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Commandment 9 – Increase Learners’ Goal-Orientedness

Happy New Year 2023! Have you made new year’s resolutions? This is the perfect time to look at Commandment 9 – strategies to increase your learner’s goal-orientation.

Teachers Setting Goals

Every year, teachers pore over guidelines, revise syllabi, and schedule units and tests as part of course goal setting. A syllabus is a road map with a clear destination with stops on the way to measure how well learners are acquiring the content and language structure.

But what are the learners’ goals? Students have different motivations and expectations, and some have no clue why they are learning an additional language. Here’s where the 9th commandment comes into play – increasing the learners’ goal-orientedness.

One point in Zoltán Dörnyei and Csizér’s discussion of learner motivation is a great encouragement:

…high motivation can make up for considerable deficiencies both in one’s language aptitude and learning conditions; indeed, for the great majority of L2 learners the ‘you can get it if you really want to’ principle is true.

Regardless of a learners’ desire to learn (or lack of desire!) setting achievable goals and meeting them can help learners’ motivation. In their article, the authors indicate a number of goals to hit.

Reasonable Expectations
Can I share an anecdote here? When I was a high school student, I loved French class and learned receptive skills quickly, devouring reading and listening. But I was struggling so badly that in the first two semesters I was failing.

My patient and wise teacher told me something that’s stuck with me. He said it just takes time and I’d have a breakthrough. Sure enough, in my final exams, I had one of the top scores. It just took time for me to grapple with the grammar until I “got it”.

Every year, I share this anecdote with my students. I want them to be resilient enough to keep going until they get it, too.

Goals and Steps Along the Way

I can hear you groan when I mention tests. My junior and senior high school learners appreciate that the widely-used criteria tests such as GTEC, Eiken, and TEAP present reachable goals. When learners get their results, we celebrate them in the staff room and the students feel a sense of accomplishment and motivation to hit the next benchmark.

Goals don’t have to always be linguistic. When teaching content, the KWL framework has a clear outcome. Learners can compose and present what they’ve learned from a text, video, listening, or other media.

Get Everybody Working Together

Like many ALTs, I lead an English club after school. When I took over a few years ago, I explained that the club is a chance to showcase what the members can do in English. Four times a year, we publish an online newspaper shared with the whole school. The members choose themes and topics they want to write about. As our web page gets populated by back issues, the members have a feeling of accomplishment.

Within lessons, ALTs may have limited time. But you can use that time to provide activities that promote friendly competition between classes. In junior high writing lessons, we counted up the number of words each class produced in compositions and shared them between classes. Learners strove to exceed other classes’ word counts. Some time-efficient activities you can do include spelling bees, Quizlet sets (my students love Quizlet Live and Match), and Wordwall nteractives which have a leaderboard option.

The Value of Needs Analysis
A needs analysis can be as simple as a questionnaire with checkboxes. In my classrooms, I start the year with a Kahoot,a game-based learning platform to get to know my learners. I include questions to find out if students are aiming to pass Eiken and other tests, whether they are focused on arts or sciences, and what they’re excited about for the coming school year. This helps me adjust my lesson plans to incorporate tasks and content that align with their goals.

Support Your JTEs While They Craft Individual Study Plans

Student counseling and study plans are the purview of homeroom teacher duties, but ALTs are sometimes called on to help out. You might support “hoshu”, after school tutoring and study hall to help a student overcome a learning hurdle, or be asked to help write applications for exchange programs.

Clearing the Next Level

When I ask my students who have succeeded on Eiken tests or speech contests, or when they’ve pulled up their scores, I ask if they’re ready to clear the next goal. And nine times out of ten, they say yes. The more your students achieve, the more they get it. And in turn, you and your fellow JTEs receive feedback that your efforts have tangible outcomes.