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!

41 Responses to “Another post on motivation”

  • Joel H Josephson says:
    September 21, 2010

    Hi Karenne

    I am not sure if this fits in your Spam definition above so please delete if it does not fit.

    I helped author a book in an European Union project called 'Don't Give Up' that includes 48 best practices to motivate adult language learners to not drop-out of their courses, see


  • Karenne says:
    September 21, 2010

    Joel, that box is a little scary isn't it - sorry... I do really get a lot of spammers wanting to self-promote but
    you're fine, though it'd be lovely if you also added a summary of some of the best-practices, an intro to the book's ideas?

  • Queer English says:
    September 22, 2010

    Hi Karenne!I saw this post via Englishraven's re-tweet, and I was supposed to post a reply via Twitter, but I think posting here is more appropriate.

    My teacher trainees always want to know how to motivate students. Are grades enough? Freebies? Rewards? (In my case, which is online English teaching, virtual rewards.)

    I always give them this answer: It depends on the task. Money and other rewards and incentives work for simple tasks, but they don't for tasks that require them to unleash their creativity.

    I scoured the internet for a reputable source to back this up, and guess what I found, a video from RSA animate.

    I don't like spamming either, but I'd like to share the video and some of my thoughts on motivating students and motivation in general HERE. It's a link to the post on motivation I created last August.

  • Joel H Josephson says:
    September 22, 2010

    As suggested by Karenne, about the Dont Give Up project and book :

    Too many adult language learners drop-out of language courses, the European Union funded project, 'Dont Give Up' offers language schools, teachers and students a set of motivational Best Practices for every level of adult language learning to help student success. Many of the best practices can be used in other levels of language teaching and learning. Below is a sample:

    BP 19 Learning outside of the classroom

    Theme Increasing Interest Using Mobility

    BP for Language schools
    Language teachers
    Language students


    Adult students who are at work all day (often in an office) and then follow their working day with language lessons, are often bored by the school environment as their tolerance threshold is low (even if the school is beautifully decorated as described in BP31). This is particularly true during the summer when being outside is most attractive.


    Organizing lessons outside of the classroom increases a lessons attractiveness and raises interest. It is literally a breath of fresh air to a wilting student and will have a positive effect on their concentration and improve results.

    Where To Organize A ‘Out Of Classroom Lesson’

    In the summer and spring – in a park, by a lake, by the sea (if possible), in a forest
    In the Autumn and winter – in a cafe in a lobby of a public building
    Lessons can be ‘Walking and talking’ at a zoo, a shopping centre or street, at an exhibition or museum. visits could be made to a cinema or theatre and the performance made the subject of the lesson afterwards.

    Resources Required

    Preparation of the lesson around the activity
    Reservations or tickets purchased in advance when necessary, cafe, zoo, theatre etc.
    Experienced teachers or native speakers (especially for ‘Walk and talk’ lessons)

    Implementation Methodology

    Outside classroom lessons can be arranged on a regular basis, perhaps once a month or a whole summer course can be organized out of the classroom.

    Options For Lesson Methodology

    Similar methodology as is in the classroom
    The lessons can be organized as conversation lessons only
    Essay reading, presentation and discussion (the teacher assigns a theme of the essay as homework)
    Simulation of a real situation and dialogues (arguing, presentation, shopping, travelling, job interview)
    Walk and talk – lessons simulate “real life”, students and teachers use the taught language only

    Other Issues

    Lessons out of the classroom are generally more appropriate for experienced students (starting from pre-intermediate level).

    Extra Help

    See more good ideas about learning out of the classroom at
    LINGo study on motivation – 50 examples where motivation is at the heart of language learning

  • Martin Sketchley says:
    September 22, 2010


    Thank you for sharing your personal experience of grading in school. I am also one teacher that is slightly sceptical of the whole grades for classes.

    As I was told in my early career as an EFL teacher, each student has different needs and a different way of learning. How can teachers force differing students to fit into a box so that they are able to achieve a good grade?

    One point during the ELTChat that I considered good was providing students the opportunity to work on a group project during their own time.

    Great blog post.

  • Lindsay Clandfield says:
    September 22, 2010

    Hiya Karenne

    Well... as one of those people on ELTchat who said grades can be motivating I gotta come on here and said that I disagree with you!

    Motivation is a very personal thing and what motivates one person may not motivate another. So a blanket "pah" and dismissal of marks isn't very helpful. It's like arguing over taste or colour.
    Marks aren't the only motivational factor, and I wouldn't even say they are the first or most important. But I've taught too long and in too many settings to say they are utterly useless as a motivational tool.

    Now, they may not work for you, and for others and I completely respect that. But in my experience lots of students have asked me for a mark "to see how I'm doing". Should I pity them as "competitive types in need of psychological reassurance"? Pah and double pah! :-)

    The deeper learning experience may not be a mark but it's hard to have in every class some kind of Dead Poet's Society experience.

    Marks are a form of award. Aren't awards motivating? When people vote for a favourite blog or publish a list of top blogs I thought it motivated bloggers. Or at least that's what I thought read here once... :-)

    Very funny video though. And a good provocative post to start my day. Hope you don't mind me putting my nose back into joint here. ;-)

  • Ceri says:
    September 22, 2010

    As another person on ELT chat who agreed with Lindsay, I just wanted to add a few words too.

    In those situations where grades are unavoidable, it is possible for them to be motivating, even for the non competitive types.

    They can be negotiated, students can chose to redraft and be regraded, students can chose which tasks/pieces of work they want graded, and which not - or which to include in an assessment system. This hands over some control to the students. They have a personal investment in the grading, and this can motivate.

    And for students working towards external (and also internal institutional exams) it really helps to look carefully at the grading system, the rationale, the criteria, how the grades are awarded, what makes for a good grade and what doesn't. Grading model answers (for example for a Cambridge writing or oral exam) can help students see that they too can do it - can get the grade they need.

    And, yes, some students do get a kick out of getting a good grade, so why sell them short on that kind of satisfaction?

    Having said all that, your post really struck a chord. But I think it was more the pointless awarding of pointless grades for totally pointless tasks that hit home more than anything else.

    Thanks for keeping the ELT chat discussion open!

  • Nicky says:
    September 22, 2010

    Hey Karenne, long time no comment! Interesting piece, and loved the "Schrute bucks" video. Although you'll have
    to help me with my reading comprehension skills 'cause Mr. Kohn loses me a bit here when he says:
    "Far less interesting to me than whether a student has learned
    what he was supposed to is the question, "Has the child been
    given something to do worth learning?"

    So, the question of whether the child is learning something worthwhile is less interesting than whether the child is worthwhile? Am I just dense or does this sentence seem exactly counter to what I think he's trying to say?

    Ah, by the way, speaking of spam comments, I have just put up a short post related to testing and motivation (ok, actually, it's just a link to the onion, but hey):

  • blog-efl says:
    September 22, 2010

    Hi Karenne, and nice post. I've recently been reading a great book related to this, about the failure of carrot & stick motivation that I can recommend - 'Drive' by Daniel Pink ( - he also has a great TED talk on the subject.

    The book looks at research that shows that the reward system of extrinsic motivators can actually have a negative effect, resulting in diminishing performance and a dampening of motivation.

    It's a business book, and would make interesting discussion material for a Business English class, but it's also very easy to apply what Pink says to the classroom.

    One interesting piece of advice from the book re. kids and education: "In education systemes tilted toward standardized tests, grades and "if-then" rewards, kids often have no idea why they're doing what they're doing. Turn that around by helping them see the big picture. Whatever they're studying, be sure they can answer these questions: Why am I learning this? How is this relevant to the world I am living in now?"

    A simple piece of advice, but one that we should always keep in mind I think.

  • Lindsay Clandfield says:
    September 22, 2010

    Hi there

    Just want to add something having read Graham's comment and that my defense of marks as POTENTIAL motivators does not mean I am defending standardized testing or useless marks with no perceived value by any participants in the learning equation. I am not a fan of standardized testing or the system it can engender... it's actually really depressing the moves in that direction.
    But marks are not always done in this way (see Ceri's ideas above for other "marking" schemes and ideas)

    Just to clarify so I don't get lumped with the standardized testers! :-)

    September 22, 2010

    Hey Queer English - tried to follow your link but didn't have any luck - do you want to come again and give it - or email me (see side bar).

    That's really interesting what you say about virtual rewards - I think simple thanks for your work, smiley faces but most importantly an intelligent response to the ideas expressed are often really motivational.

    Thanks for adding to the pot! Karenne

    September 22, 2010

    Hi Joel,

    Very interesting project and book. I have linked it above for the rest of my readers as well. I love teaching outside but well, here in Germany, that's not always very practical - especially with the summer we just had!

    Thanks for your contribution and for sharing your work with us.

    September 22, 2010

    Hey Martin - yup, I definitely noticed as well that students respond well to doing things collaboratively over a long period of time - I think as I'll mention below in my comment to Lindsay/Graham, it's a lot to do with the "why" and having focus!

    September 22, 2010

    Here's the thing, Lindsay, after formulating pages worth of response all day – I even contemplated on whether I should do this as yet another blog post on the subject (:-) while I walked around the city today between classes: this is really such a hot-button topic for me.

    Because here is what you are missing:

    Marks/grades, whatever, are ´motivational´ only when a person has the potential to consistently get the top or almost top ones in the particular area that he or she is being ´tested.´

    Getting C´s does not motivate anyone. It says: you are average. You are ordinary. There is nothing special about you. You are one of the sheep and you can skate on through life - you, you C, you will never stretch, you will never see or experience your potential.

    Getting E`s and F`s, well exactly how motivational can that be?

    Tell the student that they've got to do better? Work harder? Learn smarter? Be different? How comforting or encouraging is that stick, to be a failure every day, to never find out that actually you were simply born to reach the height of another craft, of equal but different value?

    The only people who in this world (sorry, nose-out-of-joint-already-people... the only people who like grades are the ones who get B´s and B+'s and that's basically due to the carrot effect.

    Because yes, within the smallest of stretches, there is the A : that proof of hard work.

    Mr D who would just have to stretch too far, too often – well, it gets old, might as well just join the E´s.

    Is it motivating for As? I reckon not. Natural, everyday another A+ students probably just shrug their shoulders, yeah, ya know... oh, whatever...another A. Wonder if Dad will buy me that car? Whoop-di-do. :-)

    And someone like me - frustrated and bored by people who needed to write down formulas to reach answers (physics, at 17) who had to spend their whold life dealing with the yo-yo effect--- well, I tell you: enough. :-) At this age of 41 (so am in the roundabouts of my students), I can tell ya for a fact: there is nothing like a grade, an external evaluation of me and my work, to turn me completely off from learning.

    You mentioned blogging awards... and actually, I've sort of written about this and my disapproval of them while having to participate - the factor of social proof - but no, blogging ´awards´do not inspire me.

    I like being patted on my back, yes, but... oh am running out of space, this will have to go in my reply to Graham and his bringing up of Dan Pink.

    September 22, 2010

    In One I mentioned that the thing which drives me to keep a blog is autonomy of it: it's my baby, my work, the mastery of learning how to do something I couldn't do.

    Purpose came up again in
    Two as awards are all well and good as is OneStopBlogs but, honestly what drives me... what brings me to the page... is what happened today while I walked around the city formulating my response to Lindsay (came in just as I had to get out the door) it is you, my readers, who make me think and give me a reason for writing.

    This blog tends to serve as my own personal library to the lessons I create and that saves me time and helps me to improve on ideas and most importantly, when I look backwards, it teaches me things about my development not just as a teacher but as a writer!

    But mostly you (my readers) you challenge me to stretch, you do not give me an A or an F no matter if I have typos on the page and yet to answer another Dan Pink question you make me ask myself: was I better today than yesterday?

    Yes, of course, I like it when I am patted on the back - it's feedback - and I am a big advocate for providing consistent feedback to students.

    A lot of bloggers (and sorry if I am side-stepping at the moment, more on students in the next comment) but too many bloggers count things like this: like hits, like the number of visitors they have and actually, that's why I included a photo of my personal google-analytics in two: knowing full well that bloggers like Jason and Nik probably get about 3 -5 times as many and Larry Ferlazzo at least ten times as many... because


    I measure me against me.

    If I do count anything at all, then it is the number of visitors who come back more than once, more than twice, more than three times and I do this month on month because these are the statistics that tell me if I am on track, they work as an anonymous benchmark about the people who give me a reason to write: who give me my job as an EduBlogger :).

    September 22, 2010

    Hi Ceri,

    An excellent and interesting point about the personal investment in the grading system and it falls in with Graham's comment about purpose and in fact, the key here, is the potential for reaching mastery by one's self.

    Hi Graham,

    Big fan of Dan and love his TED talk, thanks so much for throwing his weight into the conversation - I do believe much of what he writes is applicable to education.

    After all what is education but the sharing of knowledge and experience - formalized or not, it needs to reflect the lives we live and

    thank goodness you came back re exams Lindsay, we would have had a war, we would have... because those when formative as opposed to summative are well, a whole other hot-button.

  • Lindsay Clandfield says:
    September 23, 2010

    HIya Karenne

    Well, I'm happy to agree where we agree and that's on the notion and current incarnation of standardized testing. I'll have a think about your comments on C, D,E, A students and as I said these things can depend on the person. Reflective food for thought.

    As for blogging, don't worry! I think most bloggers, including your good self, blog for themselves first as a sort of intrinsic motivation. The other stuff is a lesser motivation, maybe more like an added bonus? But still motivational in a teeny-weeny way perhaps? :-)

    Finally, one thing about "how is this relevant to the world I am living in now?" type argument. I've found this argument being used against the humanities before, and pushing everyone into maths and computer studies - and for standardized tests in these areas. It made me a little uncomfortable.

  • Andy says:
    September 23, 2010

    I'm with Lindsay here. Marks/Grades are motivating for some people, and they are not motivating for others. I happen to be one of those people (like you) who was never motivated by marks, but that doesn't mean that this implies that they are not motivating for everyone. People have different "motivational styles", and different things work for different people. Marks can be seen as a part of "recognition", which tends to be a motivating force for a lot of people, so i think to suggest that they are not motivating, or are only motivating for those people who are scoring "B" is missing the point.

  • Jason Renshaw says:
    September 23, 2010

    Interesting post...

    I would second Lindsay in saying that grades can mean different things to different people in different contexts, depending a whole lot on how and why they are applied.

    At university, I got a "C" for my first year of Swedish as a second language. I thought I probably deserved a "D" (I struggled all year compared to the other students and my oral exam was a real mess), so that "C" motivated me in two ways: (1) it helped me to understand (with the teacher's explanations) that I didn't suck quite as badly as I thought I had, and (2) it forced a commitment out of me to work a hell of a lot harder if I was going to take 2nd year Swedish - considering what this might mean for my GPA and then prospective post-grad options. Second year I got an A - completely turned things around. Third year I took Swedish literature as well as language, and worked my butt off for As, as I was aiming for a scholarship chance to study in Sweden. Got the As, got the scholarship. Not bad for a first year C-grader (I used to tell myself), and I think the grades, teachers' approach to giving and explaining them, and the opportunities the grades created were all extremely motivational.

    But - and let's face it - I also knew people who dumped Swedish after first year because they got Bs or Cs... Not sure what this says about grades or what it says about individual people.

    Having also taught in a context where tests and grades were incredibly important, I will admit I've used grades (what I used to term a "cultural and contextual translation device") in school-wide systems to promote changes in attitude to language learning. By incorporating elements such as effort and participation and teamwork into the overall grading mix (things I think are extremely important for collaborative and social language learning), it became impossible to get an A without being willing to interact, and to try (irrespective of your current 'level'). It brought the so-called geniuses who could memorize 100 words a day and write English grammar books in their own right out of their shells and into the interactive social mix in class. It granted grades of B (and sometimes even A) to students who normally might rate a 'D' on a standardised grammar test.

    Turning my back on grades and thumbing the local context's expectations of them wouldn't have achieved much at all, except perhaps please me and my own personal notions of grades and achievement.

    In a lot of ways, I don't think it is 'grades' that are the problem (there are some broader and more subtle ways of grading all sorts of aspects of our professional lives), it's how and why they are used.

    I was also interested in your (and others') comments about blogs, hits, and ratings...

    The times I've quoted or estimated hits on my own blog have usually been in support of a point (something like, how many teachers we potentially reach, the power and growth of the ELT blogosphere in general, etc.).

    And other than a nice little piece of recognition from earlier this year, my blog hasn't topped any lists or won any awards, and I've certainly never asked anyone to nominate me for any either.

    I really don't think it's possible to rate or rank blogs, and find it a wholly ridiculous endeavour to seriously try to - much the same as trying to rate and rank teachers (for which teaching blogs are basically just mouthpieces and funnels for reflection and enquiry). Blogs represent their own quality and earn their own rewards, which can no doubt vary as people themselves do...

    Anyway, some really interesting provocative questions you've raised! Take me off your "usually controversial" list and put yourself on it!


  • Nick Jaworski says:
    September 23, 2010

    I'm gonna get on her and call Mr. Clandfield (and supporters) out into the arena :)

    If anyone in on this discussion hasn't been following Joe Bower's blog, I highly recommend you do so as the most cogent arguments are found within his continuous struggle against grading.

    Can grades motivate individuals? Yes. Jason's case is a good example. I think they are often motivating for the wrong reasons though and reflect a false view of what education should be.

    Grades turn qualitative work, effort, and participation into a simple number or letter. What does this tell the student? Does it tell them detailed information on what they need to work on, what they are doing really well with, what other avenues they could try? No.

    For the students that grades motivate, the focus becomes getting a good grade, not learning anything. If grades are the goal, I can memorize, regurgitate and then forget. I got the A, now who cares? Also, it ostracizes risk takers and students who make mistakes. Why take honors History? It's harder and I have a lower chance of getting an A. Why try something new and creative when it may mean I'll fail and not get an A?

    Ultimately, grades take the focus off of learning and put it on uninformative indicators. It creates aversion to risk-taking. It's more often demotivating than motivating as surely there are more C students on average than A students. It promotes individualized goal setting rather than teamwork and social interaction. You don't care what others are learning as long as you get your grade. I say down with grades.

    September 23, 2010


    Thank you for coming in with some even weightier chunks of pure gold :-) and oh my golly, OMG, that was the first time I went to Joe Bower's blog (I googled and have now linked above) + the Alfie Kohn links: what sheer brilliance, what dynamic disruption, am now a massive fan and subscribing to his feed!

    In particular I very much enjoyed these highlighted quotes:

    "We fabricate these extrinsic manipulators to bully kids into learning."

    EXACTLY - I don't know if Joe talks elsewhere about this but I honestly feel that people giving grades are often not objective but instead wrapped up in a power-dynamic - basically a do what I want, the way I want it (and not just the actual work but all other work in the classroom) or else I shall attempt to crush your life...

    "The sad reality is that grading has shaped learning into a sharp-edged, costs-and-benefits market environment."

    feeding into my comment above, the power-struggle-dynamic exists precisely because we have made grades into a commodity.

    A mark or grade is an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an indefinite amount of material. (Dressel, 1976)

    no comment it stands alone, doesn't it?

    "Warning this grade has been calculated to distort your learning."

    how often have we heard teachers in staffrooms talking about changing the system of evaluating grades on a particular test because too many students got A's or D's and not enough C's. How many times have children come home to their parents with a B and when pushed the child admits, that yea, the whole class got B's. Grades: what are they??? What do they mean? Nothing. Nothing at all.

    September 23, 2010

    Jason, can I put it to you that perhaps the motivation to achieve a better level of Swedish had very little to do with the grade you received... but instead something else?

    Without knowing your situation at all, my first thought is...why did you really put in the effort, just to get a better grade?

    Perhaps there was a job you wanted there after University, a place you wanted to live or... sorry to be blunt, a woman in that equation? Somewhere?

    Not being cruel or trite - it's just that, well, our reasons for doing anything are usually =


    or even if it was just to see your own self excel against yourself

    but with all due respect I'm willing to bet, it was not just for the "grade."


    September 23, 2010

    Hi Andy, I think you've hit upon something very interesting:

    Marks can be seen as a part of "recognition", which tends to be a motivating force for a lot of people

    Yes - I think that many people - no, I think that all of us want and need recognition for our effort.

    We all crave feedback whether it be in the gentle stroke of a mother's pat on the hand, in the "that's my girl" from a father, or a teacher's genuinely wide eyes and her saying "you will be a writer, one day!"

    But this is all genuine. It is personalized. It is feedback and of feedback in of itself then I am a strong advocate.

    What is not genuine is a "mark" -for that ís nothing but a socially designed arbitrary construct feeding back nothing more than an artificial illusion designed to give competitive "status"...

    well, I'll let Joe Bower go all military on you (see above in post for new links) -

    Golly, am so fired up! Boys, boys - what a debate! Thanks so much for all your comments -

    I better follow the links to Alfie Kohn, might need to develop my army... get some more weapons in...

  • David says:
    September 23, 2010

    Forget grades! Why do students even have to be in school if they don't want to?

    Grades are just an artificial form of authority and enforcement to justify students going to school. that's all.

    Even worse when they become a teacher's way of Freudian like, dooling out and dealing with their own insecurity.

    Power. And as Teddy said, it corrupts. And a grade is worse, it is absolute and absolutely corrupts - both the teacher but even worse the student. In the form of them growing up and demanding their children get "grades".

    My take anyway.... but please lay off with the Kohn. I truly believe he is the biggest sensationalist and hypocrite out there these days. He's a marketeer/profiteer that's all.


  • Jason Renshaw says:
    September 23, 2010

    Well, I think my comments were adequately enough explained and expanded to show that no - the motivation was not purely about the grade itself, but that the way the grade was supported and applied (and what it helped to facilitate) was a motivating factor.

    I think also that we may be losing sight a little of the fact that, in the real world, there aren't enough places or opportunities for every single person to study or do exactly what he/she wants based on desire only. The reality is -- however much I don't particularly like it personally -- there is always going to need to be some sort of 'sorting' to differentiate the achievements of one individual over another. Grades aren't a perfect mechanism for that, but until we can find other procedures that are feasible and effective across millions of people and a finite limited number of avenues forward, we're stuck with 'em.

    Karenne - I'll admit it, the insinuation that my motivation to improve my Swedish was based on a woman (or romance - and then the mention of sex!) just totally threw me. What on earth led you to believe that was a viable interpretation of my motivation to learn a second language for three years of university and work my butt off for a scholarship to study overseas?

    That wasn't just out of line; it was -- well, pretty much out of touch.

  • David says:
    September 23, 2010

    Oh one more comment while I'm on a roll.

    Joel, it is spam.

    tell us what YOU think.


    September 23, 2010

    Laughing too hard from David's comment (poor Joel, he worked hard on his book, alright...) but Jason, sorry, sex was only one possible motivation... and it was from my trip on over to Maslow.

    No noses out of joint out of context! :)) I just meant it wasn't the grade in and of itself... and yes, you covered the ground well.


    September 23, 2010

    Oh wait, I really have to say sorry again to Jason - and admit that well, when it came to really putting in the effort to master Spanish, it was because I was married to an Ecuadorian therefore, in my own personal case (and in what I have observed from ex-pats in other foreign countries) I personally made a huge effort to master the language for that specific reason but that doesn't mean that Jason would.

    Are we friends again?

    September 23, 2010

    David, will venture into the world of Kohn with both eyes open... that's the funny thing about power though, isn't it... how it always corrupts in the end?

    And I dunno, about school and attending... personally I have had a lot of thoughts about home-schooling bouncing back and forth: from it being a place to go to all day to it being done from the comfort of everywhere...

    But then we have to look at humanity and we have to start moving outwards and going upwards until we can take some kind of bird's eye and then well, we will have to start looking at all kinds of things and admit that many-a-man has a tendency to fall into chaos without some kind of external structure and without the humanness of a guide to those structures- something that he can work within and follow.... but then that's a whole other blog post and a whole other philosophy for a whole other blog rather than mine and indeed for a whole other writer because it isn't in fact anything anyone anywhere can really pin down...

    Like everything in the world.

  • Jason Renshaw says:
    September 23, 2010

    Always were, hopefully always will be ;-)

    But it does remind me of some very pertinent advice from the Dude(ney) that we need to be very careful about making assumptions and presumptions, particularly personal ones, when pursuing a line of argument in an educational or ethical debate.

    (And I speak from experience, having tripped over that line occasionally in the past!)

  • Lindsay Clandfield says:
    September 23, 2010

    Oh boy. Ok, ok... as usual here we are taking extremes. I'm not going to be draw into an argument defending useless grades or ... or whatever. I personally found them motivating for me as a student.

    Maybe I'm deluded. Maybe other learners who have said that marks motivated them are lying to themselves. Is that what you're saying Nick?

    I'm not going to fight the corner for grades any more. I think they are one possible motivator but not the only one. If there were no grades then there are plenty of other ways too which I'm sure all the great educators out there tap into. I'm teaching a course now without grades and it's fine. And I shall go off and read this blog that Nick recommends (when I get a chance and the time!)

    By the way, I agree with you Jason about Karenne's implied comment there. Karenne, I think that was shooting from the hip, and a little bit low. But that's just my take.

    p.s. new villain to add to my list: grades!

    September 23, 2010

    Lindsay, the suggestion that it may have been Jason's motivation was an error on my part and I apologized twice but you have got to be kidding to suggest that sex (it just happened to be the first on the list I was cutting and pasting from Maslow) is not a motivational factor in adult language learning: there are many, many, many, many people who are learning an L2 simply for the fact that they want to be able to communicate with their partners.

    As there are those who learn inn order to earn more money, live in more comfortable housing....

  • Lindsay Clandfield says:
    September 23, 2010

    Karenne, you've given me an idea for my next coursebook! A REAL adult book! :-)

    September 23, 2010

    You laugh, sir..?

    At 21million views:

    2 - 1 + 6 zeroes...someone out there is very motivated to watch her teaching..

    Now, please can the next person get us back on track....

  • Ron Mukerji says:
    September 23, 2010

    Hi K
    At the outset I should say that although I've been teaching for over 15 years I haven't written any books nor am I an established expert. I can only relate my experiences as a teacher and teacher trainer.
    Motivation comes from many sources and I believe we are merely scratching at the surface. I once had a student who was brilliant and his ONLY motivation was to be better than his sister at something - anything really.
    It's the teacher's job to try and identify what motivates a student and it's not made easier by the fact that the teacher has to do that while the subject is in a group. But if done properly, it can be rewarding for a teacher. I often run multi-activities in the same class at the same time, putting together the right mix in a group to increase motivation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but the the learner has a feeling that the teacher is taking a "personal interest" in him. This is motivating in itself. The trick is to make everyone believe that without them realising it about the others.

    September 23, 2010

    Most excellently put, Ron! Thanks for bringing some good solid sense into the discussion.


  • David says:
    September 24, 2010

    Very interesting comments about motivation. I do believe students need motivation - I just don't think "grades" cut it anymore. If we really want to be honest, we should be motivating students the proper way. If school is preparation for life, don't give a grade, give money. And not for quality but for time logged, effort, intensity, engagement. Money does work and has been used successfully in many school boards. However, it never caught on because of the "morality" hang ups me thinks, of many who want our kids to remain pure and untainted.

    I think they are smarter than that.

    If we can't use sex, let's use money. Drop the grades.


  • Nick Jaworski says:
    September 24, 2010

    Hey Lindsay, I know you're out, but I'll respond to your question. Of course I don't think students are deluding themselves. Like I said, grades can motivate, simply for the wrong reasons and with the wrong focus.

    Thinking from my own experience, I can remember me or others being happy we got an A, but I never remember anyone being encouraged to do better or do more because of that. The praise for getting the A from parents or educators is usually the real goal anyway. That could and should come without a grade.

    Some people get lower grades than they wish and strive to do better, as in Jason's example, but certainly the same could have been accomplished with more focused feedback that gave clearer pointers rather than an arbitrary letter.

    I can remember few of my classmates ever caring about grades as more than a hoop to jump through. Often they created lots of stress and feelings of negativity for those who desperately needed that A to move on, please parents, maintain self-esteem, etc.

    It is certainly one way to motivate students, I just think we can do better if we have that as an option.

  • Lindsay Clandfield says:
    September 25, 2010

    Thanks again for the comments. Just so I don't finish on a negative note I think that we agree that grades can have a negative effect. I also believe there are many other positive and probably more important factors (as I mentioned in my first comment). But I still maintain... gasp... gasp... that marks can act as a motivator.

    Stress about bad grades and exams is debilitating. I have written about ways of subverting the test and grade system when it's not possible to drop either altogether. Making cheating part of the test is one way I've done this. I think I'll do a blog post on six ways to subvert the marking and testing system!

  • CEJ says:
    October 06, 2010

    Stress for me about grades is debilitating too. I hate giving grades. We don't have placement based on tested level of proficiency, so how am to write a fair, valid and reliable test that helps assign a grade to students with such different levels of ability, interest, motivation, etc.? I'm sure many think I give far too many A's, but my response to this is: then stop making me give grades. Why should a course punish, for example, a low-level learner who worked hard and made some progress while it rewards an advanced level student who might have done very little but did well on the test because it was too easy?

    I hate grades. They are irrelevant to language learning, or should be. Tests should be for practice, review, consolidation, placement in classes, and, if there are no alternatives, entrance (and for graduation, according to some). But not for courses.

    October 06, 2010

    Thanks Charles!

    You're absolutely right, it is debilitating and in fact demotivating for the teachers who have to give them too!


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