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Motivation and Groups - the 12 keys to success

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

Nothing like desire to make things desirable 😊

And we teachers are all too familiar with the difference between a group which has no desire to learn and one which has.

(Needless today to say we shouldn't overlook the vital role that pedagogically sound planning and pedagogically sound material play in achieving good learning outcomes.)

While we know the importance of desire (aka motivation) in learning, the big question always is how do we achieve that? For some really clear guidance we can go to the work of Zoltán Dörnyei * to see what key aspects of motivation we can be aware of in our teaching.

1. Learning about each other builds motivation

There is nothing more important than the entirely obvious 😊 Learners are as much people as we are, and when they share genuine personal information with one another they feel engaged as part of the group. As humans there's nothing quite as motivating as feeling like you're part of a group, and sharing real and genuine information about yourself very much builds the sense of group identity and the motivation that goes with that.

2. Proximity, contact, and interaction

I guess it's very obvious that the good restaurant is the one that's full and when it's full more people want to go there. We like being close physically to other people. We enjoy the sense of community and camaraderie that goes with close physical proximity. In your class in a post COVID world, do your best to generate opportunities for learners to have close proximity, and influence one another by that proximity.

3. Difficult admission

Anything you achieve with low input or cost is something you will tend to undervalue. In order to amplify and strengthen the value of the group it is a good strategy on the part of the teacher to create a sense that the learners are lucky to be in that group. This can be achieved with simple stories about how the class was created, how you decided which learners were to be in your class, and the criteria that apply to learners who might get in next time.

4. Shared group history

You will notice in a good group of friends that they will talk about times they have shared together in the past and each one of those references cements the value of the group and the relationship within the group. As the teacher you can have, as a regular part of your classroom discourse, expressions like remember when we and remember the day that and remember how we. As much as possible these should be events which you would recall with some fondness.

5. The rewarding nature of group activities

On a very basic level the thing that we fear the most is being alone, and in being part of a group we feel security, and we feel the comfort that goes with not being alone. When we do activities together as a group we get a sense of joy in being part of that group especially in relation to achieving goals. As the teacher of course we will take opportunities to identify the achievements of the group and celebrate them.

6. Group story

To increase the sense of groupness, you can create a name for your group and refer to the group by that name. You can have expressions that are only meaningful within the group, and you can do things like invent handshake greetings, and perhaps agree on an icon that your learners could all draw or use in group chats.

7. Public commitment to the group

One of the reasons why marriage internationally is not a private event, but is a very public event, is that in public commitment we get a greater sense of being bonded in having that bonding observed. As a teacher you can take the opportunity to have things like a published description of what your group goals are, and you can consider other dress code ways (think T-Shirts, caps) in which that group membership is more publicly stated.

8. Investing in the group

Think for a little moment how much better the food tastes for you when the cook tells you how they, or her uncle or auntie grew it in the garden. It is quite a simple part of how we value things that when we see the investment of effort, we perceive that particular thing to be more valuable. As a teacher you can create opportunities for your learners to work together towards some of your stated group goals, and of course once you achieve those goals you can take the opportunity to identify the effort and value the result.

9. Extracurricular activities

I remember taking a group of learners for a trip to a beach. Perhaps because the weather was changeable and there was drama associated with getting back to the bus through the rain it became a very memorable event for the group. The group relationships after that were more open and more relaxed. You will doubtless remember times at school when you went on day trips and you will remember that with greater clarity and greater value than the many, many hours you spent as a student in the class.

10. Cooperation toward common goals

Sometimes it's really good to get on YouTube and look at the history of early humans and be extremely impressed at their huge ambition to cross continents, cross seas and establish new civilizations. Being part of a major and important endeavor brings with it its own sense of value and reward, and of course big goals require groups and cooperation within groups to achieve them. As a teacher you may consider very big social or environmental goals that your learners may want to be part of.

11. Defining the group against another

No question that this is the lowest trick in the politician's handbook in which they endeavor to create a sense of groupness by identifying enemies. This is something you would want to avoid at all costs, unless you are following in the steps of Jane Elliott* who used this strategy to identify for learners what the effect of racism was in terms of relationships within groups.

12.Teacher’s role modelling

It is often said that a good teacher is a good leader. Good leaders have a capacity to model respect, civil behavior, cooperation and calm vision. When a teacher does this as the leader of the group there is a greater opportunity for members within that group to feel valued and want to work for its best interest

*Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom

Chapter 43

Creating a Motivating Classroom Environment

Zoltán Dörnyei

The University of Nottingham

Nothing like desire to make things achievable 😊

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