Learner Motivation: A Wannabe Runner’s Musings

woman running
by sean dreilinger

I started running again at the end of August. Now, for those of you who don’t know me well (or at all), this may not sound like a big deal. I mean, I’m not a sloth. I’m a relatively fit individual who tries to stay healthy by working out regularly and watching what I eat. However, I’m not what one would describe as an athlete and certainly not a “natural” runner. I wouldn’t even say that I have an aptitude for the sport. I don’t glide effortlessly through the dewy country air with an unbearable lightness of being. No. My feet hit the pavement with an audible thud and my legs move with a heaviness that I try to conceal. For me, running is a struggle. It’s hard, sometimes it hurts, BUT when I’m done I feel lighter. I feel a sense of accomplishment that pushes me to continue.

So…what does all of this whining have to do with education? Well, a lot actually. The question I ask myself as I’m plodding along, hoping that my lungs don’t explode is: Why am I doing this? And more pressingly, why do I keep doing it? These cries of anguish got me thinking (and my neighbours too) about what motivates me to learn, and in turn, how and why the students I’ve tried to teach over the years are motivated to learn things that are potentially difficult for them.

In my opinion, one of the great equalizers in the classroom, if not in life, is motivation. But how do we as parents, educators and students harness its power? How do you motivate yourself or others to want to learn something and to keep on coming back for more? The literature in the field is ripe with theories. My particular area of interest is motivation as a variable in the acquisition of a second language or language learning motivation (LLM). So bear with me, fellow FLS/ESL teachers, as I try to make the connections between what motivates me as a learner, what I have observed when teaching kids a second language, and some of the research that supports this dialogue.

Here are my top 4 motivators for learning:

1. A goal. Not a big one, just something to set my sights on. My current goal is to complete a weekly “couch to 5K” running program by the end of October and then compete in a fun run for charity. Having to prepare for my goal gets me moving, and knowing that the goal is attainable pushes me to not only make an effort but to sustain that effort over time. In a classroom context, goals can be individual or defined by the group. They can be personal in nature or related to a learning situation. According to theorists, goals help to direct our attention toward relevant activities, they encourage students to regulate their effort, and they positively affect persistence (Locke and Latham, 2002). Of course, having too lofty a goal can backfire. For example: I’m finally going to learn to speak French this year and ace my finals. Baby steps people!

2. Regular, positive feedback. I’m not only talking about corrective feedback here. Right now, I don’t have a running buddy. I have to rely on the kindness of Robert Ullrey (see below) and his free podcasts to get my fix of the warm and fuzzies. He provides just the right combination of enthusiasm, running tips and jazzy music to keep me going. In my experience, just being an accessible, attentive and enthusiastic teacher, who provides a safe learning environment, garners points for positively affecting the motivation of students. If we revisit the notion of goal setting, feedback has been proven critical in showing progress and influencing performance. (Locke and Latham, 2002). Feedback encourages students to think about what they are doing in order to make adjustments, get better and stay invested. In a quick exchange with a physical trainer two weeks ago, I learned that I was a classic “heel-striker” and that my running form had a critical flaw that was causing me some pain. So, I changed my stance and I’m now back on track….literally.

3. A little success is always a good thing. Three years ago I completed my first 10K. This small victory has given me the courage to take on more athletic pursuits. I suppose you could classify this type of causal thinking under the attribution theory of motivation. Dörnyei (2001) hypothesizes that the reasons to which students attribute their past successes and failures in learning a language impact and shape their motivational outlook. In a school setting, these reasons (or causes) include: ability, effort, luck, task difficulty, mood, family background, and help from others. The locus of control is super important here. If students attribute failure to something they perceive to have little control over, like natural ability, their motivation for learning decreases. For a learner then, maintaining a positive self-image and a belief in his/her potential is critical to learning. In the language classroom, experiencing small successes also helps to increase self-confidence in a learner’s ability to communicate and lessens the anxiety of making mistakes.

4. Choice. Making choices gives me the feeling that I’m in control of my life. Nobody forced me to start running again. I’m the captain of my destiny! Of course, being cajoled into learning a second language is not ideal – but that’s what most of the FLS teachers I know deal with in the real world. Providing students with choice within the context of the classroom, as well as in the design of our courses and lessons is a good start. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t include a nod here to the theory of self determination and how it applies in a larger sense to motivation and learning. To be self-determined implies that learners have a choice in terms of their own actions…in both the initiating and regulating of what they’re doing. Another word for this would be autonomy. Deci and Ryan (2000) distinguish between two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. When we are intrinsically motivated to do something it is for the internal rewards we get out of it: happiness, satisfying our curiosity, the shear joy of running, etc. Extrinsic motivators might include things like: praise from a teacher, good grades, well-defined calves, etc. What theorists suggest is that when self-determination is shaped by intrinsic motivation and autonomy, that’s when the learning outcomes are the most beneficial. Which brings us full circle: How do we get students to motivate themselves to learn?

I have to admit that motivation is both an ill-defined and complex concept. LLM interplays with a myriad of factors including attitude, aptitude, context, content, and the list goes on. I’ve only tapped into a few of these. I’m currently working on compiling concrete how-to’s, strategies, tips or anecdotes that have to do with intrinsically motivating students. And you, how do you handle motivation in your classroom?

I’ll see you after my run!

Kristine Thibeault

References (for your reading and listening pleasure)

Locke, E. & Latham. J. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57 (90), 705-717. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.126.9922&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “What” and “Why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11 (4), 227-268. Retrieved from
http://www.groups.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/The-what-and-why-of-goal-pursuits.pdf.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and researching motivation. Harlow, England: Longman. (Sorry – this one is not available online)

Dörnyei, Z. (2003). Attitudes, orientations, and motivations in language learning: Advances in theory, research, and applications. Language Learning, 53 (1), 3-32. Retrieved from
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~aezweb/research/cral/doku.php?id=people:zoltan.

Robert Ullrey’s Couch to 5K Podcasts (http://www.c25k.com/podcasts.htm)

Beginner’s Mind: A first-time online teacher’s experience, so far.

The year has just started, so realistically all I ever expected to report on were first impressions anyway, of what it means to teach online at the secondary level, of how this great adventure begins.  Conclusions?  Well, they will have to wait until later, to be able to say, yes, you can teach the Quebec program the way it was meant to be taught, yes students can learn constructively, yes synchronous really means real-time.  For now it is not about projecting into the future, but staying grounded in the present.  It is all new, all the time.  That’s what I tell the students.  And that that will be our force.

Zenlive is our platform, an interactive space where students can see and hear me and where they can interact with each other, just like in a real classroom.  Re-read those words, a real classroom.  Real walls?  Real windows?  Real live students?  If I think too much about it I find myself doubting what is real at all.  Zenlive is an experience, for me and for them, where nothing is like it was before, everything is new and each step is conscious and fresh at the same time.

“Are we going to get to see our teacher?” If they had been spoken aloud the words might have echoed off the pale walls of a freshly painted classroom, that new September smell.  But these words were texted to us in a small space at the bottom of the interface, hardly noticeable except to the experienced online teachers present.  It was both an awkward reminder that I would have to rely on the technology’s limits to communicate, but also that their questions might now come to me in a form that they have mastered and that I have not:  the text message!  My response to this question in my first few days was to test their web cameras at every chance I got, to have them respond to questions as if we were all together, to see and hear them like before.  Their response was more often than not a LOL or 🙂 or sometimes a :-/ or a :u or even a 😐 if they just didn’t get it.  I was in another world, their world.  And indeed, I was the beginner too.

This will be our force, I had said. And so the next few days were spent trying out features like the breakout rooms in Zenlive.  I drag their avatar into a room and they work on a whiteboard, chat and even talk (though they didn’t talk much) with another two classmates.  It worked, sort of.  They were able to construct for themselves a sense to the question asked of them, so when I brought them all back together they might share what they had learned.  “Who was in the breakout room number two?” I said.  But no one knew.  I hadn’t thought to write down who was where.  Simply relying on the technology to do everything for me just wasn’t going to do it.  My first mistake in online classroom management was to forget to manage online.

Only a few more notes before I end, because frankly today I need all morning to plan the next classes!  First off, technology means it will eventually break, so you always need a backup plan, several if possible. Technology also means you have to talk slowly, because your tech is not always their tech, and you can’t rely on kilobits and cpu cycles to always be the same for everyone.  The upside here is that the information must be clear and concise, and you must repeat things a lot!  And finally, technology still does mean a world of teaching with almost no limits, however that implies setting limits, making goals, and restricting your line of thinking so that we are all on the same page.  For example, introduce new tools one at a time and include exploration time for students (and the teacher!), time to make mistakes.

And so, this week’s plans?  It’s History Sec. 4, so of course we will…Respond to a problem, in the context of a situation.  We will formulate questions, search and organize information using a prescribed method.  We will rigorously reason and interpret the facts, then form an opinion.  And after all is said and done, we will present our findings using… Voicethread! a “collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to leave comments using voice, text, audio file, or video.”   Well, >:o  and >:O and :-O and °o° and °O°!    And :-S because that’s a whole lot of things that are about to break.  And finally 😎 because now all eyes are wide and open, including mine.

 

[Are you teaching and/or learning online?  What do you think?]

 

 

 

Technologie 101

Voici ma classe en 2011. Regardez attentivement ces 2 images et trouvez l’intrus.

Vous avez trouvé? Non, ce n’est pas le tableau vert. Encore moins les dictionnaires et les Bescherelles version papier. Regardez de plus près encore. Indice : barre beige au bas de la photo. Ça y est, vous y êtes?

C’est petit, je vous l’accorde. Alors gros plans :
  

Mais qu’est-ce donc?

Voici mon histoire.

Nouvelle année, nouveau défi! Intégrer le plus possible la technologie dans ma classe. Premiers pas… J’ai décidé de créer un site web et de l’utiliser en classe avec mes élèves (www.madamepare.com).

Première journée d’école. Je suis fébrile à l’idée de rencontrer mes nouveaux élèves, d’être à nouveau dans une classe (j’étais absente l’an dernier). Comme tout bon professeur, j’avais soigneusement préparé mon premier cours. Toute l’information se retrouve sur mon site web. Je vais le présenter à la classe. Moins de photocopies et plus l’excuse « Madame, j’ai perdu mon papier! »

J’ai déniché un projecteur multimédia, je le réserve. J’amène mon ordinateur personnel. J’installe un fil bleu (qui vient de chez moi) avec du tape gris sur le plancher pour la connexion Internet. Voilà, les outils sont là. J’arrive quelques minutes avant mon premier cours afin de m’installer. SURPRISE! Je n’ai même pas une prise électrique dans ma classe! Incroyable direz-vous, mais vrai!

Après plusieurs tentatives, j’ai enfin trouvé le nouveau gadget du siècle (datant d’au moins 25 ans minimum): une prise électrique portative qui s’installe sur une barre électrifiée! Bienvenue en 2011 !

Julie Paré

 

 

 

Terry Fox Run: interview with Debbie Laurie

I just read a blog post which talked about 21st century skills for teachers and students. One of the aspects mentioned was the importance of community involvement. I had the opportunity to interview Debbie Laurie, a teacher in Port Cartier who has lived this for 30 years by getting involved and involving her students in the Terry Fox Run.

 

Debbie LaurieWhy did you get involved in the Terry Fox Run?

My dad died of lung cancer at the age of 43 in March 1976. When I turned on the news on April 12, 1980, and watched a young amputee dip his leg in the waters of St. John’s Harbour before undertaking a marathon to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research, I knew right then that I was witnessing something that was special. I followed his progress all summer and when, on September 1st, I heard that lung cancer had forced him to abandon his run, I cried along with millions of Canadians and knew that, if needed, I would do my part to help him succeed.

How have you involved your students?

Every year our school has participated in the Terry Fox Community Run held on the third Sunday of September. Since 2005, we have joined forces with the two French elementary schools in Port-Cartier, and we all walk together on National School Run Day held at the end of September during school hours. I also read Eric Walters’ novel RUN with my class at the start of the school year (learn more about the book here). He has combined Terry’s story with that of a fictional troubled teen, and the kids learn all about the Marathon of Hope and Terry Fox in a well-written book!

What do you think it has done for your students?

I hope it has made them realize that anything is possible if you dare to dream and have the courage and perseverance to pursue that dream. I believe it has also helped sensitize them to what cancer patients go through and how important ongoing medical research is. It’s all about educating and passing the message on to future generations.

How do the parents feel about yours and your students’ participation?

They support me and have since the beginning. Many came out to walk in the community runs, and some even come out to walk with us on National School Run Day. They help their kids get sponsors as well, often at their workplace. Many of the French kids in the town call me Madame Terry Fox.

You have been doing this for many years, have any of your graduates kept involved?

Every year when September rolls around, I begin to mobilize my resources. Facebook has helped me connect with so many, and some have written to tell me they will never forget that first run we did in 1980, and how proud they are to have been part of it. Some participate in their own area…quite a few are kind enough to sponsor me…usually online. One student comes to work annually at the Terry Fox Centre in Ottawa for a week in February.

Why do you continue to participate?

I made a commitment when I organized the first run in 1980 that I would continue to do it every year for as long as I had breath in me. Terry had a dream, I took it up when he was unable to see it through, and I believe in the same things as he did. “Somewhere the hurting must stop…”

Why do you feel it is important for students to get involved in causes?

As global citizens, they must realize that we must all work together for the common good. There is not one of them whose family has not been touched by cancer. They can also relate to the fact that he was Canadian, young, athletic, and determined. I want them to have a dream and reach for it with all they have. I also want them to realize that they are not alone in this world and that they are part of a global community. As such, they have responsibilities towards their fellow human beings on this journey we call life.

I would like to add that because of my ongoing involvement with the Terry Fox Run, I was selected by Coca-Cola to carry the Olympic Torch in the Torch Relay for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. On November 10, 2009, in Sept-Iles, QC, I became a part of Olympic history, and it was the greatest night of my life!!

Debbie’s involvement in the Terry Fox Run has impacted on her students. Have you involved your students in fundraising for causes? How has that affected your students? How have you integrated this activity into your teaching? Do you have students who have initiated these efforts? Share your stories.

Susan van Gelder
Educational Consultant
LEARN

Back to School…online

Last week all across Quebec, students went back to school.  When we think of “back to school”, some of us (even teachers!) picture the advertisement where the happy parents sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while morose/sullen children drag behind them as if they are walking toward the worst fate imaginable.  However, I have to say that the students I had the pleasure to work with this week were seemed excited to get back to school.  Mind you, these students may have been excited because they were going to be learning in a way new to most of them, through online classes.

When I asked these students what they most looked forward to about learning online, their answers were varied.  Some commented on learning using new technology.  They seemed to really enjoy working with LEARN’s new interactive teaching/learning platform Zenlive.  We talked, too, about how other web resources like blogs, discussion forums, Voicethread, google docs, etc would be integrated into their classes.

Some commented on how they hoped learning online would help them to become more independent learners.  Although our online courses are taught live and they interact with their teachers every day, the teacher cannot see the students.  Students must develop responsibility and work independently even though not under the watchful eyes of the teacher.  Former students write to us about how the skills they developed as independent learners have served them well when they went from their small schools to large CEGEPS.

Others just were looking forward to simple things like having other students the same age or in the same grade in their classes.  The reality of small English schools across Quebec is that all classes are multi-level. Those teachers and students must be amazing multi-taskers!   Taking courses online means that students get to enjoy the luxury of being in a class with only students in their grade all taking the same course.  Imagine!

We have some teen moms in online classes this year, and what they were most looking forward to was graduating.  While LEARN does offer some high level math and science options, we also offer history and science courses that are basic graduation requirements.   We hope to help these students meet their goals with online courses.

I don’t know what it is about September, but as soon as I get back to school and start meeting new online students, I get very energized.  There was so much excitement and hope in their comments during our initial online training sessions.   For me, it is truly “the most wonderful time of the year.”  All the best for the 2011-2012 school year!

What has made you (or your students/children) excited to get back to school this year?  Share your own back to school experiences with great teachers, welcoming classrooms, new school supplies, shining hallways or new technology in your school.

Dianne Conrod

Principal – Online Learning