by Paul Keach, Jakarta
“You are a professional, have ‘O’ levels, ‘A’ levels and university degrees to your name and are therefore in the top 5 percent in the world academically. School was probably never a place where you lacked motivation because you are one of the success stories of the education system. As a teacher, you may go days without teaching students like you. The challenge for you throughout the rest of your career in education is to motivate the unmotivated.”
Yes, I have been successful in education but at school I was certainly not naturally talented in all subjects. In areas where I did lack motivation, good teachers inspired me by making lessons interesting, enjoyable and accessible. To this day, I always try to keep these three words in my mind as I plan and deliver a lesson. I try to empathize with the students and put myself in the position of the learner. What is it like for them to be in my lesson? Is their learning experience positive? Have I captured their interest? Have they learned and remembered new things? Have they had fun in the lesson? Have I included everyone in the learning process?
Surely even the “Success Stories” of the education system can all recount subjects where they at least initially lacked motivation at school. Metalwork was always the bjte noire of my school subjects. I found it difficult and as a consequence was bored and showed no interest in the subject. All of this changed in Year 9 when I began Metalwork with the fantastic Mr Vey. Until then, the curriculum had seemed much too rigid. Teachers had not allowed us to make products that matched our ability level, that would be particularly useful to us or that we would be excited about designing and making. By the end of Year 9, my rock band had a complete set of metal microphone and guitar stands and Mr Vey had one very interested and highly motivated student who was enjoying Metalwork because he had finally found something that was accessible to him!
Of course, all teachers have curricula to adhere to which are not always as flexible as my Year 9 Metalwork one appeared to be then. However, I believe that there is a lesson to be learned here: less study-motivated students learn more successfully when they can successfully access a curriculum that is made enjoyable and interesting for them by the teacher.
I have heard it said on many occasions that some teachers (myself included) are frustrated stage actors performing to their audience of students. Think about when you go to the theater. What do you expect? To be entertained, to have fun and to hopefully learn something new. Students of the 21 century rightfully expect all of this in their lessons and more. As human beings (particularly if we are lacking motivation), we are unable to concentrate on one thing for too long before our concentration wavers. For these reasons, lesson activities should not last for excessive amounts of time and should be as varied as possible. For example, if I am planning a French lesson, I try to change the activity every 10 or 15 minutes and to include at least one listening activity, one speaking activity, one reading activity and one writing activity. The worst possible scenario for a student who lacks motivation is for them to become bored. Boredom can lead to tension, anger and frustration and is unhealthy for the student and teacher concerned.
The times they are a changing, said Bob Dylan, an American singer-song writer. The 21 century is well and truly upon us and technology appears to be advancing at an unparalleled speed. As teachers, it is essential that we embrace this new technology and bring it into our lessons in order to offer more enjoyment and variety to learners. Indeed, technology itself can be a superb way of motivating the unmotivated. If a particular student has an aversion to creative writing, one way of harnessing their enthusiasm could be for them to post their work on a website, virtual learning environment or simply produce their own word-processed illustrated newspaper or magazine. If a modern foreign language student has difficulties learning new vocabulary, they could be directed toward innovative websites such as “Languages Online” which make learning vocabulary into fun, interactive games.
Teachers ask me on a regular basis how they can keep in front or even maintain the same level of knowledge as their students with regards to subjects such as Computers and Information Technology. In truth, young people of today spend so much time with new technology that it is almost impossible for most of us to keep up with them. We therefore have a situation where many teachers are actually learning from their students. Gone are the days when teachers would stand at the front of a class and be expected to be the fountain of all knowledge. Classrooms of the 21 century are places where students learn from students, teachers learn from students and students learn from teachers. Picture the scenario that I have seen on numerous occasions: an unmotivated student assisting their teacher in overcoming a technological difficulty in the classroom. What better way could there be for a previously unmotivated student to gain confidence?
W.B. Yeats, an Irish poet and dramatist, said: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
By making lessons interesting, enjoyable and accessible, I believe that teachers can light the fire for all students that will burn for the rest of their lives.
The writer is deputy head of secondary, British International School.