Enhancing Motivation in the Foreign Languages Classroom

With Special Focus on German Textbooks, Teachers' Roles and Learners' Interests

Master's Thesis, 2010

74 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

Introduction - What is the thesis about?

1. Motivation and Interest defined
1.1 Motivation
1.1.1 Behavioural and cognitive theories
1.1.2 Arousal theories
1.2 Motivation to learn
1.3 Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation
1.4 Interest

2. The importance of interest for language learning in the classroom

3. Creating motivational conditions in the classroom
3.1 Focus on the teacher
3.1.1 Personal characteristics
3.1.2 Closeness
3.1.3 Classroom management
3.2 Focus on the learner
3.3 Atmosphere in the classroom
3.3.1 A classroom climate free of anxiety
3.3.2 A positive classroom environment
3.4 Focus on the lesson
3.4.1 Materials
3.4.2 Activities

4. How to increase motivation by including the learners’ interests – a research
4.1 Aims of the research
4.2 The questionnaire
4.3 Results of the questionnaire
4.4 Evaluation of the results
4.4.1 Topics
4.4.2 Teachers’ personality
4.4.3 Methods
4.4.4 Media

5. Relating the learners’ interests to the Lower Saxony Core Curriculum

6. Conclusion



Introduction – What is the thesis about?

Motivation is, without question, the most complex and challenging issue facing teachers today (Scheidecker and Freeman 1999:116, cited in Dörnyei 2007:1).

This quotation covers the importance of motivation for successful language learning in the modern classroom. There are several ways of enhancing students’ motivation in the EFL classroom but an important one is to create the lesson on the basis of the learners’ interests. Everyone, who looks back on their former school days, might remember that learning was more enjoyable when the topics were interesting and furthermore, when they were handled in an exiting way.

The intention of this paper at hand is to present several ideas of improving the general motivation in the classroom according to the consideration of learners’ interests. In addition to that, the current interests of students from German secondary schools and the consideration of the interests in the common English classroom will be presented with the help of a questionnaire.

This paper consists of six main parts. Part one is an overview of the terms motivation and interest. At first, motivation and interest will be defined in their psychological context and in the following these terms will relate to their meaning in the English classroom. It is necessary for the further content of this paper because both of these terms appear frequently throughout the text. In addition to the first part, the second part will mention the importance of incorporating students’ interest in the learning classroom.

The third part of this paper will deal with several possibilities of creating motivational conditions in the L2 classroom. Therefore, this paper brings four main factors into focus: the role of the teacher, the role of the student, the atmosphere in the classroom and the lesson itself. In all four sections several ideas will be given how to create a language learning atmosphere that is motivating to the participants of the English classroom.

In addition to the third part of this paper at hand, part four is about a research which is conducted on the basis of the theoretical aspects which are presented in part one, two and three. The intention of the research is, to find out the current interests of students of secondary schools according to different factors of the English learning classroom and furthermore the handling of students’ interests in the lessons. Part four includes the aims of the research, the explanation about the questionnaire, the presentation of the results and the evaluation of the outcome. Therefore, the evaluation is based on the four main sections of the questionnaire. These are: topics, the teachers’ personality, methods and media.

Part five will deal with the content of the Lower Saxony Core Curriculum and how it considers the students’ interests that were represented in part four. The Core Curriculum represents the highest concept to which the English lessons should be structured to. The conclusion will sum up the results of the research and the findings of part five.

1. Motivation and Interest defined

This entire work is based on the psychological term: motivation. Therefore it is important to understand what motivation actually is. Motivation is a concept with many varied aspects. Many authors, psychologists and other professionals have attempted to define motivation, but often the numerous definitions from all the different experts are somewhat unsatisfying because of technical explanations without any practical examples.

In the following Section (Section 1.1), a summary of some of the basic ideas of the term, motivation, are given. This is based mainly on psychological knowledge and concentrates on those aspects deemed relevant to this work. However, this work is written in connection with educational principles, therefore the psychological background is only presented to define the following terms: motivation, learning motivation, intrinsic motivation and interest.

1.1 Motivation

To understand the meaning and widespread concepts of motivation, it makes sense to give a definition of the word’s derivation. Motivation stems from the Latin verb: movere. This contains the notion of movement. Motivation is “something that gets us going, keeps us moving, and helps us get jobs done” (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:4). According to Hartinger & Fölling-Albers (2002:16), motivation is usually seen as a process rather than a product. It varies in its intensity and can be dependent on time. For example, on one day a person can be more motivated to go to work than on another.

According to Pintrich and Schunk (1996:4) factors such “as [the] choice of tasks, effort, persistence and verbalization” can have motivation as foundation. To have a reason to behave or to act in a specific way, one has a goal in mind that should be attained. Pintrich and Schunk (1996:4) state that “motivation is the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained”. Furthermore, motivation involves mental and physical processes of activity. Mental processes are, for example, “actions [such] as planning, rehearsing, organizing, monitoring, making decisions, solving problems and assessing progress” (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:5). Motivation is, more or less, a mental sustainer that helps people to get things done and helps to understand the behaviours of others.

Psychologists call motivation a hypothetical construct with no real existence (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2002:17), but there is some kind of certainty that there is something inside people that keeps them going in order to achieve a specific goal.

In general, people have an inner motive that explains their behaviour. However, it is important to differentiate between motives, goals and strategies (Brophy 2010: 3). According to Brophy (2010:3), goals are “the immediate objectives of action sequences” and strategies are “the methods used to achieve goals and thus to satisfy motives”. Hartinger and Fölling-Albers (2002:17) argue that effort and persistence are the main physical actions of motivation.

Another important aspect, concerning goals, is that they can be reached either in the short-term or in the long-term. For example, it can be a long-term aim when the target is to graduate with high grades or to earn money to build a house Hartinger and Fölling-Albers (2002:17).

1.1.1 Behavioural and cognitive theories

In the history of human psychology, experts have formulated two central theories of motivation: The behavioural and the cognitive theory. Both theories explain possible reasons for the existence of motivation.

Behavioural theories explain that the reason for peoples’ motivation “lies in the environment” (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:27). Heckhausen and Heckhausen (2006:5) stated that situational influences include opportunities and possible stimuli that lead to a particular action. The stimuli can be positive or negative. The basic idea of the behaviourists is that drives or needs of an individual are responsible for the actions of that individual (Brophy 2010:3).

Other theories argue that behaviour is caused by reinforcers. Therefore some behavioural theories do not talk about motivation but about control (Brophy 2010:3). This aspect of control relates to the situation at most schools because control by means of reinforcers is the norm. For example, Brophy (2010:3) stated that reinforcers in school are “report card systems, conduct codes, and honor rolls and awards ceremonies”. The first two reinforcers mentioned are relevant for the German school system.

Cognitive theories suggest that motivation is an internal process, which can only be observed by “its behavioural products” (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:27). Heckhausen and Heckhausen (2006:3), when explaining cognitive theories of motivation, describes three basic personal elements: implicit motives, explicit motives and universal needs of an individual person. The motives of an individual explain why people behave differently in particular situations. Psychologists infer that people behave differently because of their character, habits and motives, in short: by reason of their personality (Heckhausen and Heckhausen 2006:3).

According to Heckhausen and Heckhausen (2006:4), implicit and explicit motives differ in their level of consciousness. Implicit motives are unconscious because they were learnt during the infancy of an individual and became a confirmed habit (McClelland et al. 1989; cited in Heckhausen and Heckhausen 2006:4). Explicit motives, on the other hand, are conscious and, through verbalization, present self-perceptions of competence, values, goals, affects and norms (Heckhausen and Heckhausen 2006:4). Cognitive theories connect the stimuli of the reinforcer to individual motives. A reinforcer will have lower effect if it is seen as worthless (Brophy 2010:3).

In summary, the motivation of a person to achieve an aim seems to be based on situational stimuli, personal preferences and, of course, on the interaction of both aspects. Situational and personal factors can not be isolated from each other. Both motivation theories are crucial for educational interaction. Pintrich and Schunk (1996:27) stated that:

Behavioural theories imply that teachers should arrange the environment so that students can respond properly to stimuli. Cognitive theories emphasize learners’ thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.

Therefore, teachers should be aware of motivational factors, so that they are able to influence them positively with the basic goal to enhance learning and performance in terms of what, when and how long a student learns (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:6).

1.1.2 Arousal theories

Another theory of motivation includes such factors as “behaviours, emotions, and other internal mechanisms” (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:44). These are known as arousal theories and emphasis the importance of affective processes. Cannon (1927; cited in Pintrich and Schunk 1996:44) stressed that a particular perception causes an internal response and aroses emotions that cause certain behaviour.

Physical or mental behaviour, in terms of motivation, can be manifest if there is an optimal level of arousal. Arousal is affected by different kinds of stimuli, for example, novelty, ambiguity, incongruity and surprise (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:45).

Arousal theories are also important to take into consideration when attempting to encourage a motivational atmosphere in the classroom. Pintrich and Schunk (1996:46) stressed four main ideas when applying arousal theories in the classroom:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1.2 Motivation to learn

Learning motivation is not only an essential question in pedagogical psychology, but also in the every day life at school: What drives a student to learn something new? The term, learning motivation, deals with this central question. Krapp (1993:188; cited in Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2002:32) defines learning motivating in the following way: “Basically learning motivation describes those structures and processes that elucidate the existence and the effects of learning and accordingly of the learning action”.

However, from a more formal educational point of view, it is possibly more relevant to deal with learning that is purposeful and intentional (Brophy 2010:12). It is not, however, surprising that learning motivation includes the same basic concepts as motivation in general does: The personal and the situational determinants, action, effect and results (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2002:33). According to the theory of learning motivation, it is relevant that a learner connects these aspects to his or her own expectations (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2002:33). Brophy (2010:12) summarized this theory as follows:

Motivation to learn is primarily a cognitive experience involving attempts to make sense of the information that an activity conveys, to relate this information to prior knowledge, and to master the skills that the activity develops.

To help understand the complexity of learning motivation, Brophy (2010:12) describes two basic causes: On the one hand, motivation to learn is based on the “general disposition” of a learner and, on the other hand, motivation depends on the situation. General disposition is the extend of a person’s willingness to acquire knowledge whereas learning motivation, concerning the situational aspect, happens only if the student sees some importance of the activity or if she/he is interested in it (Brophy 2010:12).

1.3 Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation

There are two main forms of motivation that vary in their cause of action. If someone acts for their own reasons, he or she can be said to be intrinsically motivated. This motivation has an internal cause, for example, if a student works persistently on a task because she/he finds it enjoyable (Brophy 2010:12). This behaviour is not based on “explicit rewards or other external constraints” (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:258). Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is the result of external stimuli like rewards or punishments.

Which motivational type, however, guarantees better learning? Formal school education itself seems to foster extrinsic motivation, for most pupils, if only because school attendance is compulsory. In addition, other extrinsic elements of school are marks and school reports. However, this does not exclude the existence of intrinsic motivation at school (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2002:37).

Hartinger and Fölling-Albers (2002:37) differentiate between two forms of intrinsic motivation that can be found in the classroom. On the one hand, motivation could be enhanced through activities, and, on the other hand, intrinsic motivation occurs because of the topic that is dealt with. But through which motivation do students reach a better learning goal – extrinsic or intrinsic? According to Hartinger and Fölling-Albers (2002:37), intrinsic learning is normally more successful than extrinsic learning, because students learn more deeply. In addition, Pintrich and Schunk (1996:258) state:

Students who are intrinsically motivated engage in activities that enhance learning; they attend to instruction, rehearse new information, organize knowledge and relate it to what they already know, and apply skills and knowledge in different contexts.

Extrinsic learning is based, to a greater or lesser degree, on cursory learning strategies like simplified repetitions. This might infer that better learning does not only involve factual knowledge, but the comprehension of the item (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2002:38). It is important to enhance and encourage the learners’ intrinsic motivation to create a successful learning atmosphere in the classroom. (Several ideas of how to do so are discussed in Section 3.)

As previously mentioned, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are two types that exist somewhat separately from one another; but extrinsic rewards can have a negative influence on intrinsic motivation. This fact has to be recognized in the language learning classroom as well as in the general classroom. Pintrich and Schunk (1996:274) argued that all findings of different researches are similar with regard to the problem of extrinsic influences. Pintrich & Schunk give the following example: Julia likes painting. After school she sits at her writing desk at home and paints colourful pictures. Now, she is intrinsically motivated to paint, because she likes it. One day, her mother comes in and asks Julia to paint a picture. Julia will get sweets for it when she finished the painting. Every time Julia paints a picture she receives sweets from her mother. Now, Julia is external motivated, because she is painting for the reward (sweets). In the following days, Julia is not given sweets for her paintings, so she stops painting pictures. In this case, the reward had becomes a controlling factor (Pintrich et al. ibid.). When the mother stopped offering any rewards, Julia lost her motivation to paint.

Every learner might know this: One learns much better and more intensively if learning is fun and interesting. Therefore it is not unimportant to create an enjoyable learning environment by connecting learning with positive activities or by including interesting contents. (Section 3 expands on this important point.)

1.4 Interest

As with motivation, the term of interest exists in general language use and might be connected with, for example, hobbies, what one likes to do, a topic that one wants to know more about, in short ‘something that one is interested in’. Pedagogics uses interest as a term of motivation that refers to the learning object in the classroom. Autonomy is a central attribute of interest and infers that behaviour, which is brought about by extrinsic motivation, does not necessarily include interest (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2002:43). For this reason, interest can be seen as an aspect of intrinsic motivation.

As mentioned in Section 1.3, in order to motivate pupils, it is necessary to foster their intrinsic motivation. This is possible if the teacher arouses the interest of the learner. Regarding activities, Brophy (2010:185) created some factors that will help to arouse this interest:

Type of activity bases on the learner’s temperament (active vs. quite tasks)
- Fun and enjoyment
- Relevance
- Activities that brings the feeling of empowerment or creativity
- Meaningful and satisfying
- identification

Adapted from Brophy (2010:185)

Those mentioned aspects rely, for the most part, on personal perceptions, dispositions and emotions. In general, it is differentiated between individual and situational interest (Brophy 2010:185).

Hartinger and Fölling-Albers (2001:46) distinguish between individual and situational interest by stating that individual interest is persistent, whereas situational interest relates to current motivation regarding an objective. It then follows, that individual interest could be involved into the L2 classroom if the lesson or rather the curriculum is structured around special topics, for example hobbies (Brophy 2010:186). Teachers might find it much easier to have some influence on the situational interest of pupils because “that is generated mainly by environmental conditions” (Krapp et al., cited in Pintrich and Schunk 1996:302).

As previously mentioned, individual and situational interests are two separate concepts. However, Krapp (1998, cited in Hartinger and Fölling-Albers) states that there might be a possibility that situational interest can develop into a steady individual interest. Brophy (2010:186) created a model of the development of interest, involving four steps:

1.Triggered Situational Intent
2. Maintained Situational Intent
3. Emerging Individual Interest
4. Well-Developed Individual Interest

During the first step, the interest arises through a specific condition or, in the classroom, by means of a meaningful activity (Brophy 2010:187). The second step will follow if the situational interest is enhanced by several factors. Brophy (2010:187) mentioned factors like: support from the teacher or from other students, personal involvement and if the topic is important to the person, she/he will want to gather more information about it. The next step of development is achieved as soon as the learner “starts to generate questions” and will emerge, for example from the activities (Brophy 2010:187). According to Brophy (2010:187), interest will be well-developed if the learner sees the objective or the activity as the reward and if she/he will want to further engage in different forms of it.

2. The importance of interest for language learning in the classroom

To ensure a better learning in the language classroom the intrinsic motivation of the students should be supported and encouraged (see Section 1.3). This section will deal with the importance of incorporating the student’s interests into the L2 classroom. In the following paragraphs the main advantages will be presented.

According to Hidi and Berndorff (1998:75, cited in Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2001:82) interest and instrinsic motivation are linked to each other. People who are interested in a specific object or activity spend more time and pay a great deal of attention to it as to something that is uninteresting to them. The outcome of this is that interest has a general effect on student’s achievement (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2001:83). Additionally, Krapp (1992:21) stated that learning achievement can be attained by cognitive factors as intelligence and non-cognitive factors as motivation and interest.

In several researches Schiefele (1991, cited in Hartiner and Fölling-Albers 2001:85) found out that one will give careful thought to an object and triggers associations if one has prior knowledge of this specific object or if there are emotional connections to it. In contrast, further studies (Schiefele 1998, cited in Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2001:85) proved that learning without any interest is often cursory. For example: If a learner reads a text about sports and she/he is uninterested, she/he will not understand it as well as an interested reader would do. Furthermore, the uninterested learner will know the context only by repetitions and an interested learner internalised it just while she/he is reading the text (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2001:85). In summary, interest influences learning mainly in its intensity.

Another study carried out by Helmke (1993, cited in Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2001:88) corroborates the fact that pleasure in learning also influences the students’ achievement positively. Helmke (1993) found out that pupils with low pleasure in learning showed behaviour as general avoidance to participate in the lessons and to do homework. If the worst comes to the worst, the deficits resulting from avoidance might cause anxiety to produce language (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2001:88).

There are different possibilities to create a language lesson in terms of the students interests (will be discussed in Section 3). But at this point it shall be mentioned that an interesting lesson enhances education in different ways. Hartinger and Fölling-Albers (2001:92) stated that one important factor is the encouragement of autonomy. The autonomy of the learners can be fostered by involving them as often as possible into lesson-based decisions, for example, it might be very interesting for the learners if they have somewhat influence on the learning object (Hartinger and Fölling-Albers 2001:92). Hartinger and Fölling-Albers argued that students who have the possibility to participate autonomous in class will be more interested in the subject itself.

3. Creating motivational conditions in the classroom

Before motivation can be effective in the EFL classroom elementary conditions are needed which are created by the teacher, the learners and their environment. Thus, this section brings the motivational influences of the teacher and of the group in the language classroom into focus. The environment in the classroom is another important factor that will be dealt with. Depending on whether these specific conditions exist, motivation or demotivation will be the result.

3.1 Focus on the teacher

Usually, the common language lesson is designed by the teacher. She/he decides how the lesson is structured, which materials and methods are used, which topics are discussed and when the lesson starts and accordingly ends. In a nutshell, the teacher plays the leading role in the classroom.

The behaviour of the teacher influences the learning process and the motivational conditions of the students for the most part. Dörnyei (2007:31) stated that a self-conducted survey showed that “the participants considered the teacher’s own behaviour to be the single most important motivational tool”. Concerning the motivational effect of the teacher, Harmer (2007:20) stated that “one of the teacher’s main aims should be to help students to sustain their motivation”.

Now, what are the behavioural factors of the teacher that effect students’ motivation? The following paragraphs will present the main three aspects of teacher behaviour that have great impact on the general student motivation. These are: The teachers’ personal characteristics, teacher closeness and classroom management (Dörnyei 2001:35).

3.1.1 Personal characteristics

As mentioned above, the behaviour of a teacher in class is one of the most effective factors for creating motivation in the language learning classroom. It is understood that an unmotivated teacher is unable to affect the learners’ interaction in the classroom positively. An unprepared and boring teacher will not create a motivating atmosphere in the classroom.

It is necessary to help the students to be interested throughout a longer period in the subject, so that they will acquire the learning aim (see Section 2). Csikszentmihalyi (1997, cited in Dörnyei 2001:177) stated that popular teachers have the most influence on the students’ development, because they behave in a way that is motivating to the students. Outstanding characteristics of a popular teacher are enthusiasm and emotions. Enthusiastic teachers are interested in their own subject and are able to infect the students with their interest by showing dedication and passion “that there is nothing else on earth they would rather be doing” (Dörnyei 2001:178).

In order to motivate the students to learn, the teacher must be aware of the value of the curriculum’s content and the methods she/he will use for implementing it (Brophy 2010:214). Then, the teacher might be able to explain why this specific content of the lesson is important for the students.

According to Brophy (2010:215), most students will learn better if they understand the value of activities and the importance of learning English, for example: “Speaking English enriches life in many ways” (Dörnyei 2007:33). Of course, a teacher would only clarify the importance of the subject authentically if she/he believes in it as well. Concerning this theory, Csikszentmihalyi (1997:77, cited in Dörnyei 2001:178) stated the following:

If a teacher does not believe in his job, does not enjoy the learning he is trying to transmit, the student will sense this and derive the entirely rational conclusion that the particular subject matter is not worth mastering for its own sake.

Now, if a teacher wants to enhance the general motivation in the EFL classroom he needs to share her/his own interest with the students (Dörnyei 2007:33). According this, the teacher should not to be too emotional regarding to the own subject or to a specific topic of the lesson. It might be funny for the students if the teacher, for example, begins to cry while dealing with Romeo and Juliet or if she/he cannot control her/his anger (Dörnyei 2007:33). If a teacher is not able to deal with own emotions she/he might make a fool of her-/himself and he probably will lose the students’ respect (Dörnyei 2007:32).

A further factor of the teachers’ personality is: competence. According to this, Pintrich and Schunk (1996:167) stated the following:

Perceived model competence aids observational learning because students are more likely to attend and pattern their actions after models who perform successfully than those less competent.

According to Pintrich and Schunk (1996:167), the factor competence depends, consequently, more on the function of a role model. Of course, competence of a teacher would not necessarily cause motivation (Pintrich and Schunk 1996:168) but students might take a competent teacher more seriously than one, who performs poorly.

3.1.2. Closeness

Teacher closeness represents a further factor of creating motivational conditions in the classroom. This factor surely bases on the teacher’s behaviour as well. As the knowledge transferring part, the teacher needs to care about the learners’ development and goal-oriented success (Dörnyei 2007:36). For achieving this, the teacher should not only be the ‘transferring factor’ but a supporter and helper concerning the learning process. If a teacher does not care about the students, they will quickly sense it by means of the teacher’s absence. Regarding this Dörnyei (2007:34) assumed that

The spiritual (and sometimes physical) absence of the teacher sends such a powerful message of ‘It doesn’t matter!’ to the students, that everybody, even the most dedicated ones, are likely to be affected and become demoralised.

Summing up, not caring about the students will affect a demotivating atmosphere and probably will damage the teacher-student relationship. However, Dörnyei (2001:34) creates some ideas about showing learners that the teacher is interested in their learning process:

- Offering concrete assistance
- Offering to meet students individually to explain things
- Responding immediately when help is requested
- Correcting tests and papers promptly
- Sending learners copies of interesting articles
- Allowing students to call you at home when they have a problem
- Being available for overtime

Adapted from Dörnyei (2001:34)

Those ideas show generally what a teacher can do to show interest in the academic progress of the students. However, all of those aspects contain the extra need of time. Therefore, it is not really surprising that some teachers might not put into praxis especially the last two ideas of Dörnyei (2001:34).

Furthermore, it comes as no surprise that a good relationship between the teacher and the learners does not only depend on an academic interaction but on a personal level (Dörnyei 2007:36). That means in general, that the teacher cares for students “as real people” Dörnyei (2001:36). It is surely not easy to build rapport with all students taught by a teacher. A main reason for this difficulty might be the extra time that is needed to develop the relationship to the students.


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Enhancing Motivation in the Foreign Languages Classroom
With Special Focus on German Textbooks, Teachers' Roles and Learners' Interests
University of Hildesheim
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Motivation, Interests, Teacher, Textbooks, Foreign Language
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Katharina Okon (Author), 2010, Enhancing Motivation in the Foreign Languages Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/202280


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