Articles for Teachers
Years ago I was teaching English in Korea when I noticed one student was staring at me like a deer staring into headlights. I was sure she was lost in the lesson. I then noticed her grades were failing so I took her to the side and gave her private lessons prior to the start of class. She showed me she understood the lesson, but as the class began she gave me the deer into the headlight look. The one Cindy Brady gave looking at the television camera. A week later she left the class.
A few years ago I took a CELTA course. Despite all my teacher training, education, past experiences and ability I was told that everything I was doing was wrong. How can that be? I have a master's degree in ELL, I have a bachelor's degree in education, I wrote a TESOL book from information I discovered from hundreds of scholarly articles and countless hours of research and I wrote curriculum for schools to teach ESL along with teaching several TESOL courses.
No matter what the instructors taught it was the exact opposite of what I was taught in my previous classes and from my research. Despite the fact that what was being taught was what I was being assessed on I became so stressed out that I couldn't learn anything. To be told what major universities have taught is wrong makes one head ready to explode.
What I was experiencing was a phenomenon known as the Affective Filter. It is an imaginary wall that is put up when a student is stressed and learning cannot be achieved. With the student she became afraid when the lesson began. With me it was the fact that no matter what I did I was told I was wrong.
There are three levels of the Affective filter: Motivation, Anxiety and Self Confidence. All three need to be at levels that make the student feel welcome in the classroom. Keep motivation and self confidence high and anxiety low. The students will learn.
When a student is stressed out they will not learn. I've seen teachers scream at students, “Why can't you learn?” Well screaming only puts up the wall a lot higher. Instead ask a student what do they know and understand and then go from there.
This is what I did with the student in Korea. I found out what she knew and then taught her from that starting point. Since she was on her own, she was able to concentrate and do a lesson. In her case a private tutor would have been better for her as she wouldn't feel pressure from her classmates if she answered a question wrong.
With me, I was overqualified to be in the class to begin with and when this happens students do not want to learn as they are not challenged. This is known as Tapestry where a student can only learn if they are with a more competent instructor. In my case the teacher was much below my level.
As Krashen stated a teacher needs a book that is harder for the student to understand in order for them to learn. If the book is too easy then the student becomes bored and will not learn. Several times in the course when I was asked questions I gave answers with educational terminology. One instructor snapped at me and asked me what certain words meant and why I kept saying them. I then had to explain what some educational terms meant to her. This only added to my stress.
To eliminate the Affective Filter you may need to do what I did. Find the student who is lost in the class. Take them to the side or during breaks and give a one on one tutor session. Pair them with a student that understands the topic to help them. Talk to the parents about giving private tutor lessons for an hour a day. Whatever you can do to lower the filter.
Most importantly don't yell at students. Don't tell them they are failing. Don't add to the stress. This will just make the students stress level go higher and eventually they will wind up leaving the class because they will say the lessons are too hard. Give more homework in the areas they need help in.
Most importantly show them some kindness. If you show you care they will lower that stress level and do much better in the lessons. It may take time, but you can lower that Affective Filter and have much better students.
I went to other students who were getting praises and asked them what I was doing wrong. They showed me their work and I copied their style. I did what they were doing and still my grades were sub par and told they did not meet or barely met the qualifications.
Keith Brooks has a M.ELL from Western Governors University and gives seminars to schools in the Southwest USA. His website is www.fareasttesol.com and he can be contracted for seminars around the world.