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“Hi there, I’m Crista Hazell and my ITL Jukebox question is how can I motivate a reluctant child to learn a language?

Well, we expect learners to learn-and-do, but they need to be motivated to get on and to be engaged in their work.

So first, I as the teacher, would have to consider what I plan, the resources that I create, or indeed the resources that I want to use and  the access to these, before I even get into the classroom.

And that's really key because I need to get those aspects right.

Begin With the End in Mind

Firstly, what do I want them to know by the end of the lesson? How am I going to get them there? What resources am I going to use? What resources can the learner access? Am I planning for learning or just to get through the scheme of learning? And do I know the learner?

Those aspects are really key, so we can invoke curiosity by linking a task to an interest - so I definitely try that, I think if the learner sees a connection, it immediately gains their attention and gives them purpose.

I’ll do this perhaps with music, because children say ’I like rap music and Miss has found something interesting in this reading task’, and the children like it, so automatically they're motivated and it's a hook in.

It’s a Puppet!

If there was something that's very specific, I had to teach, for example grammar - you can't shy away from grammar, we have to do grammar - I’d find a really quirky way of introducing it, so perhaps with song, poetry, stories or perhaps using graphic novels or puppets - and anything that I could get my hands on.

This is something to really engage the reluctant learner and they might not initially like if you say ‘We've got a grammar lesson’, they’d say ‘Actually Miss I'd rather do something else’, because they know that grammar's hard, they feel it's hard because they've been told it's hard.

So be really careful about that and find really interesting ways to hook them in. So, with these elements in mind, I can plan accordingly. 

Never Fully Dressed Without It

In the classroom and online spaces we have a meet-and-greet routine, and I think these are really key so we have to get these right regardless of the situation that we're in.

I think this is really vital that learners, as they're coming in, and especially the reluctant ones, feel acknowledged and perhaps have had a smile from you.

It's a smile from you before the lesson started and as they settle into the lesson, while they're getting their things out, then you know you've seen them and they've seen you.

We can still do this online, I know some people like cameras off, but I think it's a really important to see your learners and make sure that you can see if they're in the right headspace.

It can be challenging if there's 30 on screen and you can't zoom in on one person in particular, but we really need to make sure that we do notice them.

Have a look at them, just check that they're okay and they're in the right state for learning. I’d also notice who isn't there and who wasn't on form, something you would do in a classroom setting, so I think it's quite important to do in an online setting as well.

Once I've clocked that and I know that then I can adjust my lesson activities and the order of things, that's certainly something that we do in a face-to-face classroom, so obviously we want to make sure that we do that if we're online.

Especially For You

I want the learner to feel that the lesson wasn't just pulled off a generic worksheet, but it's something that I'd planned because I know them.

I want it to be something that they can be a part of as well as something that they can feel success in. It's something that develops their language and skills, and that I cared about their progress because I'd hooked something in - whether it's something to do with music, a TV program, or something you know is a particular interest of theirs, it needs to be something that they could ask questions about too.

External Factors

Some of the external factors that some of our reluctant learners come in which we need to be aware of, and these people actually affect our classroom before the learners have even got to us, so it's not necessarily just all to do with our planning and whether we know our students really well - but what's the perception of languages in your school? Is this a subject worth learning?

The learners are thinking about this and if we've got senior leadership in other departments or colleagues saying things like ‘Oh, you know this is a really hard subject, do mine it's easier’, but also if the school is saying you can drop this at the end of year nine, then a reluctant learner comes into your language lesson thinking  ‘Why do I have to bother, I’m going to be able to drop this soon?’.

And that's the learning mindset before they come to us which adds to that reluctance, which hopefully our lessons can counter, but these are things that perhaps we don't always consider.

‘Does Miss Like Me?’

Learners can also come in with this mindset of ‘What do my friends think of languages? What are my parents’ or carers’ perception?

They also think I'm good at this, do I know if I'm good at this or am I just bad at it? Does Miss like me? Does Miss care and what do I have to do to be good at it?’.

This is because, actually, if it's easier to work harder in another subject and get a better grade, or seemingly they get better feedback, then actually that's also not going to engage them.

So we need to be really mindful to counter that and that's where that planning and knowing your students really well comes in.

So, if we keep telling students it is worth it because this will help you in the future and this is where this lesson fits and, this is going to allow you to be able to do this, then our learners will become confident global citizens who can compete, whether it's online or with a face-to-face with other young people around the globe.

So, a language is definitely going to help them to do that.

Although, obviously if learners come into your classroom and you just tell them what to do and they sit down and get on with work all the time, they will feel that they don't have any opportunity to have a say. 

Know Your Learners Well

To conclude, I will make sure that I know my learners before I even start planning!

I need to know them really well beyond the data, whilst considering what I want them to be able to do and recycle what they've learned before.

This means I can help them plan a range of tasks and activities that are well scaffolded to develop their language, skills and confidence.

I really want to hook them in to learning so that the lesson takes them on a learning journey rather than a process that's done to them and I make sure that they feel that the lesson was designed for them so that they can make key progress in languages.

A Matter of Trust

It’s also important to create opportunities for peer collaboration because sometimes teachers need to step back and just let students work together and that could be a really, really motivating factor as they learn really well from one another and really engage well with that.

It's also an element of trust - I trust them to get on with that work regardless of how reluctant they may have felt at the start the lesson or in previous lessons.

I trust them to be able to do the work and praise any engagement and, also praise the small steps of progress that they've made.

This is important because if you catch them being good, it’s really nice for them to know exactly when they're doing well.

The Power of Feedback

This then leads me on to feedback.

It's really important if you've planned a lesson or a series of activities and you expect learners to do the work, that we give feedback to them.

If you're a reluctant learner, you want to know that your teacher cares. One of the ways we can do that is not just acknowledging them in the front door and keeping an eye on them during the lesson, but also making sure that we give timely feedback.

Although, I know it's quite difficult in these challenging circumstances, but I feel that an element of feedback is so wonderful for students to hear, it motivates them.

Positive feedback helps direct their attention onto what they can focus on next to make further progress and it also helps you as the teacher to monitor them.

It’s also important to keep in touch with the learner and keep in touch with home just so they know that you're there to support them and that you care.

That phone call home or communication with home isn't negative, it can be positive as well.

Lastly, I would ask about their opinion of the topics that we were doing and make sure that this was accessible to all learners.

Thank you so much for listening, stay safe, stay well and, if you are interested in getting in touch then do contact the Independent Thinking Office."

You can check out all the other 'tracks' on our CPD Jukebox by clicking here.

Call us on +44(0)1267 211432 or email learn@independentthinking.co.uk for a chat about working with Crista and for details on how to save money when you book.

About the author

Crista Hazell

Crista Hazell

Crista is an experienced teacher and tutor and a leading figure in the UK languages teaching scene. She is the author of Independent Thinking on MFL.

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