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motivation, behaviour and learning are inextricably linked

Motivation, behaviour and successful learning are inextricably linked...

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Barriers - main page

Some common barriers

Prerequisite skills

The importance of phonics

Workshops 2-6
(responding to barriers faced by learners with various special needs)

By the same token, lack of motivation hinders learning, and lack of success in learning makes it very difficult to maintain motivation. These links are observed and well understood by most teachers.

But where does behaviour fit in? Is it the cause of poor motivation and learning, or is it the result?

In all of the development projects that gave rise to this website (working with 'difficult' pupils and classes) priority was given to improving the chances of successful learning. In every case, better motivation and behaviour followed and, eventually, better learning.


Bad behaviour, it seems, often stems from attempts (usually unconscious) to disguise or suppress feelings of inadequacy. This is why it is so important to identify and to deal with barriers to learning. Once a downward spiral of failure and bad behaviour has been established it is very difficult to reverse.

In the Maximising Potential programmes and in the earlier Working Together projects, modern language departments were asked to select their most difficult classes or pupils to work with. That way they were able to quickly see the benefits of the curricular changes they were making and so gain encouragement to make further changes in the way they managed learners and their learning. Teachers who had thought that the foreign language was the problem – 'too difficult for these children' - were surprised to find that was not the case. Improvements in attainment are slower to manifest themselves but inevitably followed once engagement with learning had been re-established, and teachers often expressed surprise at what learners were in fact able to do.

bad behaviour, lack of success and poor motivation: a downward spiral

All this suggests that there is no point in just trying to tackle behaviour. A simple strategy of exhortation never works, and more elaborate schemes of points and rewards work only for a time if curriculum management improvements are not implemented at the same time. So the priority is to first identify and then to resolve or minimise barriers to learning experienced by the problematic pupil, group or class. As those basic improvements are put in and the learners begin to experience success, teachers' thoughts can turn to more elaborate ways to improve motivation and learning.

'The problem is the problem - not the person.'

'If it works, do more of it - if it doesn’t, do something different.'

From the Solution Oriented School programme (SOS)

Please see note on copyright

Motivation, behaviour and learning
A pdf copy of the above.
Download copy

An article from the Scottish Languages review about learners' need to experience themselves as successful language learners if they are to be motivated and engaged, and the implications for teaching. National (Scottish) policy has moved on since 2005, but the main point of the article is still relevant.
Modern languages for all - or for the few?

Effective Provision for Special Educational Needs
(EPSEN) was published in 1994 by HMIe Scotland. Terminology has changed since then, but the main points are still relevant, and ESPSEN still guides practice today. It states that, amongst the many factors that can hinder learning, an inappropriate curriculum is the most prevalent. Fortunately, it also the one that teachers can do something about. It also points out that, if teachers need some help to identify and tackle barriers, Support for Learning teachers are at hand with a remit to help them. Find the whole document here, or download extracts below
Download extracts

What other factors should be taken into account? Here are two documents developed as a result of experiences in schools. The first suggests that there are three basic ingredient that go to make up any successful programme; the second is a list of strategies that can aid motivation one the basics have been taken care of. The documents were compiled at different times, so there is some overlap.
3 ingredients
Checklist: motivational features

Motivational Strategies: ensure success by...

• making the curriculum and teaching materials relevant to the pupils

• making the success criteria as clear as possible

• providing sufficient preparation

• offering assistance

• letting pupils help each other

• making learning stimulating by involving the pupils actively

• teaching learning strategies

• avoiding face-threatening situations.

• making sure grades reflect effort and improvement, not just attainment

Dr Hazel Crichton, University of Glasgow, at the SALT Conference 5.5.11

"Many settings in which children can be found continue to focus mainly on poor behaviour and use sanctions and punishments as their main strategy for improving behaviour. A classic conundrum emerges, whereby adults pay most attention to the kind of disruptive and difficult behaviour they claim not to want… There is now a good deal of work on the kind of positive, emotionally and socially healthy environments that help promote good behaviour and the growth of mental and emotional wellbeing… Such environments are those that get the right balance between warmth, participation, the encouragement of participation and autonomy, and the setting of clear boundaries and expectations – where the ethos is positive and the focus is on good rather than bad behaviour.”.

From 10 things we do to make a difference (Pupil Inclusion Network Scotland)
For the whole report go here:

"Motivation is essential for progress in language learning. It can override low levels of aptitude and adverse circumstances. It is the key issue in language learning; without it nothing will be achieved, but with it, 99% of people will be able to learn a language, regardless of most other circumstances."

A summary of Chapter 1 in Scottish CILT's DVD pack on Motivation in modern language learning. The pack is made up of interviews with Professor Zoltan Dörnyei of the University of Nottingham and follow-up activities.
For the whole pack go to:

"… Increasingly, staff development programmes were making links between effective learning and teaching and behaviour management and focused on actively engaging all young people in their learning …"

From: Out of sight, out of mind? HMIe 2010

"Both acquisition of knowledge and mastery of self-control benefit future learning."

From: Neuroscience: implications for education and lifelong learning The Royal Society 2011, page iii



[Links last checked 18.2.11 unless otherwise indicated]


Positive relationships and behaviour

Building Curriculum for Excellence through positive relationships and behaviour (2010)
An information leaflet about recent research, next steps and priority actions to support further improvements.

Here a link to CILT's list of sources of information and advice on the links between behaviour and learning. They include pieces which emphasise the special needs of boys, the importance of choice, independent learning and meta-cognition; the effectiveness of collaborative learning, peer learning, etc.

Abuse affects school work
A report from the Guardian on research which has shown that abuse at home has a profound effect on performance in school.,5500,1491539,00.html

The Behaviour4Learning website provides high quality resources that enable trainers and trainees engage with the principles of ‘behaviour for learning’ to improve the management of classroom behaviour, enable achievement and foster the emotional wellbeing of learners.

Pupil Inclusion Network Scotland supports the voluntary sector's work with young people who are disaffected or excluded from school. A resource section includes links to a wide range of other sites.

From the British Council Stirrers and Settlers for the Primary Classroom. Intended for teachers of English as a foreign language, but the principles are common to all language teaching.

[16.4.12] Hands On Scotland: Hands On Scotland is an online resource for anybody working with or caring for children and young people. The website provides practical information and techniques on how to respond helpfully to children and young people's troubling behaviour and gives advice on how to help them flourish.A toolkit of helpful responses to encourage children and young people's emotional wellbeing. Lots of thoughtful and sensible advice…I like the way it is connected explicitly to the Curriculum for Excellence (high school teacher.)

Sustaining self-esteem and motivation Part of the Open University's Inclusive Teaching programme.

Behaviour management
For details of some recommended resources, see:

Using praise judiciously A newspaper report of the keynote speeches given by Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University in California at the Scottish Learning Festival

OWW "An American programme has helped disaffected and disengaged boys reassess their behaviour, and given teachers a boost." An article from the Times Educational Supplement:

Insight 34: Behaviour in Scottish Schools
A report of a study, the aims of which were: to provide clear and robust information on the nature and extent of behaviour (including positive behaviour) in publicly funded schools in Scotland; to examine what is effective in preventing and responding to indiscipline and: to examine what is effective in promoting positive behaviour.

[19.2.11] Teaching for good behaviour
A free study unit from OpenLearn (The Open University)

[23.5.11] A Curriculum for Everyone
A report from the PINS Seminar exploring key developments in the curriculum and what they mean for working with the vulnerable or disaffected learner.

[31.5.11] How Does the Use of Positive Language in Relation to Hemispheric Specialisation Influence the Climate of the Learning Environment?
A report from the GTC Scotland's Teacher Researcher programme 2004/05

[10.6.11] Children in Scotland: Training and events 2011

[4.4.11] Positive behaviour
The Positive Behaviour Team has a remit to support local authorities and learning establishments to promote positive relationships, social and emotional wellbeing, and positive behaviour.

[7.2.12] Neuroscience: implications for education and lifelong learning
The Royal Society Brain Waves Project Module 2 (2011)

[18.2.12] Using the target language to discipline students
A TES Forum discussion on behaviour and learning in the MFL class

[15.3.12] Why the world needs introverts
A Guardian newspaper article of 13.3.12.

[22.4.12] A Culture of Caring
Reducing Anxiety and Increasing Engagement in First-Year Foreign Language Courses

[8.10.12] Tools for Teaching
The fundamental skills of classroom teaching. You may not want to buy Fred Jones' book, or join his online course, but there's some good advice here:

[26.1.13] Teaching children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Instructional strategies and practices
A US Department of Education production, full of useful information about the effects of the disorder and practical advice for teachers.

[7.6.13] Investigating the views of children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties about their experience of learning French
An article by Claire Wengen in Issue 26 of the Scottish Languages Review.


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