What are the key ingredients in a successful English class?

“We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and
belonging, power, freedom, and fun.”

Intrinsic Motivation is the necessary ingredient for any successful English class. The how to get there, may fall into place much easier, once the solid foundation of motivation is laid.
            I mine this treasure, of intrinsic motivation in my students, by first establishing a solid rapport or bridge of trust if you will, within my class. This bridge of trust leads to a safe haven of learning, the classroom. This room is a safe and caring environment, where the students feel free to make mistakes and learn. Borrowing from Glasser once again, when students feel they are loved and have a sense of belonging, they relax and will learn more. Establishing this safe haven of learning takes time and patience to build but is necessary and fundamental to teach properly. In order to help each student find that innate ability and joy, to see learning as a hobby, as opposed to something their parents and teachers order them to do. This feeling of safety is required to not only be successful in class but life as well.

“We can teach a lot of things, but if a teacher can’t relate by talking to a group of friendly students, he’ll never be a competent teacher”.
William Glasser

For example, I always start my class in a relaxed manner to let the kids know who I am, not just as their teacher, but also as a fellow human being. I might share a bit of my own personal life and let the students know that I am a father and husband and enjoy Fly-fishing with my five-year-old son, Benjamin. Some educators believe this approach is too personal and not appropriate for the classroom. I care to differ and say this rapport is necessary in order to teach with empathy and caring. After this safe haven, has been built in my classroom, teaching with: patience, love and understanding, can begin.

How then shall we motivate our students to want to learn without external incentive? One word-Fun! Fun may be the easiest answer. Deducing from a Glasser quote, as stated above, Fun for kids may be the easiest way to motivate and inspire. If I need to use an “ Angry Birds “ game as a segue into my Shakespeare class, then so be it! If a few push-ups or Yoga exercises do the trick then so be it! Once the kids minds are stimulated and relaxed by exercising and or playing a quick game, their minds and bodies will be more attuned to allowing in new information and they will learn more when feeling relaxed.
When I hear a teacher say, ”My kids just aren’t motivated or into, it”, whatever the subject is.  My response is, “Well then, get them into it!” Inspire them, that is your job! Without Intrinsic Motivation (IM), the class, and teacher, can be dull and lifeless. By inspiring students to understand and realize that their own personal transformation is in their own minds and actions. That it is their personal responsibility to take control of their own lives, can be the best way to reach this treasure of intrinsic motivation. One way I help children realize their own personal power is to do a bit of Yoga or stretching in the class. Often I can be seen starting my class with a bit of movement just to get the creative juices flowing. When students learn that they can control their own breathing and become conscious of this ability, they can then be taught to expand this idea of control over their own, thoughts, feelings and lives. Learning self control in this way is fundamental to the teaching and learning process.
Once again, intrinsic motivation is necessary for the establishment of a productive English classroom. The road to this goal, of a caring learning environment for children, is productive for not only the students but for the teacher and school as well. To end with a quote from one of my favorite historical characters:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.
 Involve me and I learn.” 
Benjamin Franklin

To get the kids involved in their own life-long learning adventure is a fruitful experience for all!
I leave you with another, hopefully inspiring question, “If you do not motivate and inspire your students to greater heights, then who will?”

Robert K. Pitts
Bogota, Colombia-2013

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