I’m 14. I hate English and I can’t spell.
It’s early September 1994, I’m sitting at a wooden lift top desk in the small classroom of my all girls’ independent school. In front of me is my new English teacher, Mrs. T-J (Treasure-Jones) - she’s just joined the school and she’ll be taking me through my GCSEs.
My mother has spent the summer trying to engage me with my schoolwork but nothing seems to get through and I’m feeling glum. For years I’ve struggled in English, been told with the stroke of the red pen, that I’m, ‘lazy,’ ‘must try harder,’ ‘pay more attention’… expressions that were presumably intended to motivate but in fact had the exact opposite effect.
But Mrs. T-J immediately confounds my expectations by asking a disarmingly simple question: “Can you teach me about you?” For a moment there’s silence, A sea of puzzled faces. Surely this is a test, right? And there’s a punishment for getting it wrong?
She continues, asking follow-up questions and displaying genuine interest until before long we’re lost in excited talk about who we are, what we know and what interests us most. She moves us on to debate the effectiveness and etiquette of class discussions and suddenly I’m happy, I feel valued, respected and included. Where did the time go? This is not the English lesson I’d become accustomed to.
As the weeks go by, Mrs. T-J holds frequent open discussions where we are encouraged to analyse text, mark each other’s work and set our own targets. We plan ways to help overcome our personal stumbling blocks and develop everything we need to approach our exams with self-assurance and enthusiasm.
Within a semester I had branded English my favourite subject and my mother watched in awe as I started to read independently, put energy into my essays and occasionally police her for using a mixed metaphor. Pretty soon my predicted grades went from C to A and I was willingly signing myself up for English Literature A level.
Fast forward to 2005 and I’m a student again, but this time I’m training to teach. I’m in a modern lecture theatre listening to theories on ‘motivation in learning’ and I’m asked to think of my favourite teacher and why they helped me to learn. I think back to Mrs. T-J. What was it that made her so effective? How had she motivated me to engage and achieve? I shudder, too: What if she hadn’t been my teacher? How would that have altered my future?
What I’ve since come to understand is that Mrs. T-J had been employing teaching methods now commonplace in schools and universities worldwide. Much research has gone into motivation within learning and many parents often hear the terms ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation - the inner drive to engage in an activity for its own sake vs. the drive to engage in an activity because of an external reward or punishment.
Historically, most schooling focused on extrinsic motivation but it is now commonly understood that while this appears to be successful in the short-term, in the long-term student engagement actually lessens if done so in pursuit of a reward or avoidance of punishment. Research conducted over several decades shows us that a student will display a far deeper understanding, enhanced memory and a stronger drive to continue when they are intrinsically motivated. And as the curriculum and exam criteria change to include the development of more higher order thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation it becomes increasingly important for learners to be naturally engaged in their subjects.
Inspired by my own experiences as both a teacher and student, I now work as a trainer and advisor for my company, Young Giants. Understanding what makes a great teacher, I scout for talented and experienced tutors to join my team and provide engaging an effective home tuition for children and young people. All of my tutors, regardless of experience, are workshopped in methods of student-centred learning and intrinsic motivation. I am passionate about raising educational standards for children through thoughtful and inspired teaching and Young Giants is a company that takes this philosophy to its heart.