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February 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

Anxiety in the Foreign Language Class: An Action Research Program Focused on Academic Staff and Students

Michelle Ocriciano has been part of ELT for over 20 years and has worn many hats – teacher, teacher trainer, academic manager, researcher and learning and teaching consultant. She holds a BA in Linguistics, a BEd Secondary, a BA in Pedagogy and an MA in Applied Linguistics. Michelle is a PhD student and EAP teacher at the University of Queensland in sunny Brisbane, Australia; and writes monthly for the English Teacher Professional magazine. She is also a registered counsellor focused on student support and reduction of student anxiety. Email: michelle.ocriciano@gmail.com

 

Introduction

This paper will present a rationale and an action research program for academic staff and students. The first and second sections present the context of students and teachers’ academic background respectively. The third section gives a brief overview of anxiety in the classroom and is followed by an explanation of the reason why action research is important in the field of counselling. Details of the program and references are found in the last section.

English as an Additional Language (EAL) international students in a university direct entry English enhancement course

Education is Australia’s fourth export product. In order to study in the country, students need to show a certain level of English competence via a variety of standardized tests. When this is not achieved, there are the English as an Additional Language Pathway courses, which are often described as high-stakes with a prescribed curriculum and very intense assessment cycle (Ocriciano, 2016). Students in these courses have reported in end-of-course surveys incredibly high levels of anxiety as failing to achieve the correct grade means not being able to start their further education.

EAL Teachers academic background in English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS)

ELICOS programs are heavily regulated by two main agencies: Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA)  the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). The requirements prescribed by both agencies is that to teach in an ELICOS course the individual must possess a bachelor’s degree in any field and a month-long course about English teaching methodology called CELTA or the Australian version, the Certificate IV in TESOL. With this background, it is unlikely that the teacher is aware of the role anxiety plays in foreign language teaching. Therefore, constant professional development in all areas, including anxiety, is vital.

 

Anxiety in foreign language learning

Arnold and Brown (1999) suggest that anxiety is possibly the most important factor that obstructs and limits the process of learning a language commonly leading the learner to quit learning the given language. The authors argue that there is a great vulnerability in learning a foreign language. Trying to express ourselves in a language we do not control as our mother tongue, feeling limited in our expression, possibly sounding like babies and so having our identity and self-threatened in various ways.

Anxiety is associated with negative feelings such as discomfort, ridicule and failure, frustration, apprehension and anticipatory tension caused generally when a learner has to use the target language orally (Gardner and MacIntyre, 1989; 1993). To Horwitz (2001) foreign language anxiety is responsible for the uncomfortable experience in language classes and, from such concept, the authors have developed a test that measures the level of anxiety in students. Correlational data between anxiety in foreign language and final learning product indicate a consistent correlation, however moderate, between anxiety and learning. Horwitz (2001) defines anxiety as a subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervous condition and worry associated with triggering the autonomic nervous system.

The anxiety in Foreign Language Learning is considered a type of specific anxiety and it is believed to be responsible for generating negative emotional reactions, discomfort and blocking during tasks. According to Horwitz (2001) Foreign Language Learning anxiety has been frequently linked to aspects of oral use, although recent studies have attempted to identify and diagnose different types of anxiety resulting from the development of other skills. Oxford (1999) defines anxiety as fear or apprehension that occurs when a student has to use a L2. This anxiety is related to the performance in the target language learning, not being, therefore, a general type of anxiety.

For Gardner and MacIntyre (1993) the correlation between anxiety and negative performance is related to evaluation, oral performance and self-confidence. Scovel (1978) argued that anxiety  is associated with low proficiency and self-esteem. Some researchers such as Horwitz (2001) suggests that this type of anxiety is only beneficial with simpler tasks, others prefer to call this kind of emotional state not as anxiety, but as a tension that generates attention.

Horwitz (1988) shows that often unrealistic beliefs regarding the goal to be achieved and the time required to achieve it in learning a foreign language can lead to anxiety disorders negativeness and debilitation. Interactions with teachers can also generate anxiety, particularly when involving the correction of errors and exposure to the public of their performance in the classroom.  Arnold and Brown (1999) strongly argue that the teacher is responsible for fostering an environment of acceptance, reciprocal appreciation cooperation, and mutual support that encourages self-confidence of students, thereby decreasing affective variables that block learning and the development of oral skills as anxiety, inhibition and low self-esteem.

Young (1990, 1999) argued that when students are asked to deliver their thoughts or ideas in a foreign language in which they have limited competence, their performance can be very threatening to their self-image. According to Horwitz et al. (1986) performance in the L2 is likely to challenge an individual’s self-concept as a competent communicator and this might lead to reticence, self-consciousness, fear or even panic.

 

Action research

Action research is both a methodology for solving psychosocial problems and a scientific and theoretical investigation of the same problem. Its theoretical foundation is that if I am part of the problem, I can also investigate it and propose better solutions than an isolated researcher and external to the group (Winter & Munn-Giddings, 2002).

Action research is oriented towards problem solving and motivated by the desire for change. The researcher-counselor must consider the potential of the research participants to develop some specific skills for carrying out the research, requiring a willingness to learn and a commitment to the changes of the investigated subjects. There is constant evaluation both during and at the end of the process. The cycles of action research are constantly verifying the results produced by the action, assessing what has been achieved is in line with the expectations;  providing planners with an opportunity to learn, that is, to gain a new general understanding of the problem; informing the planning of the next step as a reference for modifying the plan originally established. By gaining new understanding, both the researcher-counselor and the research subjects are expanding their knowledge (Winter & Munn-Giddings, 2002).

 

Program

The program will use action research as a framework and consists of three cycles. As the program has eight sessions and courses are ten-weeks long, the first and second cycles can happen at the same time. Cycle one is the control group and  will focus on students and will request students to do a printed version of the anxiety and depression test from Beyond Blue before the course and after it. Given the nature of students, the test will also be available in other languages.  During the course, students will also be interviewed by teachers who will ask about how they feel regarding their learning journey.

In the second cycle, the focus is on teachers who will participate in a teacher development program that is described below in details. In week 8 of the program, teachers will interact online in order to develop and design lessons and activities to be used in the classroom to introduce anxiety and its coping techniques.  The third cycle will focus on both teachers and students. Teachers who gained knowledge about anxiety will attempt to use that during classes to provide students with guidance and techniques. Students will do the Beyod Blue anxiety test before starting the course, complete a survey during the course, and do the anxiety test after finishing the course.

The three cycles will provide both quantitative and qualitative data which can be triangulated to verify and evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher development program and inform changes in future cycles.

The aim of the program is not to transform teachers into counsellors, but rather to inform their practice and raise awareness of issues related to anxiety. The first session is an introduction to trauma-informed teaching and the benefits of using a whole-school approach to it. This will be followed by an overview of anxiety in session 2. The next session presents anxiety in foreign language learning. Sessions four, five and six will discuss anxiety during speaking, writing and test-taking. Since most students are Chinese, session seven will approach anxiety in foreign language learning in Chinses students. The last session will wrap-up the course and review concepts.

The following program is a divided in 8 sessions that can be conducted weekly. It will be delivered both synchronously and asynchronously using a blended-learning approach. The decision to use blended learning is supported by Moore, et al. (2017) who claim that professional development programs using this modality are often more successful and result in teachers incorporating the new knowledge to their practice more often.

The program is targeted at teachers and all other members of the academic staff as all managers have a teaching load. In addition, Gaikhorst, et all. (2019) suggest that professional development programs are more successful when principals participate in those programs.  

In each session the counsellor will demonstrate and role play a simple anxiety-coping technique or intervention namely normalization, acts of kindness, abdominal breathing, play the script to the end, journaling, problem-focused coping and mindfulness. The resources with an asterisk (*) can also be used by teachers in the classroom with students. All the resources will be embedded available online for all the academic staff in this program shell.

Week 1

Topic

Trauma-informed teaching: what it is, why it matters and how to do it

Objectives:

Resources:

By the of this session, attendants will be able to

  • recognize, describe and apply concepts related to trauma-informed teaching
  • explain and demonstrate normalization

 

Reading: Carello, J. & Butler L. (2011).  Practicing What We Teach: Trauma-Informed Educational Practice

Reading: Crosby, S., Howell, P.  & Thomas, S. (2018). Social justice education through trauma-informed teaching

Video: TED Talk Trauma Informed Teaching by Dr Meredith Fox

Video: TED Talk Why All Schools Should Be Trauma-Informed by Dr. Mary Crnobori

Video: Solution-Focused Brief Therapy : Normalising

Cards with common situations faced by students.

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

  • Using AnswerGarden, the counsellor will ask teachers to answer in 40 characters what trauma-informed teaching is in their point of view. The answers will generate a live word cloud that will be saved and used in the last session.
  • Group discussion about the resources. One group per reading/video. Teachers discuss the resources and report back to the main group
  • Counsellor introduces normalization
  • Teachers watch the normalization video
  • Teachers role play normalization with each other using the pre-prepared cards while the counsellor walks around to monitor
  • Counsellor introduces the final project and assign the first online task.  
  • Review the content by taking a quiz on Blackboard
  • Looking at the course book, identify a unit in which you could design an activity to show and discuss normalization with students.
  • Work individually or as a group to develp the activity, when ready, upload the activity to the group Padlet

 

Reflection

How can trauma-informed teaching be applied to your classes? In which ways could you make it part of your classes? 

       

 

Week 2

Topic

What is anxiety and its four components (cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural) 

Objectives:

Resources:

By the of this session, attendants will be able to

  • recognize common behaviours associated with anxiety
  • name the four components of anxiety
  • explain and demonstrate the use of random acts of kindness

Reading: What is anxiety & the effects on mental health? *

Reading: Anxiety Disorders in Emerging Adulthood

Reading: Sreenivasan, S. & Weinberger, L. (2017). Why Random Acts of Kindness Matter to Your Well-being *

Video: What is Anxiety? *

Video: The Selfish Benefits of Kindness *

Website: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/ *

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

  • Use Kahoot to review the content of Session 1
  • Group discussion about the resources. One group per reading/video. Teachers discuss the resources and report back to the main group
  • Counsellor introduces random acts of kindness
  • Play random acts of kindness bingo
  • Teachers watch the selfish benefits of kindness
  • Teachers discuss random acts of kindness in the classroom and how they can be used regularly in the classroom
  • Counsellor introduces second online task.  
  • Looking at the course book, identify a unit in which you could design an activity to show and discuss random acts of kindness with students.
  • Work individually or as a group to develp the activity, when ready, upload the activity to the group Padlet
  • Review the content by taking a quiz on Blackboard

 

 

Reflection

How can you deal with your own teacher anxiety?

       

 

References

Arnold, J. & H, Brown. (1999). In Affect in Language Learninged. by Jane Arnold. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Gaikhorst, L, März, V, du Pré, R, Geijsel, F. Workplace conditions for successful teacher professional development: School principals’ beliefs and practices. Eur J Educ. 2019; 54: 605– 620. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12366

Gardner, R. C. & MacIntyre, P. D. (1989). Anxiety and Second-Language Learning: Toward A Theoretical Clarification. Language Learning, 251-275.

Gardner, R. C. & MacIntyre, P. D. (1993).  A student's contribution to Second Language Learning:  Part II, Affective Factors.  Language Teaching, 26, 1-11.

Horwitz, E. (2001). Language anxiety and achievement. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 21. doi:10.1017/s0267190501000071

Horwitz, E. K. (1988). The Beliefs about Language Learning of Beginning University Foreign Language Students. The Modern Language Journal, 72(3), 283. doi:10.2307/327506

Horwitz, E., Horwitz, M., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety. The odern Language Journal, 125-125.

Moore, M., Robinson, H. A., Sheffield, A., & Phillips, A. S. (2017). Mastering the Blend: A Professional Development Program for K-12 Teachers. Journal of Online Learning Research, 3(2), 145–173. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1969013484/

Ocriciano, M. (2016). IELTS writing: A gamification journey. Cambridge English: Research Notes, 64, 31-38.

Oxford, R. (1999). Second language learning: Individual differences. In B. Spolsky (Ed.), Concise encyclopedia of educational linguistics (pp. 552-560). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

Scovel, T. (1978), The Effect of Affect on Foreign Language Learning: A Review of the Anxiety Research. Language Learning, 28: 129–142. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1978.tb00309.x

Winter, R., & Munn-Giddings, C. (2002). A Handbook for Action Research in Health and Social Care. Routledge.

Young, D. (1990) An Investigation of Students' Perspectives on Anxiety and Speaking. Foreign Language Annals, 23:6 p.539

Young, D. (1999). Creating a Low-Anxiety Classroom Environment: What Does Language Anxiety Research Suggest? The Modern Language Journal, 426-437.

 

Please check the Creating a Motivating Environment course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Practical Ideas for Teaching Advanced (C1-C2) Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Advanced NLP and Coaching Skills for the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the NLP and Coaching skills for the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

 

Appendix

Weeks 3 to 8

Week 3

Topic:  

Foreign Language Anxiety

Objectives:

Resources:

By the of this session, attendants will be able to

  • recognize common behaviours associated with anxiety related to learning a foreign language
  • understand and explain the positive aspects of anxiety
  • apply key concepts about anxiety related to learning a foreign language to their teaching
  • explain and demonstrate the use of abdominal breathing

Reading: Horwitz, E. (2001). Language anxiety and achievement

Reading: Kráľová, Z. & Sorádová, D. (2015). Foreign Language Learning Anxiety

Reading: Soeiro, L. (2019). 3 Reasons Why Anxiety Is Good For You *

Video: Reducing Stress Through Deep Breathing *

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Reflection

How can you use the concepts of Foreign Language Anxiety to adapt your teaching practice?

       

 

Week 4

Topic: 

Anxiety during Speaking tasks and in oral communication

Objectives:

Resources:

By the of this session, attendants will be able to

  • recognize common behaviours associated with anxiety during speaking tasks and in oral communication
  • apply key concepts about anxiety during speaking tasks and in oral communication to their teaching
  • explain and demonstrate the use of the technique Play the Script Until the End

Reading: Woodrow, L. (2006). Anxiety and Speaking English as a Second Language

Reading: Liu, M. & Tarnopolsky, O. (2018). Interactive effects of English-speaking anxiety and strategy use on oral English test performance of high- and low-proficient Chinese university EFL learners

Reading: Play the Script Until the End

Video: Play the script until the end 

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Reflection

How can you ease anxiety caused by speaking in your classes? In which ways could you inform your teaching practice to prevent or lower anxiety caused by speaking?

       

 

Week 5

Topic: 

Anxiety during Writing tasks

Objectives:

Resources:

By the of this session, attendants will be able to

  • recognize common behaviours associated with anxiety during writing tasks
  • apply key concepts about anxiety during writing tasks to their teaching
  • explain and demonstrate the use of Journaling

Reading: Negari, G. & Rezaabadi, O. (2012). Too Nervous to Write? The Relationship between Anxiety and EFL Writing

Reading: Sabti, A. et al. (2019). (The Impact of Writing Anxiety, Writing Achievement Motivation, and Writing Self-Efficacy on Writing Performance: A Correlational Study of Iraqi Tertiary EFL Learners

Video: 3 Steps of Thought Journaling Using CBT *

Video: Art journaling  *

Video: 10 journal prompts for anxiety *

Video: Journaling for Anxiety *

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Reflection

How can you ease anxiety caused by writing in your classes? In which ways could you inform your teaching practice to prevent or lower anxiety caused by writing?

       

 

Week 6

Topic: 

Test-taking anxiety

Objectives:

Resources:

By the of this session, attendants will be able to

  • recognize common behaviours associated with test-taking anxiety
  • apply key concepts about test-taking anxiety to their teaching
  • explain and demonstrate the use of Problem-focused coping technique

Video: Test anxiety *

Video: Exam Anxiety - symptoms, coping methods

Reading: Managing Test Anxiety *

Reading: Warnecke, I et al. (2020) Design of a Guided Internet-Delivered Counseling Intervention for Test

Video: Problem-Focused Coping: Definition, Strategies & Examples

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Reflection

How can you ease anxiety caused by test-anxiety in your classes? In which ways could you inform your teaching practice to prevent or lower anxiety caused by testing?

       

 

Week 7

Topic: 

Foreign Language learning anxiety in Chinese students

Objectives:

Resources:

By the of this session, attendants will be able to

  • recognize common behaviours particularly associated with Foreign Language learning anxiety in Chinese students
  • apply key concepts about foreign language learning anxiety in Chinese students to their teaching
  • identify elements in intercultural communication between Chinese students and Australian teachers
  • inform their practice based on key elements of intercultural communication
  • explain and demonstrate what mindfulness is  

Reading: He, D. (2018). Framework for Foreign Language Learning Anxiety

Reading: He, D. (2018). Effective Strategies Coping with FLSA

Reading: Zhu, H. (2010). College English Teaching Viewed from the Perspective of Intercultural Communication.

Reading: Corliss, J. (2014). Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress  *

Reading: Moore, C. (2020). What Is Mindfulness? Definition + Benefits

Video:  Mindfulness meditation by Dr. Aditi Nerukar *

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Similar procedures to session 1 and 2

Reflection

How can you help Chinese students deal with anxiety? How often should you talk about anxiety in the classroom?

       

 

Week 8

Topic: 

Wrapping up

Objectives:

Resources:

  • Review normalization, acts of kindness, abdominal breathing, play the script to the end, journaling, problem-focused coping and mindfulness.
  • Collective plan how to use the new skills and incorporate them in the classroom
  • Develop and create collectively a depository with lessons that can be used to introduce the topic of anxiety and its coping techniques

 

Cards with common situations faced by students

Padlet with weekly activities developed by teachers

Padlet with weekly suggestions from teachers about what they specifically would like to know about anxiety

Session

Part 1 – Face-to-Face

Part 2 - Online

  • Using AnswerGarden, the counsellor will ask teachers to answer in 40 characters what trauma-informed teaching is in their point of view. The answers will generate a live word cloud that will be saved and used in the last session.
  • Counsellor will compare this answer with the one given 7 sessions ago.
  • Counsellor will group teachers in 7 groups to work with the previously discussed seven techniques: normalization, acts of kindness, abdominal breathing, play the script to the end, journaling, problem-focused coping and mindfulness. Teachers will rotate so that every group can practice every technique.

 

  • Final discussion on how and when teachers can incorporate the techniques and topics in the classroom.

Teachers select their favourite lessons from that were created weekly and build their own portfolio with any other resources that they would like. They should share the link of this portfolio with the counsellor. 

Reflection

What was the most important thing you leaned in this course? Can you use ay of this knowledge outside the classroom? What else would you like to know about his topic?

       
  • Anxiety in the Foreign Language Class: An Action Research Program Focused on Academic Staff and Students
    Michelle Ocriciano, Australia

  • Five Sustainable Practices from Action Research to Enrich Your Everyday Teaching
    Jennifer Wallace, Australia