Many factors can affect foreign and second language learning one of those is low self-esteem. English language teachers can boost self-confidence in their classrooms with the right kind of praise.
Coopersmith defines self-esteem as “the evaluation an individual makes and customarily maintains with regard to the self” (in Perrin, 1994). Seemingly, self-esteem is a personal judgment of worthiness and those who have low self-esteem perceive themselves as being of little worth. He also states that the following three conditions are important in building a high level of self-esteem:
• a structured home-life
• respect for individual rights within that structure
• a positive attitude from the parents
Foreign Language Teachers – Significant Others
Although foreign language teachers cannot substitute as parents and the English language classroom can never replace the home environment, teachers are significant others in the eyes of their students and their attitudes and responses can directly affect their students’ judgement of self-worth.
Anxiety Blocks Learning
As “psychological intimidation creates a level of anxiety that blocks learning,” it is important that classrooms provide a safe learning environment where learners feel emotionally safe and secure enough to take risks and be certain they will not be the victim of ridicule or fear failure (Savage, 1991).
Reinforce Positive Behaviour
A primary component in creating a safe and productive psychological climate is the teacher’s attitude. Moreover, if teachers “project positive expectations” and reinforce positive behaviour through expressions of appreciation, then this may have a significant impact on fostering self-esteem. (Brophy, 1996)
The Right Kind of Praise
Brophy defines praise as, “Reactions that go beyond simple feedback about appropriateness or correctness of behaviour.” Therefore, a simple indication that a student has answered correctly would not be considered as praise. (in Stipek, 1998)
In the past, according to Brophy (1991), it has been found that teachers praise:
• to control rather than admire
• to indicate their expectations instead of reinforcement
• students they like spontaneously
• those they dislike but not spontaneously and not with warmth
• appearance not academic accomplishments
• boys for success and girls for neatness rather than substance
• wrong answers of low achievers
• without relating to good performance or even high effort
Check in your classrooms if any of these types of praises are still currently used.
• calls attention to students learning progress or skill master.
• expresses appreciation for efforts and accomplishments.
• attributes success to abilities not to luck or ease of assignment etc.
• specifies the particular accomplishment, effort, care or perseverance.
• calls attention to new skills
• is unambiguous
• is backed up non-verbally
• should be delivered spontaneously – a genuine reaction to student accomplishment
• should be simple and direct, varied, delivered naturally, not gushing or dramatising
• helps students attribute their efforts to their own intrinsic motivation rather than external manipulation. (Stipek, 1998)
Vocabulary / Dictionary Work
• You are finding words much more quickly now.
• Your sentences are longer and much more sophisticated.
Checking Homework / Writing Assignment
• That’s an interesting / original / clever / thoughtful answer.
• You wrote your answer without any spelling /grammar / punctuation mistakes.
• Your handwriting has really improved.
Raise Self-Esteem – Praise Your Students
Negative responses destroy self-esteem. Therefore, foreign language teachers should encourage effort and interest in a positive manner and thus indicate to their students that their efforts are being noticed.
If you are interested in finding out more about how to quickly and easily recognise and help struggling students, join other teachers and professionals and check out my free 26-page handbook.
Brophy, J. “On Praising Effectively.” The Elementary School Journal. (1981) 81 (5), 269-278.
Brophy, J. “Enhancing Students’ Socialization: Key Elements.” ERIC Digest ED395713, 1996.
Perrin, L.A. Personality Theory and Research, 6th Edition. John Wiley & Sons, 1993.
Savage, Motivation and Discipline “Learner Needs and Interests,” 1991.
Stipek, Deborah. Motivation to Learn: From Theory to Practice. Allyn & Bacon, 1998.
Copyright Lesley Lanir. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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