This research-based article explores the benefits of a motivational framework for culturally responsive teaching in higher education. To support her study, the author explains how she has experimented and utilized a motivational framework in her classes while teaching English as a second language (ESL) to her students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The author highlights the four different aspects of a motivational framework: inclusion, attitude, meaning, and competence. She also highlights different strategies and activities that she has used in her own classes based on a motivational framework.


This article, through a deep, classroom-driven research project, explores the benefits of four aspects of a motivational framework: inclusion, attitude, meaning, and competence. The most interesting part about this article is that, while utilizing the concept of a motivational framework in her classes; the author converted her experiences into a proposal for the SSTESOL 2017 Annual Conference.

What is Motivation?

Motivation is a concept that is intended to explain one of life’s most elusive questions: why do we do what we do? Implicit in seeking to answer this question is the intention that educators might better understand motivation to encourage student learning (Ginsberg, 2005). Defining motivation as the natural human capacity to direct energy in the pursuit of goals, an undergirding assumption is that human beings are purposeful, and we direct our energy through attention, concentration, and imagination to make sense of our world (Ginsberg, 2005).

Therefore, motivation plays a significant role in defining who we are and what we are. It helps us make our dreams come true and strengthens our existence. It also helps us in building our personality to achieve what we aspire and want to. Motivation helps us in achieving second- language acquisition as well.

What is Culture?

Culture can be defined as the webs of significance we spin as human beings: Who we are and how we interact with the world is an intriguing intersection of language, values, beliefs, and behaviors that pervade every aspect of a person’s life, while continually changing and evolving (Ginsberg, 2005). Culture can also be defined more broadly in terms of acquisition of a second language where the term cultural becomes “intercultural.”

How we view cultural understanding within the language class has evolved from an understanding of the “target culture” toward an understanding of how two different cultures are related (Fenner, 2008). When students internalize a new language and its new culture, they do not work in a vacuum. Indeed, their beliefs, values, and assumptions shape their understanding of themselves and their understanding of others (Kourova & Modianos, 2013).

How Cultural Proficiency Enhances Motivation in ESL Learners

Cultural awareness and respect for cultural diversity always enhance motivation in ESL learners. Language learning is a case of learning symbols and systems of codes but is also a matter of developing cultural knowledge and competence. In fact, culture can be viewed as being a feature of language itself (Kramsch, 1993, cited in Fenner, 2008).

In terms of cultural proficiency, motivation plays an essential part in enhancing students’ foreign or English as a second language learning skills. Motivation arouses students’ interest in learning of a foreign language as they relate often abstract sounds of foreign language to real people and places (Fenner, 2008). Therefore, by applying a motivational framework in second- language teaching, we can certainly enhance the language learning and motivate second- language learners for a positive learning outcome.

What is a Motivational Framework?

A motivational framework integrates vital constructs of motivation from many disciplines. The central tenet of this conceptual framework is that, to support the motivation of all learners, it is necessary to address essential knowledge and skills within a culturally responsive, and intrinsically motivating, pedagogy (Ginsberg, 2005, p. 219). In addition, the motivation framework demystifies the role of culture in teaching and learning, without prescribing lists of learning preferences and teaching approaches for entire student groups (Ginsberg, 2005). Furthermore, the motivational framework is respectful of different cultures and is capable of creating a common culture within a learning situation that all students can accept it. It dynamically combines the essential motivation conditions that are intrinsically motivating for diverse students (Wlodkowski, 1999).

A Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching and How it Enhances Motivation in ESL Learners

A motivational framework for culturally responsive teaching is built on principles and structures that tend to be meaningful within and across cultures, and the purpose of the motivational framework is to unify teaching practices that elicit the intrinsic motivation of all learners so that educators can consistently design leaning experiences that matter to, and support, the success of all students. In terms of everyday instruction, it seeks to explain how to create compelling and demographic variety of assumptions learning experiences that honor the diverse perspectives, values, and talents that students bring to the classroom (Ginsberg, 2005, p. 221).

Therefore, the motivational framework for culturally responsive teaching enhances motivation in ESL learners through four basic conditions that work together to support students’ natural interest in learning: establishing inclusion, developing a positive attitude, enhancing meaning, and engendering competence (Ginsberg, 2005). Although the motivational framework for culturally responsive teaching includes new teaching strategies for each condition (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2000), it also serves as a template for recognizing existing strengths in educational practice and providing clues to develop those strengths. In this way, it is respectful of the work that educators are already doing, and it encourages classroom teachers to apply principles of motivation for all students with consistency (Ginsberg, 2005, p.222).

Establishing Inclusion

Establishing inclusion refers to principles and practices that contribute to a learning environment in which students and teachers feel respected by, and connected to, one another (Ginsberg, 2005). That means establishing inclusion emphasizes the human purpose of what is being learned and its relationship to the students’ experience. Also, it shares the ownership of knowing with all students. Furthermore, it collaborates and cooperates with the students and the class assumes a hopeful view of people and their capacity to change. Establishing Inclusion also treats all students equitably (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995).

Strategies for Applying Inclusion in the Classroom

Following are the strategies for applying inclusion in the class:

  • The teacher should treat all students respectfully.
  • Students’ lives and cultures should be represented in the class (Ginsberg, 2005).
  • Collaborate and cooperate with the students.
  • Treat all students equitably and avoid any kind of discrimination (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1999).

Classroom Activities for Inclusion

  • Collaborative learning approaches
  • Cooperative learning
  • Writing groups
  • Peer-editing teaching
  • Multicultural & multidimensional projects
  • Focus groups and reframing

A work sample of focus groups and reframing in the form of author’s class teaching demonstration of collaborative group activities can be found here and here.

Developing a Positive Attitude

Developing a positive attitude refers to principles and practices that contribute to, through personal and cultural relevance and through choice, a favorable disposition towards learning (Ginsberg, 2005). Meaning that, as second language teachers, we have to incorporate teaching and learning activities in our lesson plans based on students’ previous knowledge or experiences. We can also encourage students to make choices in content and assessment methods based on their experiences, cultural values, needs, and strengths.

Strategies for Applying Positive Attitude in the Classroom

Following are the strategies for applying positive attitude in the classroom:

  • Classes should be taught with students’ experiences, concerns or interests in mind.
  • Students should make choices related to learning that include experiences, values, needs, and strengths.
  • Students can voice their opinions in the class (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1999).

Classroom Activities for Positive Attitude

  • Clear learning goals
  • Problem-solving goals
  • Experimental learning
  • Fair and clear criteria for evaluation, such as good feedback
  • Learning contracts or activities which promote students’ interests and experiences

Enhancing Meaning

Enhancing meaning refers to challenging and engaging learning. This condition expands and strengthens learning in a way that matters to students and builds their identities as valued civic participants (Ginsberg, 2015). The broader purpose of this concept is that the teacher should provide challenging learning experiences involving higher-order thinking skills. She should also address relevant, real-world or current issues in an action-oriented manner in the classroom.

Strategies for Applying Enhancing Meaning in the Classroom

  • Active participation in the challenging ways.
  • Questions that go beyond facts and encourage different points of view.
  • Teacher builds on what students know.
  • Teacher respectfully encourages high-quality responses or higher order thinking skills.
  • Teacher should encourage or incorporate student dialect into classroom dialogue (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 2005)

Classroom Activities for Enhancing Meaning

  • Projects based on critical thinking and critical questioning techniques
  • Assignments based on experimental inquiry techniques
  • Case-study methods

Engendering Competence

Engendering competence refers to principles and practices that help students to be effective at what they value, authentically identifying what they know and can do, and linking them to a hopeful future (Ginsberg, 2005). The teacher can connect assessment process to students’ world, frames of reference and what they value, and by doing so, she can beautifully connect the students to a better future.

Strategies for Applying Engendering Competence in the Classroom

  • Clear criteria for student success
  • Grading policies fair to all
  • Performance and demonstrations with real world connections
  • Encourage self- assessment (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 2005)

Classroom Activities for Engendering Competence

  • Feedback/Peer-feedback
  • Authentic assessment
  • Portfolios and process-folios
  • Self-assessment/Self-reflection
  • Tests and testing

A work sample of feedback/peer-feedback in one of the author’s writing class has been videoed and can be found here.


Thus, after exploring culturally responsive teaching in her classes through the four components of a motivational framework, the author realized that it is one of the best tools for motivating students. The different teaching strategies from the four components can be applied beautifully in all ESL levels: listening, speaking, reading, and writing classes.

After using a motivational framework in her classes, the author highly recommend it to other ESL educators to utilize it in their classrooms. To prove this theory in practice the author has added some interesting class assignments from her own classes in the appendix which she has created based on the four aspects of a motivational framework: inclusion, attitude, meaning, and competence.


Fenner, A. (2008). Cultural Awareness in the Foreign Language Classroom. In Cenoz, J. and Hornberger, N. (E.Ds.). Encyclopedia of language and Education. Vol. 6, pp. 273-285.

Ginsberg. B Margery (2005).Cultural Diversity, Motivation, and Differentiation, THEORY INTO PRACTICE, 44(3), pp. 218-225

Kourova, Alla and Modianos, Doan (2013). Inter-cultural Awareness and its Role in Enriching Students’ Communicative Competence. The International HETL Review, Special Issue 2013, pp. 60-70

Wlodkowski & Ginsberg (1995). A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching, EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, September, pp. 17- 21

Wlodkowski J. Raymond (1999) Part One: Motivation and Diversity: A Framework for Teaching, NEW DIRECTIONS FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING, no. 78, Summer 1999