Raising motivation and improving behaviour
By Susan Wallace
Fear, boredom, previous negative experiences and loss of hope are the four main triggers for negative behaviour. Fortunately, there are several strategies that you can employ.
When I first began teaching in further education as a keen part-timer many years ago, my initial experience was slightly perturbing. Called in at short notice to cover for an absent teacher, I was gleefully told by the head of department that the class I was about to meet had “hung the last chap out of the window by his feet”. I very much doubt whether this was true, but it’s indicative of the unfair image that people still have of FE learners. However, teachers are now reporting increasing problems with learner motivation and behaviour, perhaps attributable, in part, to factors such as the current requirement for English and maths. A survey of FE learner attitudes suggests that disengaged or negative behaviour has four main causes: fear, boredom, previous negative experience and loss of hope.
So let’s look at some practical ways teachers can defuse or deal with these.
This may include fear of failure; fear of ridicule by other learners; or fear of you, the teacher. The way out is simply not to engage with learning at all. So here are some strategies to defuse the fear.
• Be approachable.
• Show your sense of humour.
• Never expose the weakness of any individual in front of the class.
• Never embarrass anyone.
• Plan carefully so that you don’t set learners up to fail.
Learners might be bored because they find the work too easy or too difficult. They may lose interest if their lessons are constantly interrupted by the disruptive behaviour of a minority. They may experience the teaching methods as tedious or too teacher-centred, with not enough built-in activity. Perhaps the time designated for a topic or activity exceeds their attention span – which may be anywhere between five and 20 minutes. It may even be that the course they’re on is not one they’d have freely chosen.
But here are some practical strategies to counteract boredom.
• Build in differentiation that strikes a balance between challenge and attainability.
• Review your teaching strategies. Aim for maximum impact. Surprise them!
• Include plenty of learner activity.
• Plan frequent changes of activity so that you don’t exceed their attention span.
• Use the learners’ interests as a starting point.
Previous negative experience School may have taught learners a sense of failure, or that learning is a painful process offering no expectation of enjoyment. They may feel they have to live up to a reputation as ‘trouble-maker’. Their previous experience of teachers may lead them to see you as The Enemy; and they may have discovered that disrupting a lesson is an easier option than knuckling down to work.
Previous negative experience is a hard one to deal with because you can’t undo the past.
But you may find the following strategies helpful.
• Make the learning as enjoyable as possible.
• Find ways to give learners a taste of success – perhaps by breaking down goals into smaller, easily attainable tasks which offer them a repeated sense of achievement and give you an opportunity to repeatedly praise them.
• Don’t react. Don’t allow yourself to be antagonised. Model the respectful behaviour you want to encourage in the learner. Use humour where possible.
• Explain learning as a team effort that is achieved by the teacher and learner working together. There are no ‘sides’ and therefore there is no need for conflict or blame.
Loss of hope
Learners are unlikely to feel motivated to learn if they believe they have no hope of succeeding at the task, the qualification or their long-term ambitions. They may also have abandoned hope of earning praise or respect from their teacher, or of experiencing enjoyment from learning.
Try the following approach to boosting their confidence.
• Behave as though you enjoy teaching them.
• Break tasks down into steps they can hope to manage.
• Create opportunities to give praise.
• Treat learners with respect.
In summary, we can make a difference by how we behave, as teachers. As a rookie part-timer, I didn’t know any of this. But, luckily, I did avoid being dangled out of that window.
This article is based on the chapter, ‘Four big de-motivators and how to beat them’ in Susan Wallace’s book, Motivating unwilling learners in FE: The key to improving behaviour, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2017.
You can read more about the research in: Wallace, S. (2014) ‘When you’re smiling: exploring how teachers motivate and engage learners in the FE sector’ in the Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol 38, No 3, 346-360.
Professor Susan Wallace is emeritus professor of education at Nottingham Trent University. She is an author and has taught in FE for a number of years.