August 2021
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Bill Nelson, American University of Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2021). Teaching and Researching Motivation (3rd ed.)Routledge, pp. 296. 

Like the rest of the series, this book is for teachers and researchers. It has four sections. In Part I (Chapters 1 through 4), the authors explore motivation generally and motivation in language acquisition specifically: they survey bedrock principles; they analyze cultural and intellectual forces that have shaped the landscape of ideas over time; and they map out motivation theory today. In Part II (Chapters 5 through 7), Dörnyei and Ushioda supply strategies for fostering motivation in language learners, then consider teacher motivation and its impact on learner outcomes. Part III (Chapters 8 and 9) provides information about various research methods for anyone interested in investigating motivation for themselves, including language teachers wishing to do action research in their classrooms; the authors also suggest potentially rewarding directions for such research. Part IV (Chapters 10 and 11) links motivation in language acquisition to domains like psychology, education, and applied linguistics; and there follows a list of resources—journals, edited collections, databases, and more—that inform the book and can be consulted by readers wanting to know more.

The authors are the perfect people to write about this topic. Dörnyei, Professor of Psycholinguistics at the University of Nottingham, is a major figure in the study of traits of language learners. I encountered his work in my graduate program in teaching English to speakers of other languages. His L2 Motivational Self System is hugely influential; the L2MSS emphasizes the importance of feeding a learner’s vision of a future self who is adept at using the target language. And I have successfully followed Dörnyei’s guidance about grading policies that incorporate learner self-assessment and other motivational classroom practices. Ushioda, also a world-renowned scholar, is Head of Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick. One of her key contributions is urging researchers to use a “small-lens approach” to motivation, focusing on individual learners acquiring specific knowledge or skills in particular settings—the “person-in-context.”

Unsurprisingly, given this pedigree, Teaching and Researching Motivation is a strong book. It is authoritative: The authors cite dozens of studies from many disciplines, including cognitive psychology, educational studies, and sociolinguistics. It is balanced: The authors even criticize one of Dörnyei’s previous motivational models for, among other things, disregarding how commitment to a task may be constrained by conflicting demands; and, while frankly acknowledging their own contributions, they stress that they have hardly had the last word in the field, with scholars digging at rich new veins of research like unconscious motivation, complex dynamic systems theory, and directed motivational currents. The work is also up to date: Dörnyei and Ushioda note in the Introduction that there has been so much activity in motivation in the last decade that they have not so much revised the previous edition as written a new book, with references to papers published just last year; and they touch on our present pandemic and difficulties with maintaining motivation in virtual education.

The volume is strong in other ways. The writing is clear, with concise explanations of jargon and pithy turns of phrase; for example, the authors characterize the combination of cognitive and affective components that create motivation as “I think” and “I feel” becoming “I want,” which I find neat. And there are helpful features that aid in navigating and digesting the book’s contents, including signposting at the beginning of every chapter, text boxes containing summaries of central concepts, synopses of specific studies to illustrate research designs, and more.

I recommend Teaching and Researching Motivation to anyone interested in understanding language acquisition, particularly this newsletter’s audience. After all, the motivation of English language learners in higher education faces plenty of perils: struggles with the speed and complexity of lectures; the challenge when writing academically of attending simultaneously to grammar, conventions of spelling and capitalization, and elements of discourse; the pressure of understanding communication about student services and other facets of university life; for international students, the strain of negotiating a new culture. And then there are English language instructors, whose own motivation seems under assault by conditions like casualized contracts, poor pay, and a lack of autonomy. As for me, my language academy, a department of a non-profit university, will soon become a separate entity intended to make money—a common development, but a change that represents a threat to my identity as a professional who is uncomfortable with such a motive in education.

These are serious issues. Teaching and Researching Motivation has something valuable to say about all of them.

Bill Nelson, MATESOL, MEd, is an instructor at the English Language Academy at American University of Iraq - Baghdad. He is an award-winning English language teacher, teacher trainer, and educational administrator with five years of experience on three continents. Bill is an active member of TESOL International, New York State TESOL, and TESOL Arabia. His most recent publication was “A Menu of Flavors of Speaking,” which appeared in Uncharted TESOL in 2020.




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