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Motivating Learners

Achieving Success with Learning Strategies

Students learning a language have two kinds of knowledge working for them:

  • Their knowledge of their first language
  • Their awareness of learning strategies, the mechanisms they use, consciously or unconsciously, to manage the absorption of new material

Students differ as language learners in part because of differences in ability, motivation, or effort, but a major difference lies in their knowledge about and skill in using "how to learn" techniques, that is, learning strategies. Classroom research demonstrates the role of learning strategies in effective language learning:

  • Good learners are able to identify the best strategy for a specific task; poor learners have difficulty choosing the best strategy for a specific task
  • Good learners are flexible in their approach and adopt a different strategy if the first one doesn’t work; poor learners have a limited variety of strategies in their repertoires and stay with the first strategy they have chosen even when it doesn’t work
  • Good learners have confidence in their learning ability; poor learners lack confidence in their learning ability
  • Good learners expect to succeed, fulfill their expectation, and become more motivated; poor learners: expect to do poorly, fulfill their expectation, and lose motivation

Learning strategies instruction shows students that their success or lack of it in the language classroom is due to the way they go about learning rather than to forces beyond their control. Most students can learn how to use strategies more effectively; when they do so, they become more self reliant and better able to learn independently. They begin to take more responsibility for their own learning, and their motivation increases because they have increased confidence in their learning ability and specific techniques for successful language learning.

Instructors can tap into students’ knowledge about how languages work and how learning happens – their metacognition -- to help them direct and monitor the language learning process in two ways:

  • By encouraging them to recognize their own thinking processes, developing self-knowledge that leads to self-regulation: planning how to proceed with a learning task, monitoring one's own performance on an ongoing basis, and evaluating learning and self as learner upon task completion. Students with greater metacognitive awareness understand the similarity between the current learning task and previous ones, know the strategies required for successful learning, and anticipate success as a result of knowing how to learn.

  • By describing specific learning strategies, demonstrating their application to designated learning tasks, and having students practice using them. In order to continue to be successful with learning tasks, students need to be aware of the strategies that led to their success and recognize the value of using them again. By devoting class time to learning strategies, teachers reiterate their importance and value.

To teach language learning strategies effectively, instructors should do several things:

  • Build on strategies students already use by finding out their current strategies and making students aware of the range of strategies used by their classmates
  • Integrate strategy instruction with regular lessons, rather than teaching the strategies separately from language learning activities
  • Be explicit: name the strategy, tell students why and how it will help them, and demonstrate its use
  • Provide choice by letting students decide which strategies work best for them
  • Guide students in transferring a familiar strategy to new problems
  • Plan continuous instruction in language learning strategies throughout the course
  • Use the target language as much as possible for strategies instruction

See Planning a Lesson for information on integrating strategy instruction into a language lesson.

































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