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Jan Kucerik, Pinellas County Public Schools, Pinellas County, Florida

A 7th grade student known to his Spanish teacher as “Juanito” ambles reluctantly into his beginning Spanish classroom. He greets the teacher, not with an enthusiastic “Buenos días, señora,” but instead with the question on the mind of many of his classmates, “What are we doing in here today?” Although we would like to believe that the question has been posed out of genuine interest in the classroom activities, we realize that Juanito’s question is motivated by self-preservation. He worries that he might be unprepared for, or embarrassed by, the activities Señora has planned for today.

What Motivates Our Students

Motivation is crucial to teaching and learning. Whenever we feel a desire or need for something, we are in state of motivation. Juanito is motivated to survive the class period, and his teacher wants him to thrive and share her passion for the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. He has a need to feel safe, yet his teacher understands that he must take risks in order to acquire language. He wants to avoid struggle, and she knows that great effort is involved in negotiating meaning and learning from mistakes. Although human beings are motivated to learn what we want them to learn in the way that we want them to learn it. They do, however, select information and learning experiences that are important to them every day. Teachers continue to work tirelessly to motivate their students, but most focus on extrinsic motivators, which may be not enough to truly engage students in the long term. How do we make students feel connected to learning? How do we make them feel as if learning could not happen without them? How do we create excitement for learning, resulting in students eagerly entering our classroom each day?

Relationships are Key

We rely on the standards and performance guidelines to articulate authentic tasks and clear goals. We persevere in our commitment to adjust the learning environment and the content to attract students. Most importantly, we recognize that our relationships with our students and their relationship with the learning process are crucial. Students must believe that they can be successful and experience incremental growth through learning experiences carefully designed around small chunks of meaningful language, leading to purposeful communication. Learning must be fun. Students are more likely to retain the language they acquire in a learning context that they enjoy.

They must feel that they are part of the learning environment, that they belong to the target culture, while they are acquiring their new language. They must understand the purpose of the lesson and have the freedom to select language that is important to them along the way.

Motivation and Learning

Students are motivated to take part in Spanish class when the context through which the language is presented and practiced is meaningful, serves a purpose, and relies on the students to bring it to life. Effective teachers understand the link between motivation and learning, and select language and cultural contexts that rely on the students to tell the story. “What are we doing in here today, Señora?” “We need you, Juanito, to help guide us on our learning journey.”


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