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The Effects of Teacher Attitude on Language Learning

By Bonnie Billak

What you do or say may play a more important role in learning than what you teach, and can have far-reaching effects both on the students’ feelings toward learning English and the rate at which they learn.
Sometimes teachers do things that thwart (the English language learners’) progress without even realizing it. Consider the following examples to see if any sound familiar and, if so, read on to learn strategies for improving your teaching techniques.
1. Isolating the English language learner in a corner of the room to quietly work on a website for hours, or giving the student work that is several grades below his/her grade level (thinking you will keep the student occupied since he/she cannot do the work that the rest of the class is doing).
Positive strategy: Make the student feel like a part of the class by giving him/her the same work that the rest of the class is doing, but modify it. For example, ask the student to draw his thoughts and tell you about them.
2. Shouting at an ESL student to gain his attention when he seems to be drifting off or does not respond immediately.
Positive strategy: Seat the ESL student close to you, so that you can gently tap his arm or shoulder to get his attention.
3. Saying, even jokingly, demeaning and/or inappropriate things in front of ESL students, i.e. telling other teachers that the students cannot do anything or do not understand, or begging the ESL teacher to take the students out of the classroom for long ESL sessions, assuming that the English language learners do not understand what you are saying. English language learners are very sharp and can quickly sense your feelings and attitude from your body language, tone of voice, and facial expression—even where they may not understand a word of English. Since the language learner assumes that what you are saying is not good news, behavior problems may develop as a result of frustration with language learning in general and with trying to please you. It is very important to curb these habits, since the other students hear and understand what you are saying.
Positive strategy: To eliminate the behavior problems and to raise the students’ self-esteem, give them jobs to make them feel important and to show that they can do something. Relay the feeling that you believe they are capable of learning English and doing the work at hand. This can be done by letting them be your helpers during lessons, scaffolding the lessons to ensure success, etc.
4. Never calling on or including the English language learners in class discussions.
Positive strategy: Every student in the class should be included in class discussions, regardless of English proficiency. In addition to obvious means of communication such as drawing or sign language, the chart below provides other response options in a progression from easiest to more difficult:
a. Pointing/nodding
b. Yes/no
c. Choice between two answers
d. Fill in one word in a sentence that is given or said to them
e. Create a sentence following a model
Through your actions as the teacher, not only will you be aiding the English language learners, you will also be helping other students in the class to learn ways to communicate with the English language learners, thus building friendships and strengthening the feeling of a community of learners. This, in turn, will help to transform your classroom into a happier and more productive learning environment.
Ms. Billak is an ESL Specialist at International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile. She also does consulting work in the field of ESL teaching and program design/evaluation.

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05/10/2017 - Mpume
On point explanation with good examples. Thank you
01/23/2017 - sobi
its nice information , and very helpful for my assignment. thanks alot