Investigating the relationship between the extended curriculum and student motivation to study Modern Foreign Languages.
A summary of my MA Education dissertation.
I posted the other day that my copy of my dissertation had arrived and a number of people expressed an interest in reading it. I've shared it with a couple of people, but I'm holding off of putting it online until I have the MA certificate in my hands and it's all 100% confirmed, as I'm sure you can understand. What I have decided to do is summarise the dissertation here along with my key conclusions in the hope that it may be of use to some. Please do let me know if you read this post and if anything is useful for you.
Please be aware that I know that this research is not perfect, I know that it is not the best written, and I understand that it is flawed. I am not presenting this as a perfect example, or something that I am expecting others to follow. This is only being posted following requests from those that may be interested in it for their own use.
All references will be made available when I upload the full document in early 2017.
Why this topic?
I wanted to research a topic that would be useful for me at work, seeing as I was trying to balance the dissertation with starting at a new school it made sense. It also meant that things I wanted to do for work became part of the dissertation and vice versa.
With the current position of MFL in the curriculum being part of the EBacc, yet not compulsory for many students, schools face the task of motivating students to study MFL at GCSE and beyond. This can be challenging, and I wanted to find ways of helping teachers encourage their students to study MFL.
What did the literature say?
When reviewing the literature I looked at the barriers to studying MFL and the factors which motivate students to pick a lanaguage at GCSE.
I did a fair bit of reading into motivation and one of the most relevant factors seemed to be interest. It may seem obvious, but if a student is interested in learning a language then they will be more motivated to learn it. I found that there are different types of interest, direct and indirect. This means that students may be directly interested in learning languages themselves, or indirectly interested as the activity relates to something else that they already have an interest in. This was something I could see relating to the extended curriculum from an early stage in the research.
There are a number of other components to motivation:
Of course, attitude has a role to play. How do students feel about languages? What preconceptions do they have? What attitudes have their parents passed on?
It is important to consider if students value MFL learning, and if it has been made relevant to them.
Self-efficacy is important in student motivation, students that don't feel that they are able to learn languages will not be motivated to do so.
Finally, student's goals will affect their motivation. If they have a challenging. yet attainable, goal they are more likely to be motivated.
Further to these components of motivation, I read about different types of motivation. These seemed to me to be something we could really tap into in relation to the extended curriculum. There are a number of types of motivation, integrative motivation is where a student is motivated to learn a language in order to integrate with the target language community. Instrumental motivation is when a student wishes to lean a language for purely academic/career related reasons. In this case the language functions as a tool for them to achieve another goal.
I also read around various factors which affect student motivation to study languages. These were such widely researched factors as gender as well as Special Educational Needs, the content of the curriculum, the UK's current relationship with Europe, anxiety and relevance to student's lives. I will not delve further into these here.
How did I carry out my research?
I surveyed secondary MFL teachers and students to find out their views and the practices in their schools. I focused on Essex and sent out survey links to heads of department in as many schools as I could find email addresses for - and that was a lot. I got 30 responses to my staff survey, admittedly not as many as I would have liked, but helpful all the same. I also had 167 student responses, although these were just from a couple of schools and so of course cannot be applied as fact for all students of MFL in Essex. Responses came from a mixture of schools, comprehensive, grammar, single and mixed sex, state and independent.
I asked staff what they had on offer in terms of the extended curriculum and what the barriers were to them providing these opportunities. I also asked about trips, if they had to be taken in holiday time etc Finally I asked about contact with schools in target language communities.
What did I find?
I found that some schools were offering a wide range of MFL related activities, and others were not. No surprises there. Schools that were not providing activities stated that they did not have the time or the funding to be able to do so. Schools that were providing opportunities stated that they felt such activities had helped to create a buzz around language learning.
Some example activities are as follows:
Revision, intervention and support
History of Europe
Gifted and Talented
Students gave various reasons for attending these clubs, for example: learning more, practicing the language, gaining confidnece, teaching others and the entertainment value.
Student responses for not attending however were quite disheartening. Many many students stated that they simple were not interested in learning languages, they didn't like languages, didn't feel they were good enough or that languages just were not a priority for them - some students stated that languages were not useful. Another revealing factor was that a large number of students mentioned that they just did not have enough time to attend these clubs.
When students were asked what sort of activities they would like to take part in, trips abroad featured highly. Interestingly though, some students noted that these were not experiences that motivated them to take languages saying that they were less of an educational opportunity and more of a social one. Students were interested in having penpals, taking part in cultural activities, watching films and playing games. A number of students were also interested in playing sport or taking part in creative activities in MFL. These activities were shown to motivate students, but for others their motiviation to learn languages was not influenced.
I also collected data from students on the influence of meeting native speakers and having links with TL schools. From teachers I collected data on trips and the difficulties that come with this. I shall not go into this in detail now, the results are as expected - teachers were not allowed to take students out of school for trips and therefore these often did not run.
What conclusions did I come to?
I reached the conclusion that schools should focus on making sure that their students are aware of the importance of language learning from the earliest opprtunity. Languages must be relevant to students from showing them career and cultural opportunities to the content of the curriculum. Students must see how languages are directly applicable to their own future, in order to be motivated to learn them.
Schools should tap into indirect motivation, by providing activities that students will want to take part in but that also incorporate the language. Sports and creative activities seemed to be the key to this. Schools should also try to cater for those with integrative interest, providing cultural experiences and opportunities to practice the language. Also tapping into those with instrumental interest by showing career opportunities and other such benefits is worthwhile.
I acknowledge that for many schools there are barriers to providing these opportunities, and encourage schools to present some of these findings to SLT when told that they need to increase their uptake. The extended curriculum has a key role to play in this, if only it can be given the opportunity.
If this isn't possilbe, teachers can take opportunities to integrate these ideas into their teaching, to show students the importance of languages, the enjoyment they can get from them, and to motivate them to study MFL in the future.