ten I realized that if I used all my attention, gritted my teeth and clenched in my stomach to concentrate and then regurgitated facts in the format required by the teacher I could make it come out like they wanted it... yet doing this never proved whether or not I had made any sense of what I was supposed to be learning.

I knew this at ten, I tell you, sitting on a cushion 
with my colour felt-tips memorizing stuff off by heart 
so my parents wouldn't get mad at me, again...

So grades?

Pah and double pah to that.  Nice for competitive types who need the psychological assurance that they've been in a room doing something but really, very much not for those seeking any kind of deeper learning experience.  They're just not that motivating..

Anyway.. don't get your nose out of joint if you're someone who likes them... lots  and lots of people do...

This week, Larry Ferlazzo posted up a video of Alfie Kohn's take on motivation and aside from its sheer brilliance and deeper teaching, it made me laugh out loud so I hope it will you too:

Says it all really...

Useful links related to this posting:

ELT Chat
ELTChat is a fantastic global initiative for live discussion on current issues in the TEFL industry and is moderated by Berni Wall in the UK, Jason Renshaw in Australia, Marisa Constantinides in Greece and Olaf Elch in Germany and, of course, masterminded by the brilliant do-everything-be-everywhere Shelly Terrell.

The chats take place every Wednesday: at 3 and 9pm (London) -see world clock for your own time zone. Transcripts/podcasts summarizing the events are posted on their website after each session.


p.s. I love hearing from you!
Please add your thoughts if you feel like there's something you would like to say - don't worry about perfection, It's just nice to hear from you.   

Worried about spamming me?  What is spam = you haven't read the discussion but yet you want to come to my page to advertise yourself... 

Contribution = you've read the post and discussion from various other educators and you would like to add/share your own thoughts and experience.  You've written about this subject as well?  Do please add your link, I welcome the opportunity to participate in your conversations too!

The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference

Ever had students say to you they hate(d) English at school?

Ever had teachers rise up in protest at all the rapid changes in technology, yelling about how the way they've always worked has always worked?  It falls on deaf ears, when you tell them quietly, gently, the world is a different place today, it really is, and my oh my, tomorrow... well, tomorrow you won't recognize most of what we take for granted today.

Whether it's with students learning telephone phrases or with colleagues challenged to adopt the new technologies, change inspires great emotion.

But mostly this is because they don't understand the Why.

See, thing is, we humans (since the age when we stopped starving) really need good solid emotional reasons to do the things we do and we need an even greater knowledge when we're asked to change.  Reasons that connect to our needs.  

It's simply not enough to say, look lots of others are doing it.  

We have to believe that the reason for the change makes sense and that it will, in fact, bring  us happiness.

It's simply not enough to say, the whole world's learning to speak in one language so hey, you should to.

It's not enough to say your boss wants you to speak English so it has to be.

It's not enough to say if you learn English then you can go to the US on holiday next year.

Instead, a better approach might be:
"As the world's economies change it's no longer enough to do business on one's home turf.  Mastering another language (English) will enable you to master your communication when dealing across different cultures and as a result you'll probably get more projects or make more sales."
Selling them, if you like:
Put in the effort now to learn this language and you'll be able to earn more money and take care of your family even better in the long run.

When dealing with colleagues wary of edtech, your approach might be:
"Taking time to master a handful of tech-tools will help you to organize your teaching strategy, saving you a lot of time and energy in the long run.   It will make your lessons more up-to-date and dynamic and as your students will be excited with your innovative processes and their own marked progress, they'll talk to their friends and colleagues about how much they are learning with you and recommend you to others.
Selling then, if you like:
Become a part of a global community of innovative educators and you'll be able to earn more money and take care of your family even better.

Of course, different people have different reasons that motivate them.  

And to be truly effective an exercise it's even better if you can get your students or colleagues arriving at their own whys.  But whichever way, directly or indirectly, it's only once the people you're asking to change understand the reasons for the change that they will adopt and adapt. 

I'll leave you Simon Sinek's thought on inspiring others:

Useful links related to this posting: 

image credit: Questions by Oberazzi

p.s. Business English Lesson Tip: The Sinek video is a great one to take into class with top management types, 1-2-1s... ask them to talk about why they do what they do and make the products they make.

Monkey See = Monkey Do 2

I wonder who first coined the phrase Monkey See Monkey Do after noticing primates copy each other - probably it was someone in a village somewhere who was keeping one as a pet or it might well have been a circus entertainer - - hmm, whoever it was, it was definitely way back before a bunch of men in white coats studying macaque monkeys yelled Eureka.

The Italian scientists were yelling because the monkeys not only copied their actions but apparently also seemed to experience pleasure even though they themselves didn't have any "reason" to.

As the story goes, a monkey's brain had been wired up to detect the firing of his neurons when planning and carrying out a movement such as grasping a peanut. One researcher returned from lunch licking an ice cream cone. As the monkey watched the researcher, some of his neurons fired as though he were eating the ice cream, even though he was not moving. The monkey's neurons were "mirroring" the activity that the monkey was observing.
Neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues at the University of Parma reported their discovery of monkey mirror neurons in 1996. Researchers soon found evidence for mirror neurons in human beings. Just like monkeys, it turns out that when we see someone perform an action—picking up a glass of water or kicking a ball—our mirror neurons simulate that action in our brains. Researchers have suggested that mirror neurons are crucially involved in the distinctive human development of language, morality, and culture.

Ronald Bailey, The Theory of Moral Neuroscience

I first came across this concept while reading Buy.ology by Martin Lindstrom because I am a nerd and I take business books on holiday with me. In one of the early chapters of this book which explores the reasons we buy the things we do, he mentions our purchasing decisions are often mirrors of what the people around us are buying.
e.g. I-phone, U-phone, we all I-phone

The book is brilliant: he unravels the psychology of our daily purchasing decisions, revealing influences like tradition, security, religion, superstition and sex, sensory input such as smell; somatic markers and subliminal messages - and if you're a Business English teacher of adult learners like I am then you'll no doubt find it an invaluable materials resource for authentic, stimulating conversations on topical themes.

Anyway, enough on that...

because actually,

actually it hit me like a brick,

falling out of the sky and

landing smack dab

upon my dreaming brain

while I lay lying there,

peacefully on the beach.

If most of us do things that other people do....

do we learn new words and grammar and language because other people are communicating in a certain way and we copy them? Is that how language evolved?

Oh right, yup, the men in white coats have theorized on that one already.

Not an epiphany after all.

Hmm... how does it apply to the L2 though? Maybe that's why so many expats learn second and third languages using television soap operas or why full-immersion programs are better than years of classes in a non-native speaking country. Hmm... but what about all the learners who do achieve fluency despite never having stepped outside their own countries?

My mind kept spinning as my toes wriggled in the sand...

Jeremy Harmer's fluency dilemma drifting in and out of consciousness, my feeble attempts at trying to label the rush for him - the thing I see in students' eyes when they "get it" - when they cross an L2 language threshold...

In and out... round and round in my brain.

Cloudy skies drifting past lazily and waves crashing against the shore.

I decided to push the mirror-neurons theory towards the basic processes of education:

1. We observe the world around us.

2. We notice that which causes pleasure or pain in others.

3. When we notice other people's experiences we simulate identical feelings in our own brains: pleasure inspires desire to go through the same; boredom may generate the same unless we repel or avoid the experience.

4. We remember most the things that give us pleasure.

So what I'm actually saying is this, if it is that the teacher is the most important factor in deciding whether or not students learn, as Bill Gates seems to think, is it enough to say the teacher is Factor it?

Shouldn't we be delving deeper into the why?

Shouldn't we look for what the unifying similarities are amongst different yet equally amazing teachers?

Briefly, my 4:

Mrs Lewis in grade 3: warm, helpful, supportive - she was the first person to believe in me, she told me that I would be a writer and I have spent my whole life attempting to prove her right.

Professor Hein who stood on tables and rode into class on a unicycle, passed on the gift of teaching through humour, inquiry and outrageousness! He gave me a deep appreciation for history that I've never lost.

David Langsam how many of us left his journalism course, I wonder, with not just the love of a well-written piece but the desire to become him: to have all those adventures, the prizes on the walls and the grainy photos in dark, foreign places.

Scott Thornbury, though not directly my teacher is my guru nonetheless: his cocky arrogance and abyss-like intelligence stretch my mind as he persuades those around him to dig deeper into language and communication.

What did/do these teachers all have in common?

They inspire.

Is it possible that whenever we notice our teacher's pleasure of being in the classroom, whiles she's sharing her knowledge, that we want to copy her in order to taste the joy, the secret to her happiness?

Could it be that the maximum potential for learning is when others around us are actively engaged - that we are not only enjoying the content of what we're learning but that motivation is, in itself, contagious (as is boredom) and the teacher is the virus carrier of knowledge?

Does L2 acquisition simply boil down to enthusiastic, engaged, motivated copying?

What are your thoughts? Am I on to something here or should I just go back in the ocean for a nice long swim instead?

Coming with me?

Useful links related to this posting:

draft version written overX-mas/NewYear09

How to be an amazing teacher

It is not rocket science... in fact, it's not science at all.

You want the key?

Inspire your students.

It's not what you know.

It's about what they're going to get the chance to know.

It's not whether or not you've got down pat the back, the front, sideways and the inside out of the subject you have to teach.

It's not whether or not you have adequately learned the right methodology to pass on your knowledge, nor is it most especially, whether or not you can describe the exact brain processes regarding the acquisition of knowledge.

Interesting, makes for great debate in the staff room or on blogs, but sincerely, what a waste of time.

Do you motivate your learners?

Do they ache to know what you know?

Do they come to class and at the start the lesson say "Miss, I thought about what you said yesterday, and I don't agree with you."

Do they raise their hands and say "Mr John, I believe that it can't work that way because..."

Do they challenge you to think about what you're sharing with them?

Do they say "Sir, I told my friend, Sue, all about what you said about blah and blah and we really agree: we looked it up on youtube last night and we watched a video from Harvard - we found out that..."

Do they talk about what they learned with each other?

Do they explore?

Do they take on an ownership of your words, your thoughts, your ideas, your learning and push these into new directions? Like the way you did with your own favorite teacher when you were a student?

Are you exciting a passion for learning in your students?

Do that and you'll be the most amazing teacher in their lives.


p.s. This was tweeted today by Mary Thumball and I just had to add it:
A teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but leads you to the threshold of your mind -Kahlil Gibran

Hi English Fans! (Motivation in Adult EFL)


There have been some rather hot and heavy discussions recently about whether or not it's a good idea to use technology in teaching.

And if you're a regular visitor to my blog then you pretty much already know what I think.

For those who're new: I drum it in hard and heavy. It's the world we live in, it's the world we better be teaching in.

This time, though, I won't be socking you with my opinions. I'll just show you the result.

For those who don't know any back story, I'm very proudly a dogmeist which is a kind of radical movement in teaching, started up by Scott Thornbury back in 2000 (see his website and articles here).

Dogme has the goal of student-centered learning, conversation-driven lessons and a clear focus on emergent language.

Trouble is, I'm also a technologist and most dogmeists aren't.

Now, although Scott Thornbury is my thought leader (there really isn't anyone else like him or his work in our field) we've had a few, somewhat public, arguments about the tech side of things.

I enjoy these discussions - he makes valid points which force me to up my anty each time: just because I think I'm right, doesn't mean that I am.

Being wrong is a point of growth and opportunity to develop - it's specifically because of these arguments, every time they flare up, that I keep copious notes on what's happening in the classroom, how my students are responding, how much they're retaining, where they're improving and constantly question my teaching practice and its effectiveness.

Today's post is about student motivation in my hybrid dogme meets technology teaching.

This blog mostly contains lessons I've done again and again, things that I have experimented with way before you get to see them ;-) however today... I'm going to go out on a wing and admit I don't know what my students will produce next week.

Today, I'll simply ask you to look at the level of motivation my students are displaying due to the fact that we focus on things that they are interested in learning, work on language they need to learn and reuse this in ways applicable to their lives.

We use technology when it fits to do so, not because it's fancy.

Part 1

Language objective:

Mastery over phrases used in statistical reporting /Financial English.

In class procedure:

  • Get each student to draw trend expressions as given onto large sheets of paper then present to the rest of the class. If we had had computers in class with us that day, these could have been done in excel.
  • Discussion and agreement /disagreement. Building contextual examples.
  • Cross checking via BlackBerry for expressions when validity of use uncertain.

The expressions in drawings:

Setting up the pretask activity:
(I dislike the word homework)

Brainstorm potential sources for reports.

Pre Task
Find pre-existing graphs, pie-charts, annual reports and download from the internet, preferably in English but not necessarily.

The task is not to create a graph (they know how to do that) but instead to choose any figures and trends personally interesting and think about how to best describe change.

Next week we'll discuss their findings in English.

Student involvement

See emails from Eva, the self appointed moderator, who decided to make sure that all students (including those missing) are on the same page for next week. I did not request for this email to be written, although I wasn't surprised to see it - she often follows up on the lessons.

We live in a world with email. We live in a world where digital photographs can be taken and shared, where .pdfs can be downloaded and distributed.

We live in a world where our phones are micro-sized computers.

We live in a world where the wheel doesn't have to be reinvented but can instead be analyzed - where the focus in language learning can actually be on the language.

Next week I will show you what happens next In Task - what they produce, if they reused the language, how they present these and anything else.

p.s. Can I just say this cracks me up: Hi English Fans! My German/Polish students in this class are aged 40+ and work in the Financial sector.

Where’s the love, y’all?

Part 2 of the Art of Teaching Conversation To Language Learners. To read part 1 first come here.
Last night, after a tough day presenting a educational proposal to a rather tough crowd, I met up with some mates and had a brilliant night listening to a rock band in an off-the-beaten-track club in Marienplatz.

The rockers were Germans, all between the ages of 50 and 60, singing in English and they were shockingly good. In no time at all, we were thrown back in time, belting out the Eye of the Tiger at the top of our voices and all cares and worries were instantly gone.
The passion of these white-haired geezers rubbed off on us and we had the time of our lives.
Enough about me,
are your students comfortable speaking English?

In part one of this series, I mentioned that to effectively teach speaking, you need to know who your students are and how they learn, however, you also need to know what it is that makes them tick as human beings. You need to know what their passions are.
There are several factors which prevent communication and fluency from occurring in your classroom.

One of these is motivation.

What are your students in to?

What makes them wake up in the morning, what do they look forward to, who have they been, what hard stuff have they had to live through?
What makes them mad or frustrated, what do they hope will happen before the end of the year?
What knowledge do they have that they just can’t wait to tell you?
Don’t know?

Find out!

ASK because it is this emotional stuff that drives most of us human beings to be humans.
No one cares to talk about things they don’t care about.
Am I telling it to simply?
comedian by zach klein flickr

Seriously, are you in the mood to discuss HTML and blog design with me?
Okay, maybe if you’re a fellow blogger who landed on this page you and I could have a good old chinwag.

But the rest of you (I know because I can see the snores in my friends’ eyes or hear them down the phone) are not going to sit through a discussion like this, right? This is pretty much what handing over a textbook to your students and then following through from page 1 to page 112 sequentially does.

It’s also what happens when you make photocopies of Spotlight on topics not relevant to their lives or download news articles from the net that are based on your interests, not theirs.

Your students have their own

  • hobbies

  • families

  • interests

  • concerns

  • ambitions

  • responsibilities

  • stories

  • lives!

Of course, sometimes it can be all about you and your interests. Sometimes that’s interesting as it’s motivating to them to learn about who you are and how you tick because you’re the teacher and they’re curious.

But not all the time.
When you’re working with a textbook or other learning material, personalize it, make it about them, turn each topic around so that it has something to do with their lives and interests.
If you’re lucky enough not to be in a situation which requires a set course book then you can make your entire curriculum entirely about your students needs and interests.

Ask them what these are.
I couldn’t answer or participate in class because although I wanted to speak in English, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t know what to say, I had no relationship to the topic presented.
Beatrix W., Mercedes Bank, 2007 discussing why she didn’t participate in previous English lessons.

broken heart by franco folini flickr

For students whose affective filter (the emotional reason a person doesn’t learn) is based on fear or low self-esteem, your very paying attention to their needs will break this down.

Be a little patient with them, consistently show that you care: enjoy their triumphs, compliment their successes and show that you are interested in their lives.

In Scott Thornbury’s excellent book, How To Teach Speaking, he suggests that
the conditions in which speaking occurs play a crucial role in determining the degree of fluency achievable.’
He goes on to lay these out as:
Cognitive – familiarity with the topic, the genre, the other people you are talking to, shared knowledge and processing demands.
Affective – feelings towards the topics and participants and self-consciousness.
Performance – being able to monitor your fellow speakers’ responses, opportunities to use gesture and eye-contact, degree of collaboration, planning and rehearsal time, time pressure and environmental conditions.

Find out what your students are in to.
To do this, here’s the link to grab a simple brainstorming sheet from my website.

And here’s a video of me (How embarrassing –a very bad hair day but decided to show it to y’all anyway).

In it, I’m in the final steps of a brainstorming session with my students – I do these every 8 to 10 weeks and it gets easier and more interesting each time.

I hope it helps you out with your own elicitation of topics.
Do let me know how it goes, plus of course, don’t hesitate to ask if you’ve got any questions.

Read part one here or a related article here.

Watch the video we did when we were discussing the Sundance Film Festival, here.

Your style, my style - our ways of speaking

Part one: the art of teaching conversation to language learners
Starting off with the basics is probably a very good place to kick off this series (of at least 7 parts).

Do you know who your students are?

Do you know what they like? Do you know their learning styles and how they learn?
fashion show TT1000216 by AxelBuehrmannKnowing a little bit about the way people learn anything at all is one part of being a really great conversation teacher.

In general, it's one of those essential life skills, however, when used for teaching English it can help you to unlock your students' great gabbing skills.

Because let's face it, despite the fact that when they are sitting in your classroom they may appear to be all quiet and shy, nervous and uncommunicative, when they're out there with their friends, families, across the boardroom table or with their lovers they probably aren't so very quiet.
In their own language.

And this is probably true, more or less, across cultures.
Okay, okay, maybe some of them are always quiet. But here are some reasons they might not be talking a lot in their English lessons:

* the subject you brought to class isn't interesting.
* they don't like you.
* you aren't teaching them in the way they want you to.

There are many more reasons than the above - hence this is only part 1 - more in the next postings.

For now let's have a look at:
“you aren't teaching them in the way they want you to.”
Don’t switch off the computer just yet, it’s not an attack of your teaching habits. We’ve all been there. The thing is, we teachers, sorry - we humans, often think that the way we do something is the way it is always done, and if not, it should be!
So be honest:

Are you teaching in a way that is
like how they learn,
or like how you learn?
Read through this list of learner styles and have a think, not only about your learners and where they fall into this list, but also yourself and the way that you teach. There is a doorway into getting your students actively conversing, this is one of the approaches that just might work for you:

Visual learners

learn most from things they see.
They love making pictures of new words & phrases and are happy organizing their new vocabulary into little card boxes (color-coded, of course) with little drawings or diagrams to help remember what the words mean.

They enjoy photography and art. Usually they have a good sense of direction and can read maps. When they explain something to someone else, they use a piece of paper so that they can show you what they are trying to say.

Auditory/Aural learners

ear by carbonnyc learn best from the things they hear.
They love music and often can sing well.
They listen to what other people have to say, enjoy audio books and when they are learning a language, they often hear the subtle differences in accents and pronunciation.
They use i-tunes to help them study, especially all the great podcasts.

Kinesthetic/ physical learners

joe navarro by pop!techlearn most effectively when they use their hands and body, when they touch something.

Usually this type of learner also really enjoys sports and exercise and is very active.
They often talk with their hands - are physically very expressive people and learn from doing.
Activity and movement are what gets these students fired up and interested.

Verbal people

saturatedwriting by tnarik
enjoy words.

They like writing things down, increasing and using their vocabulary. They like stories and storytelling.

And boy, do they ever love talking!

talking by sashafatcat They enjoy making speeches and listening to other people's ideas, expressing opinions.

They like words that rhyme, idioms and puns and usually they make an effort to really know the meaning of words they’re using.

mathhomework by doviende Logical people

really need life to make sense. They feel comfortable with security, with rules and systems and actually enjoy learning grammar – it helps them to understand the language and put it into a format.
They think about the placement of words.

They like knowing what’s coming next and being able to prepare –they need to know that what they’re learning is something they can use again in the future.

It goes without saying, right, that you can have visual learners who are verbal and visual learners who are logical.
The logical audio guys love Beethoven, the verbal audio guys like rap.

The next thing we'll have a look at is interpersonal and intrapersonal skills or attitudes. Here we’ll call them social learners and solitary learners:

Solitary learners prefer to study at home and feel good when they achieve something by themselves. They don't mind doing homework, actually like self-study books, think independently, enjoy quiet.
jakob by zach klein
They are pretty good at self-analysis (if they used this blog posting as an activity it would be pretty easy for them, they know their learning styles already).
It’s always a good idea to let them know in advance what you want from them and allow them time to prepare an answer.
Usually, if you hang on for a bit after asking a question, they will surprise you with very well-thought out answers.

Social learners love hanging out in groups and learning together, being a part of a class or community where they can share what they know.
boyintheclassroom by hoyasmeg
They pay attention to other people's feelings, enjoy making others laugh and learn. They love playing games and activities, doing projects where several people have to create something new, together.

More in the next postings:
Knowing about your students' styles can help you prepare dynamic and interesting lessons. You can get them chatting about the things they care about simply by paying attention to where the key fits and how to turn it.
I’ll be writing about activities to do with each style, discussing motivation in speaking, giving you a list of phrases inherent, making questions and having in-depth conversations, talking a little about cultural norms and how to provide good, measurable feedback to your language learners.

In the meantime don’t hesitate to give me your own feedback and help steer the direction of these postings by asking questions.

p.s Would you like your students to have a look at this and think about some of the issues presented?

Student version:

Part 2 on the art of teaching conversation to language learners,

More information:
See article that prompted this posting (by Jason West of Languages out there), here

Websites on learning styles:
Vark, a guide to learning styles
Learning styles online
Kolb’s learning styles on business

Books on learning styles:
Knowing Me, Knowing You: An Integrated Sociopsychology Guide to Personal Fulfilment & Better Relationships: An Integrated Socio-psychology Guide to Personal Fulfilment and Better Relationships

Knowing Me, Knowing You: Exploring Personality Type and Temperament

Helping Learners Learn: Exploring Strategy Instruction in Language Classrooms Across Europe (Language Learning (Ecml, Graz))

The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (Merrill Education/ASCD College Textbooks)

Learner-Centered Classroom Practices and Assessments: Maximizing Student Motivation, Learning, and Achievement

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