Motivation is one of the key factors in ELT learning and teaching. I can’t stop thinking about possible ways of creating a variety of situations to motivate my learners, trainees and myself. Many teachers agree that keeping young learners motivated is not a nice cushy job. Young learners’ goals seem to be more distant than goals of adult learners and, moreover, there are some age groups that are more difficult to deal with than others. I believe the teacher’s role in establishing and maintaining learners’ positive attitude to learning English is crucial.
I worked with different age groups and did some classroom research, which helped me work out some features of different age groups and that all of my groups were of mixed ability, which makes teaching a lot more challenging. I based my DELTA Module 3 Assignment, which was ‘Designing course programmes for 10-12 year old learners in Moscow’, on the results of the data I managed to collect about some of my learners and I keep sharing my findings.
There are certain stereotypes or beliefs about differences between adult and young learners, and, to my mind, there is some truth in many of those. For instance, children cannot rely on their previous learning, their background knowledge is limited and they are not able to hypothesize about features of the second language because they are still developing their literacy in their mother tongue. Teachers agree that young learners learn more slowly and often forget things that they have learnt. Although they may have a better memory than kids, it is still far from perfect and they need some help in developing learning strategies.
Their social skills are still developing and they may present outright discipline problems being apathetic and unruly. It goes without saying that children are very emotional and often over-active so they can easily get bored and distracted, which means that they may become disruptive if not interested.
Preteens may be less motivated as they do not have specific foreign language needs unlike older learners. Some children might be under pressure from their parents or the school system, because they have to take English language examinations. Young learners need individual attention and approval from the teacher. What is more, peer approval is essential for adolescents.
I collected information and reflected on what my learners of 10-12 year old were good at and what helped them learn effectively at different stages of the English course. The learners were involved in a variety of activities such as questionnaires, project work and surveys for conducting needs analysis and confirming the current level of learners’ language proficiency. I constantly observed my learners, interviewed them, their parents, administrators and their former teachers and I managed to discover information about their previous learning experience, their learning needs, preferences and perceptions of language difficulties.
My research indicated that the learners were of elementary – low intermediate level (A2-B1 according to CEFR) with varying areas of strengths. Although some learners had studied English for several years, they still needed strategy-based instructions. Overall, the learners found it difficult to articulate their needs but some of the oldest children had already started talking about their future goals in English such as English for academic purposes or for future career development.
As there is no straightforward guidance for teachers, the obvious implication is the necessity to find ways of motivating students and trying to respond to their needs, which can be done by continuous reflection and readiness to change.
Yalden suggests engaging learners in ‘creative interaction’ (Yalden 1995:57) and providing a supportive environment. For example, as young learners prefer talking about their lives and respond well to learning the language that can help them to express their own thoughts and experience, teachers have to select and adjust material so that it is relevant and involving. Setting tasks and activities that are appropriate for the learners’ stage of conceptual development may well foster strategies for learning and communication as well as help teachers meet their individual learners’ needs.
My classroom research revealed that assessing learners’ needs, constant lesson evaluation and reflection are essential parts of teaching, especially when working with young learners. Along with developing skills and language awareness, the purpose of the English course is to raise learners’ interest in English, familiarize them with rules of communication, develop their learning and communicative strategies, which refers to the growing importance of a teacher’s role.