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Can Teachers Really Motivate Students?

student motivation

Most teachers would likely say yes to the question of motivation. Yes, teachers can have a positive or negative impact on students. If we sit and think on this question too long, it may overwhelm even the seasoned of teachers. Our impact is real and can feel weighty at times. Unfortunately our teaching schedules do not always give us enough time to reflect on these realities.

However, teacher gut assumptions (which are usually pretty good) can only take us so far. We all have implicit biases and sometimes when we track data, we are proven wrong.

Rest assured, if you answered yes to the question in the title, you were right. Let's take a look at how this study was done and what was found.

Research Summary

Guilloteaux and Dornyei (2008) (citation at end) undertook an empirical study about motivational strategies in the classroom. They wanted to know if teachers that implemented motivational strategies in the classroom saw a correlating increase in motivation among their students. They confirm that teachers generally hold the belief that if they use motivational strategies in their classroom, that they will in effect have a more motivated student population. However, there is little research to support this assumption.

The researchers looked at 40 ESOL classrooms in South Korea. Between 2003-2004, they partnered with 27 teachers and 1,300 students. They also used a 25 point list of observational variables that measured teacher’s motivational practice. Some of these motivational practices include: scaffolding, pair work, social chat with students, establishing relevance, etc.

Researchers observed 40 classes in real-time and recorded how many minutes per class that teachers used a motivational strategy. Then students were also surveyed after classes with a questionnaire to reflect their level of motivation and interest in the class. The questionnaire assessed attitudes toward the current course, linguistic self-confidence, and classroom anxiety.


The research found that there was a “particularly strong link” between the teacher’s motivational practice in the classroom and consequently student’s approach to learning. Also, students that experienced this motivational teaching style also had a more general appreciation for the course in its entirety. The authors explain that correlation is not necessarily causation, but they defend their point by drawing attention to possible pitfalls that their study avoids.

In the end, the author asks for more research in this area. It is inconclusive if teachers will benefit from motivational training, if motivation is culturally specific any particular degree, or if motivational teaching is vastly different from good teaching. Can good teaching compensate for lack of motivational practice in a classroom or vice-versa?

These are questions yet to be answered!

Title: Motivating Language Learners: A Classroom-Oriented Investigation of the Effects of Motivational Strategies on Student Motivation

Author: Marie J. Guilloteaux and Zoltán Dörnyei

Source: TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Mar., 2008), pp. 55-77


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