Senior 1 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 1
The Senior 1 Learner and the Learning Environment - Part 2

Fostering a Will to Learn

All literate individuals have moments of deep concentration when they lose themselves in the world of a text, or moments of satisfaction and pleasure in using language to express themselves forcefully and with precision. Experiences like these nurture a commitment to literacy. Ideally, the learner pursues every learning experience for its own sake.

Experiences of intense involvement are optimal opportunities for teaching engagement in learning, and teachers endeavour to ensure that they happen frequently in the classroom. Not every necessary learning task, however, can be intrinsically rewarding to every learner. Being a successful learner also requires a high degree of what Corno and Randi (1997) call "sustained voluntary effort" — an attitude that expresses itself in committing oneself to less interesting tasks, persisting in solving problems, paying conscientious attention to detail, managing time, self-monitoring, and making choices between competing values, such as the desire to do well on a homework assignment and the desire to spend the evening with friends. The willingness to make this sustained effort constitutes motivation.

Motivation is a concern of teachers, not only because it is essential to classroom learning, but also because volition and self-direction are central to lifelong learning. Language arts courses seek both to teach students how to read, write, and use language in other ways, and to foster the desire to do so. Motivation is not a single factor that students either bring or do not bring to the classroom. It is multi-dimensional, individual, and often comprises both intrinsic and extrinsic elements. There are things that teachers can do to promote the attitudes and skills that translate into engagement in each learning task.

In considering how they can foster motivation, teachers may explore students' appreciation of the value (intrinsic and extrinsic) of learning experiences and their belief about their likelihood of success. Good and Brophy (1987) suggest that these two elements can be expressed as an equation; the effort students are willing to expend on a task is a product of their expectation of success and of the value they ascribe to success.

Expectancy x Value = Motivation
(the degree to which students expect to be able to perform the task successfully if they apply themselves)   (The degree to which students value the rewards of performing the task successfully)    

Teachers may, therefore, want to focus on making certain that students can succeed if they apply reasonable effort, and on helping students recognize the value of classroom learning experiences. The following chart provides teachers with suggestions for fostering motivation.

Fostering Motivation
Ways to Foster Expectations of Success Best Practice and Research
  • Help students to develop a sense of self-efficacy.
  • Schunk and Zimmerman (1997) found that students who have a sense of self-efficacy are more willing to participate, work harder, persist longer when they encounter difficulties, and achieve at a higher level than students who doubt their learning capabilities.
  • Teachers foster a sense of self-efficacy first by teaching students that they can learn how to learn. Students who experience difficulty often view the learning process as mysterious and outside their control. They believe that others who succeed in school do so entirely because of natural, superior abilities. It is highly motivating for these students to discover that they, too, can learn and apply the strategies that successful students use when learning.
  • Second, teachers foster student self-efficacy by recognizing that each student can succeed, and communicating that belief to the student. Silver and Marshall (1990) found that student’s perception that he or she is a poor learner is a strong predictor of poor performance, overriding natural ability and previous learning. All students benefit from knowing that the teacher believes they can succeed and will provide the necessary supports to ensure that learning takes place.
  • Help students to learn about and monitor their own learning processes.
  • Research shows that students with high metacognition (students who understand how they learn) learn more efficiently, are more adept at transferring what they know to other situations, and are more autonomous than students who have little awareness of how they learn. Teachers enhance metacognition by embedding, into all aspects of the curriculum, instruction in the importance of planning, monitoring, and self assessing. Turner (1997) found that teachers foster a will to learn when they support "the cognitive curriculum with a metacognitive and motivational one" (199).
  • Assign tasks of appropriate difficulty, communicating assessment criteria clearly, and ensuring that students have clear instruction, modelling and practice so that they can complete the tasks successfully.
  • A methodology for thorough instruction of learning strategies is found in this overview.
  • Help students to set specific and realistic personal goals and to learn from situations where they do not attain their goals, and celebrate student achievements.
  • Research shows that learning is enhanced when students set goals that incorporate specific criteria and performance standards (Foster, 1996; Lock and Latham, 1990)

Fostering Motivation
Ways to Foster Appreciation of the Value of Learning Best Practice and Research
  • Offer choices.
  • Intrinsic motivation is closely tied to students’ self-selection of texts, topics, activities, and creative forms. Teachers need to support students in the search for texts that are developmentally appropriate and of high interest, and encourage students to bring language forms they value into the classroom. Self-selection allows students to build their learning on the foundation of their personal interests and enthusiasm.
  • Set worthwhile academic objectives.
  • Rather than asking students to execute isolated skills or perform exercises that are without context, teachers need to embed instruction in meaningful events and activities that simulate language uses in real-world settings, and ensure that students share performances and products with audiences.
  • Help students to learn about and monitor their own learning processes.
  • In teaching specific learning strategies, teachers need to focus on the usefulness of each strategy for making meaning of information or for expressing ideas of importance to students. Teachers need to emphasize the importance of literacy to the richness and effectiveness of students’ lives, and de-emphasize external rewards and consequences such as marks.
  • Ensure that literacy experiences are interactive.
  • A community that encourages students to share their learning with each other values literacy. Teachers who model curiosity, enthusiasm, and pleasure in books, films, and other texts, and who share their own reading, writing, and viewing experiences, foster motivation for literacy learning.

Creating a Stimulating Learning Environment

A vital language arts class grows out of, and is reflected in, a stimulating and inviting physical environment. While the resources and physical realities of classrooms vary, a well-equipped English language arts classroom offers or contains a variety of resources that help stimulate learning.

Ways to create a stimulating learning environment include the following:

  • Design seating arrangements that reflect a student-centred philosophy and that lend themselves to flexible grouping. Moveable tables or desks allow students to interact in various configurations. Desks arranged in a circle for whole-class discussions convey the importance of each speaker.
  • Maintain a print-rich environment. Having a school library does not preclude the need for a classroom library of books for self-selected reading. The classroom library may include fiction and non-fiction of various genres and at all reading levels, poetry and drama, newspapers and magazines, cartoons, children's literature, and students' published work. It may also include a binder of student reviews and recommendations, and may be decorated by student-designed posters or book jackets. Classroom reference books include dictionaries, thesauri, style and usage guides, and books of quotations, facts, and lists. The reference area of the classroom may be designated as an editing station.
  • Equip the classroom with one or more cassette players for the class to use in listening to music, speeches, dramas, documentaries, and books on tape, and for students to use in generating ideas, rehearsing and self-assessing performances, and taping oral histories, interviews, and radio plays. Teachers can use the cassette players to record commentaries on student work.
  • Have access to a computer, television, video cassette recorder, and video recorder, if possible.
  • Exhibit posters, Hall of Fame displays, murals, banners, and collages that celebrate student accomplishments. Change these frequently to reflect student interests and active involvement in the English language arts classroom.
  • Display items and artifacts, such as plants, photographs, art reproductions, curios, maps, newspaper and magazine clippings, masks, musical instruments, and antiques, to stimulate inquiry and to express the link between the language arts classroom and the larger world.
  • Post checklists, processes, and strategies to facilitate and encourage students’ independent learning.
  • Provide a bulletin board for administrative announcements and schedules.
  • Involve students in classroom design.


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