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Bons points and gute Punkte [good points]: increasing motivation in the MFL classroom

Written by: Adam Porter
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4 min read

Increasing motivation in MFL is crucial for the success of the subject at all key stages. This paper sets out a simple method with which to help increase motivation and self-regulation in secondary languages.

What is the good points system?

The good points system creates a simple yet effective method of rewarding successful student outcomes for day-to-day activities. As Anthony Xenos explains, ‘[a] point-reward system designed appropriately can improve classroom conditions and promote a pleasant learning environment for students and teachers alike’ (Xenos, 2012, p. 253). Students receive these points verbally in class from the teacher (no impact on teacher workload) so that their achievements at a more basic level can be rewarded. For example, students may get house points for a less frequent, bespoke task such as producing an excellent piece of work for homework. Thus, it would be inappropriate to issue house points for class exercises, as effort required would be incomparable. The good points system, however, allows ordinary tasks such as listening or reading activities, to be acknowledged when completed well. The students are responsible for recording their points on a record sheet in their exercise books, encouraging them to take an interest in, and crucially be responsible for, their own learning. Once students gain 10 points, they receive a house point; 10 house points trigger a postcard home.

Aims and purposes

The primary aim of the good points system is to recognise good outcomes of students’ work so that they become more motivated and engaged in language learning. The aim is not to reward students for simply completing tasks, as rewarding students for what they must do anyway would be a false premise. The focus should instead be on what they do well. Ruth Payne (2015) stresses that praise systems are more likely to recognise task-based activities, and sanctions are more likely to focus on behaviour. The use of systems such as the good points not only helps to foster motivation within the learning environment but also helps to reduce behavioural issues and the need for consequences. It can be the case that ‘[e]ven though students find pleasure in an activity at the beginning, their level of satisfaction and enjoyment in the activity over time and long-analysis may decline’ (Jovanovic and Matejevic, 2014, p. 460).

Importance and advantages of good points system

It is no secret that a concerted effort in recent years has been – and continues to be – necessary to improve the uptake of languages in UK schools. Key Stage 3 is the optimal age group, as this is where we will recruit our future linguists before they embark on the GCSE options process. If the good points system can help with motivation, it can only be an advantage for the success of this vital subject area.

The good points system allows all students’ achievements to be recognised. The record sheets monitor such achievements by transferring the verbal element of the teacher awarding the points to them being recorded. This allows them to become meaningful and not lost in the busy classroom. It must be the responsibility of the students to record their points so that self-regulated, inquisitive attitudes to learning can be nurtured. One advantage of recording the points from one lesson to the next is that it gives students a sense of achievement and progress over time. They know how many points they need to reach their next house point and will want to achieve them. Indeed, some students embrace the competitive element by trying to get more points than their fellow classmates.

The good points system also allows for integration in other classroom-based procedures. For example, in some classrooms, students receive a progress tracker sheet to record ‘what went well’ and ‘even better if’ statements, which stem from short, half-termly dialogues with the teacher about students’ general performance in MFL. One of the aspects that can be recorded here is the number of good points that students achieve within a certain time frame.

Implementation: How the good points system works best

The points system works best when situated in the context of the wider-school praise system. This allows for logical progression from the classroom-based points to other school rewards, namely house points and postcards. The good points system does not have to be implemented departmentally, meaning that individual teacher autonomy can be encouraged. Once the system has been introduced to new classes and, crucially, embedded within practice through consistency, the students will be more likely to engage in tasks set.  In a Year 7 German class, gute punkte were awarded to students achieving a certain number of correct marks on a retrieval-practice-style vocabulary test. Over time, students remind the teacher about these points for similar activities, demonstrating an interest in their learning. Students are more likely to learn their words for homework if they know that their efforts at this lower-level activity are recognised.

In addition, MFL by its nature requires intense work to embed linguistic structures through low-stakes quizzing, retrieval practice and drilling. This diverse nature of teaching and learning means that lots of activities tend to take place in single lessons. This allows the good points system to work at its best, as there are ample opportunities in lessons to award the points.

Conclusion

At the heart of good learning, young people need boundaries, a sense of direction, high expectations and encouragement. Institutions need a whole-school approach to rewards and sanctions, that is clear and consistent, so that effective teaching and learning can take place. Conversely, teachers should be encouraged to demonstrate autonomy in their classrooms while adhering to the school’s wider ethos. The good points system is designed to do exactly this without the burden of adding to workload.

References

Jovanovic D and Matejevic M (2014) Relationship between rewards and intrinsic motivation for learning – researches review. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 149: 456–460.

Payne R (2015) Using rewards and sanctions in the classroom: Pupils’ perceptions of their own responses to current behaviour management strategies. Educational Review 67(4): 483–504.

Xenos AJ (2012) A point system approach to secondary classroom management. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas 85(6): 248–253.

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