One of the questions I get a lot as an ESL teacher is: what do you find to be the most challenging aspect of teaching? Such a naive question, right?

I was on maternity leave for over a year (we’re blessed here in Canada) and decided to come back to teaching with a new approach. I made it a goal to do a lot of reflection regarding my teaching style, lessons, and learning objectives of the class. So every week or so I sit with my thoughts and try to figure things out. I ask myself: how much teacher talk took place in the classroom this week? Why? How engaged were students during activity A, B and C? Why? How motivated were the students? Why? This last question I couldn’t figure out the answer to. Not that there is one definite answer, but I did, at least, try  to understand.

I see how they get frustrated when homework is assigned, I hear deep sighs at the sight of a difficult quiz, and arms up in sign of protest when I say I will choose their partners for a project. Some remain bewildered, how is it that hours spent memorizing the lessons did not produce learning? Having all the student complete the assigned work, contribute to class discussions and debates, answer questions, and, most importantly, ask questions, is very important to me as I think they’re all essential to learning.

So I decided to have my students do some reflection, too, and see what they’d get from it.

The third day of the term I encouraged my students to discuss and write down their own learning goals for the class and English classes in general while keeping some questions in mind. Why are they learning English? How will this help them now and in the future? What kind of learning techniques and strategies did they use to learn English back home? I asked them to evaluate these strategies. Should they adopt new techniques? What, to them, is the role of the teacher? What makes a good class, a good teacher, a good student? This took a while, and the rest of that day was amazing. With their goals in mind, the students were actively working and engaged. No one was using their L1! At the end of the week, however, I noticed the attitude shifting back, slowly, to what it was pre-activity. It was reflection time again. I asked them to write reflectively on what they had learned this week and if they were closer to their learning goals as discussed previously. This became a weekly activity. The reflective writing became the anchor that kept them motivated and eager to be completely involved in the lessons and 100% present. I didn’t even have to say anything about putting phones away. Notes were being taken.

So what is the lesson here for me? I think motivating students is key. And I don’t mean motivating them with fun and games (even though that’s not a bad idea once in a while); I mean motivating them intrinsically; becoming a kind of mirror that students use to see and remember why they are here and why they should be present. This reflection activity has been working really well for me and my students. I’m sure there are more.

Do you use any similar techniques to intrinsically motivate your students? If so, how do you make sure motivation is constant? Feel free to comment, share or email us with questions, ideas or advice!

Thanks for reading and happy Tuesday!


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