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Sophie Adamson: Instilling Intrinsic Motivation

Adamson's FRE222 students at Avalon in Greensboro

Sophie Adamson, associate professor of French, believes her students work much harder when they want to learn. She instills intrinsic motivation in her students by placing them in situations that require them to speak French.

“I try to make my assignments feel real,” Adamson says. “If you don’t learn your grammar, you won’t have anything to say.”

Adamson took one class to Avalon African Refugee Center in Greensboro, a predominantly French-speaking center, and had her students speak and interact with the refugees solely in French. Before the trip, she gave students a questionnaire asking them to rank their confidence in their speaking, among other things. Several weeks after the visit, she gave out the same questionnaire, and found that more than three-quarters of the class felt more confident in their French-speaking abilities.

Adamson’s secret to keeping students on their toes: “It’s definitely variety. And public interactive stuff, either in small groups, or with a guest, or with the whole class. I’m trying not to be teacher-centered.”

Adamson regularly brings in French-speaking guests to her classroom, both in person and via Skype. Recent guests include a French rock star, Eric Vincent, who played his electric guitar in class and spoke about the history of French music, and Elon students who grew up speaking French at home.  This month, a French politician and author of Algerian descent, Azouz Begag, will be speaking to her French class about one of his novels that the students will have read.

Adamson also makes sure to vary her lessons so her students keep up with their studying and learning. Students analyze poetry, present photo montages to the class, or participate in small-group discussions with their peers – upper-level students have even made and posted podcasts in French.

“You can motivate students with grades,” Adamson says, “but the intrinsic motivation does so much more. It’s like, I have to speak to these people. I have to be confident and this can be meaningful interaction.”

If you are interested in including these ideas into a course, CATL and TLT are available for consulting. Visit the Teaching website’s page on Consulting for more information. If you are interested in bringing guest speakers to your class, via Skype, visit our Conferencing Technologies page in the Technology Wiki for more information.


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