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Getting Past the B2 Plateau
Motivation can overcome almost all obstacles. It can overcome weaknesses in natural ability or deficiencies in the learning environment, while in contrast a lack of motivation can derail the brightest and most talented of learners. The secret, the holy grail, the Aladdin's lamp of teaching that we all seek isn’t only how to ignite the fire of inquisitiveness but how to promote such a burning desire to improve that sustained and independent learning occurs long after the teacher steps away and after the initial excitement of being able to engage in a conversation in English has subsided.
Psychologists have helpfully divided motivation into two forms - extrinsic and intrinsic, each having a different effect on behaviour and on how the learner pursues their goals. Extrinsic motivation is factors which come from outside such as praise or the acclaim of passing of an exam; whereas intrinsic motivation is derived from the taking of pleasure in the activity for its own sake. We are told that extrinsic motivation has its place and usefulness but intrinsic motivation is the real deal. Consequently, although we as teachers can encourage and guide, the drive and motivation needs to come from the learners. Once a learner is capable of interacting with others on a variety of topics with relative ease, perhaps we lose one of the main extrinsic motivations -- the desire to be understood. This is often referred to as the B2 plateau because many learners progress slower once they reach this level of competence. It is fundamental then, at this point, that we consider ways to boost intrinsic motivation among our students.
Creating Attainable Objectives
Setting achievable goals will help keep learners motivated. SMART objectives are a great tool in every educators toolbox that allow us to set realistic goals with our learners. SMART is an acronym and although the interpretation of the individual letters varies, the most common form is: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. Incorporating these elements into your objectives will give you a way to stay on track and focused. There are also many other ways to set objectives such as setting monthly or yearly goals, or even using one of the emany apps which have been created for goal-setting such as Goals by Google, Strides, or coach.me.
Focusing on What is Important
The Oxford English dictionary lists 171,476 full entries in its latest edition and some people estimate the English language to have close to 1 million words. Learners should be encouraged to focus on language that is salient to their learning objectives. If a student is learning English to be able to participate in business meetings with people from various nations then his or her needs will be somewhat different from another learner who wants to move to an English-speaking country to continue his or her education. Prioritising the most relevant grammatical structures and lexical items will help maintain motivation among learners.
Following the interests of the students will help maintain interest and ensure that the content is always relevant and therefore engaging. Students should have a prime role in the direction that learning takes and should be encouraged to decide the contexts which surround the key grammar and vocabulary. Taking the time to plan around the needs of the student will facilitate this. Watching a 15-minute TED talk on a topic of the student’s choosing will increase motivation and lead to deeper learning than completing a stack of generic grammar exercises.
Using Authentic Materials and Technology
While course books have a wealth of information and can be incredibly useful for teachers, there is also a lot to be said for utilising authentic materials such as blogs, newspapers, and films in English. Technology, used with learning in mind, makes it so much easier than before for students to encounter authentic materials. Recent research in Turkey found that 74% of respondents agreed that technology in the classroom was motivating and 77.7% agreed that with the statement: Authentic materials downloaded from the internet make me active in the learning process.
Being the Tortoise not the Hare
Everyone wants to arrive, to get to where they set out for, and for some it is important to arrive quickly and maybe even in first place. As teachers we are in a position to consider our students holistically and see how their mindset has a strong influence on their approach to learning. Siddhārtha Gautama may have been right that travelling is more important than arriving and we'd do well to remember that the process of learning should be fun and we should savour every step we take with our learners and as professionals ourselves. If we nurture patience and passion for English-language learning in our learners they will be more prone to engage with the language and maintain their motivation. I hope some of these strategies can be useful for your teaching and your own learning journey. www.rfieldenwatkinson.com