Motivating MFL Students!
I was recently reading a tweet from the excellent Peps McCrea on motivation. Our brains use unconscious ‘rules of thumb’ (known as heuristics) to make decisions about where to invest our attention and effort.
As teachers, we need to know about this as we’re always trying to attract that attention and effort to the subject or skill that we’re teaching. One of the main rules that our brains use is the expectation of SUCCESS, known as ‘expectancy’. Expectancy is powerful but it is also fragile.
Learning a foreign language can be hard, and the steady march through the phonics, vocabulary and grammar of an MFL curriculum can be unrelenting, with the learner seeing little evidence of success day in day out.
You might say that a true measure of success is being able to communicate with a native speaker. This target can feel like a long way off for many learners. And even worse, the risk of failure is always present and the costs of it are ever present – embarrassment, damage to ego and anxiety for young people.
Without the conviction that success is likely, initial efforts will eventually wane, and be replaced by apathy and then avoidance. Over time, repeated failure can lead to deep-seated beliefs, such as ‘I’m no good at this’, ‘I can’t speak French’, If you have been teaching languages for any length of time, you can probably picture students who fall into this category. Left unchecked, these belies can become self-fulfilling prophesies and erect barriers to future learning.
As well as effective teaching, what can boost students’ feelings of success?
Immediate feedback that is (hopefully) positive or at least allows the student to try again quickly and boost their score, has been found to have a significant impact on student motivation. The Pronounce feature from Sanako Connect allows students to do just that. Here’s an example of a student’s first and second attempt. There’s always a correct native speaker version to listen to, slowed down if needed for clearer understanding, as a model, and then immediate feedback in the form of a 0-5 star rating.
Student Attempt 1
Student Attempt 2
And does it enhance the holy grail of motivation?
Clare Temple, head of languages at Clywedog School in Wrexham says:
“Sanako Connect is a brilliant way to motivate my students in their language learning and to build their confidence. In particular, Y9 boys love to get immediate feedback on their pronunciation and it gives them an incentive to keep practising until they get it right! They actually want to do their homework when I set exercises using Sanako Connect!”