FROM PAVLOV …..TO FedEx…....TEACHING IN PERU! Is motivating students becoming more difficult?
By Flor de María Vila
What makes students listen to us teachers, pay attention, and carry out the exercises we prepare? Motivation?
The immediate answer may be YES! And we may quickly say that to motivate kids means to grant rewards such as happy faces, candies, more points, etc. Nonsense!! First, answer this: Is there anything that you love doing? singing? dancing?, or anything that you will do for free?. These activities you love doing show the intrinsic motivation that lies behind; nobody has to oblige you to perform any of these activities. That´s the kind of motivation we need to provide because that will help us to achieve our main goal: encourage students and get them to learn.
What happens with the motivation we have provided so far? Is it wrong?
No! It is good. In fact, giving rewards shows our knowledge of the Classical Conditioning Theory by Ivan Pavlov, which is useful in a way. Furthermore, doing this helps students achieve the simplest categories of the cognitive domain such as “remembering” and “understanding” classified in Bloom´s Taxonomy. But how long do we keep students motivated with this approach? Does it work on “difficult” days such as, let´s say, Monday or Friday? Does it work well enough in the last hour of a Friday´s class for instance? No? Well, the reason must be that the extrinsic motivation provided by the “rewards” is not strong enough to keep them engaged. Actually, the extrinsic motivation generated by having the students associate the reward with “obedience” or “participation” does not have a long effect. Furthermore, we may find out that they are even less motivated if they have to work on activities that demand the use of more complex intellectual skills such as “evaluating”, “creating” or “analyzing” (Bloom, 1994). For God´s sake! What can we then do?
Daniel Pink (1) points out how extrinsic motivation produces a result on people´s performance and how lasting its effect could be. He quotes Karl Duncker´s experiment, The Candle Problem, which has been used in Behavioral Science. This experiment proves that rewards narrow our focus. Giving rewards is useful when solving clear and simple tasks but not when it is necessary to solve insight, complex problems. In classes, narrowing students´ focus means keeping them working “motivated” to get the prize, NOT TO LEARN. Luckily, some students may learn, but only simple concepts such as new vocabulary. However, when it comes the time to do more complex activities, the stress caused by the need of obtaining the “prize” is too much. This stress narrows the focus, so learners are not able to perform the task. Not being able to accomplish a task causes DEMOTIVATION. Then, students stop trying and the reward is NOT appealing anymore.
So…what keeps students interested in our classes?
Indubitably, motivation should appear before, during and even after we propose any activity.
Before: for instance, the teacher must show a positive attitude from the very beginning. If you do not show enthusiasm for what you are doing, why should students? We need to be coherent, don´t we? Just picture yourself doing what you love doing: singing? dancing? That´s the attitude we should show!!! After: for example, when evaluating the outcome of an activity, make sure to provide feedback first on what was best, praise everybody´s participation and, if possible, find out together with learners what needs to be done to improve it. There are more ideas about motivating before and afterward, and they will be included in another article.
During: Among other things, using higher level of thinking is what keeps students engaged and happy for longer periods. In fact, that is what helps students learn and that´s our main objective, isn´t it? How can we achieve that? First of all, we need to change the focus: make sure that our students commit themselves rather than just obey us. We need to give them self–direction (autonomy) and they will love carrying out the tasks suggested. Students need to feel that they are taken into account, that their ideas and choices are valued. So what we need to do is to include events such as the FedEx Day (2) , a day in which basically students themselves design what they are going to do (autonomy) as long as they do something different. This is not utopian at all. Google and many other companies have implemented this kind of day and they have had great results. Schools around the world practice this and the results are amazing!! Let students decide what to do on Fridays, for instance, and they will naturally feel more motivated; thus, more engaged with our classes. They can decide to do innovative and different kinds of projects of their choice and interest. For example, they can do some research about their favourite video game, singer, sports, actor, group etc and prepare a talk about that. They can even decide to do the presentation with a video and/or music. They could act out a chapter of a book they are reading at school (part of a reading plan?) They could prepare a speech or debate about “zombies” or life in another planet!! They will need you to help them with the language or to guide them but with less intervention.
These kinds of activities provide not only autonomy but also purpose and mastery. Having an objective is the engine that keeps the car moving. Mastery must be felt and that will lead to try to become better and better; thus, students won´t stop trying to make progress in what they find interesting.
Does FedEx Day really work in Peru?
It is very likely that we have done this on “project day,” for instance, and we may have considered it a waste of time. The students speak Spanish, not everybody works, and so on. How can we make it different? In order to make this FedEx Day more effective and have students use English the most, make sure they work in pairs or in groups of maximum three members. They could also work individually if that is what they need to feel more autonomous. Let them be! Make sure students choose what and how to work. Needless to say: monitor students´ work. Make sure you collect some evidence of both students´ work and the reasoning behind the activity. You can use the model proposed by Pernille Ripp (3). On the one hand, this can be useful to have some sort of evidence of students´ achievement, which may be required by the principal or our pupils’ parents. This may be necessary for them in case they cannot see the project itself. On the other hand, students will need to use higher cognitive skills by creating, designing, evaluating, recommending, comparing or solving. Remember that the use of these skills is what makes motivation last longer. Isn´t that what we want? Suddenly, you will see your students waiting for FedEx Day. I am sure you will take advantage of that in many ways during the other days. It is worthwhile the try, is it not? Anyway, if you´ve got any questions on how to do this with your class, do not hesitate to write. I´ll be ready to help you take the FedEx flight!!
Regarding the above, please choose any of the following questions and share your thoughts.
1. Although it is true that intrinsic motivation lasts longer, do you think there could be some instances in which extrinsic motivation can be more effective?
2. What works better with you in class: commitment or obedience? Does it depend on where you work? (school or institute)
(1) DANIEL PINK- About motivation https://youtu.be/8SXkUvIzMFw
(2) FedEx Day www.scrum.org/Portals/0/Documents/Community%20Work/Scrum.org-Whitepaper_FedEx%20Day%20-%20Lighting%20Corporate%20Passion.pdf
(3) PLAN SHEET BY PERNILLE RIPP https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NeYqEn2mkZUHIi0z9CqhXSSMA62zkQNrg-KynUVn1iI/edit?usp=sharing
Flor de María Vila. M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and Relationship Associate Manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, former freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS).