Motivating high level students

My boss asked me last night if I would consider teaching him as a private student. Its an offer I couldnt refuse!
I feel that his English is at quite a high spoken standard, though sometimes grammtically incorrect. He uses it every day to communicate with his staff, and with other schools. I have seen his written work and it is poor. So there is plenty to be getting on with.
My question though regards motivation. How can I get this guy to want to modify his ability? He knows enough to get by, but when I teach him I want to see some changes in his ability. I have taught high level students in the past and this has alwys been a challenge. Otherwise the class will quickly descend into ‘conversation’ classes. Yuk.

You might first ascertain the nature of the motivation: intrinsic, extrinsic, instrumental or a combination thereof. That would shape your approach and materials.

[quote]My question though regards motivation. How can I get this guy to want to modify his ability? He knows enough to get by, but when I teach him I want to see some changes in his ability. I have taught high level students in the past and this has alwys been a challenge. Otherwise the class will quickly descend into ‘conversation’ classes. Yuk.

So if I understand the question correctly it is your boss who asked you to teach him and you are in no position to refuse. OK tough luck. But seriously, why do you question his motivation. PM me if the subject is a bit delicate.

I understand that this site is somewhat of a self help group for English teachers and therefore it is quite normal to say things

Just a thought, but how about giving him a goal like going for an IELTS or TOEFL test and achieving a certian score. Then get some IELTS/TOEFL training books so you can showhim what he has to achieve in Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing.


If his writing is poor, it is likely he isn’t reading enough English to get his writing on track. Get him reading.

It’s likely he’s reached a plateau. With young learners, it’s easy to notice progress, in leaps and bounds. Once he’s at an advanced state of English, he should never stop learning, but it will be much harder to notice improvement on the order of 10 new vocabulary words he can produce fluently when he already has a sizable vocabulary.

Interesting thoughts from Yi-De, but I have an observation: Many adults have no clear idea what they really want, and with a woolly objective like ‘improve my English’ you can be in a very precarious position. Taiwanese tend to have ideas about how to educate that are a bit different from ours. He is coming into this wanting to improve, but not really being clear about how or where he wants to improve, and he will have expectations of the teacher that are unrealistic.

And he’s also your employer? I would run a mile.

Yi-De’s input is spot on and, most importantly, based on a sound understanding of contemporary EFL theories.

Language learners often vaguely say “I want to improve” because they don’t precisely know what their strengths and weaknesses are, other than in a very general sense. How would they know? The teacher is supposedly the language expert, not the student.

The boss perhaps wants to improve his e-mails, but he perhaps only knows they aren’t “professional” enough. Whether the problems stem from culturally inopportune phrases (Taiwanese tend to write letters in English in an apologetic style), infelicitous lexical pairings, basic grammar mistakes, or restricted vocabulary (within the field) is hardly something students of another language (and culture) can ascertain themselves. A professional EFL teacher knows this and will not shift the responsibility to the student by saying

Frankly, the above kind of response smacks of un-professionalism.

As a one-one tutor, you’re foremost in the role of a consultant. You start with a comprehensive needs analysis that pinpoints the exact student errors and precise learning goals. You can do this many ways, such as a semi-structured questionnaire (for a global idea), oral interviews, tape recordings of performance, collecting a corpus of the student’s writing, etc.

As I mentioned in my first post, the consultancy must first involve a motivation analysis. For example, if he has a largely instrumental motivation, the tutor must focus on improving output in the specific area required. Teaching general conversation and vocabulary isn’t going to impress him, unless you can make a case that this is a necessary element of the program. The needs analysis done, you then devise (and negotiate) a syllabus - a seldom understood word in Taiwan’s EFL “profession”. The teaching element will then closely follow the syllabus, making adjustments as necessary, but always keeping in mind the syllabus (learner) objectives.

Of course, all of this takes considerable initial time investment and materials development or sourcing. But that is exactly what a customized professional learning program delivered by a professional tutor will do. It’s a customized product. Tutors who do this can justifiably charge high fees, and I know some who do, and who are in high demand.

If it is the response to a professionally-minded student then yes.

But most sudents don’t want to have to think, and don’t want to be told what is best for them. They want you to give them some magic solution to what they imagine the problem to be.

Before you start making judgements about other people’s professionalism, why not come here and spend a little time dealing with the ridiculous attitudes of 90% of the students? You might learn something.

I spent an hour on Monday arguing with an IELTS student who complained that she wasn’t getting enough test practice. She was going to take a test, therefore she wanted testing. Try explaining that the test measures ability, and that she needs to improve her ability to use English, and the response is not ‘thank you for your professional opinion, teacher.’ The response is that she intends to go study overseas this year and she wants you to tell her how to ‘pass’ the test.

Repeat, you don’t ‘pass’ this test. You get a pretty accurate measure of your ability. Improve your ability to use English first, worry about testing techniques later.

Answer: ‘Tell me how to pass the test’

This is not a skilled English user looking to give the best possible account of herself. This is someone who is struggling to form a sentence in English, but still feels qualified to dispute the contents of a course designed by an IELTS examiner. She’s in the class she’s in because the level test indicated that she wouldn’t benefit from the test preparation class.

She tells me that other students on the course have studied at other schools that follow a test practice book, and that’s what she wants. I reply by asking her whether the other students passed the test, and she couldn’t understand the question.

‘Did they pass?’ - how simple is that? But it was beyond her ability to understand, nevertheless she wants repeated testing practice until she gets it right. She doesn’t want to understand the question, she wants to be told the answer so she can repeat it.

Another guy wanted 9 hrs of intensive IELTS preparation on a Saturday, every week for two months.
Question: When do you plan to go to England?
Answer: I have two choose, Oxford or Cambridge.

Tell the guy he needs to study basic English, and watch him walk out of the door to a school that will tell him what he wants to hear and take his money off him. School managers are mostly in this for the money. Teachers and education are products to be marketed to a relatively unsophisticated market.

The OPs question concerned someone who runs a school. He may be a smart person who respects his teachers and will follow the advice of the person he pays to be an expert. Or he may be more representative of the management types that see English as a commodity, and know more than their teachers about everything. He may have excellent staff, or he may not have a very high opinion of English Teachers. He may be willing to put up with being corrected by someone lower down the scale than himself. He may simply expect the teacher to tell him good English, and a month from now the teacher will be out of a job because there hasn’t been any apparent progress.

This is not simply a one-to-one teaching situation. This is dealing with your boss in an environment that is very different from the day-to-day teaching the OP may be familiar with.

An experienced one-to-one tutor who really knows his/her stuff may be able to deal satisfactorily with this situation. The OP, with the benefit of advice from this forum, may feel confident enough to take it on. I wouldn’t, and it would be unprofessional of me to try. I’ll take on 1-1 jobs, but not where my boss’ face is at stake.

in another thread. It’s not just me.

Stragbasher, well I can not appreciate the professional situation you find yourself in, but I think that I have mentioned in my posting that what I have said is a recommendation for a one-to-one situation with adults. If you have to deal with a group and if you work as an employee the approach would have to be modified of course. My comments might be totally unrelated to your working environment so I would like to ask you to read them