Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

Motivation and Assessment

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2.3. Motivation and Assessment

For the symbolic frame motivation is one of the most important factors. According to the division of motivation that is described in Scott Thornbury’s book An A-Z of ELT the symbolic frame best works for instrumental motivation; that is a motivation through which the learner has a functional objective. Within the symbolic frame classes the learners come across many functional objectives. Among these are not only regular learning aims but also symbolic frame aims in which students have to resolve a situation that is designed with the help of frame. A symbolic frame with its activities also supports both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The drive behind the intrinsic motivation in the symbolic frame is the desire to advance through the story and to help the characters from the story or to resolve tasks and situations. It might also simply be the desire to win. In symbolic frame classes the teams or individuals are usually awarded points for certain activities. The points serve as an extrinsic motivation and also show learners their progress.

The points as a form of motivation and also a part of assessment have proven to be a good choice because they can be adjusted to any situation or individual needs of the learner. “Assessment for learning should recognize the full range of achievements of all learners” (Assessment Reform Group 2002: 2). The learners in the symbolic frame can be easily assessed through the tasks according to their progress and not the outcome of the task. Unfortunately, one of the most common assessments is to reward teams and individuals with points. Teachers should always approach every student individually and reward the progress, not the outcome. They should also bear in mind not to reward students with points while practicing new grammar points that the students are trying out in their speech for the first time. This might be discouraging for weaker students. Nearly any form of assessment is compatible with the symbolic frame teaching so the teachers can choose whatever is best for them and for their students.9

2.4. Symbolic Frame and Czech Curriculum

In The Czech Republic is Framing Educational Program 10 used as the basis of curriculum. Framing Educational Program is a reforming direction in Czech education system. The main idea is that “ it specifies the level of key competences which students should reach by the end of their grammar school education”11 (Jeřábek 2007: 6). Further, “it classifies cross-curricular topics as a mandatory part of education”12 (Jeřábek 2007: 6). And “it supports a complex approach to the realization of educational content including its appropriate interconnection. It presupposes a free choice of various educational methods in accordance with students’ individual needs”13 (Jeřábek 2007: 6). Cross-curricular topics can be summarized as teaching about values, personal development, effective problem solving, social communication and cooperation.

Considering all of the cross-curricular topics the symbolic frame can become extremely helpful because it is able to create a connection between them and the subject that is taught. Frequently, a symbolic frame characters function as role models for the students. A symbolic frame thus makes teachers’ work easier by introducing cross-curricular topics in a captivating story. Among the skills that are practiced in the practical part through the symbolic frame are learning skills14, problem-solving skills15, communicative skills16, social and personal skills17, and spirit of enterprise skills18. The only skills from Framing Educational Program which were not included in the experimental lessons are citizenship skills19.

3. Practical Part

The practical part of the research tried to prove the advantage of symbolic frame as being part of an English lesson. Consequently, a series of fourteen symbolic frame lessons were created for a group of volunteers who were offered to attend a free English course in order to improve their command of English. The group of volunteers consisted of eight people with the age ranging from 17 to 21, which is slightly more than the average age of high school students. The sex of the participants was almost equally distributed since there were three men and five women. At the beginning of the short course, all participants were interviewed separately in order to determine their level of English and also to discover the type of English lessons they had been used to from their school. More detailed information about the participants can be found in this chapter in Table 1.

The participants’ knowledge of English ranged from pre-intermediate to intermediate level. The participants declared that they were used to traditional, course-book-based types of lessons. “We have usually filled in some exercises, there was only a little time dedicated to speaking” (Student 1), said one of the participants during an interview and the similar answers were given by the others as well. During the interview the participants also stated that if there was a conversation in their lessons, it was usually in a form of controlled speaking practice. Only occasionally were they given an opportunity to express their opinion on some topic. In only one case the participant declared that he had enough time during his English classes to express his opinion in English.




studying English… (years)

Type of high school

Last textbook


Student 1




Grammar school

New English File Intermediate

Sports, SF books, PC games

Student 2




Grammar school

Market Leader Pre-Intermediate

Hiking, reading, parkour

Student 3




Vocational gardening school

New Headway Pre-Intermediate

Not traditional farm animals

Student 4




Grammar school

New Headway Intermediate

Hanging out with friends

Student 5




Grammar school

New Headway Intermediate

Juggling, belly dancing, reading, hiking

Student 6




Grammar school

Opportunities Intermediate

Rock climbing, travelling, geocaching

Student 7




Vocational chemistry school

New Headway Pre- Intermediate

Rock climbing, kapoeira, dancing

Student 8




Secondary physiotherapeutic education

New English File Pre -Intermediate

PC games, LARP, reading

Table 1 – Information about the students

In contrast with regular high school students the advantage of this group might have been that with an exception of Student 7, they were all familiar with the concept of symbolic frame from their leisure time activities in Scout group. On the other hand, with participants being familiar with various symbolic frames, it was perhaps more difficult to choose an enticing frame that they would not know.

3.1. Practical Part Creation

From the beginning, preparation followed the procedure mentioned in the chapter 2.2.2. on lesson preparation in the theoretical part of the essay. For reference on a detailed description of individual lessons see Appendix 1. The overall lesson plan with the most important parts of the lesson which are relevant to the symbolic frame teaching can be found in Appendix 2. The following procedure does not have to be followed step by step and some points may overlap. The same division as in the theoretical part is kept for comparison purposes.

  1. Aims (what are the aims of your lesson/s?)

Aims are the most important part of any lesson plan, because they give lessons their purpose. In this case, since there was not any pressure from a curriculum, there was a lot of freedom to create the aims. Therefore, the basic aim at the beginning was to improve student’s command of English and to raise their interest in self studying at home. However, to make the experiment more valuable and useful for a school environment it was decided to use a course book that is commonly used in Czech schools, which, according to a small local research, appeared to be a book from the Headway series. In the research, 73 people who live in Brno were asked. The respondents had to be in high school or had been in the high school in the past three years. The results showed that 83% of respondents said that they are using or used a book from the Headway series). I therefore decided to choose the newest fourth edition of the Headway Intermediate course book.

Preparing the lessons based on the course book was probably the greatest challenge. The result was that some parts of the lessons, such as grammar practice, were more independent from the book and the book served only as reference material. There were more reasons for this arrangement. Firstly, for grammar it is important to go over the structure and usage. The goal for the students, which derives from a curriculum, is to be able to use these structures in the range that the book dictates. Thus it was not necessary to use the exact exercises from the textbook. However, the sections on vocabulary and lexical grammar were more useful and it was possible in many cases to use the exercises given by the book. Overall, the book served mostly as the frame of reference to make sure that none of the important things assigned by the curriculum was omitted.

Since the book served more as a reference, the aims of the individual lessons focused on the skills development and were created with the correspondence to the frame and individual needs of the students. Either students asked for specific things or I noted their weakest points and prepared a lesson that would be the most helpful for them. In the detailed lesson plan in Appendix 1 there is also a course book aim added. However, this was not a regular aim. It ought to be more understood as “what should students know from the textbook”. It is there only to show that the book really served as a point of reference and that the material which was required by the curriculum was really covered. Appendix 1 also shows individual aims for each activity in the lesson. This is mainly to show that each activity in the lesson had its purpose and that none of the activity was used only as “busy work”.

  1. Finding an attractive symbolic frame (What attracts children of the age that you are teaching? What's IN and OUT?)

This point is connected with the following because while preparing the experimental lessons, these two points were closely linked.

  1. Choosing the correct frame (Is the frame correct from the point of educating children? Will it encourage positive behavior?)

Choosing an attractive symbolic frame was extremely difficult primarily because most of the students were already familiar with many symbolic frames. I decided to choose a frame that was based on a novel since I wanted to show how the linear symbolic frame could be used. Therefore it was important that students would not be familiar with the novel but the novel would still be appealing to them. The issue of attractiveness was an important and the most difficult one. In the end I chose John Wyndham’s book The Chrysalids, because it has a linear but interesting story which stirs an imagination and the main character is a young adult who is at the stage of forming opinions about his surroundings, just as the students are. It is also set up in an interesting environment and deals with social issues that are quite topical, even though this is a science fiction novel.

For clarity purposes and better orientation in further lesson planning I have provided here a short description of the story of the novel. The main character, David, lives in a post apocalyptic world in a village called Waknuk where people practice a special religion. Their belief is that everybody and everything must be perfect and they fight against any deviations from their ideal picture. For example, if an apple is not perfectly round, it is thrown away. However, the same pattern is applied to the people. If they are somehow different, for example if they have only one hand, they are castrated in order not to be able to have children and they are cast away from Waknuk, because they are considered to be deviations. One day David meets Sophie, a girl from the village. They play together and Sophie has an accident. When David helps her, he accidently discovers that she has six toes. Sophie’s mother beseeches him not to tell anyone and David promises cooperation. After some time David finds out that Sophie is not the only one who is a deviation. He himself can telepathically communicate with other people, which is not normal and he could be also cast away if anyone found out about his ability. However, his uncle Axel knows about it and he urges David to keep it secret. David has other telepathic friends and they all decide to be secretive about their abilities. Later, when David plays barefooted near a stream, a boy, named Allan sees Sophie’s footprint and her secret is discovered. She and her family decide to leave, but they are discovered and David never sees her again. A couple of years later, David’s sister Petra is born. After some time David discovers that she is much stronger telepath than he is, she can even communicate with some people very far away, probably somewhere behind the sea. He swears to protect her because at the time Petra is young. More and more deviations are discovered and having a secretive life is becoming harder and harder. When the circle of telepaths is discovered, David and the others decide to leave Waknuk and go to Fringes; another village where only deviated people live. However, they are captured by the Fringe people and a war between Waknuk and Fringes breaks out. During the war Petra communicates with the people from distant lands and they come and rescue them. They take them to a world where being different is not an issue, but an advantage.

This story has a lot of features which are important for a symbolic frame story. First of all, it has an interesting and imaginative background. The location of the story is based on the actual location around the Labrador Peninsula. Even though the both villages are invented, the map of the Labrador Peninsula can be used as a visual aid for the symbolic frame (see part e) of this section) of lesson creation where the work with maps is described). Also the time setting of the story is interesting. The setting of the story into a distant future creates many opportunities for work with language, such as future tenses, conditionals, various comparisons etc. Another very useful feature is the age of the main characters. Because they approximately the same age as students, they can serve as role models and the students are able to identify with them. There are also many characters in David’s circle whose personalities are nicely described and they can be easily role played by the students. Even though there are some negative characters, none of them are only black and white. Sometimes it was the society that put them in their position, sometimes their religion or the life events. These characters, if properly described to the students, can serve as negative role models. Students can think about the motivation that is behind the bad deeds of these characters. Many of the characters in the story often face moral dilemmas which derive from the social problems in the story. It might be, for example, a choice between loyalty to family and loyalty to their own values. These can be used as interesting topics for discussions with the class on which students can form and express their own opinion.

Another reason for choosing this story was purely material. It was because of the existence of many forms of the story. The main material was the novel in its original form and as subsidiary materials I also used BBC radio play20 which was created from the book and also a Penguin reader. Having the story in many various forms gave me more possibilities for different types of lessons. I purposefully chose a book that has not been made into a movie yet. It was because I did not want the students to watch the movie in advance, since it would spoil for them the story.

  1. Players (Will children mostly work in groups, pairs or separately?)

In order to encourage communication and cooperation between the students, all the competitive games were team games. Students were divided into two teams that competed every lesson in various activities against each other. Teams received points for every game. In order to encourage responsibility, sometimes, even when the games were purely individual, the points that students won were added to the team score. At the end of each lesson the best team was announced and at the end of the course the winning team was rewarded with a small prize.

The arrangement of the students into teams encouraged not only communication and cooperation but also the attendance; the more team players were present, the bigger the chance for their team to succeed. This arrangement would not have been able to work if the teams were not equally divided in accordance with the students’ skills. That means that both weak and strong players were in each team. The activities were adjusted in a way that from time to time even the weaker students could win. It was important to do that to strengthen the position of each student within their team, so they would be able to find their team role. Having a role in the team and being good at something is important for students’ self-confidence and motivation.

  1. Form (For how long will you use this frame? Will students be able to influence the story or not?)

As it was stated before, for the experiment a linear story was chosen for a symbolic frame. It might seem that with a linear story teacher cannot be very creative, but it is not entirely true. Even with a linear symbolic frame, the teacher is able to decide which aspects of the story and the setting, are the most suitable for the lessons. In the case of The Chrysalids, some parts of the story were omitted. For example the part in which Uncle Axel tells David about his travels away from Waknuk, or some details from the hunt and the war at the end. The former was omitted because the information had only an additional value to the story and I did not find any use for this part in the teaching. There simply was no interesting topic for a useful activity. The latter was omitted because the part was very complicated and not really usable for a classroom setting. Additionally, it was a description of movement or travelling, which is always a complicated feature in a symbolic frame.

When characters from a symbolic frame travel, it is difficult to transform and show this movement to a static classroom environment. Probably the best in this case is to show the movement on the map; if the moving is longer and some events are waiting on the way. In the experimental lessons I used the map mainly in a final board game for lesson thirteen. In the board game students moved on the map together with the characters and they had better view of all the events that happened on different locations. On the other hand, it is not always necessary to draw a map. The students can also just be told that they moved to a different place and some slight change in a classroom setting can support the change of location. For example when we moved from Waknuk to Fringes, the classroom was disordered. The notice board, tables and chairs were in unusual places to suggest that everything in Fringes is strange and unusual.

  1. Environment (environment of the story and little things around... notice boards, cards etc.  - they help draw into story)

The point environment is closely linked with what was told about the location. It basically covers all the little things that are added to the classroom and lessons to support the symbolic frame story and as a result they create a nice atmosphere within the frame. In the case of the experimental class it was for example a notice board, where the score of the teams was kept. There were pictures from the story and also a map of the world of The Chrysalids. Other things were added during the course. These were the comic strips that the students created, personality profiles of David’s telepathic friends, the Ten Commandments as the students imagine they would be like in the world of The Chrysalids, or other little things which students created such as letters and posters.

However, decorating the classroom was not the only thing that created the whole symbolic frame atmosphere. Sometimes the costumes were also used. For example, when the students were acting out a part of the book as their project, or when there was a feast in the Waknuk to celebrate Petra’s birth in the seventh lesson and everyone was asked to come to the class dressed up as one citizen of Waknuk. Because students were already familiar with the characters of Waknuk, they were also asked to act like these characters during the feast. Among the environment some visual aids and motivational materials can be counted as well. For instance these were pictures from the story on which tenses were explained, or score cards of the teams and also of individual students which showed the students’ successes and progress.

  1. Peaks (Where does the story have emotional peaks? - the most memorable lessons)

Based on the group dynamics and also the dynamics of the story there were four peaks in the course. They were in the first (and partially the second), fifth, ninth and thirteenth lesson. In the first (and partially the second) lesson it was only a small introductory peak which was aimed at introducing the world of The Chrysalids to the students. This peak also raised the interest in the story, because it is a bit mystical. It is partially about David’s dreams which appear to be prophetical. The second peak was in the point when Sophie is discovered by Allan and David is forced to reveal her secret. The third peak was put in the lesson in which students experience a major turn in the story. It is when Ann denounces all her telepathic friends to her husband Allan and therefore David’s uncle Axle must kill Allan. Now it is only a matter of time before the circle of telepaths is discovered. The last peak was placed at the end of the course and it represents the final resolution of the story. In other words, there is a final battle between good and bad and the students are asked to help the character to win the battle.

As it was said, the peaks are not only based on the dynamics of the story, but also on a group dynamics. The first peak was at the beginning of the course where the group needs some introduction and the members need to get to know each other. After some adaptation time the group is brought before the first small challenge, which they should be possible to resolve. In this case the group managed to help Sophie, but only for a short time. In the end Sophie was lost in Fringes and therefore the second peak was again followed by a relatively emotionally quiet period of only small events and regular tasks. In the next peak the group of students faced an even greater challenge and were supposed to help when David’s circle was discovered. They managed, but with only a very vague success and later the group was discovered anyway. The group of students was therefore slowly brought to the last peak which represented the final resolution and where the group had to cooperate to be able to resolve the final and the most difficult task.

Establishing the peaks according to the story is not the most difficult. The real creative work comes with trying to find some devices which would make the peaks attractive and different from other normal lessons. With the first task the devices are mainly ice breakers and games in which students get to know each other better. In the second peak it was a short test of what students learned in the previous lessons connected with getting rid of Allan. Students got points for each correct answer and for the points they could buy paper balls. There was a poster of Allan in the class and they could fire shots at him with balls. If they hit him in three marked parts, they got rid of him. It was important here that students had enough chances to be able to succeed. In order to enhance the moment when Sophie had to leave and David was saying goodbye to her, students created memorable objects (their handprint in a clay with the sixth finger). They were asked to dedicate it to one of their classmates and write on it in what he or she is good at and why they are sure he or she will succeed in a life that awaits them. In the third peak lesson, the students were asked to help David to warn other members of his group. They already knew that each member of the group had different type of telepathy. For example one only understands messages containing some information about things that have already happened, another must think about some color and things that are associated with this color in every sentence. Through various interesting tasks that were related to each member of the group students practiced what they had learned that far and also tried to warn David’s telepathic friends. It was not important if they were successful or not, because the group was about to be discovered anyway. The fourth peak represented the resolution of the story and it was also the point in which students should make use of everything they had learned. It was created as a final board game in which students rescued David and his friends and also had to revise and use all their language knowledge. The board game therefore consisted of many interactive tasks and it was an entire lesson activity.

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