Sunday, 15 May 2011

Motivating difficult teenage learners - The Handout

Motivating difficult teenage learners.
When I started writing this session I was aware that teenagers learning English in secondary or vocational schools might be a bit difficult to motivate but I don’t think I was ready for quite the amount of problems that you teachers face. Some of the words you used to describe your learners included: lazy, irresponsible, talkative, bored, satisfied with themselves, easily annoyed (touchy, absent minded, seemingly uninterested in anything, the list went on and on and 90 percent of the words were negative.
So the big question is how to motivated students that are physically present but mentally absent.
Maybe to answer that we need to consider why the students are not motivated in the first place.
Again your responses were interesting. This to me was quite sad, a lot of you said that the students came from ZS with a lack of knowledge and with a lack of belief that they can learn. They have been branded a failure and so they live up to their label. They feel they ‘have to’ learn English but they don’t know how to and can’t see the point. Another interesting point that came up is that they are not suited to the classroom. They are more practical than academic yet we confine them to desks and rows and books and pens, things they are not comfortable with. They are doers not thinkers maybe our lessons should reflect this.
So how can we motivate? Well for me I think taking interest in them as humans is the most important. Trying to organise the room to look like the workplace or to suit their learning style. Make learning fun with achievable tasks, so the students can see that they are learning. I think variety is also important; games, songs, computers, practical activities all help to motivate. Showing that English is relevant in their lives, either by turning activities into work related activities or getting them to use English (bringing other non-native speakers of English into the classroom either digitally or physically might help.)
One teacher in Teplice said that we can use ourselves to motivate the students; our enthusiasm for English, our love of it can motivate the students, our lesson plans can also motivate, the praise and encouragement give the students is essential, okay they might not be perfect but if they do things and make an effort then we should praise them. Our expectations of them should be on two levels; we should encourage them to do well and not write them off as failures but then we should be realistic internally and not expect too much of them.
To finish off here are the points I ended the session with.
Fluency vs accuracy
The eternal debate – but important here, correcting too much can demotivate but lack of correction can reinforce the feeling  of lack of learning.  On the other hand language does not have to be perfect to achieve the aims, I think students of this type should be encouraged to use English as much as they can, without fear of mistakes.
Easy or Difficult
Sometimes it is good to make things a little easy for the students to they feel they can do things and it builds confidence. However if things are too easy they will get demotivated. Also never tell them it is easy, because if they can’t do it then it makes them feel stupid.
Comfort Zone or challenge.
With young learners teachers talk about routine so students know what is coming and that is good for adults too. But if things are too familiar and too comfortable maybe students will become complacent. So taking students out of their comfort zone now and again will help students to develop their learning experience.
Language or Skills
As we have said the students will be covering language that they have covered before, so focussing on skills will help them apply their knowledge and also assimilate other language that they are exposed to. It is more real world use of language too. In real world we don’t conjugate verbs we use the language to read or listen or write etc. Having said this students often think learning English is learning new grammar points so it is motivating to do it.

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