lunes, 13 de junio de 2011

From Grrrrrrrrrrrrr to Hmmmmmm


 Think positive! Don't take it so seriously! It's a private class! You're allowed to make an arse of yourself in here! Instead of out there in the JUNGLE! Be cheerful! Stop worrying about getting it wrong!!!! Get it wrong! Keep getting it wrong, then you'll get it right! Haven't you figured that out yourself!! I come to your (stupid) country and make an arse of myself trying to speak your (stupid) language every day!!!! And people don't always give me a chance. I have to talk with the mumblers and the uninterested and the thick and the poorly-informed. And not with somebody who bends over backwards to create a nurturing environment for second language acquisition! I haven't had a wonderful teacher like me to give me experimenting space, and tell me about learning strategies and give me useful feedback and advice.

And that's what I screamed at my three students while shaking them back and forwards by the lapels.

In my mind, at least, that's what I screamed at them.

I had mentioned I wanted to spend a couple of lessons in which we would all plan and deliver a short talk to the class. This is something we've done before. We got talking about presentations and conferences in general. Three of my class give occasional talks in English at conferences. The fourth member is learning English specifically to attend a long session of training meetings in California, in order to become a professional motivator. (I don't know much about his plans. It's a pretty unusual job here in Galicia.)

Presentations guru Garr Reynolds
So I thought 'Great. Here we go. A spiel on how to write and prepare a prezo, and then into doing it. No pressure, lots of practice, 5 minutes each, no slides or hoo-ha, just a private show-and-tell session.'

But within seconds of me mentioning it, Pili and Ester (I'm not using real names, by the way) were complaining bitterly about how hard it is to deliver a talk in English. And pretty soon, Inès had joined them. I remember them being particularly worried about dealing with questions. They also told me (though I take this with a pinch of salt) that in their field, you don't get a second chance if you've done a poor prezo at a conference. 

While I did my mental rant I tried to be upbeat on the outside: Don't worry, you just need practice. Nobody's perfect, etc etc. Curiously, the motivator, Josè piped up, on my side: "Focus on the success, focus on the future, ...". And curiously he is both the newest member of the group and has the lowest level of English.

But I do want to use this post to think aloud about motivation and demotivation. Where could it be coming from?

From my classes?

I'll try to be objective....

Not enough structure to the course? There is a definite emphasis on conversation, speech and pronunciation, with few tangible handouts or published material. Maybe the students don't have a clear idea that they're progressing. Maybe they be more comforted with a coursebook. Maybe I throw them into the deep end too often?

Where else could a lack of motivation come from?

From students' lives elsewhere?

Maybe they enjoy their English as a getaway, a break, a mental holiday. A hobby. Maybe they come in tired or stressed from work. Maybe they've just been turned off classrooms by previous experiences. And they're just not in the mood to deal with somebody like their boss ;) Actually, not sure if that smiley there is justified....

From their own personalities?

Maybe they are quiet, studious folk; two of them certainly are. Maybe all the speech and activity are disorientating or embarrassing. Maybe they have low-self esteem. It's a terrible thing to think but maybe - whisper it, now - they're the wrong kind of people.

From not having clear reasons and goals?

Is a general desire to maintain or improve their general English not specific enough to work as motivation? It seems like a legitimate motivation to me. And common to boot.

It's revealing that Josè is the heterogenous element: studying to be a motivator, lone male (as a teacher my testicles don't count), very specific need, and also in theory, a lower level-student. But hardly a basis for sweeping generalisations.


So here we are at hmmmmmmm.

Now how do we get to 

7 comentarios:

  1. Alan,

    What a wonderful rant-turned-analysis. Thanks for sharing. Both by design and by circumstance I am doing a lot of 'unplugged' teaching right now as well, with relatively few handouts and only occasional dips into the book - the result? Perhaps something similar to what you pointed out; maybe the students feel lost and without direction.

    On the topic of motivation, I have to be a little negative here and give voice to a unpleasant truth (though some might call this overly pessimistic). I don't think that a general desire to maintain or improve a language IS enough to motivate most learners. Wanting something and wanting to do the work to get it are two very different things. I also live in a Spanish-speaking country at the moment and until I took on the very specific goal of doing some sponsored-learning for charity, my Spanish was really going nowhere.

    Yes, I want to improve my Spanish but that general desire wasn't really translating to the necessary legwork.

    Another thing that I think we often need to keep in mind (and again, this might be overly pessimistic - it's been one of those days) is that the English lesson and language is perhaps not as important in our students' lives as it is in ours. This is our job, and for many of us it is our passion - we write blogs about it for crying out loud!

    I doubt that many of our students are reflecting on their classes and their learning as much as we do. This disparity can sometimes leave us frustrated as we tell ourselves just how lucky our students are to have us; reflective, thoughtful teachers.

    Just a thought...

  2. Hi Alan,
    I really enjoyed reading your rant - I definitely feel that way sometimes!
    I think what I would do in your situation is talk to the students about their motivation. Do THEY know why they're there? And not just general "to improve my English". You could try setting some SMART goals with them ( This might also help them to reflect on their learning throughout the course.
    Hope that helps!

  3. Sandy, thanks for the link. Nice to see it clearly set out!

  4. Great Sandy, thanks a bunch!

    By the by, do you ever repeat needs analyses later in the course?

  5. So. You want advice? Or just a sympathetic ear? If the latter, ahh, poor you, poor them, hello cruel world (the chicken's have returned to roost). If the former, how about having a Spanish lesson, they teach you, the tables have turned, you deliver a speech, learn Spanish from them, then when they see that you're still alive after the ordeal, and have improved (do the presentation twice), they may feel differently. A whole lesson, so they really feel cheated that they're not learning English. Then you can say well yes, you're wasting your own time and money by not doing something that can actually be fun. So if you do do it, be sure to make it seem as though you're enjoying yourself.

  6. Well, I'll take both, Dave. First, thanks for the sympathy. Though you could have sent chocolates or flowers.

    Re the advice, there's a lot there to be going on with. I'll digest it and report back. Have you got any videos of you presenting?

  7. Gordon, thanks for the point about difference in viewpoint. It's true of course.

    It's tricky both to lighten up and to still do it properly - I don't want to start slipping into the mentality of 'Sleepwalk through the hours with Murphy and come to life at night.'