‘How can I improve my students' motivation so they can improve their learning?’

A draft case study of AR into Integrated Skills of English,

by Tao Rui

China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching,

Guyuan Teachers College, Ningxia, P.R. China. January, 2004.

 

I: Introduction

Having been exposed to the teacher-centered methods of my previous teachers for four years in university as well as with the traditional concept:

 

“a teacher’s role is to deliver a moral, pass on knowledge and skills, and help students solve puzzles,”  (Confucius)

 

I followed suit after graduation. In other words, my teaching methods in the classroom are naturally traditional and adopt a teacher-centred academic style. This academic teaching style is characterized by teaching techniques of grammatical explanation and translation, and so is sometimes known as the 'grammar-translation method.' (Cook P176.)

 

This is what I have done in the past:

Š             Lead my students through the text of grammatical sentences step by step;

Š             Provide some background information concerning certain texts.

Š             Paraphrase some difficult words on grammatical points exist. I would like to paraphrase them, or translate them into first language.

 

Through this style, I believe I succeeded in delivering the necessary language knowledge as well as giving cultural information to my students. Furthermore, as a teacher, before the class, I prepared my lessons very carefully and thoroughly. In the class, I did my best to pass on as much knowledge as possible to my students. Once I fulfilled the syllabus’s requirements, I was satisfied. Hence I believed that I was a good and responsible teacher.

 

Such a situation remained until Dr. Moira Laidlaw came to Guyuan Teacher’s College together with her Action Research theory and practice. AR, as a branch of western teaching methodology, is also influenced by Socrates' dialectical method, characterised by a logic of question and answer, and concentrating as well on students' perspectives orientation and their learning much more than teachers’ methodology.

 

Here is a brief introduction of Educational Action Research. Action Research is a term, which refers to a practical way of looking at your own work to check that it is as you would like it to be. … a form of self-reflection practice. (McNiff, 2002). The basic steps of an AR process constitute an Action Plan:

 

Š             we review our current practice

Š             identify an aspect that we want to investigate

Š             imagine a way forward

Š             try it out and

Š             take stock of what happens

Š             we modify we are doing in the light of what we have found, and continue working

Š             monitor what we do

Š             review and evaluate the modified action (Whitehead, 1989)

 

All in all, Educational AR is a self-reflective, problem-finding, problem-solving, self-evaluative and self-improving process for teachers (McNiff, 2000, 2002). With such a brief understanding of educational AR, in May 2002, I began my journey as a teacher-researcher. My first step was to observe my classroom as well as my students’ learning. What I later found through observation is really amazing.

 

First, during the fifty-minute-long class, I kept talking just like a lecturer, explaining difficult vocabulary, paraphrasing troublesome grammatical points, telling students to do this or that. I was like a nanny doing everything for my “babies”. Thus students’ talking time was far less than teacher’s talking time. Secondly, since I was a “dictator”, students became mere passive listeners. The learning atmosphere was consequently inactive all the time: Thirdly, the learning atmosphere itself was undynamic, controlled and intense, for students never found enough freedom and space to speak, to communicate and to take part in any activity. All these rendered students passive instead of active and eager to learn. In other words, my academic teaching style restrained students’ motivation for learning. As soon as I identified such a problem, I developed it into my first concern of Action Research, namely, How can I improve students’ motivation so they can improve their learning?

 

II My practice of Educational Action Research

A brief explanation of my concern

So, how could I improve students’ motivation so they could improve their learning. By students, I mean the whole class, instead of individual students, for “any class teaching is a compromise to suit the greatest number of students" (Cook, 2000, p102). So I decided to concentrate on how to improve the motivation of the majority of the whole class instead of improving one or two students’ motivation.

 

Next came motivation:

 

"Motivation in second-language learning has chiefly been used to refer to the long-term fairly stable attitudes in the students’ mind. Two types of  motivation have been talked about : integrative and instrumental motivation”. (Vivian, Cook, 2000, p97).

 

Since both of these two motivations can benefit students’ learning, I aimed to improve both of integrative and instrumental motivations, which, I believe, contribute a lot to students’ success in second language learning.

 

Why am I concerned about it?

Firstly, in terms of the underlying values of some AR (Whitehead, 1989; McNiff, Lomax and Whitehead, 2002), I learnt that what is most important for education in the class should be students’ learning not teacher’s teaching (McNiff, 1993). No matter how excellent a teacher’s teaching method may be, it is nothing if it fails to encourage and improve students’ learning. The aim of education is to improve students’ learning. Secondly, when I distract my attention from my own teaching to students’ learning, students’ silence, non-participation and passiveness really frustrated me.  It led me to considering whether or not I was a responsible and good teacher after all. I found the answer was “not really”, I was trapped in my own living contradiction (Whitehead, 1989). This was constituted thus: to be a teacher, teaching students well is most important, I hoped my students would achieve a lot from me and in the future, what they have learned would consequently benefit their students . However, what I observed only proved that I had failed to fulfill my expectation and goes against my educational value of empowering students in their learning.

 

Accordingly, two problems at least arose out of my former teaching methods. One is my teaching style was actually restraining students’ motivation and degrading their learning. The other was students’ silence and non-cooperation, which in turn influenced my arrangement and teaching in the class. I realized that things would go round in a vicious circle, if no solution were provided for this phenomenon. Thirdly, I now knew from my own experience that an active, interesting learning atmosphere could improve students’ motivation and thus their learning.

 

I still remember my own listening class as a college student. The teacher was so strict that punishment and scolding words would swarm like wasps towards those of us who made a mistake or failed to answer her questions. Her attitude seriously affected our motivation. Most of my classmates kept silent and refused to be active. The listening class was a nightmare. Even today, some scolding words from my memory can make me shudder.

 

Such experiences have led me to believe that the teacher has a great influence on her students’ motivation as well as their learning. It also makes me believe I, as an educator, can do something to change my students’ passivity and non-participation.

 

Fourthly, the questionnaire I devised at some point with my students in Class 2, Grade 2 showed that 99% students preferred to learn in an interesting, free, and relaxed atmosphere. They don’t want to learn in a passive and silent atmosphere.

 

Fifthly, from my own teaching experience, I think an 'academic' style benefits teacher’s teaching more than students’ learning. In such a class, the teacher talks while students listen. As a result, the teacher becomes a fluent lecturer, while students poor remain speakers. Motivation consists of two chief factors, it seems to me: the prevailing attitude to the learning situation, i.e. to the teacher, and integrativeness (Cook, 2000, p168). I believe motivation should also include students’ attitude to the class, namely, the learning atmosphere. Thus, my first step to alter such a situation is to change my learning atmosphere.

 

How can I improve students’ motivation?

When realizing students’ motivation was mainly restrained by my present academic style I decided to alter my teaching method, so as to maximize student-participation and minimize teacher-domination - to offer students much freedom to talk, to discuss and to communicate so as to change the passive, silent atmosphere into an active and interesting one.

 

First hypothesis--pair/group work

My first imagined solution was to apply group/pair work to my class. Instead of leading students to the text sentence by sentence as before, I asked them to work in pairs or groups, discussing with each other and then tell me their result. From the very beginning, I found that my attempt was working. I walked around the class and observed their behavior as they were doing their pair/group work. To work in a group or pair seemed to come naturally, since they could face their learning partners instead of the teacher. They usually held an animated talk, and I could hear them arguing with each other, could see them smiling.

 

Most importantly, they would like to stop me to ask questions such as, “Miss Tao, what does this mean?" or “I can’t understand this”. This was really impossible when I stood on the platform before, delivering knowledge to them. Ss’ questioning in groups/pairs together with my own observations proved to me that the present learning atmosphere had changed a lot and they were becoming active in raising questions.

 

Another thing I would like to add to suggest group/pair work does indeed change the learning atmosphere, which in turn to some extent, improves students’ motivation - is an extract from my students’ work. On one occasion the teaching aim was for students to talk about their own future. Had I still followed my previous teaching method, I’d have asked students to keep silent and think about it for several minutes, then ask some of them to describe their own future. However, I didn't do it that way anymore. Ss were now required to talk about their future in pairs or as part of their group work. Take Tian Xing’s group as an example. Their group created a story of Ma Dongyuan’s future. Here are some extracts from their story:

 

“ …after two years he will have a lovely daughter who is good at dancing and singing, By the age of 35, he will divorce with his wife. Then he will have had disease and a beautiful girl will fall in love with him…”

 

This is a complete and funny made-up story. I still remember when Tian Xing read it out, other students laughed a lot. Such a story could not have resulted from my previous teaching method, and I believe it proves to some extent that group/pair work liberates students from the teacher’s control and direction, offering them much opportunity and freedom to speak in the way they want to. In addition, it also fosters their creativity and imagination. Apart from this, I was also enlightened by such an idea----why not try another method of “questioning” since students' actively questioning behavior seems naturally to arise out of their pair/group work.

 

ii. Second hypothesis---questioning

Based on group/pair work, I decided to put a more questioning method into practice and apply it mainly to the teaching of text. Students were divided into groups/pairs, discussing the text with each other and solving problems by themselves. Whenever some difficult problems were beyond their understanding, they would present it to me through questioning and I would answer their questions. Alternatively, I sometimes supervised their learning by questioning them. Thus the questioning-method was put into effect in two ways: one was through students raising questions and teachers’ answering; another was teachers’ raising questions and students’ answering them. Does this method comply with my AR questions, in other words, does it improve students’ motivation?

 

After a long time, I collected students’ feedback. According to that, most of them agreed that questioning really improves their learning interest. When I collected students’ feedback, I told them to decide to sign or not to sign their names for I believe it can guarantee the validity of my evidence. Thus if some students wanted to say something against the teacher, they might feel more at ease if they didn't have to sign their names. Here are some of their comments:

 

Zhang Lizheng wrote: Your teaching way fits me, especially the questioning way. It not only makes me more active, but also makes me learn it by myself. I found my study was much more improved than before.

 

Another student wrote: “I am very appreciative about your methods of teaching recently, because you have a large change than before, we can ask you and you can answer us. We can understand it well. It is better than before.”

 

Apart from this, I myself also noticed that students were more active than before. All this reassured me that questioning students on the basis of their group/pair work actually helped improve their participation and motivation. However, things always have two sides, just like a coin. Let’s listen to several students’ voice who belong to the minority in the class.

 

An anonymous student wrote: “I think it is good , but it doesn’t make some students understand the text completely or clearly because some good students can follow this way, they can understand the text easily. But others don’t pay much attention to our lessons”

 

Zhang Junlang wrote: “When you teach with teacher-centered method, we felt very clear about the structure, content and phrases of the articles. Thus it won’t take a long time for us to finish our homework. With the questioning method though we can understand the words, phrases very well, we failed to understand its structure and content completely. Thus we couldn’t finish our homework easily. Of course, questioning really motivates us, activate the atmosphere, but I notice that some students are busy with finding out questioning instead understanding the article, what’s more, some students’ questions are too far beyond the article. Actually questions have nothing to do with what we will learn. This is a waste of our time. So to me, I still prefer teach-centered method than questioning method, for I can learn more by it .”

 

Zhang’s critical comments make me reflect a lot. It seems that there should be a balance between questionnaire and academic style. A teacher shouldn’t randomly force himself to adopt one teaching method while utterly abandoning another or simply make a judgement that this teaching method is better than that based on one experience. The adoption of a certain kind of teaching method should be decided by two factors: students’ learning needs as well as the teaching materials available. All in all, teaching methods should alter with students' learning needs as well as the difficult degree of the teaching materials. As Cook comments:

 

it is rare to encounter a classroom that is a pure version of one or other of these reaching styles as none of them fully satisfy all the needs of any real class of students: nevertheless they provide convenient reference points for the discussion o language teaching. (Cook, 2000, p.174) 

 

Thus I believe that teaching encourages a variety of methods. Take questioning as an example: it seems to work well for me and the students if the teaching materials are less difficult and individual student prefers them. Hence I tried to introduce various teaching methods according to different teaching materials as well as students’ learning needs. The following is a list of what I have tried:

 

    Micro-teaching

    experiential learning techniques

    Encouragement

    Teacher-centered methods

    Rearrangement of the classroom

 

iii. The third hypothesis—micro-teaching

“The Land Where There Were No Old Men” (a story from the textbook we were using[1]) is an article of low difficulty. It is full of simple conversations and few difficult grammatical points and the vocabulary is easy. This ascertains me that students are capable of learning and even teaching this text by themselves. Guided by this idea, I asked students to work in a group of 5 or 6, solving difficult problems and learning by themselves. In order to test my hypothesis, I required each group to choose a group leader who would be in charge of explaining certain paragraphs. To my surprise, they really did an excellent job. Most of them were good at controlling their language and making sense of it. An typical example is Tian Xing’s explanation of the following paragraph (appendix 2). I remember challenging her by questioning her explanation and she presented very satisfactory answers. Furthermore, students’ feedbacks also proved that micro-teaching is really improving their learning.

 

Here are some words from students’ group feedbacks (appendix3). Zhang Lizheng, Liu Xiaxia, Niu Huiyang, Zhao Weidong wrote:

 

“Our group thinks that this micro-learning is useful for our self-study and enables us to think of questions by ourselves. And it also improves our ability of teaching. In our group, we explain important and useful points one by one. We can improve our skills of explanation. And by this method, all of us must explain and teach the text, so the lazy people will be “punished” by explaining."

 

On the contrary, the words from Tian Ping’s group is really funny. They wrote:

 

“We don’t think it is an useful way of learning a new article. There are many difficult vocabulary and phrases even sentences. You should guide us to learn every point. This voice states again that applying a variety of teaching methods according students’ learning needs and the teaching materials is extremely necessary and important."

 

iv. The fourth hypothesis—TPR of experiential learning

“Where the Sun Always Rises” is an article describing the scene of the sun rising in the countryside. It is filled with exquisite language and vivid description. I suppose that students can fully appreciate this article, especially the beauty of nature if I adopt such skills of TPR of experiential learning. (TPR is a language teaching method built around the coordination of speech and action. It attempts to teach through physical activity. Jack C. Richards and Theodores Rodgers, p. 87). From my point of view, it not only makes my class interesting but also helps students understand this text very well. The following is some extract from my reflective journals:

 

sentence 1: “my eyes flash open”. To explain it, I required students to close their eyes and not to open them until I counted from one to three. Through this they were able to figure out that this sentence meant:  “ open one’s eyes quickly and wide”;

 

sentence 2: “I relax and curl deeper beneath the blanket's warmth”. When I asked students to demonstrate it with their body language, Zhao Weidong even stretched his arms and yawned.”

 

Sentence 3: “My mother whispers again”. To explain it, I stood on the platform with my hand on my wrist, shouting ‘get up’ to show the difference between “ whisper” and “shout”. When students are asked to answer the question “why whisper not shout or scream”, Ma Dongyuan (usually a silent student) offered an excellent answer: “it showed mother’s love for her child”.

 

Sentence 4: “a heron fans its way” to understand the vivid description “fan”, students are asked to stretch their arms to demonstrate a heron’s flying and I observed most of them were active in doing this. This also seemed to activate them.

 

As to me, all these things can show students are motivated to learn, to participate. Another piece of evidence I want to add is the following.

 

In the class I drew a picture of the forest to show the meaning of the sentence “a sliver of brilliant red crests the top of the shadowed forest”. During the break, some students added eyes and mouths to each tree of “my forests”. To tell the truth, I was moved at that time, for their joke seemed to show a friendly relationship was being built between my students and myself. I don’t believe the same situation would have happened if I had still been using my previous more academic style.

 

v.                          v. The fifth hypothesis—encouragement, personal communication between teacher and students, rearrangement of the classroom

 

Now let’s abandon such abstract theories as questioning method, TPR etc., because I found ways to encourage students that weren’t routines or gambits. One of those findings was giving encouragement to some students. Ji Jianjun was usually a silent student. He seldom appeared active in my class. At first, I guessed it was due to his poor English. However an interview with him changed my mind. Here is a part of our talk concerning his study.

 

Tao Rui: in your opinion, what can I do to improve your motivation?

 

Ji: last year, teacher Ma (Ma Jianfu is my colleague) taught me the same course. He constantly asked me to answer his questions. This made me feel that I was not ignored by the teacher. Furthermore, whenever I raised a correct answer for a question, even a very easy one, he would praise me a lot. His attitude to me really encourages me to learn a lot and I began to recover my interest in English.

 

Tao Rui: How about your study now?

 

Ji: Well, much things have changed. Our head teacher was changed and another student took my place of the monitor. You began to teach us the integrated skills of  English. I felt I lost my interest and confidence in English again.

 

His words reminded me of what I have done to him in my class. Whenever I asked him to answer my questions, he did a bad job. His broken sentences and murmuring voice made me feel tired. Furthermore, I was afraid I wouldn't fulfill the teaching schedule and syllabus since I had to spend lots of time correcting his mistakes. Therefore, I often avoided asking him questions and usually commented on his answers with simple words such as “OK, well, sit down, please”. As a result, my conscious behavior possibly made him feel ignored by me and consequently he seemed to lose his confidence and learning interest. This led me to believe that teacher’s encouragement to students and personal communication with them, especially the slow ones, are extremely significant factors in their development. It can improve to some extent some students’ motivation.

 

Classroom management is what I want to turn to next. On one occasion, I required students to make a report on the topic of modernization. I was surprised that they were more active in reading out their own reports than before. Their active participation was only apparently due to a little change in classroom management. Usually, they would give their reports standing on the platform, which accordingly activated those seated in the front rows more than those seated at the back. However, this time, thanks to a change of classroom management (students were asked to turn back and show their reports in an open area at the back of the class) they appeared more active in the face of such a novelty, especially those sitting at the back. Students like Ma Dongyuan, Ma Jianhui, Yanan, Wang Shuisheng, Zhang Junlan seemed eager to listen. They even volunteered to read out their reports without my constant badgering, perhaps because all at once they felt themselves to be a significant focus.

 

How will I know that I have improved students’ motivation?

Through the above-mentioned formative evaluation, I may claim that my adoption of various teaching methods has really motivated my students to improve their learning. However, to further substantiate my claim, I’d like to turn to some summative evaluation (Interpretation on New Curriculum, P14)

 

i.    My ways to collect evidence

Since AR inquires a triangulation of evidence to validate a researcher’s claim (Winter, 1989),  I tried various ways to collect data:

. questionnaires

. interview

. students’ feedback as soon as the class is over

. tape recording

. journals/notes

. observation

 

i.                         ii. My standards to evaluate my research

Š             whether the learning atmosphere is altered

Š             examination results

Š             their attitudes to my teaching

Š             students’ improvement in their self-study ability

Š             improvements in creativity and confidence

 

After one-and-a-half-year's research, I designed a questionnaire at the end of the term on Class2, Grade 2. Here is an analysis of some of it[2]:

 

Question 4: Do you like the learning atmosphere in my class?

 

Answer

Ss’ choice

%

(a) interesting v. relaxed

14

67%

(b) boring

0

0

(c) just so so

6

28%

(d) terrible v. pressured

1

4%

 

 [notes: altogether 24ss took part in this questionnaire, 2 were absent and 3 didn’t answer this question. This questionnaire was conducted anonymously, which, I believe to some extent, increases its validity.]

 

Question 10: Do you think you’re motivated to learn in the class or in another word, you are happy and ready to learn without much pressure?

 

Ss choice

Numbers

%

Motivated

17

76%

Not motivated

4

29%

 

Question 8: How do you feel about our previous teaching methods and present ones?

 

Tian Ping: the previous teaching method regard us as a container, and the teacher tried to fill in it, while now the teacher and students communicated with each other and interacted. It is better than before.

 

Niu Huiyan: Previously, the teacher kept talking while students listening, but presently, the teaching method is students-centered, encouraging students self-reflection, and communicating.

 

Question 11: Do you think my teaching method is suitable for you? Why?

 

Zhao Weidong: Yes, because I can learn without pressure.

 

An anonymous student wrote: I felt no pressure for the learning atmosphere is active which could make my feel interesting.

 

Here, a problem arises, I believe. If I believe what students said in their questionnaires, I might simply take it at face-value. How can I prove what they said really happened, namely, were they really motivated to learn better than before? I turned to their examination result. I believed if they were really motivated, they would gain much improvement on their examination results. (Thanks to Moira. It is she who leads me to think about this). I took a sample of their final exams on two terms of the year, 2003, and made a comparison among the classes of the same level. Here is a list:

 

Class

Average scores

Not failed%

90~100

80~90

70~80

60~70

Up to 60

1

74.70

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

74.04

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

61.78

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

70.92

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

73

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

75.04

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

69

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

72

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From these two charts, we can see that the students’ examination scores improved. On the one hand, compared with these level classes, students in class 2's average scores were in second place, which then moved to first place during the second term. On the other hand, using an ipsative criterion, in other words, comparing the students’ former experiences with their present ones, we can see that they have also improved. As to the students’ self-study ability, I invited Tasha (my dear foreign colleague) to interview six students of mine. (Tasha and I chose them both according to their scores and degree of participation in class. Thus we hoped they could represent the students of a high level, a middle level, and of low attainment respectively. We also tape-recorded the interview in order to increase validity. An analysis of their interview helped me draw the following conclusions:

 

They mainly seemed to prefer student-centered teaching methods, especially questioning which they regarded as a good method to motivate them. Most importantly, they all agreed that their self-study ability  improved during that year and were more motivated and interested in the learning atmosphere. Tasha also told me that my students appeared more active since I am engaged in Educational Action Research on them.

 

My conclusions

During these one and a half years, I have experienced my own living contradictions. Thanks to Moira Laidlaw’s instruction together with the enlightenment of AR as well as other colleagues’ help - Li Peidong, Zhao Xiaohong, Tasha Bleistein, Ma Jianfu - I have reflected on my own teaching and realized what I claimed and believed were in reality going against what was actually happening and what I actually wanted to happen. I believed that as long as a teacher played the role of “delivering morals, passing on the knowledge and skills, and helping solve the problems”, s/he was no doubt a good teacher. I also believed that my previous academic style helped to fulfill my dream of being a good teacher. Ironically, what I later learned from students was that I actually denied my values in my actions (Whitehead, 1989). By this austere teaching style I spoon-fed the knowledge to my students, which, far from motivating them to learn, badly constrained their creativity and freedom to communicate, as well as their insight and rights as individuals. It is Moira and Action Research that have helped me realize what was truly happening in my class. During my Action Research enquiry, I have simultaneously developed my own living educational theory (Whitehead, 1989, 1993) which, in mainly resulting from my own practice, is bound to enlarge my horizons, strengthen my insight, and improve my knowledge towards second language teaching as a professional teacher.

 

I have started to regard education as a constantly developmental, sustainable process instead of a static, passive 'thing'. Such practice and self-reflection, as well as self-directing research have helped me enhance my own professional development. I now feel capable of monitoring my teaching more flexibly, confidently and wisely. Most importantly, I am able to concentrate my attention on my students’ learning not merely on my teaching. To sum up, what I have achieved will not only improve my students’ learning but also will empower my teaching and their learning.

 

Now I’d like to share what living educational theory I have learned from my research in more general terms. First comes motivation. Apart from students’ aptitude, motivation is an essential key to students’ success in second-language learning. To improve students’ motivation is far from solving the whole problem, however. Owing to different teaching materials as well as different students’ learning needs, a variety of teaching methods are required to enhance motivation. Metaphorically, this can be linked to a spider’s web or triangulation instead of a linear pathway. In other words, various teaching methods and techniques work together to hold students’ motivation, which, in my view, a singular method can never achieve. For instance, a poor student may be motivated by several encouraging words, whereas a good student may need more challenging questions. Secondly, teachers are not always responsible for students’ motivation as that partly arises out of the students themselves.

 

I remember once when other students appeared active in my class, several seemed tired and one of them even yawned. To start with I thought I had failed to motivate them. But why were other students so active? Through a small talk with them (Bai Liang, Ji Jianjun, Ma Dongyuan) during the break, I learned they had gone to bed too late the previous night!

 

Another typical example is Tian Ping. She is usually inactive and silent in my class. Both Moira and I supposed that she was not motivated. Moira once wrote: “How can you involve her in the learning? She is writing nothing in her book.” However, an interview with her later proved that she preferred an “inactive and silent learning style”. Other students’ active participation even made her feel uncomfortable. She said her silence didn’t mean she was distracted from my teaching:

 

She also told me that my teaching methods were very good because in this way it can cater to different demands of different students. Thus she always kept quiet and inactive in my class, but she insisted that she was listening carefully. For her seldom taking notes, she said she tried to memorise what I said in my lesson and her way did work. Thus her attitudes in my eyes were explained properly. (Journal entry, May)

 

 I believe what she told me for she usually gained a decent score in examinations. In the light of that, I am reassured that students are also responsible for their own motivation and that it reveals itself in different ways. Their tiredness and preference for different learning styles may influence their motivation and learning.

 

Thirdly, I advocate that, apart from the two types of motivations, namely, integrative and instrumental, there is another type—emotional motivation. By it, I mean teachers’ encouragement and conscious attention to some students, particularly the poor, may motivate them to learn. Put plainly, emotional motivation encourages a building-up of a friendly relationship between teachers and students through such ways as chat, individual communication, personal talk or even conscious attention, encouragement etc. my previous experience with Ji Jianjun and Tian Ping go some way to underlining that possible truth.

 

Another example comes from Tian Xing. She is an active student. However I always used to ignore her because of her very activeness because I believed more opportunities should be offered to other inactive and poor students. What was beyond my expectation was she was so sensitive that she felt my intentional avoidance of her. Without sensing my true purpose, she once wrote to me: “I don’t think I am motivated by you and please give me a suitable explanation for why you always jump over me, only me in the whole class?” Her inquiry really surprised me and assured me that emotional motivation actually exists among students. No discrete teaching method would solve this problem. What I realised was that I needed to have a talk with her, informing her of my true intention.

 

Futhermore, my research has strengthened my insight into Action Research. I hold the following opinion: Action Research is a self-reflective, problem-spotting, problem-solving, evaluative, and self-improving process. It starts with a value (McNiff, 2002), then encourages educators to spot their own living contradictions (Whitehead, 1989), and try to solve them so as to generate their living educational theories through their practice and research. As a consequence, they can enhance their professional development. As a researcher, you have to undergo the process, which looks like a black box in some ways. AR focuses on student-centered teaching and students' learning needs. And the individuals’ learning needs always come first. It seems a basic tenet of Action Research (McNiff, 1993, 2000; Whitehead, 1989, 1993) that the whole class consists of different individuals whose differences should be noted and respected as human beings.

 

Here you may notice another contradiction. What I have concerned myself about actually goes against the above-mentioned value. What I have focused on and talked about are mostly the group instead of individuals. Moira, after listening to my class once wrote: “Do you know what individual students are doing in your lesson?…Next time you could have given the poor students some individual encouragement!”  

 

To compensate for that, I have decided that my next Action Research question should be:

 

“How can I understand individual students’ learning needs so as to increase their motivation in the learning of English?”

 

 


Bibliography

Cook, V. (2000), “Second Language Learning and Language Teaching”, Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, Beijing.

Richards, J. C. and Theodores S. Rodgers, (1986), “Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

McNiff, J (2002), “Action Research for Professional Development", booklet at: http://www.jeanmcniff.com

Whitehead, J., (1985), “An Analysis of an Individual’s Educational Development: The Basis for Personally Oriented Action Research”, Shipman. M., Falmer Books, London.

Whitehead. J (1989), “Creating a Living Educational theory from Questions of the kind, “How do I improve my practice?” Cambridge Journal of Education.

Winter, R., (1989), ‘Learning from Experience’, Falmer Press, England.

“The New Curriculum of English,” Beijing. The integrated Skills of English.

 

References

Edge, J, (2001) Action Research: Case Studies in TESOL Practice Series, Jill Burton, Series Editor.

McNiff, J., (2000), Teaching as Learning, Routledge, London.

McNiff, J. (2002) with Whitehead, J., “Action Research: Principles and Practice”, Routledge, London and New York.

McNiff, J., Lomax, P., Whitehead, J., (1996), You and Your Research Project, Hyde Publcation, Dorset, U.K.

Laidlaw, M., (2002), “A Handbook of Communicative Methodology”, first draft, China's Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching, Guyuan Teachers College, Ningxia, 756000.

Whitehead, J., 1993, 'The Growth of Educational Knowledge', Hyde Publications, Dorset, England.

Yule, G., (2000), “ The Study of Language”, Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, Beijing.



 

[2] The complete set of questionnaires conducted in this research are to be found in my data-archive.