Jigsaw Response Blog on Motivation
July 4, 2015/7/4
I’ve decided to write in response to the topic of motivation because this is to me my biggest challenge as a teacher of Taiwanese high school students, especially in English Literature, a subject towards which the majority take a general disliking. When it comes to their attitudes towards subjects like science, math, computers, or even music, most of them have a deeply rooted sense of intrinsic motivation simply because it bypasses their struggles with extreme shyness. They are naturally drawn to content areas that don’t require much social interaction in English mainly due to the ever-present issue of losing face. They’re caught between the desire to be fluent and their reluctance to communicate for fear of making mistakes.
I want to take an honest look at what I’m faced with and I welcome anyone’s suggestion on how to overcome this: Because of their rigorous daily schedule, during any type of down time, the students either bury their faces into their ipads or they just tune out the world and sleep. Motivation just does not exist. Therefore, reading English for pleasure, unless the student has a deep and personal interest, is the last thing on their minds. So in this situation, the English teacher has a choice – to go against the grain and try to inspire a sense of interest in reading English texts for pleasure, or just distance him or herself from such lofty dreams and stick to the job description, and that is to simply get through the airtight syllabus. Yes, I am aware that this is the idea of resistance that was mentioned on the first day, but it’s a real thing and it has its relevance.
The connections that surfaced after our group discussion on motivation showed the importance of teachers -
a. supplying access to a variety of age-appropriate and interest-related reading material
With this in mind, the expense would be solely my responsibility. By this, I mean with the exception of supplying them with school library books that shouldn’t leave the classroom for fear of damage or loss, I’d have to foot the bill for anything bought. Without a strict system of accountability in place, if I did create a classroom library, how could I trust them to treat the books with the respect they deserve? How could I be sure that my investment would suddenly spark a deeper interest in reading? It’s a leap of faith. It’s an unfamiliar mindset of sharing tangible things with students. Here’s another source of resistance: due to their Asian cultural predisposition of ‘face’ coupled with their adolescent hyper-sensitivity, they are extremely conscious of image, so they would naturally avoid anything that would be deemed “uncool,” especially something so nerdy as taking teacher-recommended English reading material off the shelf for pleasure. On the contrary, they would just use the excuse that they don’t have the time because first of all, they’re tired, and when it comes to any reading at all, their required reading takes precedence, which is true.
b. empowering students with a sense of choice in their reading
I’d say my students have an equivalent of an American 2nd to 3rd grade level of English, so the challenge is daunting, finding easy yet engaging books appropriately related to the interests of Taiwanese sixteen-year-olds. Even if I had a variety of such material and they did have a choice, making the actual commitment to read a non-required English book with the purpose of full understanding would be like squeezing water from a stone. How can one inspire motivation from scratch?
c. giving feedback and task-related incentives in order to encourage their intrinsic motivation
Unfortunately, the only incentive that motivates my students is the value of the percentage written in red ink. They correlate their score to their self esteem, so a 75% means “the teacher hates me.” The essential problem lies in their interpretation of the number. They don’t see it as a healthy, ongoing challenge to improve, but rather as a value judgment of themselves as individuals. I suppose this is not cultural, but more of a misguided or underdeveloped sensitivity which needs time to mature as they grow.
I understand that the feedback is not only a score, but also comes in the form of specific and sincere praise of their progress or hard work. Yet I must face the truth in that none of it matters as much when culturally all they’re trained to see is the number.
d. fostering a healthy rapport with students
This I believe is crucial to success not only as a student, but also from the perspective of the teacher. If there is no relationship, there is no trust on either part. In that situation, learning cannot take place. Rapport is an essential part of my teaching philosophy. No matter the subject, learning comes much quicker and more naturally when the class atmosphere is supportive, relationships are healthy and trust is established. This is the one area where I feel at least I have a foothold.
After our discussion today, I never felt more distant from a starting point in respect to inspiring in my students a deeper sense of intrinsic motivation when it comes to loving the activity of reading. Part of me wants to wait for them like a sage on the mountaintop. If they don’t develop a natural passion for reading on their own, then no harm, no foul. If they do, I’m there ready with support. Another part of me wants to reach out and draw their interest out of them at the risk of being rejected. Either way, there is some basic tectonic shifting going on in my priorities as a teacher of Literature.