Motivating the reluctant learner can be a real challenge. Everyone has challenges in getting motivated for a particular situation, but it takes a certain skill in identifying ways to reach the reluctant learner. Instructor, Kathy Perez, has written an article with suggestions to overcome the challenge (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/03/03/20-strategies-for-motivating-reluctant-learners/). Fairhill Instructor, Lissa Dallas, gives insight into what she has found to work in her classroom.
What motivates you? Positive goals like eating better and exercising so that you will be healthier and maybe look slimmer in your summer clothes? Or improving your performance in hopes of a promotion or raise at work? Or something as simple as planting bulbs in the fall so you will enjoy beautiful tulips and daffodils in the spring? Or do you perform better with motivation that comes with negative consequences, for example, if you don’t pay the electric bill, you will not have working lights in your house? Or if you don’t obey traffic laws, you’ll get a ticket? Or if you don’t file your taxes by April 15, you’ll pay a penalty, or, even worse, have the IRS looking for you?
Students are motivated to learn in much the same way. They know that there are positive outcomes for learning and negative consequences if they don’t. What makes a difference in their performance often stems from their motivation to learn. If their goal is simply to avoid the negative consequence of failure, they may be satisfied with a 70 on their report card; however, if their motivation stems from excitement and having fun, they may truly enjoy the experience of learning, gain more knowledge, master concepts at a deeper level, and be rewarded with self-satisfaction, improved self-esteem, and, perhaps, even higher grades.
Motivating the Reluctant Student:
For the reluctant learner, the “buy in” and to want to learn is extremely important. They often come to class with years of being marginally motivated by negative consequences. Kathy Perez, the instructor on whom this article focuses, mentions several innovative ways to engage all learners. The key to many of these strategies is not just the novelty and fun involved but, more importantly, that each person can feel safe while being a valued contributor to the class’ success. There is more cooperation and less competition between learners.
What I’ve Seen Work:
As a Spanish teacher of high school students who have diagnosed learning differences, I know the importance of “buy in” and providing an atmosphere where students feel safe to try new things. When reading and writing in one’s own native language is daunting enough in itself, as for dyslexic students, imagine how they feel when I ask them to take on an additional language with all new sounds to decode and a new vocabulary and structure to master. I try to put these students at ease immediately, explaining that, actually, spelling and reading the Spanish language is far easier than in English. To the phonetic learners, who have been bamboozled by English’s crazy letter combinations, like “ough,” with its many possible pronunciations, I say that they have come home to their people with Spanish and its straightforward, predictable, rigid pronunciation and spelling rules. To help make things nonthreatening when taking oral Spanish tests, the students know that they have “dos pasos” (two passes) that they can use at any time where I do not take points off their grade if they skip an item. This puts the shyest and most test anxiety riddled students at ease. In reality, most fly through these tests, never needing to use their “pasos,” but they find comfort in knowing that they are there.
A place where I find that my students shine, including the most reluctant, seemingly unmotivated ones, and the shy ones, who avoid participating out loud at all costs, is in our annual Spanish play. Those who have been sideline observers for most of their academic life now have their moment on stage to speak in Spanish, for all to hear, in a high energy, hopefully funny, performance. After lots of practice with lines, costuming, and stage directions, they feel comfortable to take a risk, knowing that we are all in this together with equal ownership, importance, and responsibility. The students often consider the Spanish play the highlight of the year in this class. Most are so hooked that, before the current play is finished, they are asking about next year’s play. My students’ unbridled enthusiasm motivates me to do what I do.
Written by Lissa Dallas, Fairhill School Foreign Language Teacher