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In this reflective essay, I will analyze the effect a year twelve teacher had on my learning at a crucial point in my education. I will explore how she helped me learn effectively by improving my self-efficacy and motivation and by decreasing my levels of anxiety in her classroom. I have a history of severe anxiety, this skyrocketed in year twelve, when I was anxious about my marks, how they would impact on my future goals, and what they would say about me as a person. This was on top of my existing social anxiety about not being accepted or liked by the other students in my class and the challenge of needing to find a group to work in whenever group work was necessary. This had previously negatively impacted my ability to learn and to do well in many of my classes because I was constantly worried and distracted in class, and my focus was more often on my worries than on paying attention to the actual content of the class.
It was my year twelve chemistry teacher Mrs. Bothe, who was able to help significantly with this in my last year of school. I remember, very vividly, telling her that I did not think that I was good enough and her responding with “you are a wonderful young woman and you can do whatever you want”. This is only one example of a time that Mrs. Bothe really tried to build me up and helped me to feel better about myself. Mrs. Bothe was generally supportive about my anxiety and helped me to believe in myself and in my abilities, she would always make sure that I felt safe in her classroom and that I was comfortable talking to the class before she called out my name to make me speak. In addition, she ensured that I always had a group to work in whenever we had to do group work by creating the groups for us to work in – one method was to pull names out of an envelope. She also helped me to understand that my marks did not define me and that I did not need to be anxious about not receiving excellent marks. This motivated me to work towards gaining a deep and meaningful understanding of the topic as opposed to just working to do well on a test. She would often tell me that I was doing well and would encourage me to work with other students so that I could see that my understanding was equal to and, at times greater, than theirs and that I was not doing as poorly as I had convinced myself that I was. This reassurance that I was not behind everyone else, or worse at chemistry than everyone else, proved to be helpful by reducing my anxiety about tests. This meant that I was more able to focus during the tests and during classes which subsequently increased my performance and grades.
Throughout this essay, I will analyze why the support and understanding that Mrs. Bothe gave me helped me to learn in her class by improving my motivation, and self-efficacy, and by recognizing my needs as a student.
There have been many definitions of learning throughout time. One definition states that learning is “acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities. Richard Mayer had a slightly different definition of learning, suggesting that it is a relatively permanent change in behavior that results from an experience. Another definition refers to learning as a “transformative process that, when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced, changes what we can do”. Reference? Essentially, learning can be considered an active process in which we take in knowledge from our experiences and use it to change and adapt our abilities and skills.
Motivation is defined as “an internal state that arouses, directs and maintains our behavior”. Motivation and learning are strongly linked; motivation determines whether a person will engage in an activity, how long it will take for them to start the activity, and what they think and feel during the activity. According to Ziyong Lin, the degree of motivation a person has to complete a task affects the learning outcomes of that task and the type of motivation also has an effect. This suggests that when motivation is high people are more successful in their learning. There are two types of motivation, these are intrinsic motivation which involves being motivated by internal factors, and extrinsic motivation, which is defined as being motivated by external factors. Intrinsic motivation is generally more beneficial to learning.
As stated, learning is considered to be an internal process, and motivation is considered to reflect an internal state. Thus, when a person does not have an internal state which promotes motivation their ability to learn is reduced as opposed to when the internal state is helpful to motivation.
It is important for a teacher to focus on the needs of their students before the students can be expected to be motivated to learn in their classroom. Maslow constructed a hierarchy of needs that needed to be met in order for a student to reach self-fulfillment. There are five types of needs in this hierarchy, these are: biological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and being (growth) needs. According to Maslow all of these needs need to be met in order for students to achieve self-actualization, which means realizing their own personal potential. In my personal experience, it is evident that I was experiencing difficulties with esteem needs, I did not believe in myself and I did not have much self-respect. It was these problems that were preventing me from being completely motivated and from performing to the best of my ability. Mrs. Bothe recognized this and helped me to become more self-confident and to have higher self-esteem by complimenting me and helping me to feel better about myself. This helped to improve my motivation and assisted me in learning to the best of my ability in her class.
Another theory about motivation in students is the Self-determination theory. This theory states that in order to be motivated and successful in the classroom students need to feel competent and capable as well as feel a sense of belonging and being connected to others. Feeling competent and like you belong, can lead to heightened intrinsic motivation which improves learning. Mrs. Bothe would make sure that I had a group and that I was participating in group activities whenever we did group work, and her classroom environment was one that made me feel like I belonged and that I was connected to the other people around me. This is one way that she helped to improve my self-determination and therefore my intrinsic motivation and ability to learn. Furthermore, she helped me to feel competent by telling me how well I was doing and by encouraging me to share my thoughts and ideas with others, which further increased my intrinsic motivation and improved my ability to learn.
Bandura defined self-efficacy as the beliefs that a person has about their own competence is in a particular situation. According to Pajares and Schunk, a greater sense of self-efficacy leads to more persistence and effort even when faced with setbacks and obstacles. If a person’s sense of self-efficacy is high then they will be more motivated to try harder and be less afraid of failure, but if their sense of self-efficacy is low then they will be more likely to avoid a task entirely or to give up quickly if they meet any challenges. Mrs. Bothe was aware that increasing my self-efficacy would likely increase the effort that I put into her class and would also likely decrease my fear of failure and hence increase my performance in her class. She chose to try and increase my self-efficacy using social persuasion, which is a source of self-efficacy according to Bandura, who stated that social persuasion could create a boost in self-efficacy which causes the student to try harder and to develop new strategies that can lead to other sources of self-efficacy. Because I had a lot of respect for Mrs. Bothe and trusted her, her “pep talk” proved to be useful in temporarily increasing my self-efficacy and led to me developing new sources of self-efficacy that would help me in the remainder of my school experience.
Anxiety interferes with motivation and makes students more motivated to perform well on the test or to fit in rather than to learn to the best of their ability. The type of motivation that students with anxiety experience is extrinsic and relies on external factors which are not as beneficial to learning as intrinsic motivation. Therefore, it is important for teachers to help by reducing the anxiety of students in order to promote intrinsic motivation and to make anxious students more engaged with learning. When teaching students with anxiety, it is important to give them reassurance and understanding, Mrs. Bothe gave me this throughout all of year 12 chemistry. She understood what kind of support I needed in order to be successful in her class and made sure that I had it. The importance of support and understanding for children with anxiety is supported in an article by Jones and Frydenberg, who said that it is important that the concerns and fears of children with anxiety are taken seriously in order to help them cope with their anxiety and be successful in their learning. This was done by Mrs. Bothe and helps to explain why I was able to be successful in her class. Furthermore, my anxiety about tests and performance made it difficult for me to perform to the best of my ability on tests, this is backed up by Zeidner and Matthews, who said that students with anxiety may know the material but that anxiety can “block” retrieval of the information during the test. Mrs. Bothe clearly knew and recognized this and did her best to relieve the anxiety that tests caused by de-emphasizing the importance of the test and even of VCE by reminding me and all of the class, that we would not be defined by the results of the test or by our ATAR and that there would always be other ways to get to university. De-emphasizing the importance of the tests actually helped me to perform better on the tests because the anxiety was not as high and was therefore not as able to “block” my ability to retrieve the information needed and I was able to think more logically about the problems. This meant that I was less focused on my score on the test and more focused on learning which helped to promote intrinsic motivation and therefore improve my learning.
As a student with anxiety, having a teacher who was supportive and understanding about my issues and who understood what this meant about my needs proved to be immensely valuable to me and was incredibly beneficial to my performance in school. The support that Mrs. Bothe gave me meant that I was able to feel safe in the classroom and knowing that she was always available to help me enabled me to feel safer in school in general and hence more motivated to learn rather than just do well on the test and to get through the day. This is supported by various studies around the needs of students, motivation, anxiety, and their effect on learning. As a pre-service teacher, I will endeavor to be understanding and supportive toward students who are experiencing anxiety and will strive to be conscious of the individual needs of all of my students just as Mrs. Bothe was to me. This experience helped me to recognize the importance of understanding motivation in students and the value of helping students to develop positive types of motivation. The implications of this for me as a pre-service teacher that include the need for me to, I understand the significance of anxiety and the potential that anxiety has to have a severe and negative effect on learning, the importance of intrinsic motivation, and to develop an understanding of the various needs of students. The implications of this for me as a pre-service teacher include the need for me to understand the significance of anxiety and the potential that anxiety has to have a severely negative effect on learning. In addition, it is important for me to understand the power that intrinsic motivation has in learning and I need to develop a thorough understanding of the various needs of the students I will be teaching. It has inspired me to be mindful of all aspects of my student’s learning, to do my best to recognize and acknowledge anxiety in others, and to strive to build the intrinsic motivation necessary for all students to achieve their learning potential.
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