Teaching Teens: Motivation & Personalisation

by Sophia McMillan
(Shane Training Centre, Japan)


Motivation is the reason/s for doing something, factors which make us keen to do something. These reasons can be individual and personal or come from external sources.


If learners are motivated then classes are smoother and more productive. For example:

Motivated learners will be…
* Active classroom participants
* Enthusiastic
* Ask questions
* Be prepared to take risks
* Willing to communicate
* Able to learn more

While un-motivated learners will be...
* Quiet
* Disinterested in activities
* Easily distracted
* Disruptive
* Passive
* Unwilling to communicate

As teachers it is our responsibility to ensure the learners are and remain motivated. There are a number of ways to do this:
* Personalise activities
* Do fun, interesting lessons
* Take an interest in the learners
* Be fully engaged in the lesson
* Make sure all tasks are successful
* Balance between praise and correction
* Be supportive of learner needs in the classroom; able to adapt lessons

Personalisation
In personalising lessons or tasks we seek to make it/them relevant and meaningful to the learners and their lives. This generally involves the following:
* Things the learners like or are interested in e.g. music, games
* Things the learners are familiar with and have a lot of knowledge about, e.g. school, family, food
* Things the learners want to talk about; many learners may not want to talk about their own lives, families etc. Learners may be happier in role plays as other people, or talking about imaginary scenarios.

Personalisation allows learners to talk about things they have experience of; they will be more willing to talk about something if they are interested in it. The activities themselves become more interesting and so will have more positive learning outcomes. Learners – as with most people – are often uncommunicative if the subject is something they are uncomfortable talking about.

Teenage learners are generally interested in: music, manga/anime, computer games, films, TV etc and therefore are willing to talk about them. They are familiar with family, school, sports (that they play at school), food & drink, Japan: weather, festivals, customs etc and would be comfortable taking about them to varying degrees. However, they are generally uncomfortable talking about family, friends, their personal opinions, relationships.

It is important to remember that interests etc can be very specific to an individual and not always to the group as a whole e.g. favourite music/band.

One issue the teacher may have is using these areas to personalise activities as we may know little, or nothing, about these areas. However, this does not mean we cannot make use of them. For example:
* the learners can explain something to you (change roles) or each other
* they can use the target language for the lesson within the context of manga for example – describe their favourite character, or basic plot elements etc
* they could bring in materials relating to their interest etc

Activities
Successful activities are great motivators in the classroom. While unsuccessful activities will demotivate learners, leading to a reluctance to communicate and a general unwillingness to participate. Unsuccessful activities are those where learners:
* Are unable to complete it
* Did not enjoy it
* Did not use the target language
* Barely communicated
* Did not understand instructions

Successful activities need to:
* Be fun and interesting
* Have a clear point/goal to the task, a clear end point
* Have clear, checked instructions or demonstration
* Be personalised and relevant to the learners
* Have clear roles for the learners so they know what they have to do, i.e. what their role is in the task, are they writing or speaking, are they sitting or moving round
* Have had the language fully drilled and practiced beforehand
* Exist in a safe learning environment, where learners are not worries about making mistakes
* Allow learners to work collaboratively, rather than in front of the whole class

Activities should be planned carefully, including set up and how feedback will occur.

Planning
Taking the above into consideration in the classes and in planning will make lessons smoother, more successful and interesting for both the teacher and the learners, making it an overall more positive learning experience.

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