The Baby in the Bathwater: A Discussion of the Role of Motivation in Teaching Tertiary Level Students

The Baby in the Bathwater: A Discussion of the Role of Motivation in Teaching Tertiary Level Students

Patrick Healy (University of East Anglia, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5990-2.ch015


This chapter is informed by the author's experiences of teaching English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) before moving on to teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP). Accordingly, it is shaped by the laments of ESOL practitioners at their perceived Cinderella status and an understanding that EAP teaching is regarded by much of the academic community as support work. Qualifications in EAP per se are not awarded, but rather, like scaffolding, language teaching sits alongside a student's principal course of study. Most EAP teachers have provided scaffolding to the educational edifice at a range of levels spanning compulsory and post-compulsory education. This affords a unique perspective on what teaching looks like at different levels. Founded on a familiarity with pedagogy at other levels then, the chapter draws on personal insights into teaching practices at universities and posits that certain characteristics of teaching younger learners might be equally effective in EAP and throughout the post-compulsory context. After all, pedagogy, the term used to describe teaching throughout educational levels, derives from the Greek “paid,” meaning child, and “agogus,” meaning leader. Thus, pedagogy literally means “the art and science of teaching children” (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2012).
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Students attend university for a variety of reasons ranging from uncertainty about the future and reluctance to enter the workforce to a laser-like focus on a particular career trajectory. Regardless of the rationale, all would hopefully concede that at some point learning is involved. Lecturers are a similarly heterogeneous group, but whatever their motivations and interests most would presumably accept that at some point teaching is involved. This second point is more than pedantic, as traditionally job security and status are based on records of publication rather than any assessment of teaching or classroom performance. Universities are, nonetheless, recognisable ‘schools’. So institutions of higher learning are similar to other schools in that they are an interface and consequently one would expect to find other similarities associated with the joint endeavour of teaching and learning.

Effective teaching is certainly different in different classrooms and “the qualities that are needed in teaching personnel will vary depending on different objectives and needs of schools” (Glenn, 2001, as cited in Kono, 2010, p. 59). Even within a particular education environment it is impossible to describe in detail what constitutes the most effective pedagogy, because teaching is personal (as well as professional) and people are different. When we teach effectively, we do so with different skills, vastly different personalities and subtly different understandings of what will work. According to Norton, Richardson, Hartley, Newstead, and Mayes (2005, p. 563), “an individual teacher may hold two or more conceptions of teaching” depending entirely on the context. According to Bandura (1997), teachers can be equally successful in the same context with wildly different methodologies. This is not to say that anything goes; indeed Norton, Richardson, Hartley, Newstead, and Mayes (2005) acknowledge that different teaching styles will have markedly different effects on student satisfaction, motivation and consequent attainment. This truth holds within academic levels, but is so much more apparent when we compare across them. In their discussion of teachers’ self-perceptions, Wolters and Daugherty state that “academic levels represent distinct contexts with unique characteristics derived from their underlying organization and climate, the training and background of the educational personnel and the students they serve” (2007, p. 183).

English language is commonly taught as a means to study other academic subjects and this has important implications. Firstly effective language teaching requires an insight into students’ other courses in order to relevantly contextualise input and support learners with genre. This necessitates a dialogue between EAP teachers and lecturers in other departments which, where successful, furnishes both parties with a clearer understanding of what their counterpart does. Such interaction might include language teachers gaining access to assessment feedback (usually anonymised) and grading criteria, for example. As a result, language teachers find themselves peculiarly situated to observe aspects of the teaching of other disciplines. This relationship, however, is not solely receptive. If it is true that EAP departments are essentially ancillary and if they are understood as such by practitioners of the discipline, then the challenge of defining cultures is complicated. Flitting precariously between international offices and education faculties, EAP departments don’t have a secure place within the tertiary landscape. Perhaps because of this insecurity there is a desire to be seen as effectively adjuvant. Accordingly, there may be a tendency among EAP departments to take on the characteristics of the cultures that exist and jettison anything that doesn’t fit with what’s already there.

Unlike most academic lecturers, EAP teachers are often more teacher than researcher and they generally have fairly extensive experience of teaching in a variety of contexts. The degree to which this experience should inform and mould emergent EAP cultures is, however, unclear. This paper explores whether successful teaching is characterised by immutable features regardless of context or if the profession is more akin to Wittgenstein’s notion of familial resemblance, such that no set of common desirable traits or attributes is universal. More specifically, the focus here is on what forms of encouragement might lead to increased motivation in tertiary provision.

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