Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Positive Impact of Positive Comments by Anyone

It is an English teacher's ethical obligation to remain positive and foster positive "English image" in our students. I say that today for two reasons. One based on research in the field of language learning, and the other based on research in the medical field.

I was reading my tweets today, and a tweet from Blythe Musteric (@Blythe_Musteric) caught my eye. She had posted an blog entitled "Impact of negative comments on nonnative speakers in the workplace." The title is pretty self explanatory, but basically it says that impatient, negative coworkers can impair their non-native speaker colleagues' language ability by using negative language. The writer suggests that coworkers encourage their colleagues to improve, and uses a statement from Krashen as support.

Doubt and anxiety decrease a learner’s ability to process the language, creating a “mental block” for language learning. [Krashen, S. (1988), Second Language Acquisition and Second Language, Prentice Hall]

If we extrapolate from this, anything we as teachers do or say that increases the doubt and anxiety of our students should be avoided, and we are obliged to increase our learners' self confidence and secruity. We have the ethical obligation to create this kind of environment through the use of predictable outcomes, encouragement, and a curriculum that fosters language development.

Since I teach nurses, I wanted some more evidence from their field of expertise on the effects of positive beliefs. I found an article by Herbert Benson and Richard Friedman, from the Annual Review of Medicine, entitled," Harnessing the Power of the Placebo Effect and Renaming It 'Remembered Wellness.'" In it the writers suggests that the placebo effect gets positive results in 60-90% of cases which are enhanced by a.) positive beliefs and expectations by the patient, b.) positive beliefs and expectations by the health care professional, and c.) a good relationship between the parties.

This kind of research would be very useful in a language learning setting, where one class was left to their own beliefs about their learning and had no relationship with their teacher, and another class where all three of the factors were present, positive beliefs and expectation by the learner, by the teacher, and with good relationships between the two. My hypothesis is that the class with the positive beliefs and expectations and good relationships between teacher and student would perform better than the class with no such benefits.

I do not have data from such a study, but there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that it is the teachers ethical duty to remain positive him or herself, to help their students be positive about their outcomes, and to maintain good relationships.


Clarissa said...

Thanks for the link to the Ovient post--I like the language she suggested to try to get language learners' co-workers to use. It's great if you can try to help people adopt an attitude change and realize how impressive it is that their multilingual co-workers are operating in more than one language. (It's unfortunate that relatively few American businesspeople, at least, have had the experience of needing to communicate in another language, so they're pretty lacking in awareness and empathy on this point. I wish we encouraged more school and work exchanges.)

Alex Case said...

I saw that article too. It was very interesting, although not particularly evidence based. Obviously most of our students, especially for people like you and me in East Asia, need their confidence boosted and gain in fluency and motivation from that. The question for me, and hence a more interesting comparison for a study, would be a teacher who chose everything to boost confidence and another teacher who pushed the boundaries of their safe zone a little by correcting them, forcing them to use more ambitious language, getting them to replicate the stress of real communication etc with presentations and mock IELTS speaking tests. Then I'd like to see if the confidence built up by the first teacher withstood a couple of days abroad or quickly crumbled and meant that they needed testing more in the classroom. I have no idea what the results would be.

Daniel said...

I agree with you; the positive language she suggests is great. You mentioned how impressive it is that multilingual co-workers are operating in more than one language. In addition they are probably doing so because the company saw a need for those people's language skills which their monolingual co-workers so obviously lack, so who is the one who is more valuable to the company. Of course I have no idea, but I would like to think that it is the multilingual employee.

Daniel said...

A teacher who pushes boundaries and all the other things you mention can be doing that in a positive way. By working with students to make effective English presentations and taking IELTS tests and showing them how they improve over time, that would be a positive influence. I'm not talking baseless compliments.

On the other hand, the current state of English education in Japan, and as you suggest in East Asia, is hardly positive. I asked my son today if he would characterize his English classes at the high school he attends as positive. There is nothing positive or developmental about it. It is test based, with tests as phony as the day is long, and then they are judged as people by their grades.

It is the education system's ethical obligation to do what it promises, and it cannot do that with the negative approach it now employs.