Motivation for learning has to be inspired to students from the very early ages, but if some of them lose it on the way from various reasons, we have to identify the factors that have caused that, and then repair the damage. These factors can be social, educational, psychological or even physical and sometimes, it is hard for a teacher to play the role of a doctor, a psychologist and to solve problems that the society or their family should solve.
Generally speaking, as teachers, we are being challenged in many ways in our daily school work, but it is widely and universally accepted that students` motivation is the most important factor and we may even say, the key to successful teaching and learning. On the other hand, the lack of motivation is probably the most significant obstacle faced by teachers and a very difficult problem to deal with.
In our school, there are many students whose parents are gone abroad for work and these children are left in the care of grandparents or other relatives and this is a very serious problem regarding pupils` lack of motivation for learning, taking into consideration that the role of parents in this stage of life is very important. Even if they weren`t able to give them too much help with the schoolwork, their simple presence, support and affection would be useful. This absence of parents in our students` lives causes them emotional problems and no matter how hard we would try to make our lessons attractive, to encourage them, some of them seem to have no reaction to all these things. The unmotivated children have different behavior reactions: some of them are very quiet, they don`t speak at all when asked and some of them are the so-called disruptive children.
Motivation to learn is a multifaceted problem and the sources that influence or affect it are multiple such as:
The society. We should see how important the learning of English language is in our society, outside the classroom. The society should motivate students and their parents by offering them encouraging perspectives for their future; every day parents and children can see or hear on the news, on television or on the radio about the increase of unemployment; they have examples of young people who graduated one or two faculties and have no job or who are obliged to do something different from what they have studied or who have to go abroad to work; these things bring about the decrease of motivation both for parents and children towards school. As teachers, we can see this lack of motivation in parents every day: their implication in the children` school activity is increasingly weaker, they often skip parents` meetings, they don`t express their opinions or ideas about school activities and they have low expectations from their children.
Family and friends (the social background) that should offer the students affection, material support and security, encouragement, friendship, help and involvement in the their school activity.
The teachers and their relationship with the students, the methods used (student centered or teacher centered) and the learning environment and atmosphere they usually create are also very important.
As Harmer states, “it is vital that both teachers and students have some confidence in the way teaching and learning take place. When either loses this confidence, motivation can be disastrously affected, but when both are comfortable with the method being used, success is much more likely.”
Student`s needs for learning, which may be personal, for exams, or for a future job. Motivation is connected with someone`s wish to do something, but a distinction between short-term and long-term goals needs to be made when speaking about students` motivation.
Long-term goals may include the mastery of English, the passing of an exam at the end of the year, the possibility of a better job in the future while short – term goals might be the learning of a small amount of new language, the successful writing of an essay, the ability to partake in a discussion or the passing of the progress test at the end of the week.
Long-term goals may seem too far away to students, especially to a secondary school student but the teacher can inoculate them to students, by discussing with them, about how important it is to know English for the future.
Anyway, short-term goals “are by their nature much closer to the syudent`s day –to-day reality. It is much easier to focus on the end of the week than the end of the year. If the teacher can help students on the short-term goals, this will have a significant effect on their motivation”.
Unfortunately, we assist to a decrease of students` motivation for school and learning in general, and this is why, our duty as teachers becomes harder and harder in trying to have them motivated to learn.
Motivating students to read
If we refer strictly to learning a foreign language, the problem is the same and even much more serious, because it is not easy at all to make a student who does not like to learn or to read in his own language to do it in a foreign one.
At the beginning of my teaching years, there were a few times when some students told me exactly the following words: “Why should I learn English? I don`t go to England, anyway”. And what was worse, was that their parents thought the same way and probably they had inoculated them with this idea. When you are confronted with this kind of situations, your mission as a teacher seems almost impossible, especially when you don`t have your students` parents by your side. These children lack both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, so your “fight” doubles. What I did as a teacher was of course to explain them the importance of learning English. I told them that it is important to learn it, first of all because it is in the school curriculum, then I explained to them that it was not necessary to go to England to speak it (you may go to Italy, Spain, China or any other country in this world and if you don`t know Italian, Spanish or Chinese, you can manage if you know some English). I told them that they would have some exams in English (at the end of the highschool) and they would be able to have a better job if they knew English and so on. Of course, these students were totally unmotivated because they didn`t like anything about school and it was not such a surprise to me that they did not like English, as well.
However, now, when I have much more experience as a teacher, I incline to think that some students might use reasons like the one mentioned above, as a way of getting rid of the responsibility to learn – the easiest way (“ I don`t learn because I don`t need it” or “I don`t like it” ). This, may have been an ‘excuse’ thirty years ago, when knowing English was rather useless, when the technology was not so present and active in our country, but, today, almost everyone should know how important it is to know English and foreign languages, in general.
There are various strategies teachers can use to have their students motivated for reading. Students` intesrests are very important. This implies the teacher finding out what his/her students are interested in. Our daily interaction with our students or simply our asking them about their reading preferences can give us the answers we need. Thus, the pre-preading activities are very important at this stage to stir students`interest for a certain text or topic and to activate their background knowledge. Another way to get our students` interest could be to show them a short movie or video related to the topic of the text they are going to read, so that students will be already familiar with the content or story before doing the reading.
The interaction established between the teacher and students and between the students themselves is also very important in motivating students to read. There must be a cooperative and warm atmosphere, sometimes funny during the reading class. The teacher encourages the students to express their opinions, to share their answers and ideas with other colleagues, to work in pairs or in groups, to help each other in reading.
The students` preferences also count a lot. There are students who prefer reading, speaking, listening or writing. There are also students who prefer and manage well in all the language skills. Or, there are students who like to write but they don`t`t like to speak and read in English, but that does not mean they do not try to learn at all; it is just that they do not do it with too much pleasure and ease. Certainly, it is not the case of those students who are totally unmotivated and they simply do not even want to try to learn something.
The students` aptitudes for language are also essential in selfmotivation. Not every student will be able to read or speak fluently in English no matter how hard the teacher would try to motivate him/her, because not all of them had the native aptitude to do so. There are students, unfortunately, increasingly fewer with such native aptitudes for learning foreign languages. These students are talented and they do not need too much external motivation to read or speak, as they like it very much. They learn a lot of English from TV shows, movies, music; they have a richer vocabulary built from other sources; they are more informed than the others and their background knowledge in certain reading topics is also richer. They comprehend the reading material easier than the other students and they are of great help during the English classes.
There are students who get more motivated (it is about a kind of self motivation) when they realize that they can manage to read well; they become more confident and dedicated and decide it is not such a difficult job. Their own progress in reading increases their motivation and interest in the skill. Generally, these students like to hear themselves reading. A dedicated student will finally read because he intrinsically understands the importance of this skill.
The opposite type of student gets discouraged very easily when he realizes he/she can`t read too well. He/she becomes insecure and hesitating and finally he/she is afraid to read. In such cases, the teacher has to intervene. The students who do not perform very well in reading correctly or fluently must not be laughed at by the teacher or other students, because this kind of action will inhibit and discourage him/her more. On the contrary, the student has to be encouraged by the teacher and colleagues and helped little by little, step by step to get trust in his/her ability to read.
I think the first step in motivating students to read in English is to make them be aware of the purpose of reading. We have to explain to them how important and useful it is to know how to read in English in ourl life, not only to read some texts during the English class and be graded. In real life we don`t just read; we always do it with a purpose: we need some information, because a certain text or book has stirred our curiosity, or we may come to read simply for pleasure. They need to read in English because they have a purpose or more, to do it.
Taking into account that motivation also depends on the student`s attitudes and interests, we may say that the level of motivation of students in second/ foreign language learning varies, depending on the student`s interest in a particular language skill. For example, let`s say that a child`s favourite ice-cream is the one with vanilla; if you give him a chocolate ice-cream he will not necessarily refuse it; he will eat it, but not with the same appetite he would have eaten the vanilla one; eventually he would eat it because his mother forced him or because he wanted to eat something sweet and that was the only option he had.