The aim of the current study was to describe the specific motivation strategies and techniques teachers of the basic and advanced Chinese class use to motivate and engage their students. Through approximately seven hours of classroom observation and conducting interviews with the teachers, three themes stood out in the results. The three themes include: focus on the positive through positive motivation (praise and good attitude), activity-based class through songs, dances and games, and lastly the use of rewards.
Activity based class was also consistently seen in both classes. The teachers employed activities such as games, songs and dances and art classes. These activities were most effective in engaging the student in the classes as the students were active and had fun engaging in them. Each teacher stated that they always ensured that their classes were filled with activities. It was evident that the activities captured the attention of the students and engage their motivation in class. Along with these themes, the use of rewards proved to be an effective motivation technique and strategy. The teachers used different rewards such as candy, positive compliments and stickers among others. Rewards were most effective in motivating student performance, improving their behavior and ensuring they followed directions. Through these three consistent themes in the results, it seems that both teachers had similar ideas on what was most effective in motivating and engaging their students.
The findings of the current study reveal similarities with previous literature related to teacher behavior and student motivation. Specifically, this study revealed that teacher behavior was a key influence to student motivation and engagement in class. Clearly linked to the findings of this study, and exploratory study on teacher motivation strategies in foreign languages classroom by Gardner (2007) found out that wherever a teacher encouraged the students or used positive motivation, the more likely a student would be motivated to learn. Although Gardner (2007) used questionnaires in his study, his findings bare similarities by showing that the use of rewards and positive remarks were closely linked to student motivation. The focus on the positive theme found in the present study reinforces this idea by demonstrating that positive motivation engaged student motivation in class. In a similar study by Bernaus, Wilson & Gardner (2009), it was found out that the focus on the positive resulted in student motivation and ultimately improved student performance.
Additional comparisons can be found in the study by Guilleatoux and Dornyei (2008), which examined the link between teacher motivational practices and student learning motivation. Their study employed both questionnaires and the observation method to get more accurate findings. In their study, they found out that motivational strategies used by teachers such as rewards, are closely linked with increased motivated learning behavior. The students who were rewarded were most likely to be motivated to learn. The theme of use of rewards in the current study closely reinforces this idea. Although Cheng & Dornyei (2007) employed the general survey method in their study, their findings bare similarities by showing that the use of rewards and caring for the students were closely linked to student motivation. Even though the results are similar, the researchers chose to focus on motivational strategies used by teachers in different cultures unlike the present study.
As shown above, the present study has a number of similarities with previous literature on the same topic. The general body of research concerning this topic has shown that teacher behavior teacher behavior such as positive motivation, and the student-teacher interaction influence student motivation and engagement in class. Although the findings of these studies are comparable, most of these studies are quantitative studies hence used by questionnaires and general surveys while this current study is qualitative; relying on intensive observations and interviews. The current study clearly reinforces past literature and offers unique contributions to it as well.
Even though the present study took careful measures to ensure the results were descriptive and detailed, a number of limitations were inevitable. First, the amount of time taken to conduct the observations and the interviews was limited. The current study used approximately 7 hours. Due to the packed schedule within the school, there was only a small window of time to collect the data. The time constraints affected the quality of data. With more time, there would have been longer observation periods and interviews with the teachers which would have contributed to high quality data. With this time constraint, the sample of the current study was also relatively small. Only four teachers and approximately twenty students formed the sample size. A wider sample would give high quality results as compared to a limited sample.
Second, since I was considered an insider in the school, during the observation periods, I kind of drew the attention of the students. Although I was a passive observer, the students were able to recognize me and occasionally came to talk to me. This affected my observation and also distracted the progress of the class. If I were not an insider in the school, the students would have found it difficult to approach and talk to me and hence concentrate in the classroom. Also, as an insider, the interviews with the teachers sometimes deviated to other non-related topics, which took away some of the time that I would have used to ask more questions. If I were an outsider, the interviews would have gone on without distractions and much more questions would have been asked. Lastly, the current study took place in an urban area mainly occupied by the upper middle class. As a result, it would be difficult to generalize to the other classes in middle class or lower middle class area.
Suggestions for Future Research
Chinese schools are slowly becoming a high profile language due to the increasing number of Chinese immigrants. With the increasing number of Chinese schools, it is necessary to identify the various by which teachers of these schools motivate and engage their secondary language learners. The present study’s findings provide a basis for further research on the same topic. Apart from allocating more time and increasing the sample size, future research would greatly benefit from interviewing the students on their views on motivation and engagement. This can be done to learners of the advanced classes who are slightly older. Additionally, studies could be carried out in a variety of such schools which would aid in the generalizations of the findings.
Furthermore, future research may also want to explore the various ways by which teacher motivation contributes to student motivation and engagement in class. The current study mainly focused on the motivational techniques and strategies. It would be beneficial to know how motivated teachers would in turn motivate their learners. It has also been noted that other factors can play an important role in motivating secondary learners such as layout of classroom and classroom decoration. The present study focused on teacher behavior and motivational techniques. It would be beneficial to explore how other classroom features motivate the secondary language learners. In addition, future research can explore on the various ways by which the student interaction may influence their interaction and engagement.
Secondary language learners may experience difficulties in their learning due to a number of factors. Motivation and their engagement in class play a role in ensuring that these students overcome these difficulties in class. Secondary language teachers have an enormous challenge of teaching unmotivated learners. As a result the findings of the present study have an implication for teachers and educators. As described in this study, teacher behavior along with student-teacher interaction plays an important role in motivating learners. Secondary language teachers may want to find ways of motivating their students based upon the findings of the current study. The use of positive motivation and use of rewards may motivate learners to improve their performance or improve their behavior. Teachers, educators and parents may employ positive motivation and rewards to build the confidence of the students, and ensure that they motivated and thrive in class.
The findings on what works with regards to motivation may influence key educational policies such as the curriculum. If educational researchers are able to prove how different classroom systems promoted motivation and engagement, they are more likely to push for a curriculum change to include the different motivational strategies such as games and songs. Such changes would be replicated to different schools nation-wide. The Department of Education, for example, can act on the recommendations and change educational policies to include motivational strategies and techniques.