Performance anxiety

      Comments Off on Performance anxiety
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Recently in a yoga class, I caught myself checking my posture in the mirror over and over again and comparing what I looked like (not too graceful, I’m afraid) to the other participants (much more graceful). I got really annoyed with myself for caring and for comparing since practising yoga should be about how my body feels, however, hard as I tried, I could not stop checking the mirror. I spent the whole class in internal struggle and I felt quite deflated when I left – which isn’t how I want to feel after exercise!

On the drive home I reflected on what had happened and realised that I was experiencing performance anxiety. Anxiety is one of the major obstacles to learning any new skill, we get too self-conscious and that prohibits us from practising and getting enough experience. That yoga class was certainly not the first time in my life when I had to deal with performance anxiety and yet it took me a second to realise what was going on. I remember trying to learn Cantonese soon after marrying my husband and suddenly being very shy when he told his family about it. They all expressed their excitement over my possibly being able to understand some of what they say by all talking to me in Cantonese at the same time. My husband then started prompting me to say certain things (easy things, but still!) in Cantonese and I felt my face flame up. All I could think about was finding a way to get out of that situation immediately and definitely not of the correct Cantonese words for those certain things!

While my experience with performance anxiety of speaking Cantonese might be an extreme example, I do often see my EAL students exhibit similar symptoms when they are (inadvertently) put on the spot in a lesson. Some of them get embarrassed and red in the face, some of them find it hard to say anything even if they know the answer, while some of them give the wrong answers even though they don’t mean to. Any and all of these things make them feel put on the spot even more and as a result, they often withdraw or shut down for the rest of the lesson which makes it all the harder for the teacher to reach them. (If you’d like to read more about foreign language anxiety, click here.)

So, how can you help your students? Here are a few tried and tested tips and the beauty is that they work with all students, not just with the ones with EAL.

  1. Create a safe and non-judgemental environment in your classroom. If making mistakes is seen as a valuable part of the learning process that is integral to the classroom culture, all of your students will be more willing to take risks.
  2. Give your students a heads up that you will be asking questions and that they will be expected to answer in front of the whole class. This goes hand in hadn with giving good instructions that help you manage your students’ expectations in the classroom. The simple fact that students know they might possibly have to speak in front of others can help them prepare. Do try not putting them on the spot. If possible, I try to let EAL learners know what questions will come up in the following lesson so that they can think about them outside of school when the pressure is off. It does take a bit of forward planning and little more pre, but it’s definitely worht it.
  3. Make sure that the student you expect to give an answer actually knows it. Monitoring during the earlier stages of the lesson will tell you wether your students have the answers. Ensure that you pick carefully so that the nominated students can actually perform under pressure. This is especially important with EAL students.
  4. Give enough time to prepare the answers. All students give better answers if they have longer prep time but this is even more true for EAL learners. Students whose first language isn’t English need not only process the subject material but also the target language. This creates a higher cognitive load and therefore requires a longer time. Silence can be scary at times, but allowing for more thinking time will do wonders to the length and quality of the answers you’ll receive.
  5. Use think-pair-share before you ask students to give answers in front of the whole class. Working in pairs or groups allows all learners to check their understanding in a safe environment and it also provides valuable language practice for EAL learners.

What strategies have worked for you to reduce or avoid performance anxiety?

Sign up to receive newsletters from me.