Senior 3 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 3
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 student self-efficacy by recognizing that each student can succeed and by communicating that belief to the student. Silver and Marshall (1990) found that a student’s perception that he or she is a poor learning 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.

    Teachers also foster a sense of self-efficacy 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.

  • Help students to learn about and monitor their own learning processes.
  • Research shows that students with high metacognitions (students who understand how they learn) learn more efficiently, are more adept at transferring what they know to other situation, and are more autonomous that 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-assessment. 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, communicate assessment criteria clearly, and ensure that students have clear instruction, modelling, and practice so that they can complete the tasks successfully
  • Ellis et al (1991) found that systematic instruction helps students learn strategies they can apply independently. A methodology for thorough instruction of learning strategies is discussed in Promoting Strategic Learning in Section 2.
  • Help students to set specific and realistic personal goals and to learn from situations where they do not attain their goals. Celebrate student achievements.
  • Research shows that learning is enhanced when students set goals that incorporate specific criteria and performance standards (Foster, 1996; Locke and Latham, 1990).

    Teachers promote this by working in collaboration with students in developing assessment rubrics (see Appendix A).

Fostering Motivation (continued)
Ways to Foster Expectations of Success Best Practice and Research
  • Offer choices.
  • Intrinsic motivation is closely tied to students’ self-selection of texts, topics, learnbing experiences, 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 learn experiences that simulate language uses in real-world settings, and ensure that st7udents 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.

The Setting for a Learning Community

A vital language arts community is reflected in a stimulating and inviting classroom environment. The classroom is not only or primarily the teacher’s workplace; it is also the workplace of the students. Its decoration and organization will vary from year to year, reflecting the personalities and interests of the new groups of students who make it their workplace. Language arts classrooms that are the setting of lively learning communities are characterized as follows:

  • Seating arrangements that reflect classroom learning experiences: Tables or individual desks that can be moved allow students to interact in various configurations. Seats arranged in a circle signal the importance of each speaker for whole-class discussion. Seats arranged in groups signal interaction and collaboration. Certain seats in the classroom may be designated for silent reading or peer conferences.
  • A print-rich environment: Even though students may have access to a school library, they benefit from a classroom library for ready access to texts for self-selected reading. These should include fiction and non-fiction of various genres and at all reading levels, poetry, drama, memoirs and biographies, books of photographs, how-to manuals, newspapers, magazines, cartoons, children’s literature, and published student work. The classroom library should feature a binder of student reviews and recommendations and may be decorated with student-designed posters or book jackets. Classroom reference books include dictionaries, thesauri, style and usage guides, books of quotations, facts, and lists. The reference area of the classroom may be designated as an editing station.
  • Electronic equipment for using and generating audiotapes and visual texts: Classroom resources and access to electronic equipment vary, but a simple cassette player fulfills many purposes, allowing students to listen to speeches, dramas, radio documentaries, and musical scores. Groups may tape-record discussions and may rehearse and self-assess performances. Individual students may listen to books on audiocassettes, use talk in generating ideas, and tape-record interviews and oral histories. Teachers can record commentaries on student work. Classrooms with a computer may find it in constant use for word processing, Internet inquiries, database creation, and design and publishing. Classrooms will find a television, VCR, and videorecorder invaluable in allowing students to examine and create videotexts.
  • Wall displays that reflect and celebrate student work: Starting the semester or year with bare walls is one way to signal to students that this classroom space is theirs and will reflect their personalities and interests. Hall of Fame displays, murals, banners, and collages celebrate student accomplishments. Maps and inquiry charts posted on large sheets of paper can record ongoing student inquiries. Each of the classes working in a classroom needs a particular space to post its work.
  • Communication systems that encourage independence: Posters and checklists may remind students of processes and strategies. On a bulletin board students and teacher may post notices of upcoming guest presentations, outings, field trips, and performances, or they may post requests for resources, information, or help with inquiry projects. Teachers may set up an "In" tray where students can drop off a draft they would like the teacher to read, and an "Out" tray where they can pick up items.
  • Storage of work completed and work in progress: To assess their progress and build a literacy portfolio, students need storage space to collect their work. Work may be stored in manila folders in file boxes or cupboards to which students have easy access.
  • Items and artifacts: Fill the classroom with objects to stimulate inquiry and to express the link between the language arts and the larger world, including plants, photographs, art reproductions, curios, maps, newspaper and magazine clippings, masks, musical instruments, and antiques.


Implementation Overview: Senior 3