Motivation, Methods and Teaching Approaches

In Section Five, we saw the VVSE formula on the nature of motivation and how that formula could be adapted to meet the various needs of our learners. We also saw how we as teachers and tutors carry two key parts of the formula.

Here is that formula again:

V+V-S+E Formula

The left side of the VVSE formula shows how learners bring two major motivators to our programs:

1. Volition

2. Value

Volition means the desire to achieve something concrete—literacy skills in our case. Value refers to the sense of worth or importance learners see in our literacy programs; “value,” at least to the extent that they have decided to come forward and join us. But, more exactly, most come to us thinking: “Well, I’ll give this program a chance. Let’s see how it goes.”

So, we can expect new learners to bring some degree of both volition and value that have very likely been prompted by, even “triggered” by some types of external motivators. The need for a job, the need to help their children with school work, the changing requirements of a workplace. Some will come to build their numeracy skills, but my experience tells me most join our programs wanting to improve their reading and writing skills.

It is worth noting the level of vulnerability our new learners bring when they start our programs is something that is often hard for program administrators and policy-makers to grasp. For instance, I have seen department heads in colleges and polytechnic institutes having very little sympathy towards our new learners. And, minimal sympathy for those who have “stopped out” and returned. Without a sense of what our learners are often like, have experienced, and the fragility they bring with them, some administrators just assume all postsecondary students are “basically the same.” I have heard administrators say: “If nurses and welders and our mechanics can do the academic work, so can adult basic education and literacy students.” I was once “advised” by a senior staff member to “not spoon feed” our literacy and Adult Basic Education students. Others not familiar with our target group sometimes believe their own life experience is sufficiently relevant to pass judgement on our learners, saying: “I did it, I had a rough childhood, so why do so many drop out? Not motivated I guess?!”

The simplistic notion that “If you just work hard, you can pass” doesn’t always apply to our learners. The reality is most of our adult literacy learners come to us with a deep-seated lack of confidence in their own academic learning abilities and, by the way, they typically do work hard. Often in circumstances that would certainly rival most of our administrators’ past experiences. An important point: Unlike most administrators in postsecondary institutions, virtually every one of our early school leavers left school with very dark memories of their experiences. Many come to us with the unspoken belief “I am stupid.” Not in everyday life, but past schooling has taught them to feel inadequate, even very fearful, when it comes to reading, writing and/or numeracy.

I know of no other area of adult education where learners have typically internalized the stigma of feeling inadequate, or “stupid.” The longstanding history of literacy stigmatization in our society is explored in Section Seven; but, it needs to be emphasized once again that we are not dealing with commonplace “first-day-of-school-anxieties.” We are typically dealing with real issues of low academic self-confidence. With most of our learners, the very surroundings of the room we meet in for tutoring or teaching can be intimidating—making it important that the learning space should avoid looking like “school.”

We are working with the affective domain with our learners, especially at the outset, so we need to build self-efficacy and self-confidence. Ours is not just a matter of “passing on information” or “skill building” with our learners. Our first steps with new learners—younger and older adults alike—need to be steps of nurturing.

In short, learners need to see success soon, and ongoing.

They need to find relevance to confirm their belief in the value they hoped for, and to support the volition they brought. They also need to experience some enjoyment… Few experienced much of in school. And, wherever possible, a level of socializing with others with common interests can be very helpful for success.

So, for us teachers and tutors, the challenge of the VVSE formula is to build learners’ sense of volition and value, starting early, so they want to come back to our classrooms or tutoring sessions for the weeks and months to come.