This post is cross-posted on the new blog for the Teacher Effectiveness in Language Learning (TELL) project, an initiative of Advance Learning.
For schools all across the country, the day is rapidly approaching for us to tell our students goodbye. It’s time to go on vacation, to run to the ice cream truck, lather up with sunblock, set off fireworks, and stroll through the farmer’s market. It’s the break from all that tedious learning, except for those unfortunate students who elect advanced classes and get lists of reading and projects to accomplish.
As lifelong learners cultivating lifelong learners, we know that learning and fun are continuous and inseparable and inextricably tied to the ways we’re wired inside, to the ideas and hopes that light up our eyes and make us say, “Hey, what if I could…”
The fact is, at some point we say goodbye to all of our students, not just for the summer, but for good. And if we haven’t sought to fan that flame that makes them dream, that’s the end, the final adiós, the first step in “I took X years of Y language and I can’t talk to anyone.” But you know what the key is: that elusive intrinsic motivation.
You can’t force students to be motivated. Here’s a fact that’s both a relief and a challenge: you can’t motivate students at all. Requiring certain activities in the summer for students returning to advanced classes certainly isn’t going to solve that; you’re just getting the same students who are motivated by grades to complete some exercises to get more grades as they wait for the day they can quit because there aren’t any more grades to be had.
Summer is not about getting students to continue in their language activities. Summer (and life) will be an extension of the intrinsic motivation you’ve inspired and encouraged all year. But how do you do that?
The single greatest way to access and build intrinsic motivation in students is to leave everything you can up to them. Incorporating student choice into your curriculum shows students how language fits into the dreams they already have, or the ones that are just budding in their hearts. (How? See a host of ideas here.) And so the last day of class comes and goes, but they keep their Facebook in the target language. Cell phone too. They continue to help in service projects. Some, like many of my students, use the summer as an opportunity to travel abroad to serve oppressed and underprivileged communities. Others simply get thrilled by speaking Spanish at the local Mexican restaurant. They do Lyrics Training and read Hunger Games in the target language.
So put your suggested summer worksheets away and find out what really inspires them. Students aren’t going to do worksheets for fun, and if they’re not doing it for fun then they won’t keep going after they’ve left you. After all, when learning is for fun, then it’s for life.