Motivation is a key factor ensuring that students become-
or stay-interested in what they are learning.
Researchers have described motivation as the ‘skill and will’ to learn.

Council for Educational Development and Research
What We Know About Reading Teaching and Learning

Quote taken from On the Road to Reading: A Guide for Community Partners

Factors Affecting Motivation:

One of the most critical aspects to second language instruction is keeping the students motivated. Students should feel empowered to speak confidently, to discuss their learning, and to communicate their struggles. Yet, for many second language learners, the motivation to learn slowly begins to dwindle away.

Several sources can contribute to the disintegration of motivation. And unfortunately, some of these issues are beyond the control of the tutor or teacher. The home environment, the personal environment, and past educational environments can all affect how students perform in the classroom or in a tutoring situation.

Over the past decade, educational psychologists have pinpointed three sources of motivation in learning. They include: the intrinsic satisfaction (the student’s natural interests), extrinsic reward (the corresponding actions of the teacher), and combining satisfaction and reward (success in the task).

The intrinsic satisfaction of learning a new language is commonly very low. Most individuals do not find pleasure in learning a new language and even after studying a language extensively, never feel confident enough to consider themselves completely fluent. In order to increase the intrinsic satisfaction of one’s students, tutors and teachers need to integrate various activities and forms of instruction in their language acquisition processes. Such examples include using songs, games, physical responses, and puzzles to practice skills that have just been taught. However, it is sometimes challenging to keep the positive responses continuous when such activities are not included.

Extrinsic rewards and extrinsic punishment is also another factor affecting student motivation. Since rewards only lead to sustained motivation when a student actually receives them, it is imperative to motivate all students by providing positive feedback. The reward system can have an adverse effect on the weaker students, if the motivation is not given proportionally amongst all students. There is always a positive comment that can be made, even to the most challenging student. Such forms of extrinsic rewards include providing bonus points or assigning more advanced work.

Being successful and having success in completing a task are some of the most powerful contributors to self-motivation. Students tend to perform well on the things that they enjoy. Consequently, students are more likely to do the same action again.

The same holds true for those that experience failure. If a student fails at a given task, the probability of the student trying again drops drastically. The student may feel that he or she is a failure with low abilities, low motivation, low effort, and low achievement. Tutors and teachers need to avoid activities that guarantee failure. Weaker students already know their limitations and do not need constant reminders of their shortcomings. Rather, these students need to see and feel their progress. It may be appropriate to chart the growth of a student, so that the student has a visual representation of his/her progress.

Motivation is also highly connected with self-esteem. Tutors and teachers must remember that all the feedback that is given does affect a student’s self-concept. Therefore it is essential that tutors and teachers are careful about what type of feedback is given, how it is given, and also how often it is provided. Feedback should highlight effort, the potential for future growth, key learnings, and the insightful ideas of the student.

Some practical ideas for sustaining motivation taken from Breen and Littlejohn:

Experiment, take risks. Try different activities and see what students respond to best:

  • Short stories, films, reader’s theatre, chants, songs, projects, written exercises, dictations

Choose ‘larger’ tasks. Choose tasks that provide students the opportunity to plan their own work, set up their own space, and make their own decisions:

  • Simulations, skits, journal writing

Choose open-ended tasks. Choose tasks that can be responded to in different ways by different people, where everyone’s answer can be valued.

  • Creative art, writing poems, drawing a picture and describing it

Provide choices and involve the students in classroom decision-making. Allow students to have some say in what they are learning. If they are involved in deciding what they are going to do, they are more likely to be committed to it.

  • Find out what students think. Ask if the students have any suggestions.
  • Reflect on how you give feedback and what you give feedback on.
  • Communicate optimism to the students. Tell them that they can all learn. Encourage the students to take risks. Show them what they have learned. Offer help as they ask for it.

While motivating your student is ultimately dependent on the individual, there are several ways that you can help build a strong relationship with your student and try to inspire them to keep striving for success. Listed below are a number of ways to help keep him/her motivated.

-Share with the student your interests and model for them how you continue to learn and improve. Showing them your passions may help foster a stronger partnership between the two of you and/or can highlight for them that you too are committed to lifelong learning.

-Offer the student praise when they have success: Learning a second language is a difficult task, but the road to success is made smoother by having teachers and tutors along the way who let you know that you are doing a good job. Stay positive with them even when they are struggling.

-Give them opportunities to succeed: We want our students to always strive toward improving their language development, but we want to make sure that they can see how much progress they have made.

-Set clear objectives: Provide clear goals that you intend to accomplish with your student at each lesson. These objectives can help center your student on the task at hand without overwhelming them. Still have in mind long term goals for your work together, but focus on the immediate needs to help ease the student’s frustration level.

-Make learning fun: Get creative with your lessons and use games if appropriate to help reinforce instruction. Additionally, the more actively involved your student is in the learning process, (using manipulatives) the more likely it is that he/she will continue to be motivated to work with you.

-Relieve the stress: It is important that you create an atmosphere where your student feels safe and comfortable. This may help build self-esteem and relax the student so there is not as much anxiety about learning the language.

-Be Flexible: This applies both to your lesson plan and to the methods you use for instruction. If your lesson plan isn’t working for the student, try an0other method of teaching the concept and don’t be afraid to switch gears if need be. Try to use multiple modalities for teaching your student and tap into the different multiple intelligences rather than relying solely on one method of instruction. With that said, it is important to have an idea of how your student works best though, (i.e. whether he/she is an auditory, visual, kinesthetic learner, etc.)

Your student is more likely to be motivated if he/she can see the progress that is being made. Motivation is the key to tutoring success.

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