#ELTchat Summary – Motivation a la Hadfield and Mackay – 15/05/2013

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#ELTchat Summary – Motivation a la Hadfield and Mackay – 15/05/2013

30-second Summary 


The 12.00 BST #ELTchat for the 15th May focused on IATEFL talks by Jill Hadfield and Jessica Mackay relating to motivation, and specifically the visualisation and realisation of the L2-self.


  • Ss visualise what they want their L2 selves to be in the future
  • This helps focus on discrepancy between present and future
  • Class go through stages to make vision a reality
  • This positively influences motivation and learning


  • May take up a lot of class time
  • May in fact be a renaming of needs analysis or ‘language coach’ ideas
  • Less suitable for young learners
  • Some Ss and Ts may have issues with the visualisation


More Details…

Motivation quote

The first talk was from Jill Hadfield, titled ‘Motivating our learners: actualising the vision’. It introduced some practical ideas from the book Motivation (Hadfield & Dornyei, 2013) which aim to help students turn visions of their future L2 self into reality.The second talk was by Jessica Mackay titled ‘The ‘ideal L2 self’: motivating adult EFL learners’. This talk focused more on the impact of visualisation in order to help learners develop into their future L2 selves.

The different L2 selves

Hadfield and Mackay mentioned the importance of thinking about the different possible L2 selves:

  • the ideal self (what we’d like to be)
  • the ought to self (what others/society expects us to be)
  • the default self (how we’d end up with no intervention)
  • the feared self (what we worry about becoming if things go wrong).

@jo_sayers & @Marisa_C felt that the focus on discrepancy between current and ideal L2 self is powerful, with @michaelegriffin thinking that a general focus on goals and achievements was a good thing. @kevchanwow highlighted that volition and the agency that the approach afford learners is a powerful tool for learning.



Visualisation was mentioned in both talks, with suggestions as to what type of self the learners could be encouraged to envision: the tourist self, the career self, the citizen self, the community self. By using pictures and by exposing learners to other people’s visions and asking them what they identify with, teachers can make the process of visualisation easier for the students.There were some concerns about whether students (and teachers) have the necessary knowledge/training to be able to lead successful visualisations (@AlexandraKou, @cioccas), and others who thought some learners just wouldn’t be able to come up with a future vision (@TomTesol).  Mackay did mention a few techniques to help students with visualisations (e.g. getting students to breathe with eyes closed for one minute and count breaths, then doing another minute and asking them to take fewer breaths – focuses attention on breathing and sets up the visualisation well). And @AlexandraKou added that this process can be started in class with simple exercises and then continued at home as a writing activity.

The 4 stages of actualising the vision

Hadfield mentioned four stages that aim to help learners see their vision through to achievement:

  • Vision to Goals – Breaking the vision into long and short term goals, checking reality, deciding whether it’s a goal for in/out of class etc.
  • Goals to Plans – Making a study plan, breaking goals into tasks
  • Plans to Strategies – Achievement strategies, realising possible barriers and deciding how to deal with and overcome them (time management, rewards etc.)
  • Strategies to Achievement – Making intentions public, making contracts, validating effort


@michaelegriffin and @esolcourses thought it important to break the vision down into more specific, personalised goals, with @jo_sayers and @AlexandraKou adding that the checking with reality and constraints was an important step in the process, especially as unrealistic goals generally have a negative impact on motivation.There were questions raised as to whether there was too much of an explicit focus on motivation in this approach (@OUPELTGlobal) and whether we should be doing these things on autopilot (@Marisa_C). However, in order to justify the time spent on visualisation etc, maybe the aim of increased motivation needs to be explicit (@jo_sayers).

Use in class

Bright classroom 

There was some concern over how easy it would be to use the approach in class.

@AlexandraKouk said it would involve a lot of learner training and presupposes a level of student maturity with @jo_sayers adding that there would need to be a degree of self-awareness and a willingness to be motivated on the part of the students. There was also concern over the fact that students have to determine the linguistic content of actualising whatever visions they may have (@Marisa_C, @michaelegriffin).@kevchanwow said that having used this approach (on a smaller scale) in class he found it easy and helpful in getting students to concentrate on task at hand. He also mentioned that it could be used in micro-situations such as ‘how long do you want to speak for without pausing’ before a session on interview skills.

Overlap with existing ideas

Musings of a dark overlord: Leveraging 21st-century education with open source

Some eltchatters thought that the concept was actually just a misnaming of an ongoing needs analysis (@Marisa_C, @hartle). @jo_sayers thought that the focus on the visualisation of the future made it slightly different, as well as the inclusion of the idea of ‘feared self’ and ‘ought to’ self. With @Michaelegriffin highlighting that there was also a group dynamics element to the approach.

The approach was also thought to overlap with the ‘language coach’ approach (@yearinthelifeof). A few people mentioned that Duncan Foord has done some work in this area; his blog is here.

Age and level of students

The questions was raised as to whether or not this techniques would be suitable for all ages. With @louisealix68 thinking that a different approach was needed for teens and tweens as there would be problems setting their own goals. @AlexandraKou thought it would be difficult to get YLs to stay still long enough to do any meaningful visualisation and @kevchanwow mentioned that young people have very fluid ideas of what their ideal future selves look like. The general consensus was that this technique was more suited to adults and perhaps young adults.
There may also be problems of low level learners struggling to put their visions into words (jo_sayers).

Mackay study findings – Does the approach work?


In her talk Mackay showed the results of the studies she had carried out with a group of students in Barcelona. The results showed that the group who had done visualisations increased speaking and reading of English outside class; and while the motivation levels in the control group decreased over the course, those of the intervention group stayed the same.

There was some mistrust of these results due to the variables (louisealix68) and due to the nature of the study possibly leading students to answer in a way that helps the researcher (their teacher) find what they are looking for (Marisa_C). There was also mention of the phenomenon that the act of being observed and researched is in itself motivating (@yearinthelifeof).


The general thoughts from the chat seemed to be that the approach highlighted some useful ideas and that the focus on future selves would be motivating. The main concerns were that it may take up a lot of class time, may well not be for everyone and may in fact be an existing idea with a new name!

Further Reading:

  • @kevchanwow’s post on Jill Hadfield talk
  • Two posts from @yearinthelifeof’s on motivation here and here
  • Duncan Foord’s blog

Let me know if I’ve missed anything out, I’ll add it in!

2 Responses

  1. Jill Hadfield says:

    Interesting chat… few points.. mainly on broader context which would help situate my talk and answer a few concerns
    1. The presentation was a very small part of much broader and long term work , principally Zolatn Dornyei and Ema Ushioda’s work on the theoretical side on Future L2 Selves, involving many years research across many different countries , and on the practical side, Motivating Learning ( Pearson 2013) a book which aims to translate the validated research findings into practical classroom activities.
    2. You expressed concerns whether teachers can lead successful visualizations . The chapter Imaging Identity in Motivating Learning give s both visualisation scripts and advice to teachers
    3.’Some learners just couldn’t come up with a future vision’ : Jessica worked with young male adolescents – a difficult target group . She thought out exactly how to get them to come up with a vision … by showing them how football coaches motivated their teams !Brilliant!
    4.Some teachers thought it impotent to’ break down the vision into more specific personalised goals ‘. I agree! Several activities in Motivating Learning are devoted to this: it just wasn’t focus of my talk
    5. Reality and constraints : Of course it is important to have a reality check – otherwise you are heading into cloud cuckoo land !Again , there are several activities in ML devoted to this.
    6. i certainly don’t think it is just needs analysis ! It involves imagination as well as analysis and this is what makes the theory so powerful for me : it involves the whole person : imagination, emotion as well as rationality and cognition. See my article in ETP.
    7. Yes … it is not really designed with Yls in mind . I think most research has been done in high schools and universities . Would be interesting to try a modified vernon tailored for YLs!
    8. Distrust of research .. Jessica is doing a PhD and has had results and statistics checked. Also see massive body of research done by Doryei et al.
    all the best

  2. Charles Rei says:

    I think we are over-analyzing the effect of motivation and L2 self. In nearly every case, English is a tool toward prosperity. The conflict is between the the taught ‘L2 self’ and the ‘purpose-driven self’. This means that ELT has actually encountered the same hurdles as other academic subjects like math and science. Teachers need to convince undecided youngsters that knowledge and skills have long-term value.

    Jill is right that needs analysis have little value at this level. If no one knows what the needs are… why bother? Education administrators are too focused on general proficiency (despite constraints which prevent general proficiency) and parents/students cannot express what they need to learn.

    My impression is that ELT at the education level should be more practically focused. It is, after all, a career skill and should be treated as such. I rarely meet students who seek to integrate culturally or develop deep personal relationships with international contacts. Emotional expression and intensely personal relationships are still done in L1. Home is still home.

    So, my recommendation would be for teachers to accept English for what it is: a ticket to opportunity. This requires responsible research (without such simple errors as response bias) and longitudinal studies to show the benefit of English proficiency. But I believe that teachers need to move past the idea that English is a foreign language. It is the visa for global citizenship. Naturally, teenagers will not be able to comprehend these effects… that is why teenagers consistently disappoint parents and teachers.

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