Students Get Motivation Straight From the Top

17 October, 2015

It is a common complaint of students: What they are learning does not have a practical use. The quickest way for students -- or anybody for that matter -- to lose motivation when learning is to think that it does not have any real-world application, that it doesn't matter.

Recently students at a Chinese immersion school in Washington, D.C. got motivation from an unlikely source:

The White House!

Presidents Xi and Obama greet students from D.C. Chinese immersion school. (AP PHOTO)
Presidents Xi and Obama greet students from D.C. Chinese immersion school. (AP PHOTO)

The White House invited fourth and fifth grade students from Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School to meet President Xi Jinping at the official welcoming ceremony at the White House.

Oh, they also got to meet President Barack Obama!

But this wasn't just a photo-op, an opportunity for two presidents to take pictures with smiling children.

Several of these students said that meeting President Xi inspired them to study more Chinese. It gave them the chance to see that what they are learning is useful and can be used in the real world.

Maya is a fifth grade student at Yu Ying. She went on the field trip to the White House to meet President Xi and had this to say.

"It gives you like a little bit of inspiration that other people can speak Chinese, too, and you're not the only one."

Maya's classmate, Felix, said that the field trip was "cool." He adds that the words of the two presidents were "heartfelt."

"I went on a field trip to the White House, which was really cool. Xi Jinping and Barack Obama were there and they gave a really heartfelt announcement."

After returning from the White House, Felix shared his feelings about learning Chinese.

"Yes. I love it! It's one of my favorite languages to learn ... to speak."

The field trip to the White House also inspired the teachers.

Amanda Ingram teaches fifth grade at Yu Ying. She adds this incredible opportunity gave the students a chance to see that what they are learning has real-world applications.

"Meeting both President Obama and President Xi was just really incredible. And our students being able to see that what they are learning here at Yu Ying and Chinese is so useful in the world was just really inspiring as a teacher."

Fifth grade teacher, Teng Shen is from Shanghai, China. She says opportunities such as this give students a chance to feel connected to China and the Chinese language.

"I feel they have more motivation to learn and speak Chinese. And they can feel closer to the country and they can have more connections to the language they are learning and (it's) really meaningful to them."

The visit was good for motivating the students in their language studies.

But Ms. Ingram adds that the students were also able to see how world leaders are able to -- as she says -- come to the table to overcome their differences and work together.

This is important, she says, for our country's future leaders.

"So, they were able to see two leaders of two really prominent and powerful countries coming together, putting some differences aside and really coming to the table to talk about how they can work together to make the world better and I think for our students who hopefully will be those future leaders this was just an incredible opportunity."

A child's worldview can sometimes be simple. And maybe that's a good thing.

Felix, the fifth-grader we heard from earlier, says the U.S. and China being allies seems only natural.

"I also think it's really good that they announced that the U.S. and China should be allies because they should because they've been allies for like almost a hundred years."

Meeting two presidents from two very powerful countries is indeed an impressive and incredible opportunity. But staying motivated in your goals need not be so ... presidential.

You can find your own ways to feel connected to what you are learning and to find value in it.

For example, if you have a child learning geometry, let them measure and cut some wood for a home project. If you are learning to play a musical instrument, find a beginners group to practice with. If you are trying to save money, open a special bank account where you can see your savings add up. And if you are learning English, visit VOA Learning English as often as you can!

I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

opportunity n. a good chance for advancement or progress

motivation n. the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something

field tripn. a visit (as to a factory, farm, or museum) made (as by students and a teacher) for purposes of firsthand observation

inspiring adj. causing people to want to do or create something or to lead better lives

coolslang adj. very good

heartfeltadj deeply felt : very sincere

real-world adj. of practical or actual experience, as opposed to the abstract, theoretical, or idealized sphere of the classroom, laboratory, etc. In the fixed expression real-world application "application" means "use." So to have real-world application means to be useful in the real world, not just in theory.

awesome adj. causing feelings of fear and wonder : causing feelings of awe : extremely good

come to the table - idiomatic expression : to meet to discuss how to solve a problem or end a disagreement

incredible adj. difficult or impossible to believe : extremely good, great, or large

ally n. a country that supports and helps another country in a war

How have you motivated yourself to achieve a goal? Let us know in the comments section.