Motivating our students – Vladimira Michalkova

Motivated Students Motivating Teachers

The more I think about it the more I think that motivation is a sort of Holy Grail everyone is looking for even though nobody is sure what it looks like or where to find it. It is a miraculous ingredient that solves every problem and misunderstanding. Whatever you do in your life, you surely know that motivation is this something that’s hard to grasp and hold yet fills your whole mind and body with light when it is there.

Honestly, I could usually say that I am Miss Motivation herself, so it is very surprising that when the time has come for me to write about it, I have found myself going through days filled with the utter lack of it. It is not tragic, nor disastrous, and in a few days I will surely come to understand that this actually had been the best time to write about it. However, all I can offer you now are three things I have on my mind on how to get out of this state.

First, I have realized that the personal life of a teacher is more important than I’ve ever thought. Second, I have learned that teaching and life in the classroom is a symbiosis to which everyone brings something to help the others thrive. Third, I have learned how to accept the gifts my students have and want to offer.

I have been lucky enough to have wonderful students this year, and I like to believe they can motivate me now as I have been doing for them all year long. I don’t need to share my problems or express my moods when I am with them. Students respond from within the atmosphere a teacher builds for them by responding in a similar way to what they are surrounded by. They don’t have to tell me “I had a bad day”. I know.

These days, I feel empty-handed when entering the classroom – no ideas, no enthusiasm, and no great solutions. Yet, I always come to my students with love, understanding and trust. I trust in their power to motivate me. I guess it will take me a few days to get over this, but I can tell you now:  they are doing it. They come closer, share more about themselves and tell me what a good teacher I am. Did I build that in them? Yes, I’d like to believe that I did.

Well, just forget everything you’ve learnt or have been trying to learn. Go and treat yourself. For the first time in a long time, I am reading a book not at all related to teaching. I notice the world around me – the clouds, the flowers and the little bugs.  I try to concentrate on what is here and now. I do what I have advised my students so many times. I do all of that because I think that whatever it is that took my motivation away will vanish sooner or later. Until then, there is no use spending too much energy, time and thought on pondering over it and sinking even deeper into the lack of it.  Could it be time to recharge, time to walk off the worn paths that lead nowhere anymore, time to re-evaluate my priorities again? Yes, I’d like to believe it.

I stepped out of that way a bit today by taking an uneasy and kind of silent step. Hoping no one would notice and at the same time hoping for a spark, I reached out and revealed what I am going through to my friends on Facebook. I got a tight hug back from them. Is this how we motivate ourselves? Without a perfect theory, do we appreciate the leap of faith others take as we reach out to them with a helping hand?

Yes, I’d like to believe it.

Using English outside of class – Vladimira Michalkova

Encouraging learners to use English outside of class is like getting students to do the sort of good homework that I described in my previous post: homework that grows naturally out of the lesson, doesn’t feel like homework, and often isn’t even called homework. The idea is to get students using English on their own in their own way and as this needs to be encouraged, the teacher should not correct or evaluate such effort — unless students ask for it.  Instead, such individual effort needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and praised.

Encouraging students to begin doing this kind of good homework starts with a positive, open and friendly class atmosphere where the teacher has true and authentic conversations with students, really listens to what they’re saying, and is not afraid to go beyond “the teaching purpose” of an activity or lesson.  From there, encouraging the students to use the language outside the class needs to be built on what they discovered in the classroom and not from the teacher’s intention to get them to practice, revise or repeat what was taught that day.

During lessons we often get into topics they really enjoy talking about and want to know more about.  I use such situations and keep them interested by suggesting some further reading, video or source of information. This often leads us to TED talks, documentaries or even intriguing commercials they watch at home. I just ask them to note their reactions and reflections and keep me posted.

Additionally, as experienced learners ourselves we know what works and thus can provide our students with situations where they can naturally use the language.  There are many things we can do very naturally ranging from giving students a simple “how about we all switch our mobile phone to English for a week” kind of challenge, to keeping the conversations we have with them outside of class and the email communications we have with them entirely in English from the beginning.  This is what I do.  After some time, they all start replying in English too, as long as I respect their individual style and pace.

So, talk to your students, listen to them, praise their efforts and do it all naturally, as if it is all just a part of everyday life – which it is – and where you respect them as individuals. Yet, be clear that the classroom is not a magical bubble where they receive knowledge but a place to meet, encourage and help each other. What matters after all is what they decide to do after that.

“Many an opportunity is lost because a man is out looking for four-leaf clovers” 

How important is homework? – Vladimira Michalkova

I recently asked my students what they think about homework and how effective it can be. The result was a lovely informal discussion and lots of great ideas. After all, homework  (as part of learning and life) should be about students and not about me as a teacher. One of my students said:

“Every homework that is not done is a bad one.”

No matter how harsh it may seem, I do agree with him. Just think about it. If a student doesn’t do homework, it is probably boring, irrelevant or too difficult and frustrating.

As a teacher I have inspiration and encouragement as my main goal and so it means I can’t make my lessons fun and exciting and then give my students boring routine homework to fill  in and hand me back next time. Learning is a natural, life-long process and most of it happens outside the classroom and that’s why I think homework is important if it is interesting, meets students’ expectations and needs and is even better when students don’t even think about it as homework they have to do.

Thinking of homework I keep in mind:

  • there is a life outside the classroom walls – do not separate it from learning
  • build on students’ background and prior knowledge
  • include their personality
  • make them curious
  • homework can’t be a burden for anyone (students, teachers or parents!)

And maybe a little more advice from me:  Do not give homework and then ignore the efforts your students have made. That’s the first thing. Then there’s this: the next time you are about to announce the homework, be creative and avoid using the word itself. Don’t say the word homework. Instead how about saying “I am curious to know what your story is…?” or “Do you think you could find that and share it with us next time?”  If you do this, then it’s not homework. It’s just learning.