This is the first in a series of three blogs I’m planning to write about teacher-student motivation.
Have you ever swollen with joy when you finish a class and your students stay a little bit longer to talk to you and the rest of the class? Have you ever experienced a sense of achievement when you leave the classroom and students follow you to continue talking about the issues raised in class? Have you ever felt moved when students tell you they still remember you many years after you’ve taught them? Everyone takes pride in their classes when some of the above takes place. There’s the lingering feeling in the air that we have done something right.
A few days ago, I saw a video about a small duckling which starts following a puppy upon coming out of its egg. According to studies, newborn ducklings follow the first moving object they see. That phenomenon is called “imprinting”: an amazing and very curious example of genetic and environmental influence on animal behaviour. The first scientific studies of this phenomenon were carried out by Austrian naturalist Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology (the study of animal behavior).
He discovered that if greylag geese were reared by him from hatching, they would treat him like a parental bird. The goslings followed Lorenz about and when they were adults they courted him in preference to other greylag geese. He first called the phenomenon "stamping in" in German, which has been translated into English as “imprinting”.
The video was very sweet and I couldn’t help smiling. I suddenly started to think that learners sometimes behave like this newborn duckling following us wherever we go. I’m not saying that our students think we have become their mother and I don’t really think they feel like ducklings either (even though kiddies are just as sweet, aren’t they?) I’m just trying to figure out what motivates our students to “follow” us. What is it that makes our teaching such a memorable experience? Because we sometimes leave a powerful imprint on our learners, so why?
I remember a situation back in 2003, when I had two groups with the same level and belonging to the same age group. One of those classes was nice, we worked effectively and I got on with every participant really well. The other group was also highly engaged but there was something else, like a magic spell, which made us all happy every time we met. We really cherished and celebrated those encounters. The students in that class cooperated a lot, they put a lot into the classes and they still e-mail me telling me how much they remember the year we shared.
Why do we teach A & B in the same way but we leave an imprint on just one – A or B?
I have all sorts of ideas, which I need to organize in my head. For the time being, you’re welcome to post your views on the subject.
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