A few weeks ago, I created a screencast about how the online portfolio builder Seesaw can be used to help lessen student anxiety in a foreign language class. However, the screencast was pretty short and I wasn’t able to get into a lot of detail, so I’m going to continue that thought here today.
I did some research and found an excellent article in a journal called Foreign Language Annals. Coincidentally, that journal is actually edited by my methods professor at Eastern Michigan University, Anne Nerenz. I read more than a few articles from this journal while I was in her class, and some of the methods I use today in my classroom are because of the things I read in that journal.
Anyway, this article goes on to detail some of the reasons that students experience anxiety in a foreign language class, including perfectionism, lack of self-confidence especially in comparison to peers, fear of public speaking, apprehension about negative evaluation, and speaking activities (Frantzen & Sieloff Magnan, 2005). For this post, I’m going to address each reason individually and include an example of student work from Seesaw that shows how students can combat that particular stressor.
Many of my students want to complete or turn in work that is perfect. They struggle to get things just right and sometimes run out of time before completing a project, instead of trying their best to just complete it on time. Seesaw has this wonderful ability to encourage my students to do their best work, but at the same time not stress about things being perfect, because they always have a chance to edit their work or even upload another (maybe better) one later. Two of my 5th graders, both perfectionists, spent a whole day trying to make French macarons. They did not turn out the way they wanted them to, but because I encourage a growth mindset both in class and for what they submit on Seesaw, they weren’t afraid to share their failed baking project.
Lack of Self-Confidence Especially in Comparison to Peers
I’m always comparing myself to others when it comes to my work. I often feel a sort of ‘imposter syndrome’ when I see the great work that some of my peers are doing and I start to feel like my work is nowhere near as good. As it turns out, many of my students do this too, and that is a HUGE factor for anxiety that I’ve witnessed firsthand. Seesaw comes with the ability for students to like and comment on their classmates work. I allow this feature after having a discussion with the class where we agree to only comment positive, encouraging things on others’ work, and it has done wonderful things for our classroom environment.
Fear of Public Speaking
Fear of public speaking is probably one of the most common fears out there, at least based on my own anecdotal evidence. When it comes to my students, they are no exception. Having to present something to the class in a foreign language can be terrifying, so of course it can cause anxiety. However, Seesaw comes across almost like a social-media platform. That is something the kids are all familiar with, and because of that they seem to like showing off to each other in a way. It takes the fear factor out of speaking in front of the class, because when they are submitting their work, they are usually recording themselves alone in a safe space like their house.
Apprehension About Negative Evaluation
That whole part about students being able to like and comment on their classmates’ work? Well that works the same way for me as the teacher. As a rule, I ‘like’ every single thing that gets submitted. I will also post encouraging comments if I feel like it is a student that needs extra encouragement, or they really have done an amazing job. It gives them almost instantaneous feedback and lets them know that I’ve approved of their work, lessening anxiety about a possible poor grade.
Speaking activities were always the major cause of anxiety when I was a student. I was terrified of messing up in front of my partner and maybe even in front of my teacher and the class. However, because Seesaw is seen as an almost social media-like platform, the students absolutely do not mind being goofballs and making mistakes. I think that for them, it makes it seem less serious. Nevertheless, they are always submitting amazing work. Most of the time when they submit their speaking activities through Seesaw, they are right on target with their vocab and pronunciation, and they had fun while doing it.
Hopefully through this post, you have been able to experience how Seesaw can seriously lower students’ anxiety levels in your classroom. The work that my students turn in and their attitudes about learning a language have been absolutely incredible. Every time a student submits something I think ‘This is their best work!’, and every time, they surprise me when they submit even better stuff the next time.
Frantzen, D., & Sieloff Magnan, S. (2005). Anxiety and the True Beginner-False Beginner Dynamic in Beginning French and Spanish Classes. Foreign Language Annals, 38(2), 171-190.