I received a WhatsApp from a former student this week telling me that I would be so proud of him because he continues to read in English. He attached a picture of the book he is reading to become a paramedic in the army. The book, “Mosby’s Paramedic Textbook” is the primer for paramedics and one of the tasks he needs to complete before receiving his certificate is to master the information in this book. I told him that I have always been proud of him and that I knew he would make a great paramedic. It is notes such as these, from both current and former students, that make me believe that I have the most cherished and privileged profession in the world; I am a teacher!
What motivates students to want to learn and to continue to learn beyond the years that they are in our classes? In my doctoral research I discovered (good teachers already know this) that if we present interesting materials to students, articles and stories to which they can relate, they are encouraged to want to read them, discuss them and write their own pieces about them.
There are two main theories of motivation, one is intrinsic, meaning that someone finds something that is meaningful and enjoyable and they therefore want to do it. The motivation comes from within the person. There is also extrinsic motivation which is behavior that is driven by external rewards that originate from outside the person, such as grades or money. The best way to motivate students to learn and continuing learning is to encourage them to have intrinsic desires to; master a skill, to value the subject matter and to value the learning activity. In addition, there are researchers such as Chowning, Griswold, Kovarik and Collins *who have found that incorporating ethical dilemmas in the curriculum is one strategy for increasing student motivation.
As English teachers, what do we do with this information? Literature lends itself so beautifully to instilling intrinsic motivation in our students. In addition to interesting novels, plays, stories and poems, we can generate meaningful discussions that revolve around ethical dilemmas of the characters in the texts we read with our students. Short articles can also engender opportunities for discussing and writing about dilemmas.
With the help of many of the talented EFL teachers in Israel I have been able to publish some quality literature logs/portfolios that you may choose to learn with your students. Below are links to more of these units. Enjoy!
*Chowning, J.T., Griswold, J.C., Kovarik, D.N. & Collins, L.J. 2012. Fostering critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation skills through bioethics education. PLoS ONE, 7(5):1–8.