individual difference/An account of the nature of anxiety: – custom papers

individual difference/An account of the nature of anxiety: Experts in the field believe that affective factors should be incorporated into any comprehensive second language learning theory since they influence both the rate and the degree of success of the process of learning (Hadley, 2001, p. 63) and explain the reason why some learners have more or less difficulties in leaning an L2 in comparison with others (Keblowska, 2012, p. 159). Among others, anxiety stands out as an important affective factor (Dörnyei, 2005; Skehan, 1989) which is powerful enough to decrease motivation (Elkhafaifi, 2005) or inhibit performance (Derakhshan & Eysenck, 2009). Anxiety can be intuitively defined as the feeling of worry or uneasiness; however, it has not been so easy for specialists to offer a comprehensive objective definition. As a result, many various definitions have been offered. For instance, Spielberger defined anxiety as “the subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry associated with an arousal of the autonomic nervous system”(1983, p.1). As the initial research was based on different definitions which did not discriminate between different kinds of (facilitative/debilitative and trait/state) anxiety, it yielded contradictory and perplexing results to establish a clearcut relationship between anxiety and L2 acquisition (Scovel, 1978, p.132). Horwitz et al. refer to the difference between the “true” self and the limited presented self in a foreign language situation as an important factor to discriminate between foreign language anxiety and other types of anxiety. Accordingly, they define foreign language anxiety as “a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process” (1986). MacIntyre and Gardner also define it as “the feeling of tension and apprehension specifically associated with second language contexts, including speaking, listening, and learning” (1994, p. 284). It is also noticeable that foreign language anxiety is “intricately intertwined with selfesteem, self-efficacy, inhibition, and risk taking” (Brown, 2007, p. 161). As a result, it is believed that any attempt to involve learners in foreign language activities might be considered as a threat to their self-esteem and sense of identity and may lead to anxiety (MacIntyre, 1999, p. 32). Brown refers to two types of trait and state anxieties which are permanent and temporary respectively, and classifies language anxiety as a situation-based state anxiety (2007, p. 161). Scovel adds “situation-specific anxiety” which results form a specific activity (1978). On the other hand, although there abounds considerable amount of research proving the negative effects of anxiety on the process of L2 learning, Alpert and Haber (1960) regarded a role for positive effect of facilitative anxiety in language classrooms as opposed to debilitative anxiety. It is believed that a specific amount of apprehension is a plus (Chastain, 1975, p.160) and prevents learners form being “wishy-washy” (Brown, 2007, p. 162) whereas too much anxiety results in negative effects. Several studies (e.g. Ehrman& Oxford, 1995) confirm the beneficiary effects of facilitative anxiety as well. Controversy arises among experts in the field to decide whether anxiety is the cause or the effect of poor performance in language acquisition. On one hand, research has shown anxiety to be the source of poor performance for all kinds of leaning, not just foreign language learning, and some studies show that anxiety disturbs essential functions of cognitive ability through occupying and overloading working memory which impedes the absorption, processing, and production of the target language (MacIntyre& Gardner, 1991a, 1991b). On the other hand, based on Linguistic Deficit Coding Hypothesis (LCDH) theory, other researchers have tried to regard anxiety as the product of the learners’ difficulties with language codes due to deficits of their first language (Kleinmann, 1977). Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope developed Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) with 33 items reflective of three sources of anxiety in foreign language classroom: communication, test and negative evaluation anxiety. Communication anxiety refers to the fear of interpersonal interaction in dyads, groups or public. It includes listening difficulties and all apprehension regarding understanding others and making others understood. Test anxiety refers to a fear of failure which stems from a desire to have a perfect test performance which even makes the most bright and prepared students vulnerable. Accordingly, oral tests provoke both communication and test anxieties at the same time. Finally, negative evaluation refers to the apprehension regarding probable negative judgment of teacher or peers – real or imagined. It has a larger scope in comparison to test anxiety including any social situations in general (1986, p. 128). At the end of the day, there is a consensus among scholars and practitioners that debilitative anxiety should be reduced to the minimum in order to enable learners to successfully function in the context of the L2 learning. The studies of anxiety have had implications for the language classrooms as we shall consider in the following part. Pedagogical implications: Few language teaching methodologies (e.g. suggestopedia and community language learning) and language learning theories (e.g. Krashen’s Monitor Hypothesis) have accounted for anxiety while others tend to ignore the significant role it plays in the success or failure of language learners. It is wrongly believed that learners’ cognitive development is much more important and individuals are able to deal with the interference of affective factors themselves (Keblowska, 2012, p. 158). However, MacIntyre and Gardner point to the extensive negative effect of anxiety in interfering with “every stage of learning, whether during input, processing, or performance” and its influence on the learners’ attention, concentration, strategy choice, process duration, memory retrieval and their willingness to use when encountering a new word (1994, pp. 286–287). Accordingly, Horwitz et al. refer to two options available to practitioners in dealing with learners’ anxiety: enabling learners to cope with anxious situations and/or lowering stress in classroom. They recommend that teachers should exploit various techniques such as “relaxation exercises, advice on effective language learning strategies, behavioral contracting and journal keeping” to relieve anxiety (1986, p. 131). Chen and Chang suggest that instructors identify the situations which provoke anxiety and create supportive leaning environments so that learners can devote their working memory and cognitive recourses on dealing with the learning tasks (2009, p. 730). Horwitz refers to the importance of briefing students on course goals to confront students’ erroneous beliefs (1988, p. 286). Onwuegbuzie, Bailey and Daley refer to the role of “encouragement, reassurance, positive reinforcement, and empathy” (1999, p. 232) and careful error correction in developing learners’ confidence and self-esteem. In order to decrease test anxiety, they particularly refer to the careful construction of examinations regarding content validity, exposure to similar tests and conducting different tests (oral, listening or writing) separately. Moreover, they refer to various techniques such as openly discussing anxiety, changing students’ erroneous beliefs regarding errors, motivating seniors to enroll in introductory classes, allocating less strict time limitation for older adults’ examinations. Evaluation of the learning activity: In order to evaluate how well a learning activity can address the anxiety implications on pedagogy, we will adopt Horwitz et al. anxiety scale (1986) and evaluate the following task step by step. The teacher has decided to divide the class into two groups of three and assign one part of a reading passage to each of the groups. The students are supposed to read the texts at home and be prepared to give a summary to the other group in the following session. Then they have to co-construct the whole text in written form within their groups and evaluate each other’s writing. Then they are asked to write about the activity in their learning journal at home. First of all, the fact that the students have enough time to read the texts at home will give them the opportunity to get prepared for the task. Preparedness is one of the important factors which greatly reduces communication anxiety (Horwitz et al., 1986, p.129; Kondo & Ying-Ling, 2004, p. 263). In addition, working in groups will reduce their negative evaluation anxiety since the students would not assign the failure to themselves: it is the group which fails, not an individual learner, so it is less self-threatening. Group work especially appeals to our diffident students (i.e. Moein & Maryam) who have more communication anxiety. At the beginning of the next session the teacher allocates five minutes for a review of what they have read. However, he extends the time to ten minutes due to the needs of one of the groups who is slower than the other. Providing a supportive environment and reducing time pressure will contribute to the students’ readiness and will in turn decrease communication anxiety. After the review part, each student finds a partner form the opposite group to exchange the summaries which involves both speaking and listening. Horwitz et al. (1986) assert that listening and speaking are the most anxiety-provoking tasks since it entails ongoing process of listening and comprehending at the same time (Goh, 2000; Kao, 2006; Tercanlioglu, 2005). However, since in this activity learners are assured to have enough time and opportunity to request for clarification in case they fail to understand, it will lessen their communication anxiety. Regarding speaking, in addition to being prepared, they are also sure if they fail to include something in their summary or to make themselves understandable, it wouldn’t affect the final success or failure of the task due to its cooperative nature. Afterwards, the teacher asks students to go back to their groups and coconstruct the whole text in written form. One student in each group should take on the responsibility of wiring whereas the others should tell him what to write. In this part, students with negative evaluation anxiety may refrain form participating, so in order to motivate individuals the teacher talks about the beneficiary effects of participation in order to develop speaking skills and the fact that they should not be worried about their peers’ evaluation. After that he pastes their writings on the board and asks them evaluate each others writing and decide who has written better and deserve a reward. Orienting students toward self-evaluation would reduce test anxiety in students along with fostering post-task motivation (Dörnyei, 2001). Besides, negative evaluation anxiety will be kept in minimum due to co-operative nature of the task. Finally, journal writing strategy contributes to the reduction of anxiety (Foss & Reitzel, 1988) as mentioned above (see 3.2). All in all, it is worth mentioning that competitiveness aroused between the groups can lead to facilitative anxiety which will motivate the students to do their best and in turn satisfy our competitive students (i.e. Nastaran, Sara and Ali) and enliven the atmosphere of the class while debilitative anxiety being kept in minimum. Since five out of six students in this class are preparing themselves for an IELTS test, this class is experiencing a high degree of anxiety, so adopting less anxiety-provoking tasks and techniques such as the one we just considered would positively influence their leaning performance.
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