Students generally start their educational career motivated and excited to learn. Multilingual learners have the benefit of learning a new language, be it English or another language, while retaining their native language.

As students develop language and content skills through the educational process, they become motivated to continue to learn and grow, both academically and linguistically, as it is exciting and motivating to begin to communicate with others who speak the target language.

Yet some students struggle with language and content learning for a variety of reasons and may lose motivation over time. As students move through the grade levels, this lack of motivation can have a negative impact on their academic achievement.

There are, fortunately, a variety of steps we can take to increase student motivation, and, over time, increase student achievement in terms of learning language and content.

These teacher moves will help to build the confidence and motivation students need to be successful throughout their school careers. While there is no one specific strategy that will motivate all multilingual learners, by weaving the following concepts into your instruction, you will have a higher likelihood of developing the kind of environment that students thrive in.

Building Success

Success builds success: as students experience success in the classroom in using the target language, and in learning the content knowledge and skills, motivation to continue to learn increases. However, if students perceive that they are failing despite their efforts, they may become less motivated and begin to not want to even attempt to learn a new skill, integrate new knowledge, or attempt to produce the target language.

When attempting something new, students look at the perceived probability of accomplishment. In other words, how likely, in their estimation, are they to be successful on the task or in the learning?

If their perceived likelihood of accomplishment is high, they are more likely to attempt the new skill, be it language or content. However, if the perceived likelihood is low, students are less likely to engage in the task and have a positive attitude towards learning.

By providing multiple opportunities for students to be successful, students will become more motivated to continue to take risks. Depending on the students age and educational experiences, it may take many successes to overcome the perceived likelihood of failure. A culture of celebration of successes will also help to continue to motivate students.

By providing opportunities for students to share their successes with other through activities such as “Exciting News!” In the Exciting News portion of the day, students can share successes, both academic and personal.

Begin by sharing exciting news in your own life. For example, you might start with, “I have exciting news! Recently my nephew had a birthday and we had so much fun together!” Any news can be an opportunity for “exciting news.”

You might even highlight your students by saying something like “I have exciting news! Three students made more than 25% gains on their recent assessment!” or some other accomplishment. After you have modeled exciting news for students, provide them with an opportunity to share, on a strictly volunteer basis.

Appropriate Scaffolding

It will be challenging for students to be successful without appropriate scaffolding. Scaffolding involves providing the appropriate amount of support for students in order for them to be successful.

When we get scaffolding right, we have given the precise amount of support to each student that needs it; without scaffolding, students may find new content and language structures too challenging and revert to the perception of a low likelihood of success, and then may not be motivated to try.

If we provide too much scaffolding, we may develop learned helplessness. The difficulty, of course, is in the precision and finding the appropriate level of challenge for our students.

Students are motivated by challenge. Consider a student playing a sport, or playing video games, for example. If the sport, game or activity is too easy, a person will get bored.

But if the challenge is too great, frustration ensues. Therein lies the dilemma for the teacher; finding the appropriate level of challenge for each student. The student, of course, also has some responsibility in communicating their needs, demonstrating their successes, and sharing when they need additional support.

Depending on the age and grade level of the student, this may be easy and commonplace for them, or it may be difficult as they may not be used to it. Helping students not give up instantly when content and language learning is challenging is important and allowing students to engage in productive struggle is important.

Purpose and Relevance

Let’s face it; if students do not see the relevance to what they are learning, they are not going to be very motivated to learn it. There are exceptions to this, of course, as some students are motivated by the grades that accompany learning in schools or are motivated by pleasing the teacher.

However, as teachers we generally want to motivate students to learn for the sake of learning, to gain new knowledge and skills in both content as well as language. How then can we help students see the relevance in what they are learning about?

One way is to begin with content and language goals and objectives. By sharing the purpose of the lesson, including what students will be learning in terms of content knowledge and skills as well as academic and target language skills, we are providing students with the context of the lessons, which can in turn be motivating.

In addition to sharing what you expect students to learn, you can provide an explanation of why learning these content and language skills is important or useful. While sharing this information may not provide immediate motivation, not understanding the purpose of learning something can cause frustration and a lack of effort.

In addition to content and language goals and objectives, teachers can help students develop personal goals, as pointed out in a recent article. When students develop goals for what they want to learn, they will be more motivated to accomplish those goals.

Teachers, then, must do what they can to facilitate students’ actually moving towards accomplishing those goals and objectives. This of course can be a challenge depending on how many students you have. By periodically checking in with students, and linking learning to their goals when possible, students will see that you are attempting to make the learning more relevant to them and purposeful.

When sharing relevance with students, tie the new learning to their background knowledge and experiences whenever possible. Again, understanding the context of learning new materials will help build motivation. Knowing how the new learning fits with what students already know, and how it links to their own background experiences helps to create neurological connections that will help students retain information and understand how the new learning relates to them.

Another critical step in building relevance and purpose, and thereby increasing motivation is application of newly applied information and skills. The application of the skills learned, in terms of both language and content, should be fairly immediate and, most importantly, as authentic as possible.

In other words, applying what students have learned to a packet of worksheets will not likely build motivation. Rather, applying skills in real-life, relevant ways will help students see why they are learning something and how that information will be helpful to them.

Project that include interacting with others, especially in the target language, and activities that are relevant beyond the scope of the school, will be more motivating than activities that just involve the confines of the school and school community.

The Pleasure of Learning: Building a Sense of Satisfaction and Enjoyment

Through all of the concepts discussed in this article, students will hopefully not only build motivation to learn but will also begin to enjoy learning as they build success, are given the right amount of scaffolding to build content and language skills and see the relevance and purpose of what they are learning.

Students should enjoy learning! While not every topic will be of great interest to them, by teaching students about the world, and demonstrating our joy and excitement of learning, we can open new windows for them.

We can also utilize many, many active engagement strategies, games, and activities that help make learning fun and exciting. For example, making learning hands-on and providing movement in the classroom can be motivating and fun for students.

Going on field trips and learning walks, utilizing multimedia, and other novel activities can spark the interest and motivation that students need when they get bored or are in need of something new and fresh. When learning is fun and exciting, students feel more motivated to continue to put forth effort to learn new content and language skills.