Taking a Situated Look at the Complexity of Classroom Motivation

This month we published Richard J. Sampson’s book Complexity in Classroom Foreign Language Learning Motivation. It brings together work on motivation in language learning using complexity theory and action research. In this post, Richard discusses how the book came together.

9781783095889Although motivation and self-concept have come to be recognised as key aspects of additional language learning, much work has centred on the development and validation of general theories rather than exploring practical approaches to motivation in the classroom (Lasagabaster et al., 2014). In the research presented in this book, I wanted to start from a different perspective, from the everyday reality of my work as an English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher in Japan. While many of the non-English-major adolescent students I work with seem to recognise the importance of their studies, this recognition often does not translate into engagement and motivation in the classroom. The book presents a practitioner-led journey whereby action research processes – the study deliberately introduced change-action into the classroom setting – were used for the double-edged purpose of working to foster more engaging and motivating lesson environments for my students and to gain a deeper understanding of the motivation of a language learning class group.

A variety of questions thrown up by the emergent processes of action research fostered an increasingly complex and dynamic picture of students’ desire to study in the classroom. What colours of the life experiences of an individual suddenly spur a student into life from some trigger in the classroom? How do students perceive and act on comparisons with others in the learning group? How do the future self-concepts of learners dynamically develop as they interact in the classroom? And importantly, in what ways do these perceptions and actions shape the trajectory of motivation in the whole class group? As the research progressed I found that ideas from complex systems theory offered a useful way of understanding the kind of interactions that I was uncovering to provide some (situated) answers to these questions and more. Although I realize that “complex systems theory” sounds quite daunting, I hope that combined with the multiple perspectives on the same context of action achieved via the action research, the book provides a convincing argument that classroom motivation can be more profitably conceptualised with a focus on not only individuals but also the class group as a whole.

The primary focus of the book is this application of complex systems theory to understanding the dynamic and co-forming nature of the motivation and self-concepts of additional language learning students. However, in presenting the study, I felt it important to maintain a sense that this was research conducted by someone who was also a part of the class group. Indeed, complex systems theory would urge that the observer (in this case myself as teacher/researcher/author) is very much part of that being studied. All too often the teacher/researcher is written out of representations of research. Moreover, I did not feel it methodologically or philosophically justifiable to present a tidied up, static picture of the research which placed a large emphasis on outcomes and positioned myself as an “accomplished expert”. As such, the book provides a detailed account of not only the understandings at which I arrived, but also an exposition of the processes by which these understandings evolved. Through the narrative of my experiences I hope to encourage fellow teachers to become more agentic in the development of educational theories of classroom practice and learning.

If you would like to contact me about the book, please email me at: Richard Sampson, sampson@gunma-u.ac.jp.


Lasagabaster, D., Doiz, A., & Sierra, J. M. (2014). Introduction. In D. Lasagabaster, A. Doiz, & J. M. Sierra (Eds.), Motivation and foreign language learning: From theory to practice (pp. 1–5). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Dornyei-MercerFor further information about the book please see our website. You might also like some of our other titles on a similar topic: Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei et al and Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams.

The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning

We recently published The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning edited by Kata Csizér and Michael Magid. Here, they give us a bit of background on their innovative volume.

The Impact of Self-Concept on Language LearningDespite the fact that there is an abundance of self-related research studies nowadays, we think that our book managed to carve out a unique niche in the field of Applied Linguistics for a number of reasons. Firstly, we provide an up-to-date and easy-to-follow theorerical background to self-related investigations. Secondly, we contribute to the discussion by publishing original empirical studies on self-related topics concerning both students and teachers. Thirdly, we have included the results of several intervention studies that looked into the classroom and investigated in what ways students can be motivated to learn by developing their selves. Last but not least, we also provide insight into how the self-concept may be researched in the future by outlining the most promising avenues.

As the editors of this book, we were inspired to create a volume on the impact of self-concept on language learning by Professor Zoltán Dörnyei. This volume deals with the following major themes: 1. Second language learning motivation and its relation to vison and mental imagery. 2. The relationship of one’s self and one’s network. 3. The impact of self on self-regulation and autonomy. 4. Age-related differences in self. 5. The development of students’ identities in various contexts including Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia. 6. The dynamically changing motivation of teachers. 7. The strengthening of students’ ideal self and motivation through different intervention programmes.

We sincerely believe that our collection of chapters clarifies the meaning of various self-constructs in order to highlight how the self-constructs may be researched. It also specifically focuses on research that illustrates the effects of self-concept on language learning including the practical applications of the research findings in order to motivate language learners.

Motivational Dynamics in Language LearningIf you would like more information about this book please see our website. You might also be interested in our recently published title Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei et al.