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Only when students are motivated and enjoy learning are they likely to make the progress they are capable of in their literacy learning and to perceive themselves as successful literacy learners. Effective teachers connect with each student’s interests, experiences, and sense of identity, share with their students a love of reading and writing, and generate excitement about learning and a sense of purpose. All of this is at the heart of a teacher’s practice.
Teachers need to create the conditions for motivating students, and this means more than simply immersing them in learning activities. When students have developed the positive attitudes that lead them to become fluent and independent readers and writers, they gain lifelong benefits. Studies have shown that a student’s degree of enthusiasm for recreational reading and writing is a good indicator of their achievement.
Teachers’ expectations for their students’ behaviour and academic performance affect the students’ motivation and therefore their actual achievement. Meeting the challenge of high but attainable expectations is very motivating for learners (see chapter 6).
Students are more motivated when their learning has an agreed goal that they understand, when they receive informative and affirming feedback about their progress towards that goal, and when they can see the links between what they did and successful outcomes.
Their motivation and engagement increase when they assume ownership of their literacy learning and are familiar with the language for learning and the tasks expected of them. This is especially so for students whose backgrounds differ from that of the dominant school culture. When these learners’ cultural values, perspectives, and knowledge are incorporated into their learning activities, they are more motivated to learn.
Motivation is affected by the learner’s self-concept and sense of self-efficacy, and students who are going through significant physical or emotional changes during early adolescence sometimes lack confidence in their own ability to meet further new challenges. A belief in themselves and their ability to succeed in classroom tasks has an energising effect on both teachers and students. Teachers often need to pay particular attention to motivating students who have experienced difficulties in reading or writing.
Effective modelling by teachers and peers who are actively engaged in reading and writing can strongly influence the development of students’ motivation and interest, especially when the class members think of themselves as an active community of readers and writers.
Engagement means participating actively and with understanding rather than being passive in the learning process. Learners engage more readily when they know their learning goals, expect to succeed, and see worthwhile challenge in their learning tasks. In any learning context, engagement has intellectual, emotional, and cultural aspects.
Intellectual engagement relates to thinking – the cognitive processing of language. When literacy learners engage intellectually, they bring mental rigour and focus to their learning task. As they read and write, they need to think consciously about how to use the knowledge and strategies they are acquiring.
Emotional engagement relates closely to motivation and interest and is important for both teachers and students. Literacy learners who are emotionally engaged will have a positive, sometimes even passionate, attitude towards reading and writing and will take ownership of their learning. When teachers and students are emotionally engaged in learning, the quality of the relationships built between teacher and students, and among students, is enhanced.
A further concept to consider is cultural engagement. Every learner (like every teacher) views literacy tasks through a cultural “lens” because most of the prior knowledge, experiences, and values that a learner brings to their learning arise from their cultural and linguistic background. Effective teachers recognise and build on their students’ cultural knowledge and values in order to engage them in literacy learning. This is particularly important in classrooms where the students come from diverse backgrounds, especially where their backgrounds differ from the teacher’s (see page 50).