“Motivation is a key factor in successful learning. A less able student who is highly motivated can achieve greater success than the more intelligent student who is not well motivated” (Reece I and Walker S, Teaching, training and learning – a practical guide, page 78, Fifth edition(2003), Publisher: Business Education Publishers Ltd.) All teachers know that no two students are alike! In a classroom you have students with different abilities, learning styles and goals. This variability is also reflected in their classroom behaviour where each learner responds differently to the given task. The main factor behind these responses is ‘Motivation’.
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So what is ‘motivation’? In terms of education “it refers to a person’s aroused desire for participation in a learning process” (Curzon, L.B. Teaching in Further Education- An outline of principles and practice, Page 224, Sixth edition, (2006), Publisher: Continuum) In a classroom, we teachers face a range of motivated students, some highly motivated while some have no motivation at all. Our job is to build up and maximise their motivation. For this we need to understand the “motivation cycle”. (Reece I and Walker S, Teaching, training and learning – a practical guide, page 78, Fifth edition(2003), Publisher: Business Education Publishers Ltd.) This cycle is based on four factors : Interest – Need – Attitude – Aspirations. Students are interested in the subject they are learning and they feel need to achieve the qualification. Their attitude is good because they are learning the subject they enjoy and therefore they want to achieve more, may be another goal/ qualification. This is the stage where you have students who are ‘Intrinsically Motivated’ and are willing to learn. “Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from within themselves. Those who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to engage actively with their learning, and to develop into lifelong learners.”(Wallace, S. Managing Behaviour in the Lifelong Learning Sector, Page 30, Second edition, (2007), Publisher: Learning Matters)
When we speak of motivating our students, we are speaking about this ‘intrinsic motivation’ where they feel the urge or need to learn. In order to make this possible we need to build the confidence and sense of achievement of our learners by encouraging and supporting them in the class. According to Maslow (1962) “this will increase their self-esteem and they will start learning more effectively. This will eventually lead to self-actualisation and they’ll engage in learning.”(Maslow, (1962),cited by Curzon, L.B. Teaching in Further Education- An outline of principles and practice, Page 114, Sixth edition, (2006), Publisher: Continuum). So teachers should encourage and support the learners to achieve their goals. The learners will be motivated by their initial success and will try to achieve further. This is the stage where they will be ‘intrinsically motivated’. The success will bring in more success and as we know “Learning feeds on success” (Saunders and Walstad,(1990), cited by Curzon, L.B. Teaching in Further Education- An outline of principles and practice, Page 230, Sixth edition, (2006), Publisher: Continuum)
‘Motivation’ is the biggest issue in a classroom, when the subject you are teaching is Maths. The issue was more prominent in my Hairdressing Level 1 class than other classes I taught. There were 14 students in this class – all female between the age of 16 – 19. To successfully complete the course they had to achieve Level 1 qualification in basic skills such as Numeracy and Literacy. They had no GCSE qualification in these subjects. In their Initial Assessment for maths most of the learners came out at Entry level 3 (11 learners) with Entry level 2 (1 learner) and Entry level 1 (2 learners). All the learners had achieved at least one qualification in FE sector before they were enrolled for this course.
Most of these learners disliked Maths from their school days. They were there in the classroom because ‘Numeracy’ as a basic skill was a compulsory subject and they had to suffer through it! Therefore there was no motive to learn. Only few students, who were keen to achieve the numeracy qualification, worked in the class. The low motivation, in case of some students, was channelled in behaviour problems. They were noisy, disruptive, confrontational, lacked concentration and took no interest in learning. One learner actually said to me ” I’ve got more important things in my life to deal than this stupid Maths!” Others would just sit in the class and took no real interest in the work they were doing. So even if they did the work, I was not sure whether they had learnt it or not. By the end of first month I realised that no effective learning was happening and the few motivated students had started losing their interest in learning.
So why ‘motivation’, the driving factor behind all the learning, was low in this class? The reason for this is bit complicated. Most of the learners who come to FE have low levels of GCSE qualification. In some cases they come to FE colleges without any GCSE qualification. These students are classic examples of “Vicious circle of failure” (Geoff Petty, Teaching Today, Page 48, Fourth Edition, (2009)Publisher : Nelson Thornes Ltd) First they experience failure. Then because there is Criticism or no reinforcement, their Self- belief/ confidence goes down. As a result their motivation fails and their work gets affected. This again causes failure and they get trapped in the circle. So many students, when they enrol in FE colleges, have no confidence in themselves. They don’t think that they would be able to achieve any goal in their life. They prefer not to work than to face the failure again. Many times this ‘lack of motivation’ is root cause of other problems in classroom such as disruptive behaviour, lack of concentration, failure to complete given work etc. This demotivates other students who want to learn and makes their progress difficult. Thus no effective learning can happen in such classroom. Most of the students in class were trapped in this ‘vicious circle’.
So the challenge I faced was motivating these students to learn Maths. The enforcement of ‘carrot and stick’ rule would have had a limited effect. In fact that’s what was happening for first few weeks in the class. “Extrinsic motivation, – getting learners to learn by using threats of punishment or offers of reward – might achieve a short term behavioural change, but leave untouched the learner’s basic attitude towards learning.” (Wallace, S. Managing Behaviour in the Lifelong Learning Sector, Page 30, Second edition, (2007), Publisher: Learning Matters) What I wanted was ‘the desire to learn’ (the intrinsic motivation) should come from the learners themselves. For this to happen I needed to know my learners and understand their problems and barriers to learning.
During the discussions, I realised that the main problem was their learning experience in school was not very positive – in fact most of them hated school. Subjects like Maths where they had to learn same basic things year after year made them feel stupid, especially when others in school were way ahead of them. Many thought their teachers were unapproachable and ignored them or what they were doing in class. They did not treat them with respect and there was no encouragement. All these factors had made them resistant to learning.
In subject like Maths you have either a right answer or wrong – there is no middle way for it. Many students hated getting wrong answer after working so hard and would lose interest. On the top of that, they had to do the work again to get right answer! If you spend 15 minutes on long division and then got the wrong answer how much enthusiasm will there be to try again? Many had no clear understanding of basic functions in maths such as multiplication, division etc. This low ‘Student entry behaviour’ level was another reason why learners hated Maths.
In many cases the learners were also afraid that their inability or ignorance of Maths would be exposed and they will be laughed at. So they took refuge in confrontational behaviour’. Their entire body language would scream ‘don’t come near me’! They would be all the time aggressive in the class. Usually they were very reluctant to do their work and took no interest in their learning. Fear of exam was another barrier. As we discussed earlier these learners were trapped in the ‘circle of failure’. So their thinking was why should they bother learning it when they were going to fail anyways.
Another strong factor was why they should study Maths when they have enrolled for Hairdressing course? They thought it was completely irrelevant to their NVQ subject and saw no use in learning it. “Where the content of instruction is regarded by students as irrelevant, that is, outside their self-constructed boundaries marking out and separating the useful from the non-useful, there will be little motivation to participate in the process of instruction” (Curzon, L.B. Teaching in Further Education- An outline of principles and practice, Page 228, Sixth edition, (2006), Publisher: Continuum).
All these learners had a completely different picture of college in their mind. Discovering that they had to learn Maths again was a great disappointment. Now they were learning same things, same way – the only difference was they were in college and the teacher was new! They were tired of this repetition. As we know repetition creates boredom, which in turn, destroys motivation.
There are various strategies to increase motivation in students. Following two are most effective in my opinion. The first is ‘giving them goals or targets which are ‘SMART’ i.e. systematic, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound’. It is very important for the self-confidence of this students that they achieve their goals. Their feeling of success is the only way of breaking the ‘vicious circle of failure’ and getting them started on the path of success. The cycle of ‘success – reinforcement – self-belief – motivation’ is called the learning engine. “This is the engine that drives all the learning. Even if other motivators are working flat out, failure to get this engine going will mean that the learner is going nowhere.”(Geoff Petty, Teaching Today, Page 48, Fourth Edition, (2009)Publisher : Nelson Thornes Ltd).
The strategy of setting several short-term goals to achieve a long-term objective is much more effective. But teacher should properly explain to their learners relation between the two. With the achievement of each goal the learners will feel more confident about their ability. This will help to increase their self-esteem, which in turn, will make them try harder and will bring more success. So they will be ‘intrinsically motivated’ making them involved in their work and taking responsibility for their own learning. Thus what you have is a independent and active learner!
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While setting the goals, there should be a fine balance between difficulty and attainability. “Goals that are too hard or too easy to attain are neither motivating nor reinforcing when attained” (Bower and Hilgard (1981),cited by Curzon L.B, Teaching in Further Education, page 230, Sixth Edition, 2006, Publisher : Continuum). To start with, the goals should be short and easy, followed by others with increasing level of difficulty. The achievement of goals or targets will not only ensure the learner’s success at the required level but will also help them to move to a higher level of learning.
There is an element of ‘extrinsic motivation’ here – praise. When the goal is achieved, the teacher should give lots of praise and recognition in feedback. This is called ‘positive reinforcement’. (Skinner, (1938) , http://psychology.about.com )This reward (praise) from the teacher will make them repeat this behaviour and they will try again and again to achieve more goals.
As teachers, we have to keep in mind that sometimes there is a chance that learners will receive some set back because of failure. This might make them feel demotivated. So we have to make them see it as a temporary phase and assist them to overcome difficulties. Teachers have to be extra careful in such situation because of the vulnerability of their learners.
Second strategy is ‘to use a wide range of learning resources and activities which will link various Maths topics to the vocational subject area and establish the relevance of Maths with the subject’. As we discussed earlier ‘irrelevance’ was a major factor responsible for ‘lack of motivation.’
First, it is very important that the learners should understand why they are learning maths. “There must be a full explanation to students of the significance of the ‘unacceptable’ subject area in terms of content, its link with the subject as a whole, and its contribution to comprehension of that subject” (Curzon L.B, Teaching in Further Education, page 229, Sixth Edition, 2006, Publisher : Continuum).
The second step in this strategy will be to identify the areas in the vocational subject where they will be using maths. Talking with their subject tutors will give an idea about various activities involving maths. A discussion in the class will help the students to relate maths with their vocational subject. Every topic in maths should be linked to vocational subjects and later students should be encouraged to establish these links themselves.
Even though there is a wide range of resources available, my personal experience is, you have to adapt them to the vocational subject area of the students. In some cases, you may have to create new resources such as worksheets, labels etc. based on the practical activity the students do. For e.g. if you plan a ‘stock taking activity’ for the lesson, you need to create different labels of stocks and prices to give to your students. This will help them link maths within the area of vocational subject.
The next step is to plan the activities which will establish the relevance of maths to the subject area more firmly. Activities are essential part of the lesson. They break the monotonousness of the session and bring active participation from the learners. They make learners apply their learning, helping to reinforce it.
Every vocational subject includes ‘practical and training’ sessions where students get some hands-on experience. The strategy is to choose the activities from this area. For e.g. Mixing of hair colours and bleach to teach ‘Ratio’ or managing the reception to teach ‘Money’ or ‘Time’. We all know that ‘one activity can be more effective than thousand words.’ Where students might not listen to the explanation, the activities will establish the relevance of maths more clearly and effectively in their mind. Once learners percept the relevance, they will start taking interest in their learning. This will then in turn start the ‘motivation cycle’, leading them on the path of success.
Care should be taken while planning the activities. They should cater for all learning styles and increase the curiosity of the students. They should be appropriate to the goals and abilities of the students.
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