We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Mar 30, 2015

Get Students Motivated in Your World Language Classroom

#Langchat participants met last Thursday to discuss how to get students motivated in world language classes. Drawing inspiration from Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, they reflected on how to help students find purpose in learning another language, how to support student autonomy, and how to highlight student mastery, ensuring that students feel successful. Participants also shared useful resources for educators interested in learning more about motivation. As always, “#langchat [generated] so many ideas [in] so little time!” (@rinaldivlgr) and left Langchatters feeling motivated!

Thank you to all of our participants and to last Thursday’s moderating team, Laura (@SraSpanglish), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Don (@dr_dmd), and @Cristy (@msfrenchteach), for yet another great #langchat!

Question 1: PURPOSE: How can we help students find and pursue purpose in learning another language?

#Langchat participants had lots of thoughts about how to help students find and cultivate purpose in the world language classroom. They highlighted the value of personalization, relevance, and projected learning outcomes. Participants also emphasized the importance of checking in with students early on to see what purpose they bring to the classroom.

  • Personalization. Many #langchat participants commented on the role that personalization can play in shaping student purpose. @Mr_Fernie wrote, “Personalization! Make it for and about them.” @SenoraDiamond55 added that personalization is not always about students but can also be about the communities with which they engage: “Personalization [is] not just [about students]; [it is also about] their COMMUNITIES.” She noted that students can cultivate purpose in developing projects personalized for community member needs, engaging with individuals in the target language.
  • Relevance. Langchatters agreed that relevance is crucial. @MmeCarbonneau urged instructors to “make [language learning] relevant to [students’] lives NOW.” @StJMagistra agreed, noting that purpose can be developed “[by] making connections between what [students are] learning in the classroom and the wider world.” Instructors pointed out that online exchanges with target language speakers can help to make learning feel relevant. @SraSpanglish wrote, “For me the key is finding an audience that matters to students, someone they NEED to use the [target language] with.” @dr_dmd also commented, “[It’s important] to find [second language] communities for real connections – even virtual ones are good for this! Set up an Edmodo group [with your] classes.”
  • Projected learning outcomes. Instructors observed that showing students glimpses of projected future outcomes of language learning can give them purpose. @hsingmaster wrote, “[Show students] how learning a language can benefit them in the future!” @carmenscoggins suggested that sharing success stories of former students can also help: “I use former student testimonies to entice newbies. It shows them that making progress in Spanish is possible!”
  • Purpose as defined by students. Lastly, participants pointed out that students may already have a purpose in mind when they come to class. As @SECottrell noted, “Sometimes students come to our class with a purpose already – [We] just need to ask.” @Marishawkins encouraged instructors to discover students’ purposes, writing, “[Start] the [year] by asking [students] why they signed up for the class. Even if they must take a [foreign language], they typically have some choice.”

Question 2: AUTONOMY: How can we give students control of their learning?

In discussing ways to promote student autonomy, participants underscored the importance of choice in different aspects of the language class. As @IndwellingLang wrote, instructors can promote choice in many areas: “CHOICE–of topics, assignments, projects, texts, activities,…”

  • Choice in vocabulary. Many instructors encouraged giving students at least some degree of choice in vocabulary selection. @MmeCarbonneau wrote, “[Let students] have [a] say in vocabulary,” and @MmeFarab argued in favor of “[self-selected] vocab!,” adding, “Also, I survey students about vocab topics so I can teach things relevant to their lives.”
  • Choice in texts. Other instructors mentioned choice in text selection. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS gives students free choice reading time: “My [Spanish 3/4] classes have been SO good about doing it this year, [and I’m] really seeing the benefits.” @Watermelonworks also allows for free-choice reading: “[My] students pick the books they want to read: their choice, their interest, our decoding the language together.”
  • Choice in assignments. Participants encouraged allowing students to show what they know in the format of their choice. @IU12IMS said, “[Offer students] choices… Let them show you what they have learned how they want to show you.” @profepj3 added, “This is why I love having [project-based learning]—the [students] get to choose how to tackle a topic and show what they know.”

While Langchatters promoted student choice, they also recognized the value of a good rubric that provides some structure. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “Use guidelines, parameters, or rubrics to set [a] foundation for [a] good product [or] presentation [and] then let [students] individualize.” @dr_dmd commented, “Grading with rubrics is a big help – I can offer ‘choice [within] a framework’ [and let students] meet the rubric however [they] like!”

Question 3: MASTERY: What can we do to ensure students feel successful?

In working to make students feel successful, participants highlighted the importance of reasonable expectations, a good dose of praise, and peer instruction and feedback. They also questioned whether it is appropriate to speak of mastery or fluency in the language classroom.

  • Reasonable expectations. Langchatters noted the importance of setting appropriate proficiency expectations. @Marishawkins suggested that instructors “keep expectations reasonable for proficiency!” and @SECottrell observed, “Level-appropriate performance tasks are a huge booster for students to feel successful.” @espanolsrs added that, in order to build confidence, instructors could have “[students] take assessments when [the teacher] knows at least 80% will get 80% or higher [on the exam and] most of rest will get passing grades.”
  • Praise. #Langchat participants recognized the role of praise in making students feel successful. @carmenscoggins wrote, “Celebrate the small stuff! Encourage each other!” Other instructors pointed out the benefit of can-do statements. @SrLaBoone said, “[Can-do] phrases are great! [They] point out what the students have accomplished so far and emphasize [a] growth mindset.” @senorarobbins suggested, “[Have] students check off can do statements after a unit, or even at the end of the year” to see all that they have accomplished.
  • Peer instruction and feedback. @a_rees18 wrote, “Have [students] TEACH each other. They’ll see how much they actually know.” @SrLaBoone observed that students can also provide one another with positive feedback: “[Encourage] students to compliment one another in the [target language], too!” @senorarobbins replied, “[Absolutely! I] feel like they probably value their [peers’] praise more than ours :).”
  • Growth portfolios. @MmeCarbonneau suggested, “Build a portfolio of work like a website [or] blog that shows evidence of growth!” Along these lines, @AHSblaz added that reflection on past concepts that once seemed difficult can help students feel proud of their progress: “[Every] once in a while give [students] something from months ago [and] help them reminisce about how hard they used to think that was!”
  • Mastery? Fluency? Some instructors questioned whether it is appropriate to use the term mastery or talk about fluency as a goal. @ericsonellen asked, “Is mastery the right word to use in the question? What does that mean?” @SECottrell felt that these terms were not useful and could even be detrimental: “One way to address mastery in the [world language] classroom is to STOP TALKING ABOUT FLUENCY.” She added, “Using words like ‘fluent’ and ‘mastery’ kills the lifelong learner in us all.”

Question 4: RESOURCES: What are some good resources for educators to learn more about motivation?

#Langchat participants shared resources that instructors can use to learn more about motivation.

  • Your students! Langchatters overwhelmingly agreed that students are an ideal resource in researching motivation. @CoLeeSensei wrote, “I’m going to step out and say ‘your students’?” @SrLaBoone said, “Yes, who better to consult than your clients!” and @carmenscoggins wrote, “I go to the source. I talk to my students. ;).”
  • Colleagues. Participants also suggested turning to more experienced colleagues for advice. @a_rees18 said, “I see myself asking for a lot of help from other experienced [teachers] when I (hopefully) have a job in a great school.”
  • Online Tools. Langchatters also discussed a variety of online resources. @StJMagistra wrote, “Twitter chats, subscribing to blogs from motivated teachers, [and] building a PLN are great ways to learn motivation!” Speaking of PLNs, @SECottrell shared a link to a previous #langchat post on motivation: “29 Proven Ways to Motivate Your World Language Students” @Edutopia was also mentioned as a particularly valuable resource for tips on motivation. @dr_dmd said, “See @Edutopia for ideas on student engagement as well,” and @RyanWestBosson noted, “@edutopia is great for quick, yet very applicable reads. We don’t always need to read a whole book : ).” @dr_dmd added, “Here are some resources via @Larryferlazzo on @Edutopia”
  • Books on motivation. Daniel Pink’s books were mentioned several times throughout the conversation, and participants shared their reflections on his works. @Musicuentos wrote, “[Here is my] take on @DanielPink’s [Drive] and other book recommendations” @SECottrell shared a podcast and transcript of her comments on another book by Pink, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others: and @CoLeeSensei also shared her thoughts on this book:, and @dr_dmd provided a link to resources by @DanielPink: Tony Wagner’s book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, was also mentioned as a useful resource, and @SECottrell shared her extensive review of this book:


#Langchat participants were motivated to talk motivation last week! They observed that personalization and relevance can promote student purpose, encouraged student choice in different aspects of class to help cultivate student autonomy, and offered ways to help students feel successful. Langchatters also recommended tools for instructors looking to read up a bit more on motivation.

Thank You!

Thank you to all of the motivated #langchat participants who contributed to our chat on motivation! Remember: now you can also join us on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Click I accept to consent. More info: Privacy Policy