Is Extrinsic Motivation in a language classroom a bad thing? Can it have a linguistic purpose in promoting a target language ONLY classroom?

Sandra Dominelli
AIM Tip #4 Is Extrinsic Motivation in a language classroom a bad thing? Can it have a linguistic purpose in promoting a target language ONLY classroom?

I recently spoke to a teacher who said “My principal is concerned about the fact that the card system is an extrinsic motivator and she prefers that the students have an intrinsic motivation to learn language.” Of course, this is unquestionably our primary goal! As language teachers, we want to ensure that students rapidly acquire the language so that they DO develop an intrinsic LOVE of the language and appreciation for the culture ! My inspiration for developing AIM was based on the fact that my students did not like learning French and I believed that this was, at least in part, because after many years they could not speak, read nor write in the target language.

Before they develop proficiency, however, students cannot imagine, nor feel intrinsic value in speaking this other language. I love Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnote, based on the ideas by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey

I feel that it illustrates well the progression toward intrinsic motivation. As much as we want to help students rapidly acquire language, we also want students to move rapidly through the continuum to intrinsic motivation.

One of the AIM tools that helps to scaffold and move through this continuum is our card system. Not only does it ensure accountability and raise awareness of TL only but it has a deeper linguistic purpose to it as well.

We begin each Lesson with the commitment that we’re going to use the target language only. Whether you use the simple entry routine (open your head/take out

English, put English in your pocket etc.) or whether you use the entry routine rap or whether you simply gesture, for example, in French “On parle seulement en français auhourd’hui…’ it’s a commitment that sets up the atmosphere for the target language only used throughout the class that day. Bookending this commitment that starts at the beginning of the class with the end of class acknowledgement that we have used the target language only in the classroom …. happens very effectively with the card system. Two minutes before the end of class, you ask the students whether they spoke only in French/Spanish/Mandarin etc. today and if they did, they acknowledge that they did and say (in the TL of course) ‘I spoke only in French /Spanish etc. today” and they take a card.

There is also a linguistic purpose to this leaving routine, scaffolding to higher levels of expression…at first, students may simply say:

These are key phrases that students now have the opportunity to practise every day!

And later they will have the proficiency to be very creative, saying, just as an example:

Est-ce que je peux avoir une carte, s’il te plait, parce que j’ai parlé seulement en français aujourd’hui pendant toute la classe avec mon partenaire quand j‘ai fait mes activités et aussi avec mes amis et avec Madame/Monsieur… ! May I/Can I have a card, please because I spoke only in French today during the whole class with my partner when I did my activities and also with my friends and with you Mr./Mrs….!

So using the card system each day as a way to reflect upon and acknowledge that they used target language is a big step for students who are just beginning their language journey. We talk a lot about the importance of student self-assessment and self-reflection, assessment for learning – this is truly key in developing metacognition or awareness of one’s own learning and is essential, I believe, in the development of an intrinsic motivation …and of course, is a great tool for maintain the TL only.

Secondly, the card system gives us the opportunity to thank the students for the great effort they’re putting toward trying to express themselves in a foreign language …which we all know is not easy for a beginning language speaker.

Each day we hand a card to each student individually and can formally thank that student for putting forth this wonderful effort to use the target language only. Praise is such a huge component of the AIM and this is just one other formalized way that reminds us recognize the students for their great effort.

Thirdly, when it comes time to count the cards we want students to have the opportunity, yet again, to reflect on their use of the target language over

a longer period of time, say, 15 to 20 Lessons. When students use the target language only, we know that this is a significant indicator of their eventual ability to develop higher levels of proficiency On the day when students count the cards, they practice sociolingustic functions and high frequency expressions in the target language such as “where is… (name of student)/I am here/here is your card/thank you/your welcome’ over and over again as cards are being handed out.

This system also provides you with a lot of information regarding student participation in class and if you wish, you can use this as part of your assessment toolkit –

not all teachers want to assess participation but what participation typically tells us is that if students are participating (using the TL only in this case)… well they’re going to be speaking in the TL most likely better than others who don’t.

Some teachers and administrators who don’t know AIM well, look at the strategies and techniques used in the methodology such as this one and see only the surface … it is important to also understand the deeper purpose behind it as well.

Because using the TL only in a language classroom is one of the key indicators of to an effective language classroom, we look to whatever we can to support us.

AIM offers a variety of supports – and the card system is just one of many strategies and systems in place to help you! Not only can some types of extrinsic motivation help to accelerate student proficiency, they also may offer some specific linguistic opportunities as well!

I always know when students move from extrinsic to an intrinsic appreciation of French the first time they catch me using English and react in the following way, saying : Madame Maxwell, qu’est-ce que tu fais! Tu DOIS parler seulement en français ! you know that you have achieved your goal of TL only and intrinsic motivation…and THAT is where we all want to be!