Simple, isn’t it? Or is it…
There are 2 sides to motivating learners to work independently. One is through assessment and the other is through engagement with the process and outcomes (the prize). Let’s look at establishing the prize.
Working with learning portfolios, learners need to set goals, fill the portfolio with task output (e.g. voice recordings or pieces of writing) that prove by the end of the semester that they have achieved those goals. We don’t have to adopt portfolios to borrow a little from portfolio philosophy to help us establish the prize for our learners.
There are different sets of prizes – long, short and medium term rewards. Spend time getting to know your learners’ final aspirations for their careers or travel or social lives. Get them to write down how having (some) English will help them work towards attaining those things.
Long term goals are life oriented – better jobs, the ability to chat up people they like on holiday:), understanding their favourite music, film or literature more profoundly. Medium term goals can be a bit more strategic, such as passing the year end exams, getting to the next level, staying in the same group as their friends when they all pass. These can also refer to fluency and skills work, the ability to do something more accurately/fluently. Short term goals can be based around individual language points as well as subskills, e.g. skim reading articles quickly to find out if they are relevant or not.
What to do?
Set some time aside at the beginning of the semester to identify and write down their long term and medium term goals. Once they have done this individually, you can ask them to discuss in small groups and then as a a class to establish the priorities for the group. You can use the more general version of the CEFR can do statements for this if you like. Take a note of this and make a ‘Mission Statement’ for the class. You could get them to do this as a negotiation activity if their level is high enough. At mid point through the semester, you should do some mid-way counselling to see how well they feel the course is going. Refer to the mission statement. Do you and they feel they are moving in the right direction? Have the group’s priorities changed since the beginning? In which case, do you want to change the statement?
For shorter term goals, ask the students to complete the more CEFR can do statements at the beginning of the semester. You may need to do this in the students’ L1 as they can be quite difficult to understand at first. When you ask them to do this, don’t give them a binary decision for their response. i.e. not yes or no but more like ‘I can do this easily’, ‘I can do this well,’ ‘I can do this but I don’t feel very confident yet,’ I can do this with difficulty,’ ‘I can’t do this at all.’ This way you give them a graded progression through to full competence with a particular skill or language point.
Refer to these regularly and ask the students to consider which of the can-do statements have been addressed since the last time they looked. Get them to reassess themselves on the relevant statements. If they have made no progress, ask them why. Try and recycle this language point in your classes or give them back up work to do at home on the LMS.
Importantly, you should always highlight the link between the short term prize and how it helps work towards the longer term prizes. After you do this for a while, they will start to think about this for themselves. Rather than telling them, you can ask them: ‘so, how does this fit in to our mission statement/long term goals.’ They may not get it straight away but persevere and it will help them keep their eyes on the prize and you can use this to help get them interested in completing activities they may otherwise not be very excited about.
Have you done any of this before? How did it go? Give it a try and let us know!
For more information on portfolios, have a look at the following links: