Group Dynamics, Teacher and Motivation

The difficult nature of FLL together with the number of the learners in the classroom and the multiplicity of the characteristics of each individual including the teacher is a recipe which makes the foreign language classroom a crucible. In this, we can refer to what Thomas (1991: 29) notes:

“The way that participants in classroom feel about each other, and about the situation they are in, has an important influence on what actually goes on in a classroom. Feelings and attitudes can make for smooth interaction and successful learning, or can lead to a conflict and a total breakdown of communication ”.

Of course, the interaction can in no way be smooth and successful without the instructor’s powerful position. That is, one of the responsibilities of the teacher is to guide and motivate his students to work out the appropriate strategies to succeed in such a delicate assignment as FLL. It is, indeed, a difficult task to motivate the students or to maintain their motivation alive. The reason is that foreign language classrooms are “…complicated social communities. Individual learners come to them with their own constellation of native languages and culture, proficiency level, learning style, motivation and attitudes toward language learning” (Pica, 1992 In Kral, 1999: 59). To say it otherwise, learners are different from each other and the instructor is said to be aware of the individual learners differences to succeed in teaching. Consequently, it is difficult for the teacher to deal with each individual solely and to motivate him successfully (Turner, 1978: 234) especially that what may help motivate a student may prove to be detrimental for another.

Accordingly, the students’ motivation can be either high or low before attending the classroom and even once in the classroom. However, the interaction between the learners and the teacher may affect the students’ level of motivation because everything depends on the emotions and feelings that this interaction generates. Additionally, the strains that the peers exert on the learner and the teacher’s error-correction method have an effect on the beginners’ motivation.

This was just a brief account on the role of the teacher and the learners themselves in enhancing motivation. Our work is more likely to be practical and our interpretation of the situation is limited to our population which we hope be generalised for larger populations. In what follows, a full description is provided of the investigation we have conducted.

Methodology

The Setting and Subjects

To try to understand how motivation is affected in first year students learning EFL at university level, it is needed to focus more on the classroom setting where the bulk of the language is taught and learnt. This study is, then, aimed at displaying the points that might explain the reasons of the lack of motivation that students might feel. We have attempted to find out the main grounds that may engender the lack of motivation using a self-completed questionnaire designed for first year students learning EFL; inscribed in the new applied LMD system. The age range varies between 17 and 22 years old which might refer to a vital period of the individual’s life where his strengths are relevant and motivation is to be present. To reach convenient answers, to attain our objectives which we are going to name bellow, and to try to validate our hypotheses; we have chosen the end of the second semester where the participants are said to be able to answer the questions we have constructed in the selected tool of investigation, i.e. the questionnaire. However, before stating the results obtained from our study, we need to present our statement of the problem, the objectives of the study and the determined hypotheses.

The central problem of this work is to know whether/how the students’ lack of motivation is rooted from classroom interaction i.e. teacher-student and student-student interaction. In other words, we have started our questioning by:

is the mere presence of the students in the classroom, their interaction with their peers and the relationship with their teacher to affect the students’ motivation?

To obtain answers we, of course, have some determined aims we want to reach. Hence, the objectives we tried to cover in this work are grouped in:

1- Witnessing whether first year students of English in the university of Bejaia manifest some lack of motivation in the classroom or not;

2- Determining the main reasons that breed lack of motivation in the classroom in the new learners of a foreign language;

3- Glimpsing whether the teaching habits and the teacher’s personality affect the students motivation or not; and

4- Spotting whether the kind of peers’ interaction in the classroom is likely to affect (either positively or negatively) the students’ motivation or not.

At this level, we have built our survey on the basis of two hypotheses. We, thus, hypothesise that:

1- If the students’ motivation is affected in the foreign language classroom, the cause will be attributed, first, to the teaching methods and, then, to the teacher’s personality and attitudes.

2- If the students’ motivation is low or lowered in the classroom, this is partly due to interaction among the students (i.e. to the group dynamics).

Design

The nature of the subject at hand; motivation, leads us to use the quantitative and the statistical methods of investigation. Hence, be it difficult to measure, we have chosen the questionnaire as a means of data collection as we believe it is easier to conduct such complicated affective variables and less time and money consuming. To observe such a construct, we have chosen new learners of EFL in the Algerian university setting. This population; i.e. first year LMD students is exceedingly specific as we cannot find students inscribed in the LMD system in all universities be it a piloting phase endeavoured in just four universities during the academic year 2004-2005. This is to pay attention to the originality of our case study. Additionally, the subjects we are dealing with experienced many such inappropriate situations as repeated strikes, administrative and materialistic problems, and the like from. The investigation, then, comes to set up the link between motivation and lack of motivation more precisely and FLL in a group of 359 students inscribed in the LMD system in the English department of Abderrahmane Mira University; Bejaia. We have taken a number of 100 participants to whom the questionnaire is handed; a number which represents 27.85%. What should be noted here, however, is that the population that opted for the LMD system may react differently than students inrolled in the traditional system. That is to say, some of the subjects may welcome the new reform and, thus, they are supposed to be more motivated in the classroom whereas some others may not perceive the benefits of the system or in more extremes even reject it. Hence, we can evoke in such a case the problem of low motivation (i.e. diminishing motivation or losing it completely).

Back to the participants, the number of 359 is set in 14 groups where five contain 27 students each and 8 groups are made of 26 learners each. For the data collection procedure, we have gone as follows:

For us to collect data through our self-completion questionnaire, we have asked for the teachers’ help who teach first year LMD students. Of course, we have tried to vary the classes to have different settings. Once in the classroom, we managed to explain the questionnaire items with recurrent explanations to avoid mis- or non-understanding. Additionally, we have allowed the students to use any language other than English if they find difficulties in using this target language. The procedure took 30 to 45 minutes in each class to complete the questionnaire adequately.

Before we move to the obtained results from the students, we need to hint at the questionnaire construction. We have been careful to make the questionnaire systematic by moving from general to specific. The questionnaire itself is made up of three sections containing 15 questions. The sections are entitled: English Learning Background, Student-Student Interaction and Student-Teacher Interaction. Concerning the first section, its aim is to diagnose the students’ attitudes and motivation towards learning English. The second one tries to ask questions about the students’ interaction in the classroom to see whether it enhances or lowers the participants’ motivation. Finally, to try to understand the role of the student-teacher interaction and its effect on motivation, the third section’s items are meant for such an aim. The questions vary between close (9 in number), open (4 items) and semi-open items (2 question).

C. Results

For reminder reasons, our questionnaire is made up of three sections which are respectively: English Learning Background, Student-Student Interaction and Student-Teacher Interaction.. The first one aims at determining the motivation our participants may have (as we assume that a degree of motivation exists in the subjects in their prior stages of learning). Further, we opt to find some answers about the students’ attitudes towards English and the obstacles they may face when they are their foreign language classrooms. This is what we have got indeed from the statistical reading and the interpretation of the obtained results. In what follows, we are going to present the data we got and the interpretation we made in accordance to the subject at hand, motivation.

To start with, we have started our questions by an introductory one where we ask the participants whether they like studying English or not. Of course, this item is intended to know whether students have positive attitudes towards the learnt language or not. Besides, it serves as a basis to the coming question where the kind of motivation students possess is showed. Statistically speaking, 99/ of the participants opted for the “yes” answer. This rate proves that our subjects have positive attitudes towards learning English and that they are motivated to start out their learning process. Once motivation is found in our case, determining its kind is also to be significant here. In the second question, we asked the participants about the reason behind learning a foreign language providing them with four options with an open one. Here, 58.01% of the learners (76 students) find English an interesting and fascinating language. This refers to the intrinsic motivation students have. The 22.14% of the learners who linked studying English to its usefulness in getting a job in the future and this us relate their motivation to the extrinsic and/or the instrumental type. The option stating that learning English is due to the necessity to get integrated in an English speaking community. However, just 11.45 (15) informants opted for this choice and this shows that the students do not possess much of the integrative motivation. That is, learning English for them is more likely to be linked primarily to liking the language at hand and, then, to the professional career. Only 3.04% (4 students) were obliged to choose English at university level and this might affect the students’ motivation. Yet, the rate is low and the motivation students have is significant and such negative feelings as low self-esteem, self-confidence, anxiety might not characterise their classes. If so, other factors may be the cause and not the students’ prior motivation. After experiencing foreign language classes, students are asked about their attitudes towards the difficulty of learning English. Here, 22.25% (25 informants) find it easy, 33.33% (37 students) find it difficult. There should be no trouble for the first category, but the second one seems to meet more problems. Task difficulty may be a factor in diminishing the students motivation, but we still feel unable to consider it so. To obtain more details about the respondents’ answer, a third option is added which asks them depend their answer to a specific situation. In this option, we got a proportion of 42.34% (47 students). A number of reasons behind the students’ difficulty in learning English are found. Among this number, some informants related the complication to the complexity of the taught subjects especially where the communicative skill is required such as Oral Expression and Grammar. Other respondents put forward that their difficulty is attributed to their lack of motivation in some cases and to their low aptitude in others. The teachers have also their part of responsibility as a number students find learning easy with some teachers and difficult with others and this can be linked to our first hypothesis. That is, we can argue that these negative attitudes are due to the teachers’ inappropriate method or failure to establish warmer links with students which might let the students to seek out more opportunities to get rid of their difficulties as it can be due to the teachers personalities where some students do not feel secure in their classes. The fourth question is made up of two parts where the first is about the possible reasons when failing in achieving a given task, and the second asks them justify their answers. Most of the informants refer their failure to task difficulty (they are 44 or 41.90%). A rate of 19.05% of the learners say that their failure in achieving a given task is due to their low learning proficiency. Our work is, however, based on the level of motivation learners have and for this we have added a third option lack of motivation is the reason. A percentage of 23.91% of the learners relate their failure to their lack of interest. Hence, if we compare the rate we get here and that got from the first item, we can see that the 99% diminishes to a great extent. Students are not motivated, so they do not make efforts and the result is failing in achieving a task. If this persists in all task, failure will characterise the whole learning process. This low motivation here is neither due to the learning ability students have nor to the task’s difficulty. From the participants’ justifications, we could get four options which are respectively: lack of motivation, lack of understanding and preparation of the questions, lack of learning means and others. Unfortunately, we got only 27 answers. 73% of the learners did not provide a justification for their choice and this is another rate which shows their lack of interest. For the 27% we have, 7% are not motivated, 12% fail in performing a task when they do not prepare beforehand or when they do not understand the question. Only 4% refer to the lack of means they suffer from. Finally, 4% of the other option attribute their failure to over-confidence, under-evaluation of the task, the question’s forms (difficult vocabulary).

Our second section put focus on the interaction between the classmates. This section might help us test our second hypothesis. The inherent characteristics of the group might explain how motivation can be affected either positively or negatively. In nine items which vary between close and open, we got some data from we which we can draw a conclusion. However, we need to interpret the results first. We have first introduced the section by an item asking the students about how they prefer working in the classroom. Results show that a considerable number of the participants like to work either in pairs (32.67%) or in small groups (i.e. 40.59%). Both rates show that the subjects under investigation seem secure in the classroom when they work with their classmates. That is, working with another classmate is a beneficial learning strategy for some to work better, and sharing classroom activities with a group of learners is also a way out to achieve better. So, we can say that the student-student interaction is not a hindrance for learning to take place and, hence, it does not lower motivation because students’ self-confidence seems to not be negatively affected. However, we can in no way ignore the 26% of the students who prefer working alone. We are not going to interpret the result here because we might just get the answer from the next item where asked the informants to justify their answers. We got 10% of the answers, a problem always met in open questions. From the remaining number, we could form four categories which justify the previous question’s answers. The majority of the learners who are fifty-two in number (or 52%) prefer working in groups to exchange ideas and learn more with classmates. That is, students find more freedom to express themselves when being among their classmates. For them, discussion groups make them feel secure and they, then, learn better. Hence, the interaction here is a good motive for students and lack of motivation is not caused by the group. Another number of fourteen subjects (14%) lead to the same conclusion though the first option is cognitive and this one seems more affective. These participants prefer to work in pairs or in small groups because they are more encouraged when they are in the group and they also seek security within the group. Of course, this shows clearly that students who are not affectively secure and find it an obstacle for them, pair works and group works are necessary strategies which the teacher should pay attention to. For the students who prefer to work individually, 17% need being alone while learning because they need more concentration on the one hand and they need to test their standard on the other. The remaining 7% shows the learners’ a negative view of the group because they justify their answer by their ‘dislike of the group’. This rate, though low, leads to a problem in the students’ interaction. In their answers, they prefer to turn their direction to the teacher and that they really possess negative attitudes towards other learners who are not serious when discussing in the classroom and, thus, hinder learning as a result. All in all, most of the students like group works, but we need to go through the coming results before drawing a final conclusion. As a follow up to the above questions, this one tries to determine whether students are cooperative and competitive or not and this is after testing their attitudes towards the group. The extreme majority of the subjects possess a good view, positive attitudes towards the group they belong to. Now, students prove to like sharing ideas together and now 43% confirm this in this question. This is a very good sign of the cooperative relation that gathers learners. This also may show that the participants do not feel a considerable difference in level and this shows that homogeneity exists. There are 41.90% (44 students) of the informants who are interested in comparing their answers and knowledge once in the classroom. This is a good indication of the competitiveness students have. Competition is part of the learning process and it is motivating factor as well. Finally, only 6.7% of the participants (7 learners) try always to seek explanation from the students. This may be part of their learning strategies as they may face difficulties and try to seek explanation from the other classmates. When we asked the participants about making errors and the students’ ridicule, almost the same rate appeared as 40% confirmed this behaviour shown from the classmates and 55% deny this fact to exist in case of errors. Being laughed at in the classroom leads to negative feelings. Perhaps, students who feel these negative affective disturbance may belong to the learners whose self-confidence is low or because their language proficiency is low. We would rather move to the coming question where we ask the subjects about their feelings in such a situation. Again, 27% of the learners did not provide us with an answer and this shows how the participants do not like requirements about affective issues. The remaining number varies between 42% feel relaxed and confident; a good sign of self-confidence and that the group does not affect it. A proportion of 15% feel rather humiliated and inferior. These are students whose self-confidence and self-esteem are affected in this situation. Because our options are not exhaustive, an “other” option is added. Here, 16% of the subjects whose answers turn around carelessness about this reaction. They declare that they do not pay attention to these students. When asking the subjects who answered by “yes” for being laughed at, we got 72 answers to this here item. The question asks about their reaction after being laughed at when making an error. Most of the learners who are 43 (59.72%), fortunately, claim that they will avoid making the same mistake and try to participate. These seem to be good risk-takers and highly motivated to learn. Again, for these, the differences in the group members do not dramatically influence the students’ motivation. Some of the subjects (12 or 16.67%) say that they feel indifferent and careless. Contrarily, six participants (8.33%) claim that they are still ready to take risks again though they are laughed at. Finally, some extreme positions where sensitive reactions appear make up 11.11% (8subjects) who declare that they will never participate in the classroom again and these students may fossilise as a result. Three learners (4.17%) say that they will have other reactions though still ready to take risks again. All in all, we can conclude from the answers we got in this section about the students-student interaction that the group dynamic is not a reason to lower motivation though very few students do not feel that secure. Hence, our second hypothesis is not validated at least in our case.

Our third section is, as afore-said, about the student-teacher interaction. Here, we go back testing our first hypothesis linked to the instructor’s responsibility in affecting the learners’ motivation, but with more details. We have, then, started our section with a direct item asking about what affects the participants’ motivation providing them with three options ranging from the group, the teacher and the lesson content. Almost similar answers were given to the first two options (17.92% for the group and 16.98% for the teacher). Surprisingly, the majority of the learners that are 54 in number (50.94%) relate their lack of motivation to the content. Hence, this forces us refer to the teaching methods within the curriculum taught by the teachers; a fact that need be discussed in more details given its importance in our language classes. The first variable of our first hypothesis is validated here to a great extent. Concerning the teachers’ personality and attitudes in the classroom, the second variable of this hypothesis, we have asked the subjects about the way they like their teachers to be. Here, 79% of the participants prefer to work with an understanding, friendly teacher. That is, most learners in a foreign language classroom like to feel confident and secure with the instructor because this leads to a better interaction in the classroom and make intake possible. 17% like their teachers just as guides and to come just to explain the lesson. These students may prefer to maintain a distance with their instructors and see the teacher as a mere source of information and advice. These students seem to not see the humanistic benefit and interaction with the teacher. Only 2% of the answers opted for the “others” choice without providing the reasons. A question like this needs a justification. 37% did not justify their answer. From remaining number we could have four convergent options. 40% of the learners like friendly and understanding teachers because this helps them reduce frustration and elevate motivation. We can refer to Krashen’s (1983) Affective Hypothesis here who relate low anxiety to high motivation to let intake in. we also got 9% of the participants who like such teachers who are more likely to help the students in the classroom. Another rate of 4% of the informants say that when they like the teacher, they also like the subject he teaches. Hence, most of the learners, though the reasons are different, relate good learning atmosphere created by the teacher is more likely to help students in diversified ways. This is indeed related to his teaching methods together with his personality and attitudes. Our first hypothesis is also valid through this item because motivation, lowered or enhanced, teachers have their responsibility in doing so. Only 10% participants who prefer no interaction with the teachers and like them just guides justifying this by the instructors role in keeping discipline in the classroom. In other words, these learners perceive the teacher’s permissive behaviour as a factor causing disturbance and lack of organisation. They rather feel lack of concentration and give way to irrelevant, informal discussions in the classroom. To conclude this section and the questionnaire in its general terms, two items are added asking the subjects to compare the degree of their motivation before attending university classes and now requiring justifications in the last item. Most of the learners reveal that the level is in no way the same (they are 65%, 65 students). A proportion of 35% say it is the same. We, in fact, avoid interpreting the results here because the answer is in the following open item. 25% did not answer as usual. From the remaining number, 25% justified their choice of the “yes” answer and 50% justified the “no” answer. Again, we could divide the 25% into two rates referring to two options. The first one which make 19% justify maintaining motivation to personal vocation and sometimes to please parents and society. Here, the motivation is of the intrinsic and extrinsic type. However, 6% say that their motivation did not change because they did not notice any perceived progress. This shows that these students were not motivated right from the beginning and they are still unmotivated. The other 50% which we divide into three options reveal that they perceived a change in their motivation. The causes are the progress they felt for 34%- which means that their motivation changes positively, the feeling of consciousness and getting the degree (10%)-intrinsically and extrinsically rooted motivations, not the same (6%) for the poor curriculum which seems the same as in the secondary school.

Conclusion

Motivation, as an affective factor, plays a role in learning as central to it in the sense that it is a crucial force which determines the learner’s initiation for taking action and persistence in it. We, then, should pay more attention in our foreign language classes. Through this study, we have seen that motivation can be high or low depending on a number of factors. These can be grouped in:

Students:

- Students should have a clear, realistic image of what the foreign language classroom is like at university prior their entry.

- Students should determine clear objectives through identifying the usefulness of learning EFL.

- Students should be aware of the importance of the group they belong to and the necessity of interaction for a better learning and application of the language.

- Students should interact with the teacher and ask for his help and guidance by participating in the classroom and even in their tutoring sessions.

Teachers:

- Teachers should explain right from the beginning the usefulness of his lectures, the objectives he intends to reach and the results he needs to reach.

- Teachers should control the group and try to create a healthy atmosphere where interaction is easy and effective.

- Teachers should adjust the methods, techniques and strategies according to the learners’ needs.

- Teachers should adjust the content to the learners’ learning needs and abilities.

References

- Arnold, J. and H. D. Brown (1999): A Map of the Terrain In J. Arnold. (ed) “Affect in Language Learning” PP 1-24. C. U. P.

- Brown, D. (1994). Principles of Languages Learning and Teaching : Prentice Hall Regents.

- Chomsky, N. (1989) In J. Arnold and H. D. Brown (1999). “A Map of the Terrain” C. U. P.

- Ellis, R. (1986)

- Ellis R. (1999). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. O. U. P. 1st. Published 1985.

-Gardner, R. C., Day, J. E. and MacIntyre, P. D. (University of West Ontario) (1992). "Integrative Motivation, Induced Anxiety and Language Learning in Controlled Environment." In: Studies in Second Language Acquisition, V. 14-N° 02, June 1992. C. U. P.

- Kral, T. (ed.) (1999). Teacher Development : Making the Right Moves. Selected articles from the English Teaching Forum 1989-1993. U. S Information Agency. Washington, D. C.

- Lamberth, , J.; McCullers, J. and Mellgren R. L. (1976). Foundation of Psychology. New York, Hagerstone, San Fransisco. London: Harper and Row Publishers.

- Sternberg, J. A. (1995). In Search of the Human Mind. Harcourt- Brace International.

- Thomas, A. M. (1991). Classroom Interaction. Hong Cong. ELBS.

- Turner, , J. (1978). Psychology for the Classroom. Methuen. London.

- Upshur, J. A. (ed.) (1985). Language Learning. Journal of Applied Linguistics. Vol. 35/N° 2. Juin.

Appendix

Dear Students:

We would be highly honoured if you could answer sincerely and frankly the following questions behind which we aim at getting some information about your feelings as new learners of English as a foreign language, when facing the classroom for the first time. In addition, suggestions from your personal experiences on when, why and how these emotions of worry are lived, if any, are welcome for your viewpoint may be very useful to understand better foreign language learners’ positions and attitudes.

Please, put a tick in the appropriate box, or give a full answer whenever necessary.


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