As I was leaving the hardware store with some light bulbs, I asked the very helpful clerk, Rich, what his plans were for that evening. He said, “I get to go home and play with my tools.” He was going to help his neighbor with some plumbing project.
I now realize that I was witnessing someone with pure intrinsic motivation. Even after spending all day selling tools, he enjoyed them so much that he was looking forward to working with them just for the pleasure and satisfaction that he got from them.
It is possible for our ESL students to be similarly intrinsically motivated to learn English.
And there are ways that we can help them develop this.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
After reading Curry’s essays, I often came away feeling especially good. This kind of surprised me because she wasn’t among the top writers in my class. Her grammar tended to breakdown at times, and her sentence style could be a bit simple. And yet, there was something special about her papers.
A boy wanted to ask a girl to the school dance, but he was too shy to talk to girls. To help him start to overcome his shyness, one day in a store together, his mom told him to walk up to a female clerk and ask where he could find the toothpaste. If he did that, he’d prove to himself that he could interact successfully with a female who was a total stranger, and he’d be able to see himself moving toward his goal. (From Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.)
I realized that I could apply the principle behind this story to a category of students who seem to be in many of the ESL classes that I’ve taught. They are the ones who are feeling discouraged about their seemingly inability to progress in their language-skill development. Many of them have failed the course, and in some cases, more than once.
Some of these learners don’t feel like trying any more.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*
One day, I ran into an exasperated-looking colleague in the copy room at our school. She had just come from her ESL class in which she wanted to check some homework whole class. To do this, she asked, “What is the answer to Question 1?” Then she waited for someone to volunteer to answer, but nobody would.
Many of us ESL teachers have been in similar situations, especially with East Asian students. In his book, Behave, neuroendocrinology Robert Sapolsky gives a possible explanation for this by describing “… the archetypical experience of American Peace Corps teachers in [East Asian] countries—pose your students a math question, and no one will volunteer the correct answer because they don’t want to stand out and shame their classmates.”
[For more about the reasons for the differences among students from different cultures, see Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Part 1 Overview)]
Needless to say, it’s not just East Asian students who are reluctant to volunteer answers. Students from other parts of the world who are basically shy or lack confidence in their speaking skills may also be hesitant.
Most of us would agree that a willingness to volunteer an answer during group discussions carries some great benefits in helping students take advantage of speaking opportunities. Once they become comfortable with this skill, there is often a carry-over effect in which they tend to be more will to volunteer in whole class situations. Also, perhaps more importantly, I’ve noticed an increase in students’ willingness to initiate a conversation with me before or after class and to ask for help on assignments and not just wait for me to offer.
How to help students feel comfortable volunteering an answer