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[Second Language Learning and Teaching] Positive Psychology Perspectives on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching )

Second Language Learning and Teaching
Danuta Gabryś-Barker
Dagmara Gałajda Editors
Positive Psychology
Perspectives on Foreign
Language Learning and
Second Language Learning and Teaching
Series editor
Mirosław Pawlak, Kalisz, Poland
About the Series
The series brings together volumes dealing with different aspects of learning and
teaching second and foreign languages. The titles included are both monographs
and edited collections focusing on a variety of topics ranging from the processes
underlying second language acquisition, through various aspects of language
learning in instructed and non-instructed settings, to different facets of the teaching
process, including syllabus choice, materials design, classroom practices and
evaluation. The publications reflect state-of-the-art developments in those areas,
they adopt a wide range of theoretical perspectives and follow diverse research
paradigms. The intended audience are all those who are interested in naturalistic
and classroom second language acquisition, including researchers, methodologists,
curriculum and materials designers, teachers and undergraduate and graduate
students undertaking empirical investigations of how second languages are learnt
and taught.
More information about this series at http://www.springer.com/series/10129
Danuta Gabryś-Barker Dagmara Gałajda
Positive Psychology
Perspectives on Foreign
Language Learning
and Teaching
Danuta Gabryś-Barker
Institute of English
University of Silesia
Dagmara Gałajda
Institute of English
University of Silesia
ISSN 2193-7648
ISSN 2193-7656 (electronic)
Second Language Learning and Teaching
ISBN 978-3-319-32953-6
ISBN 978-3-319-32954-3 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016936963
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
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for any errors or omissions that may have been made.
Printed on acid-free paper
This Springer imprint is published by Springer Nature
The registered company is Springer International Publishing AG Switzerland
The editors would like to express their sincere gratitude to the reviewers of this
volume, Professors Maria Wysocka and Jerzy Zybert.
Positive psychology, a fairly new branch of general psychology, is just over 20
years old. However, not much has been done in terms of its application in teaching
and learning second/foreign languages. Positive psychology, first the movement
and now a legitimate branch of psychology (to be distinguished from self-help and
pop psychology), derives from the humanistic approaches of, among others,
Abraham Maslow and Jeremy Bruner, and Gertrude Moskowitz in second/foreign
language learning and teaching. Its main aim is to “to understand, test, discover and
promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive” (Sheldon,
Frederikson, Rathunde, Csikszentmihalyi, & Haidt, 2000). In brief, positive psychology is interested in three main areas of study: the positive characteristics and
traits of people (here: teachers and learners), positive emotions and feelings, and the
role of contextual factors such as environment, and in particular, institutions (e.g.,
school) and their functions. Thus, positive psychology topics embrace the following
areas of study and their applications: “flourishing, happiness & eudemonia, hope,
gratitude, interest, joy, wellbeing, resiliency, hardiness, and the signature strengths
of learners” (MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Mercer, 2015, in press). So, in the case of
positive psychology in SLA research, topics of research focus on positivity as
expressed by affectivity in the processes involved, motivational and attitudinal
factors, the strengths of teachers and learners as facilitative aspects of
teaching/learning processes, as well as educational institutions and their functions
enabling success, well-being, and development of both teachers and learners.
This collection of papers elaborates more thoroughly on the nature of positive
psychology in various educational contexts. More precisely, it presents a multidimensional treatment of the issues concerned with foreign language learning and
teaching, regarded from the perspective of positive psychology. The volume consists
not only of chapters which are theoretical and others which present empirical studies
but also ones which offer practical advice in the context of teaching and learning
foreign languages, which draw upon what positive psychology has on offer to both
teachers and learners. Each of the chapters demonstrates that positive psychology
can bring not only success in terms of academic achievement but also in terms of the
well-being of teachers and learners as professionals and human beings.
The collection is structured around four main themes. The first part of the
volume offers the readers an introduction to positive psychology principles in the
context of second language acquisition by pioneers of research and its application in
second/foreign language instruction contexts, Rebecca Oxford and Peter MacIntyre.
It also presents a historical overview and a critical assessment of understanding of
positive psychology concepts and possible misinterpretations of its principles in
educational settings, which are discussed by Hanna Komorowska. In the second
and the most extensive part of the book, the focus of the presented chapters is on the
foreign language learner and the ways in which positive interventions based on
positive psychology strategies can facilitate both language success and well-being
(among others, Tammy Gregersen’s and Liliana Piasecka’s texts). This part of the
book also elaborates on how positive emotions can foster achievements in a learner
(among others, Ewa Guz and Małgorzata Tetiurka, Katarzyna Ożańska-Ponikwia’s
texts). Emphasis is also placed here on enabling institutions, and their role in
developing a learning environment that promotes success and well-being (Danuta
Gabryś-Barker’s chapter). In the third part of the book, the studies presented look at
FL teachers as professionals and human beings, trying to demonstrate how positive
psychology and positive affectivity can contribute not only to the development
of their instructional competence but also to their happiness and satisfaction as
teachers hoping to thrive as individuals (for example Sarah Mercer et al.’s study) In
the final part of this volume the readers’ attention is turned to one of the most
significant and difficult-to-manage areas of the FL teaching process, that is,
assessment of learner achievement. It is interesting to see how strategies of positive
psychology can make this process less painful and perhaps even to some extent,
enjoyable. Among others, Monika Kusiak-Pisowacka, Jan Zalewski, and Ewa
Piechurska-Kuciel focus on these issues.
As editors of this collection, we hope on the one hand that it will provide readers
with indispensable knowledge about positive psychology which will make them able
to distinguish it from what is generally called self-help literature and, what is more,
to see it as a discipline in its own right, with its own distinctive methodology and
pedagogical applications. On the other hand, we believe that it will open new doors
to innovative and creative methods and strategies in teaching foreign languages (and
not only foreign languages), as has been demonstrated in the presented studies.
We also hope that this collection of papers by distinguished and perhaps less
well-known scholars, all of whom believe in the impact of positive psychology on
language success and in other educational contexts, will make us all more aware
of the importance of paying attention to both the professional and the personal
well-being of teachers and learners, the well-being of all of us involved in the
process of educating others and therefore also educating ourselves.
It has been a real journey of discovery and thus an extremely enjoyable task to
read and collate all the texts that make up this book.
Danuta Gabryś-Barker
Dagmara Gałajda
MacIntyre, P., Gregersen, T., & Mercer, S. (2015). Positive psychology in applied psycholinguistics. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters (forthcoming).
Sheldon, K., Frederikson, B., Rathunde, K., Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Haidt, J. (2000). Positive
psychology manifesto. Manifest presented at the Akumal 1 meeting (1999) and revised at the
Akumal 2 meeting (2000).
Part I
Introducing Positive Psychology in Second Language
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive Psychology
and Its Contributions to SLA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Peter D. MacIntyre
Powerfully Positive: Searching for a Model of Language
Learner Well-Being . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Rebecca L. Oxford
Difficulty and Coping Strategies in Language Education:
Is Positive Psychology Misrepresented in SLA/FLT? . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hanna Komorowska
Part II
Focus on a Learner: Positive Interventions
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus on Well-Being
in the Language Classroom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tammy Gregersen
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters
in a Foreign Language—A Case Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Liliana Piasecka
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology: Positive Emotions
and Human Strengths in Vocabulary Strategy Training . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sylwia Kossakowska-Pisarek
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility Among First-Year,
L2 University Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Andrea Dallas and Mary Hatakka
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement: Insights
from an Early FL Classroom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Ewa Guz and Małgorzata Tetiurka
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class: On a Positive
Classroom Climate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
Danuta Gabryś-Barker
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 Use in an Immigrant
and Non-immigrant Context . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175
Katarzyna Ożańska-Ponikwia
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy?
Student Data from the Positive Education Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193
Beata Malczewska-Webb
Part III
Focus on a Teacher: Personal and Professional
Helping Language Teachers to Thrive: Using Positive Psychology
to Promote Teachers’ Professional Well-Being . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Sarah Mercer, Pia Oberdorfer and Mehvish Saleem
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors Contributing
to Foreign Language Teacher Stress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231
Anna Ligia Wieczorek
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact
Teacher Professional Development. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
Elena Gallo
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language
Teachers and the Teaching-Learning Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 267
Teresa Maria Włosowicz
Part IV
Focus on Assessment: Achievement and Success
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive Psychology
in Foreign Language Testing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 289
Monika Kusiak-Pisowacka
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology
in a University Course of Intercultural Communication . . . . . . . . . . . . 307
Agnieszka Strzałka
Helping Low Achievers to Succeed in Tertiary Education: Explicit
Teaching of Academic Literacy as a Way to Positive Educational
Experiences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323
Jan Zalewski
Self-regulatory Efficacy and Foreign Language Attainment . . . . . . . . . . 337
Ewa Piechurska-Kuciel
Translation Competitions in Educational Contexts:
A Positive Psychology Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 353
Piotr Szymczak
Editors and Contributors
About the Editors
Danuta Gabryś-Barker is Professor of English at the University of Silesia,
Katowice, Poland. Her main areas of interest are multilingualism and applied
psycholinguistics. As a teacher trainer she lectures on research methods in
second/multiple language acquisition and TEFL projects. She has published
numerous articles nationally as well as internationally and the books Aspects of
multilingual storage, processing and retrieval (2005) and Reflectivity in pre-service
teacher education (2012). She has edited 11 volumes, among others for
Multilingual Matters, Springer and the University of Silesia Press. She is the
editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Multilingualism (Taylor &
Francis/Routledge) and the editor-in-chief of the journal Theory and Practice of
Second Language Acquisition (University of Silesia Press).
Dagmara Gałajda received her Ph.D. degree in Linguistics from the University of
Silesia, where she works as Assistant Professor. Apart from communication studies,
her research interests focus on teacher’s action zone in facilitating group dynamics,
affect in language learning, individual learner differences in SLA/FLL, and
reflective teaching. Recent publications include Anxiety and perceived communication competence as predictors of willingness to communicate in ESL/FL classroom in D. Gabryś-Barker, J. Bielska (eds) (2013) The affective dimension in
second language acquisition. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, Communication
apprehension and self-perceived communication competence as variables underlying willingness to communicate in K. Piątkowska, E. Kościałkowska-Okońska
(eds) (2013) Correspondences and contrasts in foreign language pedagogy and
translation studies. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Editors and Contributors
Andrea Dallas completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of
Florida and her M.Ed. in International Teaching from Framingham State College.
She has taught linguistics, academic English, and English for specific purposes at
the post-secondary level both in the United States and abroad. Her pedagogical
approach is informed by individual differences, task-based language teaching and
cognitive principles of language learning. Her current research interests include L2
reading and writing and positive psychology applications in the context of the L2
classroom and student advising.
Elena Gallo is Coordinator of Italian courses at the Language Center of the LMU
University of Munich, Germany, where she has also coordinated a professional
development project for university language teachers. She holds a Master degree
(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA) and earned her Ph.D. at the
LMU Munich. She has been teaching Italian as a Second and Foreign Language
since 1991, has teacher training experience and has published for ILSA (Italian
Association of Teachers of Italian as Second Language) and for IATEFL (Learner
Autonomy SIG). Her research interests include teacher professional development,
learner autonomy, classroom research, and CLIL.
Tammy Gregersen, Ph.D. in Linguistics from Valparaiso, Chile, began her
teaching and researching career in a university in the Atacama Desert in the North
of Chile and is now a professor of TESOL and teacher educator at the University of
Northern Iowa (USA). She is the author, with Peter MacIntyre, of Capitalizing on
language learner individuality (Multilingual Matters) and is currently working on
another book with him on nonverbal communication in the language classroom.
She has published extensively on individual differences, teacher education, language teaching methodology, and nonverbal communication in language classrooms. Tammy is passionate about traveling and has presented at conferences and
graduate programs across the globe.
Ewa Guz holds a doctoral degree in linguistics from John Paul II Catholic
University of Lublin, where she is currently employed as Assistant Professor at the
Department of Applied Linguistics. She also works as a teacher trainer in the
University College of Language Teacher Education in Warsaw. Her research
interests include L2 speech production and processing, formulaic language in
(non)native speech, measures of L2 proficiency/performance, academic literacy at
the tertiary level, and learner engagement in early foreign language instruction.
Mary Hatakka has an M.A. from the University of Helsinki, Finland and an Ed.D.
from the University of Exeter, UK. She has taught academic literacy skills and
English as a foreign language mainly to engineering students both in Europe and in
the Middle East for the past 25 years. Her current research interests include
assisting students in developing their academic literacy skills and engineering habits
of mind.
Editors and Contributors
Hanna Komorowska is Full Professor of Applied Linguistics and Language
Teaching at the University of Humanities and Social Sciences in Warsaw. After the
fall of communism she was heading the Expert Committee for foreign language
teaching and teacher education reform in Poland. Former Vice-President of Warsaw
University, the Polish delegate for the Modern Languages Project Group of the
Council of Europe, and member of the EU High Level Group on Multilingualism in
Brussels, she is now a consultant to the European Centre for Modern Languages in
Graz and co-author of the European Portfolio for Student Teachers of Languages.
She publishes widely in the field of FLT methodology and teacher education.
Sylwia Kossakowska-Pisarek, Ph.D. works at the Centre for Foreign Language
Teaching, the University of Warsaw and the University of Social Sciences,
Warsaw. She is an experienced teacher and a teacher trainer. Her interests include
developing autonomy and intercultural competence, positive psychology,
self-concept, self-regulation, e-learning, and ESP.
Monika Kusiak-Pisowacka is Professor of English in the Institute of English
Studies at the Jagiellonian University of Cracow, Poland. She is the Head of the
Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching Section. She teaches courses
in TEFL methodology and psycholinguistics. Her research interests include reading
in a foreign language and the role of a first language in foreign language learning,
which is the focus of her recent publication Reading comprehension in Polish and
English: Evidence from an introspective study. She has also co-authored three
course-books for Polish EFL learners and has written two handbooks for foreign
language teacher trainees.
Peter D. MacIntyre (Ph.D., 1992 University of Western Ontario) is Professor of
Psychology at Cape Breton University. His research examines emotion, motivation,
and cognition across a variety of types of behavior, including interpersonal communication, public speaking, and learning. The majority of Peter’s research examines the psychology of communication, with a particular emphasis on second
language acquisition and communication. He is co-author of Capitalizing on language learners’ individuality with Tammy Gregersen and co-editor of Motivational
dynamics in language learning with Zoltan Dörnyei and Alastair Henry, along with
Positive psychology in SLA with Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer.
Beata Malczewska-Webb coordinates language teacher education (TESOL) programs at Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia. Her professional interests include
internationalization of education in Australia and globally, intercultural teaching
and learning and technology-enhanced learning. Her recent research aims to
improve an understanding of linguistically and culturally diverse student cohorts in
order to improve their educational experience. Beata’s most recent professional
passion focuses on extending access to students who wish to improve their qualifications but who cannot study on campus. This has inspired her to develop learning
and teaching e-environments, which combine the subject content expertise,
appropriate pedagogies, instructional design, and technology.
Editors and Contributors
Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of
Graz, Austria. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience, focusing in particular on issues
of self and identity. She is the author, co-author and co-editor of several books in
this area including Towards an understanding of language learner self-concept,
Psychology for language learning, multiple perspectives on the self in SLA and
Exploring psychology for language teachers.
Pia Oberdorfer has taught English and biology as well as biology through English
for the past 10 years. She is also working on her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics at the
University of Graz in which she focuses on CLIL-teachers’ and the self. Her
research interests include various aspects of language learning and teaching, in
particular, self-concept and identity.
Rebecca L. Oxford her Lifetime Achievement Award states that “research on
learning strategies has changed the way the world teaches languages.” She is
Distinguished Scholar-Teacher and Professor Emerita, University of Maryland,
where she served as an administrator and award-winning teacher. She currently
teaches at the University of Alabama. She has presented her research in more than
40 countries, published 12 books, co-edited three book series and eight special
issues, and authored approximately 250 articles and chapters. Topics included
learning strategies, second language and culture, transformative education, positive
psychology, and peace, which are united in many ways.
Katarzyna Ożańska-Ponikwia is Assistant Professor at the University of
Bielsko-Biala. She obtained her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck College,
University of London. Her main research interests include bilingualism, second
language acquisition, perception, and expression of emotions in the L1 and L2 as
well as personality and EI traits. She has delivered papers at 15 international
conferences and has published in international journals in the fields of bilingualism
and second language acquisition. She is also an author of a book Emotions form a
bilingual point of view: Personality and Emotional Intelligence in relation to
perception and expression of emotions in the L1 and L2 (2013).
Liliana Piasecka is Professor of English at the Institute of English, Opole
University (Poland), where she works as an applied linguist, researcher, and teacher
trainer. She teaches SLA and ELT courses, and supervises M.A. and Ph.D. theses.
Her research interests include second/foreign language acquisition issues, especially
L2 lexical development, relations between L1 and L2 reading, gender and identity.
She has published three books, numerous articles, and co-edited three collections of
Ewa Piechurska-Kuciel Professor of Applied Linguistics at the Institute of
English, Opole University (Poland), where she teaches EFL methodology and SLA
courses. She specializes in the role of affect in the foreign language learning process
(anxiety, motivation, willingness to communicate in L2). Her interests also include
special educational needs (developmental dyslexia, autism, and AD/HD). She has
Editors and Contributors
published two books (The importance of being aware: Advantages of explicit
grammar study and Language anxiety in secondary grammar school students),
papers in Poland and abroad. She has also co-edited several volumes.
Mehvish Saleem is currently doing Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics at the University
of Graz. She previously was a Lecturer of English as a Second Language in
Pakistan. Her research interests span various aspects of ELT, in particular teaching
English in ‘difficult circumstances’, and psychology of language teaching. Her
research project focuses on the complex dynamics of language teachers’
Agnieszka Strzałka is Assistant Professor at the Modern Languages Department
of the Pedagogical University in Krakow since 2004. She lectures on methodology
of teaching foreign languages and intercultural communication and supervises MA
theses in TEFL. Her main research areas include the intercultural approach, intercultural communication, speech acts theory, autonomy and affect in language
learning, as well as English as a lingua franca.
Piotr Szymczak is Associate Professor at the Institute of English Studies,
University of Warsaw. A graduate of University of Warsaw (1999) and Oxford
University (2000), he has since translated more than a dozen books into Polish and
English, including positive psychology titles such as Martin P. Seligman’s Flourish
and Dan Goleman’s Focus. His Polish translation of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking:
Fast and slow won the Economicus Prize for Best Polish Translation (Non-Fiction)
in 2013. In 2014 Piotr was voted an Inspiration for Tomorrow for “inspiring his
students at the Institute of English Studies to become the best versions
of themselves.”
Małgorzata Tetiurka is Assistant Lecturer at John Paul II Catholic University of
Lublin, where she currently teaches the course Teaching English to Young Learners
at the Department of ELT Typhlomethodology and Alternative Communication.
Her research focus concerns foreign language acquisition and learning for children
in all age groups. She is interested in language learning processes in both formal
and informal contexts, learner engagement, and in developing language learning
materials for children. She is currently working on her doctoral thesis on the role
and use of L1 in a foreign language classroom. She is also an in-service teacher
trainer, materials writer, and Cambridge ESOL Oral Examiner.
Anna Ligia Wieczorek holds a Ph.D. degree in Linguistics from the University of
Silesia. She is a researcher whose main interest lies in the use of qualitative research
methods. She currently works at the Institute of English, University of Silesia,
Poland. Her main research interests revolve around affective variables and their role
in the development of a foreign language teacher and educator; academic writing
skills and soft skills; and their impact on an international career of a scholar. She is
also interested in Business English.
Editors and Contributors
Teresa Maria Włosowicz obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Silesia in
Katowice and the University of Strasbourg in 2009. She is now working on her
postdoctoral thesis entitled The interface between grammar and the mental lexicon
in multilingualism. Her research interests include psycholinguistics, language
acquisition, multilingualism, contrastive linguistics, translation studies and applied
linguistics in general. She currently teaches at the Social Academy of Sciences in
Jan Zalewski is Professor of English at the University of Opole, Poland. He has
published many articles (including in TESOL Quarterly) and authored two books
(Enhancing linguistic input in answer to the problem of incomplete second language acquisition, and Epistemology of the composing process). He is co-editor
of the electronic journal Explorations: A Journal of Language and Literature
(www.explorations.uni.opole.pl). His current research interests focus on the
acquisition of academic literacy in English as a foreign language.
Part I
Introducing Positive Psychology in Second
Language Acquisition
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive
Psychology and Its Contributions to SLA
Peter D. MacIntyre
Abstract Positive psychology has the potential to become a prominent research
area in SLA. The field is focused on positive emotion, positive character traits, and
institutions that enable individuals to flourish, all of which are major concerns in
language learning. The present chapter identifies key trends, such as the move
toward studying positive emotions, flow, and learner strengths in SLA, as well as
novel conceptual framework called EMPATHICS developed by Rebecca Oxford.
The paper also addresses some of the fair and unfair criticism of positive psychology based on the tendency to separate positive and negative emotion, a failure
to study individuals in sufficient depth, measurement issues, and an over-reliance on
cross-sectional research designs. Two issues in particular, the health benefits of
positive emotion and the critique of the 3:1 positivity ratio, are considered in some
detail. In several notable respects, the development of positive psychology within
SLA already is addressing these issues creatively and proposing solutions. The
paper concludes that research into positive psychology in SLA is off to a good start,
and is in some ways already ahead of positive psychology more generally.
Keywords Second language acquisition
of positive psychology
! Emotion ! Flow ! Strengths ! Criticism
1 Introduction
One might say that the arrival of Positive Psychology (PosPsy) in the field of
Second Language Acquisition (SLA) is overdue. The topics of PosPsy fit like a
glove within the zeitgeist of modern language pedagogy with its dual emphasis on
successful communication among people along with the development of the language learner as a person. The emphasis in PosPsy is on the empirical study of the
P.D. MacIntyre (&)
Department of Psychology, Cape Breton University,
PO Box 5300, Sydney B1P 6L2, Nova Scotia, Canada
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_1
P.D. MacIntyre
good things in life and the techniques that can be shown to promote living well
(Peterson, 2006). The goal of the first part of this paper is to provide an overview of
PosPsy with an eye toward applications within SLA that already are happening,
along with future possibilities. The second section of this paper considers some of
the criticism of PosPsy and what SLA might draw from the critiques.
2 A Brief History of PosPsy
PosPsy can be said to have a short history and a long past (Peterson, 2006). The
narrative of modern PosPsy most often originates in 1998 when Martin Seligman
was elected president of the American Psychological Association. His focus during
his year as president was on “prevention” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000,
p. 7) and the ideas that formed the pillars of PosPsy began to take shape. The
millennial issue of American Psychologist featured 16 papers that served to introduce PosPsy as a subfield. In their seminal article, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi
(2000) outline the core issue:
(…) psychologists know very little about how normal people flourish (...). Psychology has,
since World War II, become a science largely about healing. It concentrates on repairing
damage within a disease model of human functioning. This almost exclusive attention to
pathology neglects the fulfilled individual and the thriving community. The aim of positive
psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation
only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities (p. 5).
Defined in this way, PosPsy represents a form of “rebirth” for humanistic psychology (Funder, 2010). Indeed, the term Positive Psychology was first used by the
eminent humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow (1954) noted, as
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi did later, that psychology has “(…) voluntarily
restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, the darker, meaner half”
(p. 354). Maslow’s career-defining concern was with the positive qualities that
make humans successful, fulfilled, and self-actualized. However, the humanistic
tradition in psychology, compared to other subfields, tended to discount empirical
research as a way of building knowledge about positive human qualities (Funder,
2010). Perhaps for this reason more than any other, the humanistic tradition did not
build a cumulative knowledge base on which to support itself. The founders of
PosPsy have emphasized that scientific grounding is required to advance knowledge. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) concluded their seminal article with a
prediction for the future:
We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a
scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families,
and communities (…) psychologists will learn how to build the qualities that help individuals and communities, not just to endure and survive, but also to flourish (p. 13).
Perhaps the most straightforward definition of positive psychology was offered
by the late Peterson (2006) who said that positive psychology is “The scientific
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive Psychology …
use this as definition!!!!
study of what goes right in life”. This definition succinctly captures two of the main
elements of positive psychology, the study of what goes right or the good things in
life and a reliance on a scientific perspective.
Psychology is not just a branch of medicine concerned with the illness or health; it is much
larger. Is about work, education, insight, love, growth, and play. And in this quest for what
is best, positive psychology does not rely on wishful thinking, faith, self-deception, fads, or
hand-waving; it tries to adapt what is best in the scientific method to the unique problems
that human behavior presents to those who wish to understand it in all its complexity
(Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 7).
The proponents of positive psychology emphasized that scientific methods are
required in this field, a stance that helps to define the procedures of positive psychology differently from its humanistic cousins (Waterman, 2013).
The emphasis on the scientific method has been softened somewhat in recent
years as the diversity of rigorous research methods appropriate to study PosPsy has
been expanded. The value placed on diverse research methods and the expanded
range of possible research questions they bring might be one area where SLA
actually is ahead of mainstream PosPsy (MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Mercer, 2016).
3 SLA and the Subject Matter of PosPsy
According to Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000), PosPsy was founded on three
pillars: (1) positive experiences (including emotions), (2) positive character traits,
and (3) positive institutions. Positive institutions have been the least well studied of
the three pillars, with research in psychology focusing on issues such as positive
emotions and character strengths. The second edition of the Oxford Handbook of
Positive Psychology (Snyder & Lopez, 2009) includes an impressive 65 chapters
within its more than 700 pages. Using the contents of the book as an index of the
range of topics with which the field has engaged shows the breadth and depth of
material available in the area (see Table 1). Many of these topics were being studied
prior to the naming of the field, but PosPsy is serving as an umbrella under which to
collect a wide variety of topics. In addition, the notion that deliberate and effective
interventions can be made to increase wellbeing for both individuals and communities is a central tenet in PosPsy and is a defining feature of education itself,
with language at the very center of the process. For this reason, and many others,
there are connections between PosPsy and SLA that are well worth exploring.
Over the past 15 years or so, there have been a number of significant contributions made within positive psychology. There are four key contributions of
positive psychology that can be highlighted here to show both the development of
knowledge surrounding key PosPsy concepts and applications to SLA. By adopting
a PosPsy perspective, SLA is able to move in several interesting research directions.
We will consider four of these emerging directions below.
P.D. MacIntyre
Table 1 A partial list of topics in positive psychology (based on Snyder & Lopez, 2009)
1. Attachment security
4. Compassion
7. Emotional creativity
10. Forgiveness
13. Hope
16. Love
19. Optimism
22. Positive emotions
25. Reality negotiation
28. Self-determination
31. Self-verification
34. Sustainable happiness
2. Benefit-finding
5. Courage
8. Emotional intelligence
11. Gratitude
14. Humility
17. Meaning in life
20. Optimistic explanatory style
23. Positive ethics
26. Relationship connections
29. Self-efficacy
32. Social support
35. Toughness
3. Character strengths
6. Curiosity and interest
9. Flow
12. Happiness
15. Life longings
18. Mindfulness
21. Personal control
24. Positive growth
27. Resilience
30. Self-esteem
33. Subjective well-being
36. Wisdom
From Negative to Positive Emotion
Arguably the most significant contribution yet from PosPsy has been Fredrickson’s
(2001, 2013) theory differentiating positive and negative emotions. Although all
emotions serve to help persons adapt to their surroundings, Fredrickson (2003)
made the valuable point that there is a qualitative, functional difference between
positive and negative emotion. On the one hand, the role of negative emotion is to
focus behavior and produce a specific thought-action tendency. For example, anger
arises when one’s pursuit of goals is threatened and is accompanied by a focused
urge to destroy the obstacle (Reeve, 2015). Another negative emotion, anxiety, is
associated with fear which tends to produce avoidance behavior, as when anxious
students avoid using the target language. On the other hand, the function of positive
emotions is fundamentally different from negative emotion. The role of positive
emotions is to broaden and build, according to Frederickson (2001). Broaden means
that when we are experiencing positive emotions we tend to have a broader field of
vision; we tend to take in more information and we tend to notice things that we had
not noticed before. Building means that the function of positive emotions is to
assemble various types of resources for the future, resources that help individuals
deal with negative events and/or negative emotions down the road. One of the
consequences of positive emotions is to undo the lingering effects of negative
emotional arousal.
Already the field of SLA has taken up the key distinction between positive and
negative emotion. MacIntyre and Gregersen (2012) highlighted the role of positive
emotions that accompany the imagination of future selves, as in Dörnyei’s (2005)
influential L2 self-system theory. Two types of emotion can be identified, the first
type, anticipated future emotions, reflect what a person expects to feel in the future
(e.g., expecting pride and satisfaction during a graduation ceremony). The second
type, anticipatory emotions, reflects the emotions actually felt as one is imagining
the future event (e.g., feeling excitement now at the prospect of graduating in the
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive Psychology …
future). Both types of emotion contribute to energizing motivation, providing the
positive energizing “kick” that is missing from the L2 self-system (Dörnyei, 2005).
Dewaele and MacIntyre (2014) also examined the connections between positive
and negative emotion when studying enjoyment and anxiety in an internet-based
survey of language learners. They found only a modest correlation between anxiety
and enjoyment and reported evidence that suggests they are not opposing ends of a
seesaw, but rather two separate dimensions of experience with different types of
effects on learning. These studies and others that are on the horizon suggest that
emotion may become a significant topic in SLA; future studies will benefit greatly
from the theoretical and empirical distinctions between positive and negative
From Deficiencies to Strengths
The second major contribution of positive psychology that can be identified as
applicable to SLA is the model of character strengths, including the VIA inventory
of character strengths and Seligman’s more specific concept of “signature
strengths”. In mainstream psychology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the
DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association is the major classification scheme for the field of mental illness used by psychologists, psychiatrists,
and other mental health professionals worldwide. If PosPsy has anything similar it
might be the VIA Inventory of Strengths. According to its website, to date the
online VIA inventory has been completed by over 2.6 million people in 190
countries making it a highly successful web-based research project (VIA Institute,
2015). If the DSM captures what goes wrong, the VIA inventory captures what
goes right in personal development. The list of strengths in the VIA inventory can
be categorized in a set of 6 broad virtues and 24 underlying character strengths that
are widely applicable across cultures and ages. The classification scheme is summarized in Table 2.
Table 2 A summary of the
VIA classification of virtues
and strengths
Love of learning
• Love
• Kindness
• Social intelligence
• Fairness
• Leadership
• Teamwork
• Appreciation of
beauty and excellence
• Gratitude
• Humour
• Spirituality
• Hope
Adapted from Park, Peterson, and Seligman (2004)
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Research is beginning to undertake an examination of strengths applicable to
SLA. In a recent paper, MacIntyre, Gregersen, and Abel (2015) consider what it
means to take a strengths-based approach to dealing with anxiety in language
learning. Language anxiety has been the most widely studied emotion in SLA, with
a long list of sources and consequences that can seriously disrupt both learning and
communication (Gkonou, Daubney, & Dewaele, in press). Language anxiety is a
significant concern for teachers, learners, and educational leaders because it affects
the quality of teaching, learning, and assessment. Traditionally, the approach to
language anxiety has been to focus on ameliorating its symptoms, including
reducing negative arousal, reducing distracting thoughts, countering exaggerated
negative beliefs, and so on (Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986). MacIntyre et al.
(2015) contemplate what a strengths-based approach might look like, using the
virtue of courage as a focal point. Interventions developed based on a model of
strengths rather than dealing with learners’ weaknesses generates a very different
approach to education. “A strength-based approach to enhancing courage leaves
anxiety to one side and encourages learners to acknowledge anxiety but take action
in spite of it. In a metaphorical sense, courage provides a shield against waves of
anxiety”. The authors propose four specific activities that are designed to facilitate
the development of learner courage: putting on a brave face, drawing on community
to persevere, imagining integrity, and zestful zeal. MacIntyre et al. recommend that
these specific exercises be tested empirically, as would be required by the founding
tenets of PosPsy.
The third key contribution of PosPsy is Seligman’s (2011) PERMA model.
PERMA stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning in life,
and Accomplishment. In a sense PERMA is the new “happy”. Initially, as positive
psychology discussed happiness, the concept was so multifaceted, and generated so
many different types of definitions, that the word happiness itself became quite
difficult to deal with. Lazarus (2003b) noted that “(…) there is no muddier concept
in the history of at least 2000 years of philosophy and psychology than the nature
of happiness” (p. 177). PERMA on the other hand is a multidimensional concept
with greater definitional precision.
Although PERMA has been around a relatively brief time, it already has been
applied to SLA. Helgesen (2016) has developed ELT classroom interventions that
are directly tied to PERMA, such as expressing gratitude, giving complements, and
savouring the good things that happen. All of these activities also may serve the
goals of language instruction at various levels and with various types of students.
Oxford and Cuellar (2014) used PERMA to understand the personal narratives of
adult learners of Chinese in Mexico, producing a rich account of the learners’
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive Psychology …
In an extraordinary chapter that makes a significant contribution to advancing
PosPsy in SLA, Oxford (2016) reviewed the literature on relevant concepts in the
area and she has expanded on PERMA in significant ways. The resulting theoretical
model has been named EMPATHICS, and is composed of nine dimensions:
E: emotion and empathy.
M: meaning and motivation.
P: perseverance, including resilience, hope, and optimism.
A: agency and autonomy.
T: time.
H: hardiness and habits of mind.
I: intelligences.
C: character strengths.
S: self factors (self-efficacy, self-concept, self-esteem, and self-verification).
The elements of the EMPATHICS vision, as Oxford calls it, are not intended to
be taken as a taxonomy or hierarchy. Rather, Oxford proposes that the concepts and
their relationships are “nonlinear, organic, and holistic and point to the probability
of higher-level aggregations or constellations that deserve theorizing and research”.
She advocates the use of dynamic systems thinking to conceptualize the ways in
which the processes described by EMPATHICS operate in context. Indeed, Oxford
notes that PosPsy itself would profit from greater attention to the roles of context
and culture in the psychology of the learner, criticism that has been offered by other
authors as well (including Lazarus, 2003a).
On describing the theoretical and pedagogical vistas that are opened by this new
theoretical orientation, Oxford (2016) notes:
Many of the EMPATHICS themes, such as meaning, empathy, hope, optimism, time (in the
sense of time perspective), hardiness, habits of mind, character strengths, and
self-verification, have not been addressed in our field. Certain other themes, such as resilience and intelligences, have rarely been discussed in relation to language learning. Even
the familiar aspects, such as emotions, motivation, agency, autonomy, time (in the sense of
possible selves), and three of the self factors, could benefit from further attention based on
positive psychology (p. 11).
Space does not permit a full explanation of EMPATHICS and its rich conceptual
offerings, so readers are encouraged to review Oxford’s original contribution.
Moving into Flow
The fourth key contribution that will be highlighted here predates the naming of
PosPsy but should be seen as one of its founding concepts. Csikszentmihalyi’s
(1990) flow theory describes a state of positive well-being that ideally balances the
degree of challenge with the skill of a person. Flow occurs when people are
working at the edge of their abilities, whether it is when creating music, engaged in
athletic competition, or even making scientific discoveries. Flow is a sweet spot
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where challenges and abilities come together harmoniously, creating a sense that
one is fully enmeshed with the activity at hand, not self-focused or otherwise
preoccupied, and often participants often lose track of time. Flow has not been
widely studied in SLA, but has been a major topic in psychology and in particular
in PosPsy.
Over the years there have been unpublished studies of flow in SLA presented at
various conferences, but Egbert’s (2003) study ranks as the most prominent published contribution to date. Egbert examined 13 learners of Spanish in a fieldwork
study conducted over several weeks of language lab experiences. Participants
described similar types of experiences while in flow, and Egbert argued that elements of language task design contributed significantly to the likelihood of entering
a flow state. More recently, Dewaele and MacIntyre (unpublished) developed a new
multi-item scale to measure both flow (including feeling absorbed, fulfilled, happy)
and anti-flow (including feeling distracted, frustrated, disengaged) in language
learning. They administered the scale using an internet survey and found respondents reporting more instances of flow than anti-flow. Also, those with greater
experience with languages tend to have had more flow experiences. In an unrelated
study conducted around the same time, Czimmermann and Piniel (2016) studied 85
Hungarian first-year university-level students in a Bachelor of Arts foreign language (English). Using a questionnaire designed to measure classroom flow
experiences, the authors found that advanced learners experienced moderate to high
levels of classroom flow. Czimmermann and Piniel also examined task-specific
flow; learners were asked to complete a task in which they have to arrange individual drawings into a coherent story. The task worked as predicted by flow theory
Csikszentmihalyi (1990), and worked best when challenges and skills were in
balance. It was interesting, however, that classroom flow was not highly predictive
of specific task flow, with only a modest correlation between them.
Propositions for PosPsy in SLA
These four key contributions provide a basis on which SLA can begin to adapt
theories of PosPsy to the study of second language acquisition. There is fertile
ground for future research to investigate many of the PosPsy concepts and theories
that have been developed. As one set of examples, the review of concepts above
allows for the following propositions that can be tested in future studies.
1. We need to better understand emotions in language learning and studying both
positive and negative emotions together will provide a richer understanding than
focusing on negative emotions alone. To date, language anxiety has been well
studied and there is considerable evidence of its effects on language learning and
communication (Gkonou et al., in press; Horwitz & Young, 1991; MacIntyre,
1999). However, what does one do about anxiety? Already interest in positive
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive Psychology …
emotions is developing that will allow teachers and learners to complement
anxiety-reduction strategies with applications of character strengths, such as
courage. For example, Gregersen, MacIntyre, and Meza (2016) examined the
influence of interventions like gratitude, altruism, music, exercise, pets, and
laughter. Although the initial evidence suggests that the interventions were
well-received, these ideas require testing in future research studies.
2. Understanding character strengths and how specific individual learners adapt
their strengths to their learning will help create nuanced models that are tailored
to the individual; this approach may be preferable to trying to make up for
deficits and weaknesses. Generally, students would likely find it a far more
rewarding experience to use their signature strengths in new ways that facilitate
learning than to work primarily on remediating their weaknesses. In this way,
learners can capitalize on their individuality and choose when to exercise and
expand their boundaries by working on weaknesses (see Gregersen &
MacIntyre, 2014). A model of teaching dedicated to finding new applications of
learners’ strengths would look very different from a model that seeks to remediate deficiencies. It is necessary to further develop models of strengths-based
teaching and learning, for both the teacher and the learner.
3. The EMPATHICS vision has the potential to capture and advance a number of
important dimensions in language teaching, including the positive emotions that
teachers want to see, such as engagement among students, positive relationships
between teachers and students, and interaction between native speakers and
second language speakers. Using EMPATHICS as a guide allows for an
emphasis on the accomplishments in the language that may enhance the
meaning of the learning. Some of the elements of EMPATHICS have been well
studied in SLA while others have not yet been studied. EMPATHICS has the
potential to guide novel questions and pedagogical activities for years to come,
especially when taken from the dynamic approach that Oxford (2016) advocates. EMPATHICS might also be applied to teacher training and the process of
discovering one’s capabilities as a teacher.
4. Flow theory has strong potential to be relevant to the learning and communication processes in the target language. For many learners there comes a time
when they don’t even notice that they are using the new language. This also is
that the heart of flow as a concept. When the sense of self disappears and even
the sense of time passing is distorted, the borderline between high engagement
and a state of flow has been crossed. One contribution from positive psychology
would be to better understand how the state of flow and language fluency work
together. The blending of research with learning interventions is a potentially
rich field to be explored.
P.D. MacIntyre
4 Critiques of Positive Psychology
Every scholarly endeavor has its critics; the value of well-thought out critique for
advancing knowledge in an area cannot be overestimated. PosPsy has been criticized along a number of dimensions, at times fairly and at other times unfairly. The
field also has been inappropriately characterized by some prominent critiques in
both the academic arena and the popular press. Let us consider various types of
critiques here, each of which offers a note of caution to the research and practice of
PosPsy in SLA.
One of the most prominent scholarly critiques of PosPsy was offered by Lazarus
(2003a, b) in what would be two of the last articles he wrote before he died in 2002.
The journal Psychological Inquiry dedicated an entire issue to a debate that began
with Lazarus (2003a) asking “Does the Positive Psychology Movement Have
Legs?” Lazarus has been an influential figure in psychology for his description of
appraisal and coping processes, and the role of emotion in those processes.
However, he was no fan of positive psychology, taking it to task for several
reasons, some of which are worthy of close consideration. In fairness, Lazarus
recognized that many of his criticisms apply to psychology more generally, and not
only to PosPsy. Lazarus’ (2003a) critique is focused on four issues, each of which is
summarized below.
One issue Lazarus raised is the idea that positive and negative emotions are
inseparable, and the labels themselves can be misleading given that the function of
all emotions, even unpleasant ones, is to aide adaptation to the present situation.
This means that there is a positive side to negative emotion and vice versa—they
are best viewed as two sides of the same coin. To take an example from SLA, a
student with high language anxiety likely thinks of it as a negative experience but
the information provided by the anxiety reaction itself (for example, that one is not
communicating successfully in the TL) can positively contribute to adaptation (for
example, by repairing the language, code switching, or asking for help). As noted
above, the SLA field is recognizing that positive and negative emotions are complex phenomena that can lead to feelings of ambivalence (MacIntyre, 2007), and is
taking seriously the impact of emotion on learning and communicating in the TL.
In a second line of argument, Lazarus (2003a) noted that psychology rarely
studies the individual in any depth and that even studies of individual difference
factors (e.g., personality traits) are based on group averages or patterns of relative
standing within a group described by correlation. Lazarus (2003a) suggests that
psychology research in general makes too much of modest differences between
group means and fails to adequately consider both the variation within groups and
overlap between groups. He argues that
(i)n the desire to be scientific, which in the eyes of most scientists calls for making broad,
elegant generalizations from observations, those who do research stubbornly display a de
facto denial of the importance of individual variation and the value of detailed description
in science (p. 103).
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The studies already in the literature on PosPsy in SLA have displayed a diversity
of methodologies that are beginning to help to address this criticism. For example,
Hiver (2016) examined the development of hope and resiliency among novice
teachers in a context that presented significant difficulties. Another author, Ibrahim
(2016), examines long-term patterns of engagement under the heading of “Directed
Motivational Currents” (Henry, Davydenko, & Dörnyei, 2015). Ibrahim’s study
provides some of the detailed description that Lazarus’ critique suggests is missing
in PosPsy. A third example is Oxford and Cuellar’s (2014) analysis of the personal
narratives of adult learners, work that helps to underscore the tenets of PosPsy in
SLA. It seems clear that the type of depth that Lazarus and others seek will best be
found in SLA by a triangulation of a diverse collection of rigorous research techniques from quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods epistemologies.
In a third line of critique, Lazarus also identified an emotion measurement
problem whereby “(…) checklists and questionnaires that are administered only
once per participant (…) are inadequate for the purpose of providing accurate and
full descriptions of the flow of emotions that have been experienced or displayed”
(p. 96). It is obvious that the measurement approach used by any study must match
its research questions, and every method has its strengths and its limitations for
particular types of research questions. The value of questionnaire measures of
emotion lies in their ability to collect information efficiently across a large sample
and to make statistical comparisons that address meaningful questions.
Questionnaire measures of emotion in themselves are not a problem but drawing
inappropriate conclusions from studies that use such measures would be a problem.
Lazarus’ concern is well-founded when the measurement of emotion is mismatched
with the research question, as when a simple cross-sectional design is used to
answer a research question about developmental processes. In SLA, there has been
attention in recent years to the development of complex dynamic systems theory
and its applications to language development (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008).
For example, researchers examining motivation have started to address various
types of research questions using a diversity of methods, including two-stage
qualitative interview design, longitudinal qualitative interview design, qualitative
interviews on multiple timescales, qualitative comparative analysis, cluster analysis,
Q-methodology, retrodictive qualitative modelling, latent growth modelling,
change point analysis, variability analysis, trajectory equifinality model, and the
idiodynamic method (MacIntyre, Dörnyei, & Henry, 2015). Although many of
these methods are not yet well known in SLA, their presence in the field and future
refinement points to a triangulation of methods that may sensitively address the
problem of measuring emotion and motivations, as well as other concepts that have
been advanced in PosPsy.
Although the three lines of criticism above are relevant to SLA and in some
respects already are being addressed, Lazarus’ major criticism concerns the quality
of research methods that are common in PosPsy and in psychology more generally.
He questions the over-reliance on cross-sectional research designs that are not
well-suited to demonstrate either causality or fluctuations in the processes they
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study. It already has been noted that SLA features an eclectic set of methods that
will allow for great diversity of research questions now and in the future.
More recently, the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine dedicated issue 39
(vol. 1, February 2010) to examining the health implications of PosPsy particularly
with respect to oncology. The issue captured a debate that in many ways is similar
to the Lazarus critique, but with a more specific focus on physical health. The
journal editors acknowledge that research into the positive aspects of heath has been
expanding rapidly but they expressed concern about the “(…) level of hyperbole
and misrepresentation in the popular press; and the potential adverse effects on
patients, who may feel ill-served by injunctions to discern positive experiences
while confronting harrowing health threats” (p. 2). The target article in the issue
(Aspinwall & Tedeschi, 2010a) outlined ways in which concepts generally considered within the purview of PosPsy might be linked to improved health outcomes.
The critique (Coyne & Tennen, 2010) challenges the idea that positive character
traits, and accompanying thoughts and emotions such as having a fighting spirit and
finding benefit in negative events, have a causal role to play in health outcomes and
specifically in prolonging the life of cancer patients. Results from large scale studies
with strong statistical controls are not consistently showing evidence for claims of
improved mortality from positive states such as optimism. The counter position by
Aspinwall and Tedeschi (2010b) suggest that some key studies were overlooked by
the critics, and that narrow health outcomes such as mortality rates do not capture
important variables such as quality of life, social support, and reduced anxiety.
The debate over health-related outcomes centers on a key issue that offers difficulty for the scientific study of social phenomena: the need to statistically control
for preexisting differences among treatment groups. Using optimism as an example,
Aspinwall and Tedeschi (2010b) argue that prior analyses “(…) controlled for some
of the very pathways—namely, health behaviors and psychological distress—
through which optimism is thought to be related to health outcomes (p. 29)”. The
essence of the problem is that the prototype of the experimental method requires
random assignment to experimentally-controlled conditions. In cases such as health
and education, experimental control and random assignment to conditions often are
not possible. In such cases a researcher can attempt to control for extraneous factors
statistically. However, such a process risks artificially removing factors that are
correlated with the process of most interest. For example, optimists tend to be
younger, better educated, more often employed, and less likely to have diabetes, be
overweight, and to smoke. These same factors are widely acknowledged to reduce
the risk of mortality—so what does it mean to statistically remove the things that
optimists tend to do from the correlation between optimism and health outcomes?
Issues such as these must carefully be considered in the research process; the
difficulty inherent in dealing with them has produced more than its fair share of
scholarly conflict.
One of the reasons that PosPsy has come under fire for overstated claims about
its supposed benefits is that the iterative nature of research, the back-and-forth
between studies that demonstrate a particular finding and other studies that attempt
to replicate it, is not well captured by the popular press. It takes time for knowledge
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive Psychology …
in a specific area to accumulate that shows the reliability of a phenomena and its
boundaries; all research results must be considered tentative, pending future
research. The risk of overstating the case for PosPsy interventions in heath and
other areas has been a concern since the outset of the field (Peterson, 2006). There is
some concern that the popular press has simplified and overstated the results of
PosPsy research. To take one example, Ehrenreich (2010) writes about dealing with
cancer and her negative reaction to people who offered advice on the value of
positive thinking. Ehrenreich herself is a cancer survivor. She describes in detail
how she felt when she was given advice such as to think of cancer as a gift that
would make her a better person. Ehrenreich acknowledges that the advice was
intended to make her feel better but it had the opposite effect. She considers
relentless optimism a societal problem that prevents critical thinking, using the
world-wide economic crisis of 2008–09 as a prime example. PosPsy is treated by
Ehrnreich as if it refused to acknowledge the complete scope of human experience,
a line of argument that serves to critique a mere caricature of PosPsy rather than the
field of research as it is.
Other critiques of PosPsy have been directed at its key proponents and findings,
including Fredrickson’s concept of “positivity ratios”. Fredrickson and Losada
(2005) discussed the benefits of positive emotion, taking the uncontroversial
position that there are benefits to positive emotion, even as they also noted that
negative emotions are both appropriate and necessary for successful functioning.
Although they acknowledged the value of negative emotion, the authors emphasized the survival value of positive emotion and its effects in a group setting. To
support that argument they drew on research that showed that couples who were
headed for divorce tended to have a ratio of positive to negative comments of less
than 5–1. Other research showed that successful business teams that had a ratio of
positive to negative comments during group discussion that was approximately 2.9–
1. This research was previously conducted by Losada with who described the 2.9:1
ratio as “The Losada Line”.
Fredrickson and Losada (2005) drew on the above evidence to describe a
specific ratio of positive to negative emotions that would be optimal, and they
settled on an implausibly exact ratio of 2.9211–1. Part of the justification for this
highly specific number was based on dynamic systems modeling using Lorenz
equations. The authors noted that “(f)rom a psychological standpoint, this ratio may
seem absurdly precise” and they were correct. To make matters worse, in 2009,
Fredrickson published a popular book called “Positivity” in which she promoted the
notion of approximately 3–1 ratio of positive to negative emotions. Indeed, the
cover of the book contains the following line: “Top notch research reveals the 3–1
ratio that will change your life”.
But there was a problem. Brown, Sokal, and Friedman (2013) countered with a
paper called “The complex dynamics of wishful thinking”. The paper was a
scathing critique of the mathematics behind the 2.9:1 positivity ratio. Brown et al.
argued that the Losada line is “(b)ased on a series of erroneous and, for the most
part, completely illusory ‘applications’ of mathematics”. Fredrickson (2013) responded to the critique by retracting the part of the paper that dealt with the
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mathematical proof of positivity ratio, but shoes to retain the core idea that the ratio
of positive to negative emotion is important for psychological health. She wrote:
Research on the full value of positivity ratios remains in its infancy. Although in the wake
of Brown et al. (2013) work, this infant may seem a bit sullied… in my estimation a good
scrubbing reveals a healthy baby well worth letting grow up. Losada’s mathematical work,
which to date he has elected not to defend, may well be the smudge that needs removing
(p. 820).
Perhaps this is the type of example that Peterson (2006) was suggesting as his
concern for PosPsy: the popular press account of the research got ahead of the
science, and Brown et al. (2013) provided a correction. It is important for proponents for PosPsy in SLA to keep such criticism in mind as future research results
turn into recommendations for teaching and learning languages.
Further Propositions for PosPsy in SLA
These critiques of PosPsy provide a basis on which SLA can proceed with applications of PosPsy concepts and methods, and hopefully avoid some of the known
1. Develop and test language activities that are informed by prior research.
One proposition emerging from the critiques is the need to balance the desire to
develop interventions with the practicalities of language pedagogy. There is more
than minimal risk that pedagogical applications of PosPsy in SLA will get ahead of
the research support. Already there have been several activities adapted for use in
SLA that are inspired by published research in PosPsy, including those offered by
Belnap et al. (2016), Fonseca-Mora & Machancoses (2016), Fresacher (2016),
Gregersen et al. (2016), Gregersen and MacIntyre (2014), and Helgesen (2016).
From a teacher’s point of view, implementing a PosPsy activity or intervention as
part of an in-classroom or extra-curricular exercise based on prior research might
seem to be well-justified. But it would be impossible to predict with precision the
outcomes of classroom activities with even the best research support because of the
number of variables interacting among the learners operating within their context (see Dörnyei, MacIntyre, & Henry, 2015). It would be a tremendous asset to
the field if teachers and researchers commit to systematically collecting data on
PosPsy interventions, including classroom-based research that employs the best
available measures and is sensitive to both the contexts and individuals involved.
The close ties between language and culture suggest that interventions in SLA that
are based on PosPsy must also take cultural similarities and differences into
2. Pay close attention to definitions and measurement of concepts while considering also the cultural dimensions that impact research and teaching.
So Far So Good: An Overview of Positive Psychology …
One key lesson emerging from the above critiques is to pay close attention to the
definition and measurement of concepts, and to avoid over-generalizing the results
of a single study or data from a single context. This is especially important considering the close ties between language and culture, and the risks inherent in
adapting psychological concepts cross-culturally. Even as we consider common,
ubiquitous, and possibly universal attributes of living well and the various specific
concepts of PosPsy, we must remain sensitive to the potential for cultural dimensions in those concepts and explicitly test assumptions about how they operate in
any specific context. For example, Seligman (2002) prefers to describe the character
strengths and virtues described above (see Table 2) as ubiquitous and possibly
universal because cultural variation must be taken into account.
3. Allow for a diversity of rigorous empirical methods.
A final lesson emerging from the intersection of the above critiques is the need to
expand the notion of a scientific basis for PosPsy to include a triangulation of
rigorous empirical methods that address ubiquitous processes, specific contexts, and
individual trajectories of development. Several examples have been noted above
where a diversity of methods allows for a more nuanced understanding of the role
of common and unique factors to the language learning process. Given the openness
to triangulating various research methods, MacIntyre and Mercer (2014) suggest
that we might be working “(…) at an optimal time for a wide ranging research
program devoted to study the role of PosPsy in SLA from both the individual and
group perspectives”. To do this work, however, requires appropriate research
questions and methods to answer them.
5 Conclusion
The principles of positive psychology suggest that the focus on previously
neglected positive traits, emotions, and institutions is well worth pursuing. The
positive attributes of people are at least as worthy of rigorous research attention as
their negative attributes, and together provide a more comprehensive understanding
of teaching and learning processes than either can alone. PosPsy is helping to
balance the focus on both addressing problems that people encounter and ways in
which they flourish. The field of SLA can benefit a great deal from carefully
considering the contributions of PosPsy, keeping in mind the need to balance
theory, research, and practice as we move forward along this potentially exciting
Acknowledgements I would like to thank Esther Abel for her assistance in preparing this
manuscript, and thanks also to Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer for their comments on
previous drafts of this paper. Preparation of this chapter was facilitated by a grant from the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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Powerfully Positive: Searching for a Model
of Language Learner Well-Being
Rebecca L. Oxford
Abstract Positive psychology examines and promotes human well-being. This
chapter describes the author’s quest to create a useful, understandable model of language learner well-being known as EMPATHICS. The chapter offers some basic
information about positive psychology, explains why the author at first used a less
elaborate model, PERMA (Seligman, 2011), and gives a rationale for devising the
EMPATHICS model. The bulk of the chapter outlines key elements of EMPATHICS
and presents interdisciplinary research that serves as a foundation for the model. The
model, after further refinement and validation, can significantly enhance language
learner well-being and seems to be adaptable to language teacher well-being and to the
well-being of learners and teachers outside of the language field.
Keywords Well-being
! Language learners ! Positive psychology
1 Introduction
Positive psychology is all about human well-being.1 The goal of this chapter is to
describe my quest to create a useful model of well-being, a model that, after further
development and validation, could become widely used in the field of language
learning. As this chapter will show, I first considered a simple, well-known, published model of well-being (PERMA) developed by a premier positive psychologist
(Seligman, 2011), but I soon had to alter it to make it more meaningful, and even
On principle, I believe that human well-being cannot long exist without attention to the
well-being of other species and the Earth as a whole (see Oxford & Lin, 2011). Positive psychology will eventually need to address this topic.
R.L. Oxford
University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
R.L. Oxford (&)
7608 Saxon Dr. SW, Huntsville, AL 35802, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_2
R.L. Oxford
then I found that it was still theoretically incomplete. After that, I decided to create
my own model, EMPATHICS, which is more extensive, more grounded in the
theory of complex systems, and richer in related research (Oxford, 2016). My
ultimate goal is to enhance the lives of language learners, although the model can
also relate to individuals in countless contexts. At the same time, the EMPATHICS
model seems broad enough to encompass the well-being of people who are formally
no longer learners, although all of us are arguably learners throughout the lifespan.
Organization of the Chapter
This section provides some basics of positive psychology and describes my initial
involvement positive psychology (with PERMA) before I devised my own model.
Section 2 portrays the PERMA model and how I revised it. Section 3 presents an
abbreviated version of the EMPATHICS model (see Oxford, 2016 for complete
details), which I developed on the basis of published research, as well as my
experience as a language teacher educator, former language teacher, and educational
psychologist. Section 4 concludes the chapter with recommendations for the future.
Foundations of Positive Psychology
Positive psychology examines positive elements and strengths in the human psyche
and human experience, not just the problematic, distressing aspects that have often
been psychology’s stock in trade. Focusing on human well-being, positive psychology faces human difficulties from the standpoint of strength instead of weakness. Because ancient religious and philosophical leaders discussed virtues,
happiness, and the good life, we might say that positive psychology has been
present for thousands of years. It has certainly been reflected in humanistic theory
and research in the twentieth century (Linley, Joseph, Maltby, Harrington, & Wood,
2011). However, only during the last decade and a half has positive psychology
become a coordinated, scientific field with intensive scientific sharing, institutional
and personal networking, and major handbooks and textbooks (see, e.g., Lopez &
Snyder, 2011; Peterson, 2006; Seligman, 2011).
My Initial Involvement with Positive Psychology
I started studying positive psychology intensively a few years ago while working
with Professor Lourdes Cuéllar in analyzing the rich, written narratives of her
Mexican university students. These students were studying Chinese in their home
country, and several of them also learned Chinese on trips to China. They showed
Powerfully Positive: Searching for a Model of Language …
an amazing love of the Chinese language and culture and of their teacher, as well as
motivation, inspiration, resilience, autonomy. To analyze the data, we used
Seligman’s (2011) PERMA model (see Sect. 2). We published a joint article that
captured the feelings and experiences of these intrepid, talented, spirited learners
(Oxford & Cuéllar, 2014). However, for our research with Mexican learners, as
well as for a different positive-psychological study comparing two learners, a
successful, satisfied language learner and a traumatized one (Oxford, 2014), it was
necessary to adapt the PERMA model significantly to correct some logical weaknesses in the model.
2 Understanding the PERMA Model
Seligman (2011) stated that the purpose of his well-being theory, centered in
PERMA, is to “increase flourishing by increasing positive emotion, engagement,
meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment” (p. 12, emphasis added).
Those factors are important, but I felt they sometimes needed to be rethought and
reorganized (Oxford, 2016), as shown below.
Lack of Mapping the Character Strengths
onto the PERMA Elements
Seligman suggested that the five PERMA elements are underpinned by 24 character
strengths: creativity, curiosity, judgment or critical thinking, love of learning,
perspective or wisdom, bravery or valor, perseverance, honesty or authenticity, zest
or vitality, love, kindness, social intelligence (emotional and personal intelligence),
teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation,
appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality
(Peterson, 2006; VIA Institute of Character, 2014). Unfortunately, specific associations between the PERMA elements and the character strengths were not made
by Seligman or his colleagues.2
In the apparent absence of any published mapping of the character strengths onto the PERMA
elements or vice versa, I created such a mapping by using logic and a knowledge of psychology.
For example, love, hope, and gratitude seem to be positive emotions. Curiosity, perseverance, and
zest are associated with engagement. Honesty, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness,
leadership, and (interpersonal) forgiveness are linked with relationships. Perspective, appreciation
of beauty and excellence, and spirituality are yoked to meaning. Creativity, judgment, bravery,
love of learning, self-regulation, prudence, humor, humility, and once again perseverance and zest
are tied to accomplishment. I might even say that all of the virtues contribute to accomplishment to
varying degrees. Any theoretical mapping, including mine, needs examination by panels of experts
and could benefit from empirical testing.
R.L. Oxford
Questions About the Independence
of the PERMA Elements
Seligman (2011) claimed that each element in the PERMA model “is defined and
measured independently of the other elements (exclusivity)” (p. 16, emphasis
added). However, this aspect of PERMA—the independence of the elements in
terms of definition and measurement—is not empirically supported by my studies.
For example, I repeatedly discovered that engagement and meaning are inextricable
and that other dimensions are mutually interactive. The theory of complex systems,
which positive psychology seems to ignore, suggests that any language learning
system is deeply contextualized and has many intricately interacting, evolving
components. All of this seems to be missed in PERMA.
Difficulties with Five Elements of PERMA
Before creating EMPATHICS, I modified Seligman’s (2011) PERMA framework
and used the modified framework in two successful studies (Oxford, 2014; Oxford
& Cuéllar, 2014). However, I continued to wonder whether the PERMA model, in
either the original version or my modified version, was fully adequate for language
learning. My critique of the PERMA model is shown below.
Wrong for Positive Psychology to Focus Only
on Positive Emotions
Although positive and negative emotions are both present in learning, Seligman’s
(2011) well-being theory focuses on positive emotions, the P in PERMA, without
considering negative emotions. Seligman (2011) endorsed Fredrickson’s (2004)
“broaden-and-build” hypothesis, which states that positive emotions, such as happiness, curiosity, interest, pleasure, and joy, broaden the individual’s options, build
greater skills and competence, and trigger spirals of well-being, while negative
emotions narrow the person’s possibilities and often focus on fundamental,
survival-related issues.
However, language learning offers a complex picture of emotions. Less successful learners clearly experience anxiety and other negative emotions (Horwitz,
2001), but even the most effective language learners occasionally experience such
emotions while working toward proficiency. In fact, sometimes negative emotions
have some conceivably positive effects, such as keeping the learner alert. More on
this topic will be discussed on emotions in Sect. 3.3.1.
Powerfully Positive: Searching for a Model of Language …
The Incorrect Separation of Engagement and Meaning
Instead of separating engagement and meaning, as in Seligman’s (2011) theory of
well-being, I put the two together as meaningful engagement. My rationale is that
learners become engaged in that which they consider meaningful and try to avoid
that which they feel is not meaningful. Meaningful engagement embraces intrinsic
motivation, flow, self-determination, and investment. The first three are part of
standard positive psychology (Lopez & Snyder, 2011), and the fourth, investment,
alludes to the fact that the learner invests or does not invest in learning the language
for sociocultural reasons (Norton, 2010). These reasons might include the degree of
cultural capital (Ushioda, 2008) and social capital such an investment will provide.
The Problem of Incomplete or Weak Thinking About Contexts
For positive psychologists the term relationships refers to healthy interpersonal
relationships, which are part of well-being (Seligman, 2011). However, aside from
“institutions,” the contexts of those relationships are hardly discussed in Seligman
(2011). PERMA does not look deeply enough at the whole context, such as culture,
socioeconomic status, politics, religious beliefs, and so on.
The Vagueness of “Accomplishment”
Accomplishment can refer to achievement of many kinds (Seligman, 2011), but that
conception seems somewhat vague. When applying the term accomplishment to
language learning, I have tried to make the meaning clearer. To me it encompasses
(a) the development of various degrees of language proficiency over time;
(b) achievement in a particular curriculum or course; and/or (c) self-regulated
behavior, beliefs, affect, and strategies related to developing skills in the language
and culture-related understanding.
Moving Ahead
PERMA’s elements, in their original form and even in the revised shape I gave
them, were helpful for understanding learner well-being but were definitely not
sufficient. Believing that the language learning field needed a richer model of
learner well-being (which could eventually be expanded to teacher well-being), I
developed the EMPATHICS model, described below.
R.L. Oxford
The EMPATHICS model (Oxford, 2016) emerged gradually during 2014 and 2015
and is still evolving. It is being tested largely though narrative data from learners.
A Short History of EMPATHICS
At the 2014 International Conference on Language and Social Psychology in
Honolulu, Hawai’i, I presented a paper (Oxford, Pacheco Acuña, Solís Hernández,
& Smith, 2014) discussing the findings of a study by my Costa Rica-U.S.
narrative-research group. At the end of the paper I briefly mentioned the shortcomings of PERMA for positive psychology conceptualization and data analysis,
and I gave a very brief description of the EMPATHICS model. I received very
encouraging feedback. As a result, I developed the model further and presented it at
the 27th International Conference on Foreign/Second Language Acquisition in
Szcyrk, Poland (Oxford, 2015c) and in an in-depth chapter (Oxford, 2016).
The term EMPATHICS is an acronym outlining important psychological dimensions that are part of human well-being and that positively influence language
learners’ achievement and proficiency. The word EMPATHICS is tied to the
concept of empathy, which is truly important in language teaching and learning and
which is found in the model. The complex, interrelated, interacting, and evolving
dimensions include the following3: E: emotion and empathy; M: meaning and
motivation; P: perseverance, including resilience and resilience; A: agency and
autonomy; T: time; H: habits of mind; I: intelligences; C: character strengths; and
S: self factors, especially self-efficacy. In the rest of this chapter, I will signify some
key interactions among the dimensions or factors by comments like this: (see
E for Emotions and Empathy
The first dimension consists of emotions and empathy, which are interwoven.
The broad dimensions of EMPATHICS are listed here, but some of the factors within them are
omitted due to space constraints. For full information on all factors, see Oxford (2016).
Powerfully Positive: Searching for a Model of Language …
For MacIntyre (2002), emotion is “the primary human motive” and “functions as an
amplifier, providing the intensity, urgency, and energy to propel our behavior” in
“everything we do” (p. 61). The human brain is an emotional brain, creating
relationships among thought, emotion, and motivation (Le Doux, 1998). Because
cognition and emotion are inseparable, emotion is an inherent part of learning (Le
Doux, 1998; Oxford, 2015b).
Emotional intelligence is “the ability to understand feelings in the self and others
and to use these feelings as informational guides for thinking and action” (Salovey,
Mayer, Caruso, & Yoo, 2011, p. 238). Language teachers can help students to
develop emotional intelligence and to use it when in contact with other people.
Emotional intelligence is especially necessary in intercultural situations. Dewaele
(2013) explored emotional intelligence as related to language learning.
Positive emotions such as “pride and satisfaction with one’s efforts” contribute
to language learners’ self-regulation (Schunk & Ertmer, 2000, p. 631) and autonomy (Benson, 2011). They also have a motivational role to play in cognition
(see motivation). Positive psychologists often view happiness as the foremost
positive emotion, but happiness could instead be a skill that one can develop by
accepting both pleasant and painful emotions (Ricard, 2003). Acceptance of all of
one’s emotions, including joys and sorrows, means acceptance of oneself. To
paraphrase Florida Scott-Maxwell (1983), “When you truly possess all you have
been and done and felt (…) you are fierce with reality” (p. 42, emphasis added).
Positive emotions can be present in a person at the same time as negative emotions.
For example, Dewaele and MacIntyre (2014) noted that in their study female students showed both greater anxiety and greater enjoyment than male students.
Empathy is not just cognitive or emotional; it is both. It is an “other-oriented
emotional [and cognitive] response elicited by and congruent with the perceived
welfare of someone else (...)”. (Batson, Ahmad, & Lishner, 2011, p. 418). Empathy
includes such elements as compassion, sympathy, and caring, and it focuses not on
oneself but on someone else. Rather than being a disposition or trait, empathy is
situated in given contexts and events. For example, a learner might become
empathetic toward another learner who is anxious, upset, or confused while doing a
particular language activity.
M for Meaning and Motivation
The second dimension encompasses meaning and motivation.
R.L. Oxford
According to positive psychology, all humans are goal-seeking and active, and this
shows they are always constructing meaning for themselves (Linley et al., 2011).
Meaning refers to (a) the extent to which people view themselves as having a
purpose, mission, or aim in life; (b) the belief that life is significant and is greater
than the present moment; and (c) the means of making sense of our experience,
discovering the worth of ourselves and everything else in life, and directing our
energies appropriately (Steger, 2011). Meaning can be attained by being responsible in the current moment (Frankl, 1984). In addition, humanistic language
learning instruction can foster learners’ meaning-based self-actualization
(Moskowitz, 1978; Stevick, 1990), as well as inspired consciousness and peak
experiences (Oxford & Cuéllar, 2014).
For Dörnyei (2009b), “motivation refers to a cumulative arousal, or want, that we
are aware of” (p. 209). Intrinsic motivation, i.e., the desire to do something for its
own sake due to interest, enjoyment, and challenge (Ryan & Deci, 2001), is particularly important for language learning. Ushioda (2008) compared intrinsically
motivated language learners to their extrinsically motivated fellow students and
found that the former showed greater retention of information, greater involvement,
more creative and efficient thinking, and a wider array of problem-solving strategies. A learner’s experience of flow combines complete immersion in a task
accompanied by intrinsic motivation, confidence, and perceived timelessness
(Csíkszentmihályi, 2008).
Another perspective says that motivation depends on imagination, which helps
us define imagined identities known as possible selves (Ryan & Irie, 2014).
Possible selves, to be motivational, must be potentially reachable or plausible.
Dörnyei’s (2009a, b) L2 [second language] Motivational Self System contains two
possible selves, known as future self guides: the ideal L2 self (the L2-specific aspect
of the person’s ideal self) and the ought-to L2 self (reflecting the extrinsic,
instrumental motives to learn the L2). Another component of the system is the
situated L2 learning experience. Optimally, these three components will be in
P for Perseverance
Perseverance refers to an ongoing effort to accomplish something valuable despite
problems, opposition, difficulties, or failure. Two of the three elements of perseverance discussed in Oxford (2016) are resilience and hope.
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Resilience has been defined as a “self-righting and transcending capacity to spring
back and adapt” despite trauma, adversity, or stress (Truebridge, 2014) and as
patterns of positive adaptation in the face of significant risk or adversity (Masten,
Cutuli, Herbers, & Reed, 2011). Contributors to resilience include (a) personal
traits, or personal protective factors, such as self-efficacy, positivity, attractiveness,
goal-orientation, ethics, and a sense of meaning; and (b) social/environmental
protective factors, such as compassionate relationships, opportunities for participation, and positive institutions, contribute to resilience.
Hope is “desire accompanied by (reasonable) expectation” (Clarke, 2003, p. 164).
Hopelessness is (a) a lack of positive expectation; (b) a despairing lack of
self-regulation and (see emotions, agency, and autonomy); (c) part of demoralization, which also includes helplessness and a subjective sense of incompetence
(Clarke, 2003). To help create hope and avoid hopelessness, the person (a) must
have certain characteristics, such as motivation, a sense of life purpose, inner
strength, and a modicum of energy, and (b) must pursue important, potentially
achievable, but moderately difficult goals (Averill, Catlin, & Chon, 1990; Schrank,
Hayward, Stanghellini, & Davidson, 2011). For some scholars (Lazarus, 1999;
Vaillant, 2008) hope is emotional and not tied to cognition or reason, though the
preceding sentence reflects cognition.
Another mainly cognitive model is that of Snyder (2000, 2002). Snyder’s hope
theory involves two main kinds of thinking: (a) “pathways thinking” (the belief that
one has the ability to find and use routes or strategies to attain a goal) and
(b) agency thinking (the belief that one has the ability and intention to move via
pathways toward a goal). Emotions have a much lower profile in this model.
Specifically, the perception of progress toward a goal stimulates positive emotions,
while the perception of a goal’s being blocked creates negative emotions.
Researchers applying Snyder’s model discovered that people with high hope,
compared with those with low hope, were less depressed and more engaged,
energized, inspired, goal-oriented, satisfied, and confident (Feldman & Snyder,
2000; Wrobleski & Snyder, 2005). Other studies revealed that long-term hope (trait
hope) related to greater academic success, even when a other relevant factors, such
as intelligence, previous academic performance, college entrance-exam scores, and
self-esteem, were controlled (Oxford, 2016). Creative interventions to stimulate
hope in individuals have been successful (Brown Kirschman, Johnson, Bender, &
Roberts, 2011; McDermott & Snyder, 2000; Rand & Cheavens, 2011).
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A for Agency and Autonomy
Agency and autonomy are the important factors in the fourth dimension.
Agency is the “capacity to act volitionally to affect outcomes” (Ryan & Irie, 2014,
p. 113), the departure-point for developing autonomy (Benson, 2007, in Gao &
Zhang, 2011, p. 27), and the starting point for learners’ efforts in using learning
strategies (Gao & Zhang, 2011). For Agency also means actively engaging in
defining the terms and conditions of one’s own learning, deciding on the relevance
and significance of what one is learning, and voluntarily controlling behavior
(Lantolf & Pavlenko, 2001; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). Agency is linked to
self-efficacy and habits of mind. The agentic person is the origin of his or her
actions, has high aspirations and good problem-solving skills, enjoys well-being,
and learns from failures (Oxford, 2016).
Autonomy is the capacity to control, take responsibility for, or take charge of one’s
learning (Benson, 2011; Little, 2007). Not surprisingly, autonomy is related to
learning strategies and self-regulation (Griffiths, 2013; Oxford, 2003, 2015a, 2016).
Holec (1981) commented that the autonomous learner has the ability to take charge
of every aspect of his or her learning, including decisions about objectives, content,
progression, methods, techniques, monitoring procedures, and evaluating outcomes,
but he stated that most learners are not autonomous but are involved in the process
of gaining autonomy.
Several visual metaphors have emerged to depict the nature of autonomy. For
instance, Nunan (1997) and others used the metaphors of increasing autonomy
through stages or by degrees. Little (2007) described autonomy as part of a spiral
including both interdependence and independence. Menezes (2008) depicted
autonomy as a key element in a larger, complex system.
A significant theoretical clash in the language learning field has been whether
autonomy is more than just a Western, individualist cultural construct or whether it can
also embrace collectivist cultures. This conflict seems to have been reconciled in favor
of the concept of “multiple autonomies” that fit different cultures (Oxford, 2016).
T for Time
The fifth dimension concerns time, a very complex area (Boniwell, 2011; Oxford,
2016). I will assume here that time is nonlinear and recursive. In other words, time
does not follow a simple pattern of past-present-future, and our interpretations of
Powerfully Positive: Searching for a Model of Language …
past and present events continue to change (Ryan & Irie, 2014). Nonlinearity means
that the future and the past can influence present behavior and are part of a person’s
everyday cognition. I will focus here on some elements of time related to language
learners’ well-being: temporal appraisal and time perspectives.
In temporal appraisal, some people perceive their past selves less favorably than
their present selves and believe their future selves will be still better than their
present selves (Ross & Wilson, 2002). To me, that reflects a linear view of time
with ever-increasing positivity occurring as an individual’s life goes on, different
from the nonlinearity mentioned above. However, some theorists assert that happy
and unhappy people see time differently, with happy individuals tending to savor
past positive life experiences and unhappy people ruminating about past negative
life experiences (Boehm & Lyubomirsky, 2011). I speculate that optimism and
pessimism are differentially related to these tendencies.
Zimbardo (2002) noted the value of an optimally balanced time perspective, in
which “past, present and future components blend and flexibly engage, depending
on a situation’s demands and our needs and values” (p. 62), although very many
researchers promote the future time perspective (FTP) and a few highlight the
past-positive time perspective as being the most crucial to well-being (Boniwell,
2011). In Zimbardo and Boyd’s (1999) five-factor model, there are two past time
perspectives: past-positive (focusing on happy memories) and past-negative (focusing on unhappy memories (see happy and unhappy people above). There are two
present time perspectives: the present-hedonistic (pleasure- and excitementoriented, living for the moment, and courting danger) and the present-fatalistic
(tending to be hopeless and attributing control to outside forces rather than the self).
Surprisingly, both present time perspectives, hedonistic and fatalistic, seem negative. I ask: Are there no individuals, including language learners, with a presentpositive perspective? FTP is sometimes described split into high FTP (usually just
called FTP) and low FTP (frequently known as absence of FTP). According to
several FTP measures, (high) FTP involves actively looking for future opportunities, setting goals, considering future consequences of current behavior using goals
as behavior guides, and employing the present period to plan for the future (Betts,
2013) and correlates with outcomes such as motivation, responsibility, planning
ability, positive academic performance, and delayed gratification (Boniwell, 2011).4
It came to mind that FTP measures might be concentrating on values from individualist cultures,
in which individual achievement for the sake of self is highly rewarded. Perhaps researchers could
also study “collectivist cultural FTP,” which might include goal-setting and planning for deepening the following collectivist values: highly responsible, in-group nurturing and loyalty;
achievement for the sake of the family or group rather than the individual; and communication
patterns that are indirect, formal, and polite.
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H for Habits of Mind
Habits of mind, the focus of the sixth dimension, are “composite(s) of many skills,
attitudes, cues, past experiences, and proclivities” and are also “patterns of intellectual behavior” that we value more than other such patterns and that we choose to
enact at certain times and in particular contexts (Costa & Kallick, 2008, para. 7).
Costa and Kallick studied the habits of mind of smart, successful people in many
different fields. They charted and described 16 habits of mind, including the following eight: finding humor, striving for accuracy, persisting (see perseverance),
thinking flexibly, thinking about thinking, communicating with accuracy and precision, listening with understanding and empathy, and learning through multiple
senses. In my experience, language learners who experience well-being use these
habits of mind, as shown in Oxford (2016).
I for Intelligences
Theories of (multiple) intelligences challenge the standard, test-based, restricted
conception of intelligence quotients and are the focus of the seventh dimension.
Among the theoreticians of multiple intelligences are Sternberg (1985, 1997) and
Gardner (2004, 2011). Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligences suggests that
successful intelligence is what helps the individual succeed within his or her own
sociocultural context. The theory includes three types of intelligence: practical, creative, and analytical. An individual can possess more than one of these types.
Practical intelligence means situational, context-based capability (street smarts and
adaptability). Creative intelligence involves using intuition and creativity to deal with
novel problems and tasks. Analytical intelligence refers to information-processing
and critical thinking skills as found on traditional intelligence tests. Sternberg’s triarchic theory can be related to different types of language learners (Oxford, 2016).
Gardner produced “the best-known contemporary statement about the plurality
of abilities” (Peterson, 2006, p. 211). In his theory, each person has a certain set of
intelligences, defined as sets of biopsychological potentials to process information
that can be activated in a cultural context to solve problems or create valuable
products. He argued that the intelligences arose through evolution because they
were important to the human species. He also contended that the intelligences in his
theory were largely independent of each other, had distinct developmental progressions, and were marked by the existence of savants, prodigies, and other
exceptional individuals. In various iterations of his theory, he identified the following intelligences: (a) musical, (b) logical-mathematical, (c) verbal-linguistic,
(d) visual-spatial, (e) bodily-kinesthetic, (f) interpersonal (social), (g) intrapersonal
(introspective), (h) existential (largely spiritual), and (i) naturalistic (ecological,
environmental). His work was intended to empower individuals, not to restrict them
to a specific domain of intelligence. Elsewhere I gave examples of how each
intelligence relates to language learning (Oxford, 2016).
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C for Character Strengths
The eighth dimension focuses on character strengths. The VIA Classification of
Character Strengths and Virtues is asserted to be relevant to all cultures (Peterson &
Seligman, 2004; VIA Institute, 2014), although I believe the profiles might look
quite different across cultures. In this system there are six virtues and 24 character
strengths related to those virtues. The virtue of wisdom and knowledge encompasses
these character strengths: creativity, curiosity, love of learning, open-mindedness,
and perspective. The virtue of courage contains these character strengths: authenticity, bravery, persistence, and zest. The virtue of humanity involves these character
strengths: kindness, love, and social intelligence. In the virtue of justice are found
these character strengths: fairness, leadership, and teamwork. The virtue of temperance includes forgiveness/mercy, modesty/humility, prudence, and
self-regulation as character strengths. The virtue of transcendence embraces these
character strengths: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor,
and religiousness/spirituality. Oxford (2016) outlines applications to language
learning. An individual’s habits of mind (see earlier) and VIA character strengths,
such as open-mindedness, creativity, and curiosity, are directly related to each other;
both sets of qualities are positive, intensely embedded, and habitual.
S for Self Factors, Especially Self-efficacy
Positive psychologists (Maddux, 2011; Peterson, 2006) adopted the social cognitive
concept of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997, 2006), on which this chapter concentrates
for the last dimension. (See Oxford, 2016, for more self factors in this dimension.)
Bandura (1997, 2006) defined self-efficacy as the person’s level of confidence
(belief) that he or she can successfully carry out an action to achieve a specific goal
in a particular setting under certain conditions. Thus, self-efficacy is
situated/contextualized. The theory of self-efficacy assumes that people are agentic
(see agency) and are capable of symbolic thought. It also assumes that self-efficacy,
not motivation, intention, innate ability, or personality, is the key factor determining
people’s choice of goals and behaviors, degree of effort and persistence, and the
quality of problem-solving (Maddux, 2011). High self-efficacy involves focusing
on finding solutions to problems, whereas low self-efficacy includes reflecting on
personal inadequacies and lack of problem-solving efforts (Bandura, 1997).
Research suggests that self-efficacy is correlated with the use of language learning
strategies (Chamot, 2004; Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary, & Robbins, 1996).
Bandura and Maddux describe five sources of information for individuals’
efficacy beliefs: (a) their performance experiences, when attributing the outcome to
their own efforts; (b) their vicarious experiences, or observing the consequences of
others’ behaviors; (c) their imagined experiences, or imaginatively seeing themselves or others behaving successfully or not; (d) their physiological and emotional
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states that lead them to expect success or failure; and (e) others’ verbal persuasion
about what the individuals can or cannot do.
4 Synthesis and Suggestions for the Future
This chapter has presented many of the elements of the EMPATHICS model,
although these elements, along with several others, are explained in greater depth in
elsewhere (Oxford, 2016). The EMPATHICS model significantly expands
PERMA, Seligman’s (2011) positive psychology model. The EMPATHICS perspective emphasizes the importance of contextualization, given that language
learning and language teaching are embedded in particular sociocultural contexts.
To enhance language learners’ well-being, future development of EMPATHICS
could include intercultural discussions and empirical research studies on relationships among the model’s components. Questions might be: What are the multi-way
relationships among self-efficacy, agency, and autonomy in various situations and
cultures, based on quantitative and qualitative research? What factors emerge in an
exploratory factor analysis of an omnibus measure of the EMPATHICS components with a very large, intercultural sample, and are those results supported by
confirmatory factor analysis? Research can help refine and validate the
EMPATHICS model in general and ensure that the assessment of its components is
reliable and valid. An intercultural team of theorists and researchers could conduct
the efforts named in this paragraph.
Though EMPATHICS has largely focused on language learner well-being, the
model is also adaptable to the well-being of language teachers. Because much of the
research on EMPATHICS components originally came from research outside of the
language learning field, the model might also be feasible for use in explaining the
well-being of learners and teachers in other fields.
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Difficulty and Coping Strategies
in Language Education: Is Positive
Psychology Misrepresented in SLA/FLT?
Hanna Komorowska
Abstract Language education today draws on the developments in the so-called
positive psychology to create difficulty-free learning contexts. Teacher training in
particular shows signs of looking to the new branch of psychology as a way to
eliminate problems and achieve success linked to learners’ engagement and
self-regulation. Success in language learning is naively expected to take place only
when the student’s attitude is favourable, internal motivation secured and high
self-esteem guaranteed. This idealistic approach leads to delegating full responsibility to unprepared learners and informing them that positive feelings are the only
path to greater proficiency. The present text arises from a suspicion that the current
SLA/FLT approach misrepresents positive psychology by introducing unnecessary
simplifications, while positive psychology research has a lot more to offer. The
paper goes on to look at what mythology and religion in the past as well as
psychology and sociology today tell us about seeking values in obstacles and
understanding multiple functions and diverse effects of positive and negative affect.
Stages of identifying obstacles and coping with difficulty are then discussed as well
as ways of supporting students facing challenges in the process of language
learning. Implications for teacher development are then sought in order to enable
teachers to contribute to learner growth both in and through education.
Keywords Positive psychology Language teaching
gies Teacher’s roles Teacher education
! Learner’s coping strate-
H. Komorowska (&)
Institute of English, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Chodakowska 19/31,
03-815 Warsaw, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_3
H. Komorowska
1 Introduction
The culture of happiness informs us that we have the right, or even the obligation,
to feel happy. In popular views promoted by mass-media lack of well-being tends to
be associated with guilt, while difficulty is perceived as a sign of pitiable ineptness,
a consequence of wrong choices or the lack of skill to make good use of affordances. The strong version of the happiness hypothesis states that well-being is an
autotelic goal of human existence, if not a moral demand, and can even be treated as
a criterion for public policy, though income does not seem to correlate with subjective well-being very strongly except for lower levels of income (Diener &
Biswas-Diener, 2002).
The weak, popular version treats it instrumentally as a means to achieve
whatever our object of desire might be. In both versions the state of well-being is
what we strive for, while unhappiness is what we want to avoid at all costs.
Although various branches of psychology—old and new—engage in research on
deficits and investigate correlates of happiness offering a vast spectrum of theories,
today’s culture of happiness tends to concentrate only on those which support
popular views. Three of them are worth mentioning: Veenhoven’s theory of needs
viewing well-being as a result of need satisfaction (Veenhoven, 2009), Michalos’s
multiple discrepancies theory linking well-being with wants, needs and the
achievement of what is perceived as deserved (Michalos, 1985) and Frederickson’s
theory of resources ascribing happiness to new possibilities and broader horizons
(Frederickson, 2004).
Although linguists and psychologists explicitly state that ‘positive psychology is
not frivolous pop psychology; it is a rapidly expanding field of knowledge with
rigorous methods and a promising future’ (MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014, p. 167),
today’s interest of FL teachers in positive psychology, in line with the worst of
Ehrenreich’s fears (Ehrenreich, 2010) reflects a considerable degree of wishful
thinking about motivated and creative language learners with a high degree of
self-efficacy, agency, high self-esteem and perseverance who are aware of their own
learning styles, able to apply not only appropriate strategies, but also autonomous
approaches to goals, methods and materials and, what is more, skilled in
self-assessment and capable of building on feedback.
The reality is, however, much less exciting. With the best of intentions—manifested in the policy of the main European institutions such as Recommendation 98
(6) of the Council of Europe (Council of Europe, 1998) or Barcelona and Lisbon
Strategies of the European Union (European Commission, 2002), international
agreements leading to the offer of the mother tongue + 2 foreign languages in
educational systems of EU member states and national regulations related to both
the early start and the earlier introduction of the second foreign language—the
teachers’ situation does not improve, even though proficiency levels of students
tend to rise.
Difficulty and Coping Strategies in Language Education …
Language teachers face a multitude of challenges, the most important of which
are teaching languages as school subjects in demotivating mandatory contexts,
managing learners with often negative attitudes to the school system and coping
with learners who treat dominant languages of schooling as part of the oppressive
system in which they find themselves against their will. Language teachers also
share a vast number of difficulties with teachers of other subject areas—they work
in schools where their work is judged on the basis of ranking positions rather than
the actual progress of their students, teach mainly for external testing, function in
contexts subject to micro-management based on bureaucratic procedures and face a
number of in-school ‘pull’ factors increasingly responsible for student drop-out
(Doll, Eslami, & Walters, 2013).
This means that teachers in fact are employed in contexts calling for the need to
cope with external motivation, negativism and boredom, which hardly reflects
hopes and illusions described above. No wonder teachers would want to get rid of
all negative emotions in the learners and look to positive psychology for solutions.
Irrespective of the fact that quick recipes are generally unrealistic, engaging all
efforts in reducing negative feelings do not seem to be justified. Although there is a
correlation between positive affect and success in language learning, there is no
research data which inclines us to believe that eliciting positive affect is the only
way to success or that it is always the best path available. Individual, social and
cultural factors interact in language development producing dynamic effects, often
operating in different ways for process and product (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron,
2008). What is more, a number of psychological terms used in SLA/FLT, such as
emotional intelligence, are not at all unequivocal in psychological studies (Mayer,
Salovey, & Caruso, 2000). The present text arises from a suspicion that the current
SLA/FLT approach misrepresents positive psychology introducing unnecessary
simplifications, while positive psychology research has a lot more to offer. An
attempt will be made here to answer the following questions:
– What was the attitude to difficulty and well-being in mythology and religion?
– Which aspects of positive psychology tend to be misrepresented in SLA/FLT
– What does research in the field of psychology and education tell us about the
role of emotions?
– Are negative feelings always negative? What are the evolutionary functions of
difficult contexts and negative feelings?
– Are positive emotions always positive?
– What benefits does positive psychology offer for teacher education?
– What are the potential dangers in the educational decision-making process?
– What are the implications for the language classroom?
H. Komorowska
2 Early Approaches—Mythology. Difficulty as a Road
to Self-development
Archetypal, that is universal and symbolic, patterns of behaviour including those
related to the role of difficulty in the human life have been historically transmitted
across centuries through myths (Buxton, 2004; Jung, 1953). Myths often introduce
the concept of a journey which, however long and complicated, eventually turns out
to be a journey inside, helping the hero to become wiser and better.
The approach to difficulty, hardship and strain is most clearly presented in the
fate of Heracles, the son of Zeus and Alcmene (Graves, 1993; Martin, 2003). The
wife of Zeus and the queen of heaven, the supreme goddess Hera, famous for her
jealousy, sent two giant snakes to kill the infant in his crib, and even after his
victory remained his avowed enemy. As the story goes, while staying in the house
of Creon, his father-in-law in Thebes, Heracles was struck by madness sent by the
vengeful goddess and in a fit of rage killed Megara, his wife, and their children.
Although their death was not a result of his conscious decision, he felt responsible
for the course of events. To atone for what he considered his guilt, he was obliged
to serve King Eurystheus who ordered him to perform twelve extremely difficult
and utmostly dangerous labours through which he developed numerous virtues. The
sequence of labours, and consequently the sequence of developmental stages and
virtues they led to, is worth a closer look.
Self-development started with physical virtues such as strength and courage
required for the killing of the Erymanthian boar. A scene showing the frightened
King, hiding as athletic Heracles brings him the corpse of the terrifying animal, can
be seen on a kylix from 510 B.C. treasured in the Louvre. Vigor and toughness led
to fearlessness and valiance which were then tested during the victorious fight with
the Nemean lion as depicted on an Attic amphora from around 540 B.C.
A combination of physical and intellectual values came next. Audacity, cleverness, quick decision-making and cunning were needed as in the fight with
Achelous when Heracles, determined to win, transformed into a snake in the course
of a duel beautifully presented in a sculpture by F.J. Bosio (1769–1845) in the
Louvre Museum.
Later stages of his path through difficulty led to the development of cognitive
and moral virtues, such as flexibility and open-mindedness, but also modesty and
humbleness. Not only his deeds in the king’s service show it; during a stay with
Omphale, queen of the Kingdom of Lydia, Heracles engaged in feminine activities,
while Omphale took over masculine duties, a change of gender roles calling for
tolerance, understanding and broad-mindedness. Details of the exchange have
attracted attention of numerous artists as scenes illustrating daily activities of the
pair were shown both in Roman mosaics from Italy to Lliria in Spain and in the
modern sculptures, e.g., the famous rendition by Joseph Anton Weinmüller in the
Schönbrunn Garden of Vienna.
As mythology shows us, Heracles travelled a long way from pride and the sense
of omnipotence, through helplessness, modesty, subjugation and obedience to
Difficulty and Coping Strategies in Language Education …
self-actualisation and final recognition by the gods of Olympus and even by Hera,
his once implacable enemy. His final triumph and eternal happiness was a result of
robustness and tenacity accompanied by good judgment, critical thinking and
3 Positive Approaches to Difficulty in Religion and Science
The road from mythology to religion opened when happiness came to be understood as meaning. Mythological and early Christian concepts of this kind can be
found in the story of the Holy Grail later promoted through Wagner’s opera where
Parsifal with his skill to empathize offers a new vista which cures King Amfortas
suffering from a wound representing a lack of meaning. This approach to happiness
which bases well-being not only on short term hedonic pleasure, but also on more
long lasting, human potential oriented eudaimonic goals to which some pleasures
can even be an obstacle was an early intuition now solidly confirmed by evolutionary science (De Waal, 2009) and positive psychology (Seligman, 2002).
Christianity first developed the concept of Paradise as delayed reward and
stressed the value of suffering. Difficulty, unhappiness and sorrow came to be
considered a better way to deserve eternal reward than wealth and well-being. The
invocation per aspera ad astra best summarizes this approach. Yet mistake, error
and sin also had its place in finding new ways. St. Paul explicitly states that sin has
a role on the road to eternal happiness “For God has bound all men over to
disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (St. Paul, Rom. 11:32), an
idea well anchored in the Old Testament as it was Cain, not Abel, who became the
founder of cities (Porębski, 2011).
Mysticism calls for mental and spiritual effort rather than suffering. Both cognitive and affective efforts are viewed as indispensable to grasping deeper meanings, which presupposes the presence of difficulty. Obstacles, strain and even evil
form a starting point for reflection on what is good and how to promote it.
Buddhism explicitly showed the road to enlightenment as a path through difficulty
and introduced the concept of karma pointing to consequences of human decisions
and resulting behaviour.
The most important role attributed to difficulty can be found in the Polish
Hasidism, a late offspring of the German Hasidei Ashkenaz of the 12th century,
promoting Hesed—grace, love and voluntary bond as well as Hasidut—piety and
loving kindness. German Hasidism had a lasting influence resulting not only in the
work of Isaac Luria (1534–1572), but also in the rise and fall of Sabbatai Zwi
(1626–1726) and a group of his followers. It also formed the basis for the so-called
Polish Hasidism with its cradle in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–
1795), the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the main centres
in Lublin, Kozienice and Przysucha in Central Poland, Vilnius in Lithuania,
Bratzlav and Humań in Podolia, Lvov, Mizhibozh (Międzybóż), Mizritch
(Międzyrzec) and Sadagora in Galicia.
H. Komorowska
Hasidism in the form first attributed to Baal-Shem-Tov (1698–1760) claimed
that the road to perfection leads through difficulty inherent in the process of
repairing the world (tikkun) by means of collecting and integrating dispersed sparks
of good. The process takes place by personal improvement, therefore it is
every-body’s personal obligation to elevate the individual ‘spark’ and to pick up
and elevate others (nitzotzot), hence the role of education and self-learning, the
significance of teachers as guides but also the value of individual experience of
difficulty as a road to self-improvement and, in consequence, to saving the world.
Adversity is always connected with a possibility to make a mistake by selecting a
wrong solution and taking a wrong path. Extreme complications may lead to grave
errors, but the truth of descent and the experience of symbolic fall are invaluable.
Life is a road bringing good and bad experiences with errors as learning steps.
According to Martin Buber, Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch (Międzyrzec) used
to say “the seed does not germinate until it has come apart in the earth’ and ‘in order
to climb up, one must come down (…)” (Buber, 2005, pp. 56, 117).
Psychology and psychotherapy, taking a different path leading to similar conclusions, introduced the notion of positive disintegration (Dąbrowski, 1967). The
Theory of Positive Disintegration states that moments of unhappiness or depression
have a specific function: they incline an individual to stop investing in the wrong
choice and help him or her gather energy to start new engagements or renew
attempts to introduce changes. A former perception of predicament needs to disappear in order for a new one to emerge. Here again difficulty and errors are
learning steps.
4 A Change of Scene—Focus on Success
The situation changed drastically about four decades ago. Researchers impressed by
a product in the form of individual or corporate success started analyzing its correlates to identify possible causative factors. In science and humanities academics
moved from analysing failure to analysing success. Medical doctors started paying
less attention to risk factor analysis and more to health promotion. Sport psychology was born in the 1980s to identify correlates of failure and find shortcuts to
success (Seligman, Nolen-Hoeksema, Thornton, & Thornton, 1990). Psychological
research underwent a positive turn and the discipline was reoriented from psychology of deficits to positive psychology (Peterson, 2006; Seligman &
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
In language education similar tendencies can be noticed. The last four decades
saw research projects on three groups of issues which had not been investigated in
earlier years, with
– focus on teaching processes with research on successful teachers;
– focus on learning processes with research on the good language learner;
– focus on contexts with research on successful institutions and businesses.
Difficulty and Coping Strategies in Language Education …
Classroom behaviours of successful teachers were investigated in the process of
international evaluation of educational achievement (Carroll, 1975; Lewis &
Massad, 1978) as well as in the course of national or regional projects (Werbińska,
2005). Attention was also given to competences and behaviour which could
function as indices of teacher’s professionalism (Wysocka, 2003) as well as to
learners’ perception of “good teachers” (Lamb & Wedell, 2013). Attempts were
also made to grasp the meaning of good teaching through metaphor (Cor-tazzi &
Jin, 1999; Komorowska, 2013).
Successful learning has been repeatedly investigated within the frames of the
language aptitude research (Carroll & Sapon, 1959; Meara, 2005; Pimsleur, 1966).
Quantitative research was carried out on characteristics of high achievers and
so-called good language learners (Biedroń, 2008, 2012; Naiman, Fröhlich, Stern, &
Todesco, 1978; Stern, 1975). Qualitative research, mainly in the case study format,
was launched to investigate contextual factors of individual success (Stevick, 1980/
89). For the last three decades effective learning strategies have also been explored
(Cohen & Macaro, 2007; Rubin, 2005).
Successful contexts and institutions were perhaps the latest to be examined with
the leading ELAN project investigating reasons for business success of small and
medium enterprises in the European Union member states and the PIMLICO
project looking at successful institutions from the point of view of the supportive
role of linguistic skills of the employees (European Union, 2006, 2011).
5 Evolutionary Functions of Positive and Negative
Emotions. On the Bitterness of Well-Being
and the Sweetness of Difficulty
In modern societies the approaches to difficulty are very different from those
adopted in mythology and religion. The prevailing attitude is that of ‘why wait? we
deserve happiness now!’. Attention goes in the direction of identifying what is or
might be needed by an individual. Yet, what is needed is often replaced by what is
desired and what is desired is believed to be rightly deserved. The individual is
convinced of his or her right to obtain what Buñuel would call ‘a dark object of
desire’ (Buñuel, 2013), immediately considering it an integral part of human rights.
Duty and obligation as factors inherently unpleasant are in conflict with individual
well-being and thus block the road to happiness. What psychology calls a pathetic
illusion is then born, a phenomenon which does not spare language teachers.
Emotions are typically classified by valence as pleasant or unpleasant, positive
or negative and by intensity into high or low. Stereotypically negative affect is
viewed as useless and harmful, while positive emotions tend to be seen as correlating not only with well-being, but also with success in performance. Yet, reality is
more nuanced and the evolutionary function of emotions is strongly diversified.
H. Komorowska
Are Positive Emotions Always Positive?
Affect experienced as positive is often truly positive in its impact on behaviour in the
sense that it reduces competitiveness and increases joint benefit in negotiations
(Carnevale & Isen, 1986), improves consolidation of long-term memories, raises the
level of creativity and correlates with holistic thinking as well as with more efficient
decision-making and problem-solving (Ashby, Isen, & Turken, 1999). It also ensures a
higher quality of interaction, leading to more openness to ideas or diverse options.
Positive affect correlates with high self-esteem which promotes goal achievement
(Leary, Tambor, Terdal, & Downs, 1995). Optimists tend to stress positive aspects
without distorting a general view of the situation and are less prone to be anchored in
earlier hypotheses. They also demonstrate ability to see advantages in opposite views. In
line with the broaden-and-build theory (Frederickson, 2004) positive emotions bring
about various kinds of positive thought-action results. The effects of positive affect, even
when favourable, are, however, context-dependent (Estrada, Isen, & Young, 1997).
As research demonstrates (Forgas, 1998, 2007), positive emotions, however useful
in many aspects, can also bring about problems. Superficial information processing,
ignoring sources of inconvenient information make optimists prone to simplifications
and mental shortcuts. Less careful observation makes optimists less valuable as witnesses (Forgas, Vargas, & Laham, 2005), while quick judgment, less systematic
thinking leads to unrealistic planning based on pathetic illusions and dispositional
hope. Lack of realism in decision-making is one of the most common dangers. More
positive self-assessment than that which would result from analyzing other people’s
perspectives, overestimated sense of control over situational factors and hope for a
happy future often lead to risk-taking behaviour and result in thwarted plans and
unexpected failure. Unrealistic planning is supported by filtering out negative information and feedback, denial and self-deception (Forgas & East, 2008; Taylor, 1997;
Wojciszke, 2013). Even self-esteem can produce problematic effects due to the
so-called self-serving bias (Blaine & Crocker, 1993) which distorts realistic evaluation
of an individual’s chances of success.
Are Negative Emotions Always Negative?
It is understandable that reactions caused by negative emotions are felt as
unpleasant. The natural tendency of those experiencing negative affect is to try to
suppress it, which—as psychology has demonstrated—does not solve the problem.
The typical reaction of parents, friends or teachers in contact with an individual full
of negative emotions is an attempt to reduce them. Reduction of negative affect,
however, does not mean stimulating positive emotions due to a phenomenon called
uncoupled activation. In fact, suppressing or reducing negative emotions, especially
under a cognitive load, may lead to their greater accessibility (Wegner, Erber, &
Zanakos, 1993; Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000).
Difficulty and Coping Strategies in Language Education …
What is more, basic negative emotions have an adaptive function: fear brings
information about possible danger predisposing us to cautious behaviour and
reduces risk-taking; jealousy results in more care given to people, objects or ways
of acting; anger informs of personal boundaries being crossed and therefore inclines
us to facing and overcoming contradicting circumstances. They can all prove
useful, productive and perfectly functional in problem-oriented strategies (Carr,
2004; Heszen, 2014).
Even pessimism can have a positive function if geared towards strategies
focused on the problem. According to Gillham, Shatte, Reivich, and Seligman
(2001), pessimism and optimism are explanatory attributional styles rather than
personality features. Optimists tend to attribute failure to external, situational factors, while pessimists look for internal causes of the lack of success. In consequence, pessimists are more likely to benefit from an internal locus of control and
engage in productive activity aimed at finding a new solution. Their planning may
also be more precise, more realistic and based on much more solid grounds than
that undertaken by optimists who base their goals on expectations of positive
results, if not on dispositional hope (Snyder, 2000). In decision-making pessimists
take into consideration not only to the value of the goal and the usefulness of
methods available, but also internal aspects such as the degree of their perceived
self-efficacy. What is more, pessimists tend to be better listeners, less influenced by
confusing information and more reliable as witnesses. They are often better
negotiators due to their more matter-of-fact argumentation and as citizens prove to
be more oriented towards external norms of justice and fairness (Snyder, 2000;
Taylor, 1997), yet they might self-present as optimists in order to avoid social
exclusion (Helweg-Larsen, Sadeghian, & Webb, 2002).
Difficulty often elicits faster thinking and more efficient functioning; improved
performance may be attributed to a paradoxical effect of stress, better known in
SLA/FLT as facilitating anxiety (Piechurska-Kuciel, 2008). At the same time individuals with low self-esteem are more cautious in executing their decision which may
help them to avoid mistakes if not straightforward danger (Wojciszke, 2013).
Experiencing hardship and strain often results in the so-called posttraumatic growth
(PTG) manifested in a higher degree of resilience, better conservation of resources, the
sense of strength and dispositional optimism. The experience of being able to overcome difficulty through applying one’s own methods and designing new solutions
leads to considerable personality growth as well as to the broadening of the repertoire
of individual cognitive and emotional resources (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). This
tendency has been revealed even in individuals who had been subjected to extreme
stress, e.g., during terrorist attacks. In later years posttraumatic growth led many of
these individuals to engage in meaningful, pro-social activities (Hobfoll, Hall,
Canett-Nisim, Galea, Johnson, & Palmieri, 2007).
Guidance in the process of self-assessment and self-diagnosis, as well as help in
conducting a cost-reward analysis of risk-taking behaviour, can be of great help
here. Guidance, however, if it is to be successful, should be based on the knowledge
of how individuals typically deal with stress and difficulty.
H. Komorowska
6 Learner’s Difficulty and the Coping Process
The problem with individually perceived difficulty is that it polarizes reactions
leading either to avoidance of activity or to a decision to act (Gordon Randall,
2008). As the final result is context-dependent, behaviour of an individual facing
what he or she considers to be a true challenge is hard to predict. Perception of a
given situation as difficult may result in different types of behaviour influenced by
dispositional pessimism or dispositional optimism of the learner.
Avoidance, according to Le Doux (1998), is a result of information running
through one of the two amygdala pathways. This pathway is often referred to as a high
road activating fear reactions without conscious experience. This mode is quicker and
less precise, but elicits automatic reactions to what the learner perceives as danger. The
second pathway, called a low road, engages cortex structures guaranteeing a slower
but more precise analysis of the stimulus and activating a conscious reaction. As the
stimulus is precisely processed, it might also be considered safe, therefore unnecessary
reactions can be blocked (Le Doux, 1998; Wierzchoń, 2013). Teachers are advised to
support the latter, i.e., the conscious road.
Dealing with difficulty—similarly to coping with stress—takes place through the
employment of three types of strategies
– strategies focused on the problem, sometimes referred to as mastery;
– strategies focused on emotions, sometimes referred to as meaning and;
– avoidance strategies, often based on denial, social isolation or passive aggressive attitudes (Conte & Plutchik, 1995; Heszen, 2014; Zeidner & Endler, 1996).
Educators usually encourage learners to use both proactive and reactive strategies focused on the problem, especially those combining analysis and action, i.e.,
– preventive strategies, analyzing scenarios for the future and/or in predicting
– reflective strategies, devising a variety of ways out of a predicament and
overviewing possible scenarios;
– strategic planning, which entails production of a detailed agenda;
– search for assistance, resources, emotional and instrumental support (Folkman
& Moskowitz, 2004; Greenglass & Fiksenbaum, 2009; Jiang, 2011; Scheier &
Carver, 1988).
Autonomous, high-achieving language learners tend to use proactive strategies,
while systematic, successful, but not necessarily autonomous students—if need
arises—opt for reactive strategies to overcome difficulty. Both groups of learners
select strategies which work for them on the basis of an earlier appraisal of formerly
encountered situations. Low achievers and unmotivated students do not cope as
well mainly because of numerous problems with correctly assessing the degree of
difficulty and the type of the context, an exercise much less problematic for successful students.
Difficulty and Coping Strategies in Language Education …
Appraisal can be emotion-driven or cognition-driven (Heszen, 2014; Lazarus &
Folkman, 1984). Individuals tend to be predisposed to certain kinds of appraisal and
can, therefore, be characterized by a prevailing type of dispositional appraisal,
though both its source and the resulting assessment may differ across contexts,
which is why psychologists speak about situational appraisal (Aronson, Wilson, &
Akert, 2012). Each case of appraisal takes place in two separate stages referred to as
primary and secondary appraisal.
Primary appraisal requires analyzing the situation and defining it as either
manageable or problematic and taxing. In its course individuals ask themselves
questions such as ‘Is it difficult?’, or ‘Is it stressful?’. Secondary appraisal concentrates on first assessing chances of success in the process of dealing with
potential or real difficulty and then planning a concrete course of action. Here
individuals ask themselves questions such as ‘Am I likely to get this done?’ and ‘If
so—how to do it?’. The decision to act can again be either intellectually or emotionally driven, which depends on the learner’s predispositions (Lazarus &
Folkman, 1984).
Students’ decisions to act are not always task-oriented. Sometimes they are
geared towards improving relations with the school and the family, while sometimes emotional self-regulation is their only aim. The former case reflects external
motivation, while the latter shows underlying internal motives. When the situation
is assessed as manageable, task-oriented strategies are selected, even though
motivation might remain external. When the task is perceived as unrealistic,
avoidance strategies are employed with the aim to reduce negative feelings and in
this way emotionally self-regulate (Heszen, 2014; Heszen-Niejodek, 2004).
Coping strategies depend on an individual’s temperament which determines
actual energy levels (Strelau, 2004). These in turn influence activeness which raises
adrenaline levels and evokes positive emotions (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004).
These factors are obviously beyond the teacher’s control. Yet the role of the teacher’s support is significant, though the type of effective assistance given to students in difficulty depends both on the situation and on the personality of the
7 How Can Teachers Help Students to Cope
with Difficulty?
The teacher who wants to help students through difficulty needs to identify their
appraisal type to decide what kind of pedagogical activity would be appropriate.
When learners’ emotions govern the appraisal process, engagement of cognitive
processes may help them to break the vicious circle of negative affect producing a
pessimistic assessment which would in turn breed even more negative affect. The
teacher can assist in the formation of questions in the course of both primary and
H. Komorowska
secondary appraisal. Useful questions suggested by the teacher to be reflected on by
the learner are, for example, ‘Is it unpleasant?’, ‘How much effort will I have to
invest?’, ‘How much time will I need?’, ‘How can I go about it?’, ‘How many
scenarios can I think of?’, ‘Which one shall I decide on?’, ‘What is my action
plan?’. Looking for evidence for judgments presented may help students to correctly assess their capabilities and affordances.
Through a teacher’s assistance positive emotions can be elicited and the direction of influence is likely to be reversed. Good teacher-student rapport, constructive
feedback and more frequent, well-justified praise directed at concrete activities or
products rather than at the person of the learner will be of great help here. Caution
is, however, recommended when it comes to material rewards, however small, or to
scores as psychological research informs teachers that rewards reduce internal
motivation and may even demotivate students who tend to lose interest if rewards
are removed (Carr, 2004; Weiner, 2006). Gamification, so common today not only
in corporate contexts, but also in education, has been found to work against
long-term planning (Jiang, 2011), while too frequent feedback, although it may help
to develop skills, does not contribute to the promotion of learner autonomy.
Therefore, the teacher needs to identify and use an appropriate form, type and
amount of feedback.
Yet, other factors should also be taken into consideration. To guide students in
their process of coping with difficulty, the teacher needs to understand which
personality features can block learners’ efforts. Although correlations between
personality and coping strategies are not particularly high, individual variables tend
to moderate behaviour in situations perceived as difficult or stressful (Heszen,
2014). Certain personality features have been found to impede coping; low
self-esteem results in tendencies to filter positive feedback as incongruent with
negative self-evaluation, especially if positive feedback has been rare in the individual’s life experience. At the same time negative information tends to make more
impact than its positive counterpart (Peeters & Czapiński, 1990).
Educational support in language education can be achieved through offering help
in study planning, strategy training, assistance in the identification of preferred
learning styles, guidance in the process of selecting strategies appropriate in the
cost-reward perspective and an offer of counsel in decision-making. Encouraging
self-assessment and providing tools for the purpose such as, for instance, open
self-tests with scoring keys can prove useful. A vast array of tools and documents
provided by the Council of Europe and the European Centre for Modern Languages
in Graz such as The European Language Portfolio (Council of Europe, 2000), The
Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters (Byram, Barrett, Ipgrave, Jackson, &
Garcia Mendez, 2009), The Common European Framework for Reference for
Languages. Teaching-Learning-Assessment (Council of Europe, 2001) or
Framework of Reference for Pluralistic Approaches to Languages and Cultures
(FREPA/CARAP) (Candelier, Camilleri-Grima, Castellotti, de Pietro, Lőrincz,
Meißner, Noguerol, & Schröder-Sura, 2012) will be of great help here.
Sometimes the teacher’s support may not prove sufficient, especially when the
learner’s personality is not resilient, that is when there is no easy return to the state
Difficulty and Coping Strategies in Language Education …
of well-being after a period of effort invested in coping with difficulty (Carr, 2004).
Lack of success in educational guidance should not be immediately treated as the
teacher’s fault; the human evolutionary endowment predisposes us to a higher
intensity of negative emotions resulting from failure than of positive emotions
resulting from success (Buss, 1999). It is, however, worth noting that failure brings
considerably more disappointment when it is unexpected because the goal was
assessed as easy to achieve. It is less distressing if the aim to be achieved was
treated with due respect and no competition was involved in the learning process
(Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Fortuna, 2012). Teachers, therefore, need to formulate
their curricular objectives as mastery goals linked to a set of skills and competences
rather than performance goals attached to no more than set standards leading to
socially prescribed perfectionism and based on ranking which appeals to
competition-oriented students.
8 Conclusion. A Place for Positive Psychology
All the above does not mean that positive psychology has no place in SLA/FLT. On
the contrary, it draws our attention to the importance of individual variables both
affective and cognitive.
As far as learners’ affective and personality factors are concerned, the fact that
the effectiveness of teachers’ assistance depends on the context points to the role of
a teacher’s correct diagnosis of those of the learner’s personality characteristics
which are of special significance for success in coping with difficulty in language
learning. Four characteristics seem to be particularly important. What proves to be
crucial for successful management of difficulty as well as for social competence and
interpersonal communication is self-efficacy based on experience of control,
observation and social persuasion, as well as on a satisfactory physical and emotional state (Carr, 2004). Another personality trait important for the purpose is
hardiness or resistance, defined as the lack of sensitivity to negative stimulation
(Kobasa, 1982). One more personality variable which should not be ignored is
resilience, or flexible adaptability, i.e., an ability to go back to the neutral quo ante
state soon after an instance of failure. Last but not least, there comes the sense of
coherence defined as the ability to identify both the content and the value of
messages. A tendency to look for coherence increases the learner’s chances to
achieve comprehensibility of information, thus increasing the feeling of manageability, i.e., perceiving resources as sufficient for effective coping with difficulty and
ensuring meaningfulness. Requirements are then perceived as worth the effort,
while undesirable situations tend to be viewed as challenges rather than traps
(Antonovsky, 1995; Heszen, 2014; Seligman, 2002).
Artificial self-esteem formation and instantaneous help work against endurance
and perseverance. Caution is needed in dealing with positive affect. Teachers
H. Komorowska
enthusiastic about the correlation between self-esteem and success engage in what
psychologists call ‘recalibrating indicators’ and help students raise their self-esteem
and feel good without intensifying effort, engaging in well planned activity and
achieving satisfying results (Seligman, 2002).
Teachers’ efforts therefore, do not need to go in the direction of suppressing
negative affect, but should engage learners’ cognition, helping them to self-reflect
(Siegel, 2007), analyze the type of difficulty, assess to what extent they are interested in achieving a particular objective, locate human and material resources
available and plan detailed action. Inclining them to engage in self-oriented rather
than other-oriented perfectionism will help to reduce competitive tendencies.
The educational aim—apart from the didactic one connected with the development of language skills—is to help learners consciously combine emotional reactions to stimuli with a rational analysis of the situation in which they find
themselves, much like it happens in the state of FLOW in which engagement and
concentration is balanced with abilities (Czikzentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen,
Without teachers’ assistance learners are likely to find themselves at the mercy
of their own unrecognized affect. Often these are negative emotions, a situation
always difficult because—as psychological research tells us—bad is perhaps not
morally stronger than good, but we definitely respond more strongly to it. Research
on bad vs. good impressions demonstrates that negative stereotypes are quicker to
form, being at the same time much more resistant to being disproven. Bad
impressions and negative feedback have a stronger impact on individuals whose
main goal becomes to avoid unfavourable self-definitions rather than to pursue
favourable ones as this would imply conscious effort (Baumeister, Bratslavsky,
Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001; Peeters & Czapiński, 1990). Fear is multifaceted as it
embraces fear of shame, fear of losses in self-esteem, fear of the future, fear of loss
of interest and attention of significant others and fear of disapproval on their part
(Conroy, 2003). In language education fear will result in lower willingness to
communicate, less interpersonal contact, less intercultural competence and lower
fluency levels together with a tendency to ignore one’s problems and avoid difficulty connected with direct face-to-face communication. For all those reasons the
teacher’s assistance is invaluable in helping learners to persist in the face of
obstacles, those more or less frequent setbacks unavoidable in the course of their
school life.
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Part II
Focus on a Learner: Positive Interventions
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus
on Well-Being in the Language Classroom
Tammy Gregersen
Abstract One of the problems with our historical approach to emotions in language teaching and learning was that we tended to concentrate our efforts on
eradicating negative emotions like language anxiety without considering how the
whole array of positive emotions might be strategically used. Consequently, the
purpose of this chapter is three-fold: (1) to demonstrate the influence of emotion by
tapping into them through powerful true life accounts; (2) to provide evidence of
the power of PP interventions (specifically gratitude, altruism, music, pets, exercise
and laughter) through detailing previous investigations into their efficacy; and (3) to
explore the potential of positive psychology interventions in language learning
through sharing original quantitative and narrative data of participants in a recent
Keywords Emotion Positive psychology Altruism Gratitude Music Pets
Exercise Laughter
1 Introduction
Antonio Damasio (2005, npg), arguably one of the leading neurobiologists of our
time, once said, “I continue to be fascinated by the fact that feelings are not just the
shady side of reason but they help us reach decisions as well”. His work supports
the notion that emotions play a critical role in high-level cognition, and “rather than
being a luxury, emotions are a very intelligent way of driving an organism toward
certain outcomes” (Damasio, 2001, npg). The prominent role of emotions in cognition behooves language acquisition practitioners (i.e., researchers, teachers and
teacher educators) to take a good, hard look at how we can capitalize on them more
effectively in target language teaching and learning.
T. Gregersen (&)
Department of Languages and Literatures, University of Northern Iowa,
1001 Bartlett Hall, Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0502, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_4
T. Gregersen
To this end, several language acquisition experts were polled and asked to finish
the following sentence: “Attempting to teach a target language without considering
learners’ emotional and psychological dimensions is like (…)”. Here are their
teaching machines. (Ana Barcelos)
believing you can get a cardboard cut out to sing opera. (Sarah Mercer)
trying to bake cake without heat! (Jean Marc DeWaele)
trying to play soccer blindfolded on your knees, or
investing in the stock market while visiting the South Pole without wifi, or
experiencing a social lobotomy. (Tim Murphey)
doing a triple axel in a skating competition without prior training and information, or
ignoring everything that Earl Stevick ever said, or
trying to find one’s way through the Black Forest without a compass or a map, or
attempting to get somewhere while blindfolded. (Rebecca Oxford)
teaching a language instead of teaching learners a language. (Peter MacIntyre)
trying to dance without music, or
having your cake but not eating it. (Andrew Cohen)
Throughout the past several decades, applied linguists (like the ones polled
above) have spent considerable time and energy attempting to find remediation for
negative affect (e.g., high anxiety, low motivation, among others) and while this
was and still is an important endeavor, the time has come with the advent of
Positive Psychology (PP) to step up our efforts to strategically tap into positive
emotion in language learning and teaching. Positive emotions have a broadening
effect on our momentary thought-action repertoires, discarding automatic responses
and looking for creative, flexible and unpredictable new ways of thinking and
acting. “The psychological broadening sparked by one positive emotion can
increase an individual’s receptiveness to subsequent pleasant or meaningful events,
increasing the odds that the individual will find positive meaning in these subsequent events and experience additional positive emotions” (Fredrickson, 2001,
p. 223).
With this in mind, the purpose in this paper is three-fold: (1) to demonstrate the
influence of emotion by tapping into them through powerful true life accounts;
(2) to provide evidence of the power of PP interventions (specifically gratitude,
altruism, music, pets, exercise and laughter) through detailing previous investigations into their efficacy; and (3) to explore the potential of positive psychology
interventions in language learning through sharing original quantitative and narrative data of participants in a recent study.
Martin Seligman (2001, npg), one of the primary initiators of the push toward
looking at human behavior from a positive perspective rather from a dysfunctional
one, made a call to researchers to “broaden the scope of positive psychology well
beyond the smiley face”. To heed his plea, this paper explores the effects of six PP
interventions on the affective responses of five language learners. These interventions consisted of: Gratitude, Altruism, Music, Pets, Laughter, and Exercise. Each
intervention is addressed one by one by first presenting a vignette that is meant to
demonstrate the power of each element. This is followed by previous investigations
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus …
concerning each activity and then concludes with data that was collected from
original research. Before embarking on the presentation of each intervention,
however, the procedures used in the collection of quantitative and qualitative data
will be described.
2 Method
Three Brazilian and two Japanese female second language learners between the
ages of 20 and 23 consented to take part in this study. They were all enrolled in an
intensive academic English program in a U.S. university and had taken the extra
step of requesting a conversation partner. Each had spent only a few months in the
U.S. before the study began.
Each learner was paired with a volunteer tutor from the conversation partner program (an extra-curricular offering set up by the Culture and Intensive English
Program which teaches English for academic purposes for international students) at
the university which they all attended. All of the tutors were trained in the PP
interventions and had previous experience with learning and teaching language.
They were also well-coordinated through meetings/emails. At the first meeting, the
learner responded to a series of open-ended interview questions posed by their
assigned tutor so that the PP interventions could be catered to the personalized
interests of the language learner. So, for example, if a learner enjoyed folk music
more than classical, the tutor could individualize the specific PP intervention to
align with her unique tastes. Learners who preferred dogs over cats or vice versa
were able to interact with the pet of their choice.
During the next twelve weeks, tutors and learners met once a week, with every
other week (six total) containing a positive psychology intervention specifically
designed for each learner. Off weeks were considered “control” meetings. Partners
met at different locations depending on which PP intervention was scheduled. Three
measures were taken: (1) Participants self-rated emotion using a scale from one to
ten at the beginning, middle and end of each session; (2) They journaled at the end
of each meeting while tutors recorded their immediate observations; and (3) They
shared their final interview commentary on the whole process in the last session.
The following table shows the self-reported results from the first measure listed
above of our language learners before and after interventions:
T. Gregersen
Table 1 Participant increases in self-ratings per intervention
Mean change
Intervention One: Gratitude
The first PP intervention was gratitude. The following story by Max Lucado (1991)
captures the importance of being thankful in order to thrive:
Without fail every Friday evening at sunset, Old Ed strolls along the beach. Clutching in
his bony hand a bucket of shrimp, he walks out to the end of his favorite deserted pier. Ed is
always alone accompanied only by his thoughts… and his bucket of shrimp. Before long,
however, a thousand white dots come screeching and squawking and envelope at the end of
the pier. Ed tosses shrimp to the hungry seagulls and as he does, he repeatedly whispers
with a smile, ‘Thank you. Thank you’.
In a few short minutes the bucket is empty, but Ed doesn’t leave. He stands there lost in
thought, transported to another time and place. Invariably, one of the gulls lands on his
sea-bleached, weather-beaten hat. When he finally turns around and begins to walk back
toward the beach, a few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the stairs,
and then they, too, fly away, and old Ed quietly meanders to the end of the beach and then
heads home.
To bystanders, Ed’s just another old guy, lost in his own weird world, feeding
the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp. And to the unknowing observer, Ed and
his rituals may look strange or empty. They can seem altogether unimportant…
maybe even a lot of nonsense. Ed’s full name is Eddie Rickenbacker. As a young
man, we piloted airplanes and one day his flight came to a tragic end when he and
seven others crashed into the Pacific. All of the men survived, crawled out of their
plane, and climbed into a life raft. Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for
days on the rough waters of the Pacific. They fought the sun and sharks, but most of
all, they fought hunger. By the eighth day their food and water ran out. No food. No
water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were.
They needed a miracle.
One afternoon as the weary shipwrecked men tried to nap, Eddie leaned back
and pulled his cap over his nose. Time dragged and all he could hear was the slap of
the waves against the raft. Unexpectedly, Eddie felt something land on the top of
his cap. It was a seagull! Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still,
planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he
managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus …
starving crew made a light meal of it. Then they used the intestines for bait. With it,
they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait… and the cycle continued.
With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea
until they were found and rescued after 24 days at sea.
Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the
sacrifice of that first lifesaving seagull. And he never stopped saying, ‘Thank you’.
That’s why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier with a
bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude (Lucado, 1991).
Melody Beattie once said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what
we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order,
confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger
into a friend”. The intervention, “Three Good Things” is grounded on the notion
that thankfulness arises in human interactions when we recognize that others’
actions have constructively impacted us. Prior investigations provide evidence that
not only is conveying gratitude healthy for its conveyer (Peterson, 2006), but that
those who maintain a journal of occasions for which they are grateful also profit
from better health and higher subjective well-being compared with individuals who
write about stresses or other negative occurrences in their daily lives. When individuals count their blessings, it is an expression of gratitude in which they identify
what they are grateful for, recognize the source of the blessings, and then link their
thankfulness to the sources (Emmons & Shelton, 2002).
Our findings also suggest that gratitude increases one’s feelings of well-being.
Table 1 shows that, in our limited sample size, language learners’ moods increased
an average of 1.8 points (with a total of ten total) after they had participated in the
PP intervention.
The learners’ qualitative responses also provide evidence of gratitude’s positive
It was good to list some of the things for which I’m grateful. I focused on the aspects that
are related to my experience living in a different country and learning a second language.
This activity generated interesting subjects that allowed us to know a little bit more about
things we value in life and that motivate us to pursuit our goals. Although we have
absolutely different histories of life, we could realize that we have similar values, for
example, we both agree that our greatest gratitude is by our families (Excerpt from T’s
[T] mentioned how grateful she is for me which was touching and rewarding. She said that
she couldn’t understand why we choose to do it [tutor] (underline in original script)
(Excerpt from T’s partner’s research notes).
Intervention Two: Altruism
The next intervention investigated was Altruism. To understand it better, here is the
story of Charles Plumb, a jet pilot in a time of war (Plumb, 2015). After 75 combat
missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected,
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parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a prisoner of war. He survived
the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience.
One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table
came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters from an aircraft carrier. You were
shot down!”
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
“I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude.
The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him, “It sure did.
If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today”.
Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a uniform: a white hat, a bib in the back, and
bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said
‘Good morning, how are you?’ or anything because, you see, I was a pilot and he was just
a sailor”.
Plumb thought of the unending hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the
bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute,
holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he did not know.
Plumb’s question to others is, “Who’s packing your parachute?” He believes that
everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day and
each individual needs many different kinds of parachutes. When Plumb’s plane was
shot down over enemy territory, he needed his physical parachute, his mental
parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all
these supports before reaching safety.
So for altruism, it is important to remember that sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important. We may fail to say hello,
please, or thank you, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has
happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason
(Plumb, 2015).
When learners in this study participated in altruistic acts of kindness, they were
asked to consider the well-being of others. Deeds that are deemed altruistic are
preceded by the existence of a meaningful goal to improve the wellbeing of another
person while at the same time relegating clandestine selfish motives to the distant
background. Cases of empathic sentiments frequently arouse altruistic impulses,
partially due to the emotional response we feel upon observing another individual
requiring help that we can deliver. This emotional response is likened to sympathy,
compassion and tenderness. Batson and his team (Batson, Ahmad, Lishner, &
Tsang, 2002) have established that altruistic helping behavior is a reaction triggered
by empathic emotion rather than egoistic stimuluses. One reason that altruism
increases people’s happiness is because being generous encourages us to perceive
others with greater compassion because we generally notice positive attributes in
people we care about. Furthermore, altruistic behaviors stimulate feelings of
belonging and community—elements shown to be robust to enriching our happiness. As an outlet for gratitude, altruism also helps people cherish and feel
appreciative of their own lot in life. Additionally, acting upon altruistic leanings
heightens a person’s self-esteem and incites him or her feel worthwhile, providing
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus …
an outlet to exercise strengths and talents in meaningful ways. Lastly, demonstrating benevolence can ignite a chain reaction of positivity—being generous to
others may incentivize them to be grateful and generous to others, who in turn pay it
forward to others (Lyubormirsky, 2008).
Like gratitude, the findings in the present study also suggest that altruism
improves one’s affective state. Table 1 shows that, after participating in acts of
kindness, language learners’ moods increased an average of 1.2 points after participating in the PP intervention. Furthermore, the learners’ narratives also offer
support of the affirming results:
I like to think about the person who received the thank you card that I wrote for them.
I believe that it probably made them happy and they had a better day. It feels good to do
nice things for other people (Excerpt taken from A’s final interview).
Making the card to a girl who has been battling a serious illness was very nice. I felt good
because I think when she receives it, for her probably does not matter if I am American or
not, if I speak English fluently or not. It is good to know that I can help putting a smile in
her face. Particularly I believe that acts of benevolence are beneficial for those who practice
and for those who receive exactly the same way. Among other positive effects, my mood
also got better while doing it (Excerpt from T’s narrative).
I’m feeling like T trusts me and is more confident in speaking and attempting (Excerpt from
T’s partner’s research notes).
Intervention Three: Music
To understand the positivity that music can afford, here is the urban legend of
Mildred Hondorf, a former elementary music teacher. She had always supplemented her income by teaching piano lessons and had been doing this for over
30 years, and in this time, she found children with many different levels of musical
ability. She tells her story like this:
I’ve never had the pleasure of having a prodigy, though I have taught some talented
students. However, I’ve also had my share of what I call “musically challenged” pupils.
One such student was Robby. Robby was 11 years old when his mother (a single mom)
dropped him off for his first piano lesson.
I prefer that students (especially boys) begin at an earlier age, which I explained to
Robby. But, Robby said that it had always been his mother’s dream to hear him play the
piano. So I took him as a student. Well, Robby began with his piano lessons and, from the
beginning, I thought it was a hopeless endeavor.
As much as Robby tried, he lacked the sense of tone and basic rhythm needed to excel.
But, he dutifully reviewed his scales and some elementary pieces that I require all my
students to learn. Over the months he tried and tried while I listened and cringed and tried
to encourage him. At the end of each weekly lesson he’d always say, “My mom’s going to
hear me play someday”. But, it seemed hopeless. He just did not have any inborn ability.
I only knew his mother from a distance as she dropped Robby off or waited in her aged
car to pick him up. She always waved and smiled but never stopped in. Then one day Robby
stopped coming to our lessons. I thought about calling him, but assumed, because of his
lack of ability, that he had decided to pursue something else. I also was glad that he
stopped coming. He was a bad advertisement for my teaching!
T. Gregersen
Several weeks later I mailed to the student’s homes a flyer on the upcoming recital. To
my surprise Robby (who received a flyer) asked me if he could be in the recital. I told him
that the recital was for current pupils and because he had dropped out he really did not
qualify. He said that his mom had been sick and unable to take him to piano lessons, but he
was still practicing.
“Miss Hondorf… I’ve just got to play!” he insisted. I don’t know what led me to allow
him to play in the recital. Maybe it was his persistence or maybe it was something inside of
me saying that it would be all right.
The night for the recital came. The high school gymnasium was packed with parents,
friends and relatives. I put Robby up last in the program before I was to come up and thank
all the students and play a finishing piece. I thought that any damage he would do would
come at the end of the program and I could always salvage his poor performance through
my “curtain closer”.
Well, the recital went off without a hitch. The students had been practicing and it
showed. Then Robby came up on stage. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair looked like
he had run an eggbeater through it. “Why didn’t he dress up like the other students?” I
thought. “Why didn’t his mother at least make him comb his hair for this special night?”
Robby pulled out the piano bench and he began. I was surprised when he announced
that he had chosen Mozart’s Concerto #21 in C Major. I was not prepared for what I heard
next. His fingers were light on the keys, they even danced nimbly on the ivories. He went
from pianissimo to fortissimo… from allegro to virtuoso. His suspended chords that Mozart
demands were magnificent! Never had I heard Mozart played so well by people his age.
After six and a half minutes he ended in a grand crescendo and everyone was on their
feet in wild applause. Overcome and in tears I ran up on stage and put my arms around
Robby in joy. “I’ve never heard you play like that Robby! How’d you do it?”
Through the microphone Robby explained: “Well Miss Hondorf… remember I told you
my mom was sick? Well, actually she had cancer and passed away this morning. And
well… she was born deaf, so tonight was the first time she ever heard me play. I wanted to
make it special”.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house that evening. As the people from Social Services led
Robby from the stage to be placed into foster care, I noticed that even their eyes were red
and puffy and I thought to myself how much richer my life had been for taking Robby as my
pupil. No, I’ve never had a prodigy, but that night I became a prodigy… of Robby’s. He
was the teacher and I was the pupil. For it is he that taught me the meaning of perseverance and love and believing in yourself and maybe even taking a chance in someone and
you don’t know why. (Piano Lessons, 2000)
The story of Robby and Mrs. Hondorf speaks to the value of music, how it can
personally impact individuals and build relationships. Music, as a PP intervention,
can incorporate a variety of different elements, such as making music, composing
songs, or passively listening. Although music for the purpose of therapy is frequently intended to encourage positive emotional expression, there can be
numerous additional aims including the relief of stress or anxiety, emotional
enhancement, and an improvement in the quality of life for those suffering from an
array of illnesses. In an investigation of 116 participants, those who received music
therapy (as compared to a control group of individuals who did not), presented
significantly greater drops in stress, anxiety, and depression. The music therapy
consisted of listening to thirty minutes of relaxing music two times daily for two
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus …
weeks (Chang, Chen, & Huang, 2008). In the discipline of language learning,
Murphey (2010) integrated music and song to provide cultural and linguistic features in English language learning to stimulate motivation in his Japanese learners.
In another study, Murphey (2014) established that singing and teaching with
movement generated positive emotions and had an edifying influence on learners’
and teachers’ well-being. Furthermore, implementing music delivered value-added
linguistic outcomes like rhyming, blending, vowel changes, assonance, alliteration,
and rhythm.
As for the results of the five language learners in this study, Table 1 shows an
average improvement of 1.9 points from the first measure of learners’ affect at the
beginning of the tutorial session with conversation partners to the end in those
sessions where music was played. Learners’ post-invention narratives also show
positive change:
During our meeting I feel comfortable to not be discouraged by my mistakes and difficulties, because I know this is the only way to learn. The fact that my partner is very patient
help me a lot. She usually ask me interesting questions, which is motivating… After our
meeting I felt better than before because I felt like I have done something good to try to
improve my speaking, which is a big goal. I think this is satisfaction (Excerpt from T’s
We listened to music. M showed me a song by her favorite singer and explained that the
song helped her feel better when she was unhappy. I showed her a song that had a similar
effect on me and we discussed the word ‘bittersweet’ (Excerpt from M’s partner’s research
Intervention Four: Pets
One of the elements on which positive psychologists agree is that humans need
relationships and community to thrive. These next stories of beyond-life loyalty
suggest why pet therapy often results in positive outcomes. In both of the vignettes,
a heartbroken dog pays homage to the friend they served in life. The first, Tommy,
is a seven-year-old German shepherd whose owner passed away. He missed her so
much that he attended services at the Italian church where her funeral was held,
patiently waiting for her to return. Loyal Tommy belonged to the old woman and
had been her faithful companion since she adopted him after finding him abandoned
in fields close to her home. Before his owner’s death, Tommy would walk to church
with her from her home every day where the priest allowed him to sit quietly by her
feet. Upon her death, a funeral service was held at which Tommy joined mourners
and since then has been a regular attendee at the church, arriving on time when the
bells ring out to mark the start of services.
The second vignette is about Capitan who is also a faithful German shepherd. In
his case, he refused to leave the side of his deceased master by running away from
home upon his owner’s death to sit by the grave. A week later, the man’s family
went to pay their respects and found the heart-broken pet sitting by his owner’s
T. Gregersen
burial site, wailing. Since that time the grieving dog has rarely left the spot at the
Argentine cemetery in the town of Villa Carlos Paz, in central Argentina. Although
Capitan sometimes leaves the cemetery to spend a short period of time with his
family, he always returns to the gravesite before dark (Saylor, 2014).
Dean Koontz, in his book, False memory once said, “Petting, scratching, and
cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and
almost as good for the soul as prayer”. Previous investigations provide evidence
that interactions with pet companions increase neurochemicals linked to bonding
and relaxation which also improve the functioning of the immune system
(Charnetsky, Riggers, & Brennan, 2004). Integrating animals into therapy has
reduced physical pain in patients with chronic disorders. Kaminski, Pellino, and
Wish (2002) discovered that heart rates, parents’ assessments of their child’s
emotion, and display of positive affect could be enriched through interaction with
pets. The physiological and emotional components of pet assisted therapy result in
positive affect and emotional improvement. Play is crucial for children and pets as a
distraction from emotional and physiological pressure, and researchers have found
that children report less pain, desire more contact, and want a pet at home when
they are asked to make three wishes after pet assisted therapy (Kaminski et al.,
2002). The contact between humans and pets assists in developing social skills that
can be transferred to interactions with people (Wisdom, Saedi, & Green, 2009).
Odendaal (2000) attributes the bonding effects of pet-assisted therapy to the
interaction of humans and dogs as they satisfy their mutual requisite for attention.
Physiological measures also reveal that the dogs profit from the exchange.
Like the previous three interventions, the findings in the present study also
provide evidence that interacting with pets can improve one’s mood. According to
the results shown in Table 1, when language learners participated in activities with
pets, they showed considerable gains in their self-reported emotional state, experiencing an average gain of 1.8 on a ten point scale. Learners’ narratives concur:
We got a dog to play together this time. I was so excited! I love dogs, and the dog was very
cute, calm, smart. I really enjoyed meeting [my partner] and talking to her too! After the
dog went back, we talked many things. I had a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to meet her
next time! (Excerpt from B’s narrative).
The animals were the best because I love cats so much, and I miss my own cat in Brazil, so
it made me feel more at home (Excerpt from A’s narrative).
This exercise could not have come at a better time. “A” had just broken up with a guy that
she had been dating for a couple months and it wasn’t the greatest breakup scenario that
could have happened. I brought her to my house and while she told me about everything
that had happened with this boy, she was cuddling and playing with my cat. “A” loves cats
and has expressed how much she misses her cat at home in Brazil. Her mood was very low
on this day because of everything that had happened with the boy, but she said that the
conversation with me and the time spent with my cat was very helpful (Excerpt from A’s
partner’s research notes).
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus …
Intervention Five: Laughter
The next true story speaks to the heart-healing positive power of laughter. Here is
the sorrowful story of one young woman, Rose, written upon the loss of her mother:
Consumed by my loss, I didn’t notice the hardness of the pew where I sat. I was at the
funeral of my dearest friend—my mother. She finally had lost her long battle with cancer.
The hurt was so intense, I found it hard to breathe at times. Always supportive, mother
clapped the loudest at my school plays, held a box of tissues while listening to my first
heartbreak, comforted me at my father’s death, encouraged me in college, and prayed for
me my entire life. When mother’s illness was diagnosed, my sister had a new baby and my
brother had recently married his childhood sweetheart, so it fell on me, the 27 year old
middle child without entanglements, to take care of her. I counted it an honor. Sitting in
church, my life stretched out before me as an empty abyss. My brother sat stoically with his
face toward the cross while clutching his wife’s hand. My sister sat slumped against her
husband’s shoulder, his arm around her as she cradled their child. All so deeply grieving,
no one noticed I sat alone. My place had been with our mother, preparing her meals,
helping her walk, taking her to the doctor, seeing to her medication, reading together. Now
she was gone. My work was finished and I was alone.
I heard a door open and slam shut at the back of the church. Quick footsteps hurried
along the carpeted floor. An exasperated young man looked around briefly and then sat
next to me. He folded his hands and placed them on his lap. His eyes were brimming with
tears. He began to sniffle.
“I’m late,” he explained, though no explanation was necessary. After several eulogies,
he leaned over and commented, “Why do they keep calling Mary by the name of
‘Margaret’”?“Oh, because that was her name, Margaret. Never Mary. No one called her
Mary,” I whispered. I wondered why this person could not have sat on the other side of the
church. He interrupted my grieving with this tears and fidgeting. Who was this stranger
“No, that isn’t correct,” he insisted as several people glanced over at us. He whispered,
“Her name is Mary, Mary Peters”.
“That isn’t who this is,” I replied.
“Isn’t this the Lutheran church?”
“No, the Lutheran church is across the street”.
“I believe you’re at the wrong funeral, Sir”.
The solemnness of the occasion mixed with the realization of the man’s mistake bubbled
up inside me and came out as laughter. I cupped my hands over my face hoping it would be
interpreted as sobs. The creaking pew gave me away. Sharp looks from other mourners
only made the situation seem more hilarious. I peeked at the bewildered, misguided man
seated beside me. He was laughing too. As he glanced around, he decided it was too late
for an uneventful exit.
I imagined mother laughing.
At the final “Amen,” we darted out a door and into the parking lot. “I do believe we’ll
be the talk of the town,” he smiled. He said his name was Rick and since he had missed his
aunt’s funeral, asked me out for a cup of coffee.
That afternoon began a lifelong journey for me with this man who attended the wrong
funeral but was in the right place.
T. Gregersen
A year after their meeting, they were married at a country church where the
“misplaced” man was the pastor. That time they were both at the right church at the
right time. In their time of sorrow, they received laughter, and in the place of
loneliness, they experienced love (academictips.org/blogs/moms-last-laugh/).
Robert Frost once said, “If we didn’t have laughter, we would all go insane”. That
may be because humor is a reaction that improves our ability to cope and to savor
the positive in our lives. As a coping tool, humor tends to relieve tension and
anxiety (Kuiper & Martin, 1993; Moran & Massam, 1999; Yovetich, Dale, &
Hudak, 1990), serving to safeguard people from the physical consequences of stress
(Lefcourt & Martin, 1986; Martin & Dobbin, 1988; Martin & Lefcourt, 1983).
Introducing humor into the classroom can make learning more enjoyable (Bryant &
Zillmann, 1988; LoShiavo & Shatz, 2005). Laughter facilitates the preservation of a
healthy outlook through challenging stretches and increases the observable
expression of happiness, increasing one’s ability to deal with negative-narrowing
experiences (Bryant & Veroff, 2007).
Respondents in the present study also found the PP intervention of laughter to be
a spirit-lifter. Similar to the outcomes from the other interventions, laughter resulted
in improved findings. The mean score of the language learners shown in Table 1
demonstrates an increase of 2.2 from their initial encounter with their tutor until
after the laughter intervention. T’s conversation partner had the following to say:
T is naturally pretty shy, but she was comfortable telling me personal things, so I’m under
the impression that she acts like that around her friends too. When we had the laughter yoga
video going, she was laughing really hard at what was happening in the video, but she felt
too shy to actually perform the exercises. In her prompt she also mentioned that she wished
there was a bigger group of people to do it with because it would have been fun. This was
the last exercise we did together, so we were comfortable around each other enough to belly
laugh (Excerpt from T’s partner’s research notes).
Intervention Six: Exercise
The final PP intervention that was integrated into the conversation partners’ language learning experience was exercise. The story of a group of frogs traveling
through the woods extols the virtues of physical exertion. Two of the frogs, one of
whom was named Freddy, fell into a deep pit. When the other frogs saw how deep
the pit was, they told Freddy and his unfortunate companion that they were as good
as dead. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump out of the pit with all
their might. The other frogs kept telling them to stop, that they were wasting their
energy. Finally, Freddy’s friend took heed of what the other frogs were saying and
gave up. He fell down and died. Freddy continued to jump as hard as he could. Once
again the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. Freddy jumped
even harder and finally made it out. When he got out, the other frogs said, “Did you
not hear us?” Freddy explained to them that he was deaf and that he thought that all
along they had been encouraging him! (Two Frogs, 2015).
The Positive Broadening Power of a Focus …
One might envisage that the moral to this story is that there is the power of life
and death in words and that an encouraging word to someone who is down can lift
them up and help them make it through tough times. Or one might think that the
lesson being taught is that a destructive word to someone who is down can be what
it takes to metaphorically kill him. Although both of those interpretations are wise
and insightful, this one is much less profound: Freddy never would have jumped so
hard and so long if he didn’t exercise!
Wilhelm von Humboldt once said, “True enjoyment comes from activity of the
mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united”. In the short term, physical
work-outs stimulate positive-broadening emotional states and in the long term
consistent exercise is linked to deeper happiness (Argyle, 2001; Sarafino, 2002).
The short-term effects of exercise happen in part because it triggers the discharge of
endorphins which are morphine-like substances produced in the brain. The lasting
outcomes of regular exercise occur because frequent and consistent exercise routines have been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, escalate the speed and
accuracy of work, cultivate self-esteem, encourage fitness and improve cardiovascular functions. Habitual physical activity also moderates the weight gain associated with ageing. For adults, routine physical activity lowers the dangers of heart
disease and cancer and is linked to longevity. Moreover, people who make exercising a habit commonly are joined by others and so reap the benefits of further
social networking on their overall subjective well-being (Carr, 2004).
Table 1 above shows an average increase of 2.2 in the mean positivity scores of
respondents in the present study after exercising with their language tutors during
their conversation partner meetings. One of the participants had the following to say
about this particular PP intervention:
After our meeting, as usual, I was feeling better and less stressed than before. While
walking, I felt relaxed. As usual, when we are talking I feel good for being practicing my
English with an ‘American’ friend. This takes me away from my routine along with other
Brazilians, which is good. In addition, in the course of time, our conversations start to
require from me different vocabulary. Sometimes it is hard, but it is also challenging
(Excerpt from T’s narrative).
3 Conclusion
Experiencing positive emotion provides language learners with the resilience to
continue on what is often perceived as a long and complicated journey toward
greater proficiency. One of the most poignant questions for teachers, then, is how to
offer experiences that result in improved affect. This paper highlighted the potential
of exposing learners to positive psychology exercises like those built around
gratitude, altruism, music, laughter, pets and exercise. Learners who replace
negative-narrowing thoughts and experiences with positive-broadening ones, not
only generate more enjoyment in the process, but also generate greater stamina for
the long haul.
T. Gregersen
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Activating Character Strengths Through
Poetic Encounters in a Foreign
Language—A Case Study
Liliana Piasecka
Abstract The paper brings together two important issues related to effective
functioning of foreign/second language learners, that is character strengths (one of
the pillars of positive psychology) and the use of literary texts for language
learning. The goals of using literary texts in a foreign/second language learning
contexts and the goals of positive psychology converge. Both literature and positive
psychology aim at enriching and expanding individual and social functioning and
so they contribute to satisfaction and flourishing. The case study reported in the
paper aimed at finding the participants’ opinions about the role of literary texts in
foreign language learning and checking whether working on poetry with a positive
psychology activity reveals and supports the participants’ character strengths. The
findings show that although the participants were rather sceptical about literature
courses they had attended and not very enthusiastic about reading literary texts,
they realise that literary texts develop their language proficiency, imagination,
knowledge and sensitivity. Despite the lack of enthusiasm that emerged from the
results of the survey, they found reading poems interesting, involving, satisfying
and rewarding. They showed such character strengths as creativity, courage,
curiosity, open-mindedness, zest, self-control, social intelligence and appreciation
of beauty. These strengths are strongly linked to self efficacy and life satisfaction.
Keywords Positive psychology
foreign/second language learning Satisfaction
1 Introduction
Positive psychology is concerned with factors that account for good life.
It empirically explores the role emotions, character traits and institutions in human
growth and flourishing. Rooted in humanistic psychology, it has a relatively short
L. Piasecka (&)
Institute of English, Opole University, Pl. Kopernika 11, 45-040 Opole, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_5
L. Piasecka
history but it has already attracted a lot of attention from both scholars and ordinary
people. The distinctive feature of positive psychology is its focus on the positive
aspects of human functioning. These positive aspects refer to optimism, success,
happiness and well-being. Positive psychology aims at increasing these in people
because they are crucial in all spheres of life (MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014).
While positive psychology is a relatively new area of research, foreign/second
language learning and literature and literacy studies have quite a long history.
Language and literature have been studied separately for a long time but recently
there are more and more voices for integrating the two. Foreign language learners
need to be encouraged to interact with literary texts which represent authentic
language, build linguistic resources, enhance language awareness and linguistic
sensitivity. Literary texts provide rich and meaningful input that can facilitate
language learning, they encourage individual text interpretations and they open
doors to other cultures and ways of thinking (Piasecka, 2013).
When the goals of using literary texts in foreign/second language learning
contexts and the goals of positive psychology are compared, it appears that both
aim at enriching and expanding individual and social functioning and so they
contribute to satisfaction and flourishing. This is the reason of writing this paper.
Reading literary texts appeals to emotions, requires determination, motivation and
perseverance. So does learning a foreign language.
The paper first discusses character strengths because they are related to self
efficacy, life satisfaction and greater happiness (Park & Peterson, 2006b; Park,
Peterson, & Seligman, 2004; Proyer, Gander, Wellenzohnand, & Ruch, 2015;
Ruch, Weber, Park, & Peterson, 2014). Then character strengths are discussed in
the context of foreign/second language learning and this is followed by a section on
literature, language learning and character strengths. The case study reported in the
paper shows the participants’ opinions on the role of literary texts in foreign language learning and reveals how reading two foreign language poems activates the
participants’ character strengths.
2 Character Strengths
Positive psychology is concerned with human excellence, well-being and having a
good life, and therefore it studies such topics as “positive subjective experiences,
(…) positive individual traits, (…) and institutions that enable positive experiences
and positive traits” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000 as cited in Peterson &
Seligman, 2004, p. 5). These topics matter in all spheres of life, both private and
public, ergo they are also important in the context of learning foreign languages.
Yet, before exploring the role of good character in foreign language learning
contexts, it seems justified to have a closer look at how positive individual traits are
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters …
The first thing about good character is that it is componential in nature and can
be defined at different levels of abstraction. Peterson and Seligman (2004) distinguish three levels of abstraction at which these components can be put, that is the
level of virtues, the level of character strengths and the level of situational themes.
The most abstract one is the level of six virtues that constitute the core of a
character. Dahlsgaard, Peterson, and Seligman (2005) carried out a study that aimed
at identifying core virtues across time and space. They analysed philosophical and
religious traditions in the East and the West, that is Confucianism, Taoism,
Buddhism, Hinduism, Athenian philosophy, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and
they found that in all these traditions there is a convergence of virtues. Courage,
justice, humanity, temperance, wisdom and transcendence are most often explicitly
named in these religions and philosophies or—less frequently—they are implied by
the themes discussed. The researchers argue that the ubiquity of virtues may point
to their universality, and they conclude that “ubiquitous virtues, we believe, are
what allow the human animal to struggle against and to triumph over what is
darkest within us” (Dahlsgaard et al., 2005, p. 212).
Character strengths, on the other hand, are the psychological components of
virtues, “they are distinguishable routes to displaying one or another of the virtues”
(Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 13). They are also “positive traits reflected in
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” (Park et al., 2004, p. 603). Peterson and
Seligman identify 24 strengths that characterise the six virtues. Linley adds that a
strength is a “pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or
feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning,
development and performance” (2008, p. 9).
The third level of abstraction concerns situational themes that are conceived of
as “the specific habits that lead people to manifest given character strengths in given
situations” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 14). Themes are situation specific and
they vary immensely according to the social context, gender, culture, and so on.
The work on good character has resulted in a description of good character in
terms of six virtues and 24 character strengths (Table 1). The system is also known
as VIA, The Values in Action (VIA) Classification of Strengths.
Researchers working on character strengths report that the majority of strengths
predict self efficacy (Ruch et al., 2014). Hope, zest, gratitude, love and curiosity are
strongly related to life satisfaction (Park et al., 2004; Ruch et al., 2014) while
focusing on character strengths increases happiness and decreases depression (Park
& Peterson, 2006b; Proyer et al., 2015). Strengths give energy (Linley, 2008), they
change people’s perception of themselves from negatively to positively-biased
(Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001). Focusing on strengths in
schools may be beneficial for learners who learn to recognise their own strengths
when participating in activities that highlight strengths of other people (e.g.,
Fox-Eades, 2008).
L. Piasecka
Table 1 Classification of six core virtues and 24 character strengths (based on Ruch et al.,
2014, p. 58)
Character strength
I. Wisdom and knowledge: cognitive
strengths that entail the acquisition and use of
Creativity: thinking of novel and productive
ways to do things
Curiosity: taking an interest in all of
ongoing experience
Open-mindedness: thinking things through
and examining them from all sides
Love of learning: mastering new skills,
topics, and bodies of knowledge
Perspective: being able to provide wise
counsel to others
Bravery: not shrinking from threat,
challenge, difficulty, or pain
Perseverance: finishing what one starts
Honesty: speaking the truth and presenting
oneself in a genuine way
Zest: approaching life with excitement and
Love: valuing close relations with others
Kindness: doing favors and good deeds for
Social intelligence: being aware of the
motives and feelings of self and others
Teamwork: working well as member of a
group or team
Fairness: treating all people the same
according to notions of fairness and justice
Leadership: organizing group activities and
seeing that they happen
Forgiveness: forgiving those who have done
Modesty: letting one’s accomplishments
speak for themselves
Prudence: being careful about one’s
choices; not saying or doing things that
might later be regretted
Self-regulation: regulating what one feels
and does
Appreciation of beauty and excellence
(short: beauty): noticing and appreciating
beauty, excellence, and/or skilled
performance in all domains of life
Gratitude: being aware of and thankful for
the good things that happen
II. Courage: emotional strengths that involve
the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the
face of opposition, external or internal
III. Humanity: interpersonal strengths that
involve “tending and befriending” others.
IV. Justice: civic strengths that underlie
healthy community life.
V. Temperance: strengths that protect against
VI. Transcendence: strengths that forge
connections to the larger universe and provide
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters …
Table 1 (continued)
Character strength
Hope: expecting the best and working to
achieve it
Humor: liking to laugh and joke; bringing
smiles to other people
Religiousness: having coherent beliefs about
the higher purpose and meaning of life
3 Character Strengths and Foreign Language Learning
Learning a foreign language requires a lot of motivation, effort, and determination. It
evokes in learners emotional states that can either contribute to the feeling of success
and achievement or discourage them from trying harder in the face of real or
imagined failures. More often than not learners experience and report failure rather
than success. However, Dewaele and MacIntyre (2014) have recently reported that
the participants of their study on anxiety and enjoyment in a foreign language
classroom informed that they experienced significantly more enjoyment than anxiety.
Contexts of learning and teaching foreign/second languages show connections
with the pillars of positive psychology, that is positive individual experiences,
positive character traits, and positive institutions. As regards positive experiences,
they were the focus of humanistic approaches to language teaching in the 1970s and
1980s. Most important, they viewed the learner as a whole person who operates
both on the cognitive and affective levels in the learning process. In addition, the
socio-educational model of motivation and second language acquisition (Gardner,
2010) implies that positive attitudes towards the learning situation support successful learning. Learners’ affectivity was also addressed by Krashen (1985) who
hypothesised that when the affective filter is low, that is learners’ emotions are
positive, then the input to which the learners are exposed is more comprehensible
and acquisition is enhanced.
Connections between positive character strengths and foreign/second language
learning and teaching can be found in good language learners studies (MacIntyre &
Mercer, 2014) that focused on characteristics, behaviours, styles, strategies and
activities of successful—or flourishing—learners. The analysis of processes that
good language learners engaged in resulted, among other things, in identifying
strategies that support learning and bring success. These strategies could be learned
by less successful learners who might achieve better results in language learning.
The studies also made the learner an agent of success: “You, the language learner,
are the most important factor in the language learning process. Everything depends
on you” (Rubin & Thompson, 1982, p. 3). Moreover, good learners are creative,
like experimenting with language, find pleasure in learning, monitor their learning
processes and activities (Rubin & Thompson, 1982). These characteristics are
similar to some of the character strengths discussed above.
L. Piasecka
Positive institutions—the third pillar of positive psychology—frequently refer to
educational institutions in which foreign/second language learning takes place.
A foreign language classroom should be a space which evokes positive emotions
(cf. affective filter), makes learners feel happy and satisfied with what they do, and
lets them develop their unique, individual abilities.
Individuals with varied and various character strengths meet in a foreign language
classroom to take the challenge of discovering the intricacies of the language along
with learning about themselves. Discovering and learning entail probing into the
unfamiliar and unknown, in the company of others. Yet the unknown and the unfamiliar have to be attractive and appealing if learners are to make their own discoveries
and benefit from them in many ways. A variety of positive psychology activities can
be used to increase the learners’ sense of well-being and happiness that “results from a
conscious effort and thoughtful action that can be awkward, embarrassing or even
uncool at times” (Gregersen, MacIntyre, Finegan, Talbot, & Claman, 2014, p. 332).
The input that language foreign/second language learners have access to may
have many forms. Quite often regular coursebooks are used in formal educational
settings but neither teachers nor learners are limited to them. There is a variety of
resources around that can be used in the classroom to engage learners’ effort and
action that may ultimately make them happy and satisfied. Literary texts that are
both challenging and rewarding are an example of such a resource.
4 Literature, Foreign/Second Language Learning
and Character Strengths
Learners engaged in working with literary texts during their foreign/second language lessons may benefit from this activity in a number of ways. First, reading
literary texts supports linguistic development since the learners pay attention both to
the form and the meaning of the texts (Hanauer, 2001) and thus enrich their
repertoire of linguistic expression in communicative contexts. Second, literary texts
originate from specific socio-cultural contexts and needs of the authors who share
their experiences with the readers. This gives the reader a unique opportunity to
probe into cultural issues connected with the language of study (Hall, 2005). Third,
working on literary texts involves a whole person which means that cognitive
activity connected with making sense of the text is linked with emotions raised by
the text and experienced in a specific situational context. As Paran has noted (2008,
p. 469), “the interest and love of literature for its various qualities is a human
characteristic”. It enriches and expands both individual and social functioning and
as such it contributes to satisfaction and flourishing—the main goals of positive
psychology. Yet, the satisfaction may not come easily but require some effort and
action related to understanding and interpreting foreign language texts.
Learner effort is necessary when the text is read experientially, and the aim is to
achieve an aesthetic response resulting from the interaction of textual information
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters …
and individual experience and knowledge (Tomlinson, 1998). Experiential reading
makes learners exposed to rich and comprehensible input which they process to
develop their own understanding. This supports language and individual growth by
engaging cognition and emotion (Paran, 2008).
Another benefit of reading literary texts is related to the important issues of the
21st century. They concern the necessity to understand such complex phenomena as
one’s place in life, one’s identity as well as contacts and relations with other people
coming from various socio-political and socio-cultural contexts, speaking various
languages, observing different traditions and habits. This understanding and the
reflection on human condition develop through encounters with a variety of texts,
including literary texts. Their power and value derive from their specificity. They
bring together individual and collective reality, and exploit creatively multiple
language forms and functions which represent specific social, historical, cultural,
geographical and political contexts (Piasecka, 2013).
Connections between literature and foreign/second language learning are strong.
Both involve language, both are interested in questions of meaning construction,
both address issues of social relations and multiculturalism, both involve acts of
literacy, and promote and propagate theories of language and being (Hanauer,
2003). Interestingly, despite these strong relations that researchers emphasise, the
opinions of learners and teachers about literature and language courses vary. For
some, such courses are boring (Qiping & Shubo, 2002), they only develop reading
skills and do little to encourage the learners’ confidence to discuss literary texts in
the presence of others (Martin & Laurie, 1993). However, there are also students
who find such a combination rewarding and interesting (Davis, Carbon Gorrell,
Kline, & Hsieh, 1992).
Learners’ attitudes to working on literary texts in language courses are also based
on their personal experiences with literature. The activities are enjoyable and beneficial when the learners have positive experiences and read literature for aesthetic
reasons. There seems to be an agreement between the learners and methodologists
regarding the reasons for using literature—it is enjoyable and it addresses “substantial and non-trivial topics” (Paran, 2008, p. 480).
The application of the character strengths framework to the study of literary texts
in the context of foreign/second language learning provides another perspective on
the role of literature in individual growth. Working on literary texts contributes to
the development and use of knowledge (including the knowledge of the language,
culture and society), supports creativity and curiosity, builds the awareness of the
motives and feelings of self and others, entails the appreciation of beauty and
excellence. These character strengths enhance the sense of well-being, help to cope
with challenges and to appreciate relations with other people (Park et al., 2004).
The case study reported further in the paper was inspired both by the potential of
using literary texts in foreign/second language courses and by the perspectives
offered by the character strengths approach. The overall philosophy behind the
study is that satisfied and happy learners tend to be more attentive and willing to
take action in the future (MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014).
L. Piasecka
5 The Study
The purpose of the study was twofold. First, the participants’ opinions about the
role of literary texts in foreign language learning were collected. Second, the participants were exposed to two literary texts (poems) and asked to do “three good
things” activity which is one of effective positive psychology interventions
(Gregersen et al., 2014). The “three good things in life” activity requires people to
write every night for a week about three things that went well each day and explain
what accounted for the good things. Empirical evidence shows that this activity
makes people happier and less depressed (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson,
2005). In the study, the three good things and their reasons were connected with
reading two poems. The hypothesis was that the identification of the good things
and the reflection on their causes would activate, reveal and support the participants’ character strengths. Thus, two research questions were formulated:
1. What are advanced foreign language learners’ opinions about the use of literary
texts in foreign language learning?
2. Does the use of a positive psychology activity when working on literary texts
reveal the participants’ character strengths?
Six female students took part in the study. They were 1st year English Philology
graduate students working on their MA within the Applied Linguistics program.
The mean age of the participants was 24.33 years, they were learning English for
14.17 years on average and their language proficiency is at C2 level, according to
the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (2011). This is a
mastery or proficiency level which allows language users, among other things, to
understand a variety of texts.
To address the first research question, a 20 item survey with statements concerning
the participants’ opinions about the role of literary texts in FLL was designed.
Using a five-point Likert scale, the participants were to mark how strongly they
agree with the statements (1—strongly disagree, 2—disagree, 3—does not concern
me, 4—agree, 5—strongly agree).
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters …
To find answers to the second research question, the students were asked to read
two poems and after having read them, they were to write about three good things they
experienced while reading the poems and give reasons of their experiences. The two
poems chosen for the study were E.E. Cummings’ “inJust-” and Rachel Sherwood’ s
poem entitled “The world in in the evening” (Appendix). The participants completed
the survey, read the two poems and did the activity during one session.
6 Results
The mean scores for each survey item were calculated and the results are included
in Table 5.2.
The mean scores for individual items suggest that the participants do not have
literary texts in high regard. They agree that reading such texts in English develops
Table 2 Mean scores of individual survey items
Item no.
Mean score
Reading literary texts is my hobby
Reading literary texts in English develops my language proficiency
I feel satisfied after I have read a literary text in English
Literary texts develop my imagination
I learn a lot about people, their culture, past and present from
literary texts
I read novels in English whenever I can
I read short stories in English whenever I can
I enjoy reading poems in English
I know many Polish poems by heart
I know many English poems by heart
Poems help me to use language in creative ways
I like the rhymes and rhythm of poetry
Poems help me to improve my English pronunciation
Through reading literary texts I become more sensitive to issues
that the texts address
Through reading literary texts I learn to look at life from different
points of view
I am excited when I read a literary text in English
I admire the ways in which literary texts are written
I like discussing literary texts with my friends and colleagues
I was happy to have participated in literature classes during my
The more literature I read, the happier I feel
L. Piasecka
Table 3 Total scores of
individual students
(Maximum score = 100)
Student’s no.
Total score
their language proficiency and imagination. They learn a lot about people, their
culture and history (4 out of 6 participants), and they also become more sensitive to
the issues addressed by the texts (5 out of 6). Four out of 6 participants admit that
they like the rhymes and rhythm of poetry, they are excited by the texts, and they
appreciate the way they have been written. For half of them reading literary texts is
a hobby, they read them in their free time, they also appreciate the rhymes and
rhythms of poetry. The other half seem to have other interests and prefer other
pastime activities. The students know neither Polish nor English poems by heart
and they do not feel that poems help them to improve their pronunciation. Only two
participants enjoyed literature courses in which they participated during their
studies. In addition, they are not certain if poems help them to use language in
creative ways and their opinions are divided about the value of discussing literary
texts with friends and colleagues. This is what mean scores imply.
Looking at the total scores of individual students gives additional information
about their opinions (Table 5.3). Three students scored above 70 points which may
indicate their interest in and appreciation of literature. Two students scored more
than 50 points which may imply that there are certain things they like about
working with literary texts as a means of language learning and there are certain
things they dislike. One student scored 40 points. Interestingly, she is the one who
enjoys reading poems and agrees that they contribute to a creative use of language.
She likes rhymes and rhythm of poetry and discussing literary texts with friends and
Three Good Things About Poems
The participants’ texts show what good things they experienced while reading the
poems and why they think these experiences happened.
After reading their texts, the first observation is that although the students varied
in the length and depth of their responses, they enjoyed the activity. As far as E.E.
Cummings’ poem is concerned, the participants tend to experience similar good
things. They like its topic because of its joy and happiness, children playing in
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters …
spring make it vivid, dynamic; the setting seems to be utopian1 (student #1), and
good associations with childhood and happiness (student #4). Their imagination
was engaged as after reading one student (#1) could imagine all the people, places
and colours. Two other students also reported the working of their imagination as a
good thing they experienced: It impacted my imagination, I smiled when I read it.
I imagined a goat-footed man and other things and it was hilarious (student #6).
The students also appreciate the form of the poem and the way the poet plays
with the language. Playing with words, its graphic form and layout make the poem
funny (students #3, #5 and #6), unusual and innovative. Student #6 wrote that
“eddieandbill” was a good experience. She explains: I was surprised and confused
at the beginning. It seems to be a typing mistake but can also have some additional
meaning. Another student (#5) feels attracted by the poem because words such as
‘mud-luscious’ and ‘puddle-wonderful’ used to describe the world reflect my attitude to springtime; it’s kind of ironic.
Other good things about this poem are that it was pleasant and easy to read. One
student (#1) felt content because of the fact that I managed to understand and
interpret it.
Similarly to Cumming’s poem, Rachel Sherwood’s poem captured the readers’
imagination owing to rich descriptions of characters and places (student #2), it
evoked different pictures in the reader’s head (student #3), made one wonder about
the things I see in the evening in my surroundings (student #4). One student (#6)
started to imagine things and the pictures came out like in a movie because adjectives and descriptions of the setting and atmosphere are present in this poem,
they revive imagination.
Student #4 writes about her feelings: I felt calm as there is not much action,
colours are rather flat, the town is going to go to sleep. I felt reflective. I usually do
not observe my town from the author’s perspective because it became a routine to
come home late. Now I contemplated the setting and the people. She perceives her
calmness, reflectivity and satisfaction as positive emotions evoked by the poem.
Student #4 liked the poem for its imagery and was positively surprised. She
explains it in the following way: Looking at the structure, it seems like a rather
traditional, structurally strict and, unfortunately, boring poem dealing with the
sublime or sth, but it’s not so and it made the poem appealing.
Another feeling that was experienced is melancholy brought about by the topic:
summer wanders to dark, wife and husband fight, some man feels lonely, cats are
waiting for miracles (student #6).
Showing everyday life in a different way is also a good thing that the participants
wrote about: Everything is so beautiful. One can write about anything to show the
beauty of life (#4). The sophisticated wording presents a somewhat mundane reality
in an aesthetically rich way; it can seem thus beautiful in a way (#5).
Italics show that the participants’ original opinions are quoted.
L. Piasecka
Reading this poem was also a pleasant experience: I was immediately immersed
in this poem and I read it with delight. The sound of words and the rhythm make it
easy and pleasurable to read (student #6). The poem creates a story: I enjoy poems
describing something in an unusual way (student #3).
7 Discussion
The answer to the first research question is based on the quantitative data representing the results of the survey. The participants’ opinions about the use of literary
texts in foreign language learning vary. They recognise the impact of reading such
texts on the development of their general language proficiency and the beneficial
effects of the texts on their imagination. The scepticism of some of the participants
may be explained by insufficient prior positive experiences with literature courses.
However, when the opinions of individual participants are taken into account, it
appears that literature plays variable roles in their linguistic and sociocultural
development. It matters to some of them to a greater extent while for others it is less
important. This finding is in line with other research on literature and language
courses (Davis et al., 1992; Martin & Laurie, 1993; Qiping & Shubo, 2002). The
participants’ opinions are as dynamic as motivation and interest in learning are. The
general positive influence of literary text on the development of language proficiency and on human growth suggests that there should be a place for literature in
foreign language classrooms.
As far as the second research question is concerned, the quantitative data presented extensively in the results section show that the use of a positive psychology
activity reveals the participants’ character strengths when they work on literary
texts, specifically on poems. Encounters with poetry, even short and irregular,
activate some character strengths that contribute to the readers’ sense of satisfaction, achievement and well-being. In the study, character strengths were addressed
indirectly, they were inferred from the participants’ identifications of good things
and their reflections on the possible causes of the good things. When the data were
analysed from the character strengths perspective, a number of strengths emerged.
They are listed below, according to the virtues they represent (cf. Table 1).
– Wisdom and knowledge
creativity: They were able to look at their own life and life in general in a new
curiosity: They were genuinely interested in the activity;
open-mindedness: They thought about the issues the poems addressed in new
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters …
– Courage
honesty: The students were speaking honestly about their experience;
zest: They approached the texts with excitement.
– Humanity
social intelligence: They were emotionally involved.
– Temperance
self-regulation: They were aware of their own feelings and the feelings of the
characters from the poems.
– Transcendence
beauty: They appreciated the beauty of poetic expression by noticing the unusual use of vocabulary and form.
The observed strengths show the participants’ self-efficacy and, basing on
available research, (e.g., Ruch et al., 2014) it may be speculated that the participants
will work effectively on reaching their goals. Manifesting zest and curiosity, the
students have a chance to achieve life satisfaction (cf. Park et al., 2004; Ruch et al.,
2014). The students enjoyed a positive psychology activity with the two poems,
they accomplished the task and they were happy that they managed to understand
the texts. In consequence, they might have perceived themselves in a more positive
manner (cf. Baumeister et al., 2001). All in all, the findings corroborate the
hypothesis that the identification of the good things and the reflection on their
causes reveal and support the participants’ character strengths. Additionally, the
opinions about the poems imply that the participants appreciate working on and
with literature, contrary to the standpoints expressed in the survey. Experiencing the
texts seems to have changed the declared neutral or negative attitudes to literature
into positive personal encounters.
If learners are to prosper and flourish, if they are to be aware of their strengths
and weaknesses, then both direct and indirect work on character strengths is a
welcome option. Strengths may be identified directly, by using the Values in Action
Inventory for Youth (VIA-Y; Park & Peterson, 2006a) that can be accessed online
(www.viacharacter.org) or, as in the case study reported in this paper, they may be
tapped into indirectly when learners are involved in interesting and engaging
The study itself has its limitations. First of all, only two literary texts were used.
Second, the participants had never done any positive psychology activity and
therefore their comments and opinions were not very extensive. It might also be
more informative to have the participants identify their strengths directly, by means
of the VIA questionnaire, and check how these strengths work when the participants read literary texts. This is but one of many options for further research in this
L. Piasecka
8 Conclusion
The goals of using literary texts in a foreign/second language learning contexts and
the goals of positive psychology are similar. Both literature and positive psychology aim at enriching and expanding individual and social functioning and as such
they contribute to satisfaction and flourishing. They propagate a holistic approach
to an individual who is cognitively involved in finding meaning in the text or in
other activities. The cognitive involvement is linked with emotions raised by the
text and experienced in specific situational contexts. Fredrickson, the author of the
broaden-and-build theory, claims that positive emotions support “individual growth
and social connection: By building people’s personal and social resources, positive
emotions transform people for the better, giving them better lives in the future”
(2001, p. 224).
Although the participants of the study were rather sceptical about literature
courses they had attended and not very enthusiastic about reading literary texts,
they realise that literary texts develop their language proficiency, imagination,
knowledge and sensitivity. They appreciate literature as a manifestation of art. The
short encounter with poetry they had implies that, indeed, poetry and imagination
go hand in hand. Despite the lack of enthusiasm that emerged from the results of the
survey, they found reading poems interesting, involving, satisfying and rewarding.
They showed such character strengths as creativity, courage, curiosity,
open-mindedness, zest, self-control, social intelligence and appreciation of beauty.
These strengths are strongly linked to self efficacy and life satisfaction. When
people are satisfied with what they do, they are also more motivated and willing to
continue the pursuit of their own goals.
As the above considerations show, literary texts have a great value, not only by
providing aesthetic experiences and meanings, developing language knowledge,
evoking emotional responses and encouraging reflection but also by engaging
character strengths and supporting their development. Well-being and happiness,
success and satisfaction do not result from miracles but, to reiterate, require
“conscious effort and thoughtful action” (Gregersen et al., 2014, p. 332).
Poems used in the case study
[in Just-]
E.E. Cummings2
1894–1962, an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright; known for his odd
typography, punctuation, unusual and impressionistic word order and word formation.
Activating Character Strengths Through Poetic Encounters …
in Justspring
when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
L. Piasecka
The World in the Evening
Rachel Sherwood3
As this suburban summer wanders toward dark
cats watch from their driveways—they are bored
and await miracles. The houses show, through windows
flashes of knife and fork, the blue light
of televisions, inconsequential fights
between wife and husband in the guest bathroom
voices sound like echoes in these streets
the chattering of awful boys as they plot
behind the juniper and ivy, miniature guerillas
that mimic the ancient news of the world
and shout threats, piped high across mock fences
to girls riding by in the last pieces of light
the color of the sky makes brilliant reflection
in the water and oil along the curb
deepened aqua and the sharp pure rose of the clouds
there is no sun or moon, few stars wheel
above the domestic scene—this half-lit world
still, quiet calming the dogs worried by distant alarms
there—a woman in a window washes a glass
a man across the street laughs through an open door
utterly alien, alone. There is a time, seconds between
the last light and the dark stretch ahead, when color
is lost—the girl on her swing becomes a swift
apparition, black and white flowing suddenly into night.
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Pedagogical Implications of Positive
Psychology: Positive Emotions and Human
Strengths in Vocabulary Strategy Training
Sylwia Kossakowska-Pisarek
Abstract To create flourishing students the learning process should be assessed
and solutions which help to solve the problems should be proposed. The aims of
strategy training are in compliance with the positive approach, as this intervention
focuses on learning how to set learners’ own goals, analyze them and implement
strategies that will help learners negotiate emotional responses to achieving or not
achieving their goals. This article focuses on the use of strategy training in the
context of positive psychology. The introductory part starts with an overview of the
role of emotions in learning, and specifically SLA, and continues with a discussion
of strategy training perceived as a positive intervention. The paper presents the
empirical study comprising the pilot study validating Self-Regulating Capacity in
Vocabulary Learning Scale, SRCVoc—Polish version and the quasi-experiment
devoted to the implementation of vocabulary learning strategies. Then, the findings
of the treatment with the use of the abovementioned instrument are discussed. The
implications of the findings indicate that there is a need to train students in
self-regulation of emotion strategies as it may enable them to reach optimal level of
Keywords Positive psychology Foreign language learning
ulary learning Strategy training Self-regulation
! Intentional vocab-
1 Introduction
The shift of positive psychology is, as Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005,
p. 411) believe, towards a psychology concerned with “strengths and virtues that
enable human thriving” and those strengths can be defined as positive traits reflected
in thoughts and feelings and behaviours. Positive psychology is “an umbrella term
for the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and enabling institutions”
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek (&)
University of Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, 00-927 Warsaw, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_6
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
(Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Unfortunately, these are enabling institutions
which have not attracted enough attention and seem to be the most neglected
part. Positive psychology assesses educational efforts to increase students’
engagement, resilience, character strengths, optimism, and sense of meaning
(Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, & Linkins, 2009). However, in order to create flourishing
students, staff and schools the issues concerning the learning process should be first
assessed and solutions which help to solve those problems should be proposed as
“more well-being is synergistic with better learning” (Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, &
Linkins, 2009, p. 294).
Martin Seligman (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 4) emphasizes that the general
stance of positive psychology is connected with positive prevention of vulnerable
young people against such problems as depression or anxiety. These are human
strengths that act as buffers against psychopathology and among them there are
courage, optimism, perseverance, the capacity for flow and insight. Peterson and
Seligman (2004) in their Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (CSV) identified six virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence and 24 different strengths of character, inter alia hope,
optimism, social intelligence, fairness and self-regulation. The aim of positive
intervention is to foster those human strengths in young people by measuring these
strengths with the use of developing and testing interventions. Seligman and
Peterson (2004, p. 4) draw our attention to the fact that what distinguishes positive
psychology from the humanistic psychology of the 60s and 70s is its reliance on
empirical research to understand people and their lives.
Contemporary perspectives of learning recognize the importance of emotions in
learning, but the role of positive emotions is often overlooked. Affective experiences of students in educational settings promoting the development of achievement and competence are often referred to as learning-related emotions (LREs)
(Pekrun, 2006). The variety of emotions typically include: enjoyment, boredom,
satisfaction, anxiety and disappointment (Pekrun, Goetz, Perry, Kramer, Hochstadt,
& Molfenter, 2004). In SLA emotions have been deemed by many researchers as
crucial. According to MacIntyre and Mercer (2014, p. 158) integration of affect and
cognition has been a key tenet of many contemporary SLA models. Krashen (1985)
drew attention to the importance of emotions and he coined the term affective filter.
In the presence of positive emotions the affective filter that reduces comprehensible
input that reaches the learner is lower. Gardner (2010) emphasizes that positive
attitudes towards teacher and course facilitate language learning. Also the L2
self-system model is closely linked with positive emotions and emphasizes positive
goals, a level of optimism in order to achieve future goals (Dörnyei, 2005).
Nevertheless, it is also true that in SLA research the focus has been mainly on
anxiety perceived as part of motivation (Dörnyei, 2005, p. 197) or as an emotion
(MacIntyre, 2002). There is a large volume of published studies concerning anxiety,
inter alia, (Horwitz, 2001; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1994a, b; MacIntyre, 1999;
Oxford, 1999; Young, 1999; Zybert, 2006). Zybert (2006, p. 123) states that
anxiety is a “highly negative emotion that inhibits learning and which, in particular,
is likely to suppress the learner’s motivation for learning altogether”. Many
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
researchers emphasize that higher levels of language anxiety are consistently
associated with lower levels of achievement (Dewaele, 2007, MacIntyre & Gardner,
1991a, b, c; Woodrow, 2006). Language achievement is reported to be adversely
affected by anxiety due to an interference with cognitive processing (MacIntyre &
Gardner, 1994a). In 1986 Horwitz et al. presented Foreign Language Classroom
Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) which was a turning point in language anxiety research.
Horwitz et al. defined anxiety as “a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs,
feelings, and behaviours related to classroom language learning arising from the
uniqueness of the language process” (Horwitz, 1986, p. 128). This conceptualization emphasizes the distinctness of language anxiety in the language learning
However, although the research has concentrated on anxiety, these are positive
emotions which are preferable for learning to occur, as they contribute to the
expansion of a person’s openness to learn in accordance with broaden and build
theory (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001). The theory implies that there is a different
function connected with positive affect as positive emotions broaden our thinking
and build our strengths. On the other hand, negative emotions are focused on
specific tasks, obstacles or threats. Furthermore, Seligman (c.f. Seligman, 2013)
draws our attention to the fact that dealing with negative emotions does not equal
building positive ones. As positive psychology is described as “an attempt to urge
psychologists to adopt a more open and appreciative perspective regarding human
potentials, motives and capacities” (Sheldon & King, 2001, p. 216), the same
approach seems to be needed in SLA.
There are current studies in L2 self-system that stress the role of positive beliefs
and optimism about the positive change in one’s abilities (Mercer & Ryan, 2010).
Positive psychology approach encourages taking into account positive emotions of
students and the role of the teacher shifts towards fostering those affective experiences. Thus, the previous preoccupation with only the negative affect is unjustified
and as MacIntyre and Gregersen (2012, p. 113) argue “much more work needs to be
done to focus on the process by which positive emotions facilitate language
learning”. MacIntyre and Mercer (2014, p. 156) maintain that language educators
should be aware of the importance of improving individual learners’ experiences of
language learning by helping them. Effective instructional practices for fostering
learning strategies should involve strategic learning and learning-to-learn strategies.
They should comprise offering opportunities to identify how the presented material
relates to students’ future career, life and how it can be useful for them. Striving to
reach students’ own personal, social, educational or professional goals enhances
their motivation. The key is optimism that the change is possible. As Seligman
(2002, p. 3) contends “The aim of positive psychology is to catalyze a change in
psychology from preoccupation only with repairing to worst things in life to also
building the best qualities in life”. In order to foster human strengths it is advisable
to measure them and prepare a positive intervention. According to Seligman (2010,
p. 231) a positive intervention means building positive side of life, i.e., positive
emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
2 Strategy Training
The aims of strategy training are in compliance with the positive approach.
Self-regulation is listed as one of the strengths under the temperance category of the
Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV; Peterson & Seligman, 2004) and is defined as
“regulating what one feels or does” Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005,
p. 412). Strategy training is an example of intervention that focuses on learning how to
set learners’ own goals, analyze them and implement strategies that will help learners
negotiate emotional responses to achieving or not achieving their goals (Boekaerts,
Pintrich, & Zeidner, 2000). It assists students in establishing the process, not just
product goals. Moreover, many researchers claim that better control over the process
of learning leads to positive emotions. (Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 2009, p. 42)
emphasized that “one of the greatest strengths of self-regulatory approaches to academic skill development is that they provide students with the opportunities to see
how activities under their control can bring them rewarding feelings”. The concept of
academic self-efficacy is closely related with that; it is defined as a belief, or confidence, that one can achieve a specific academic goal or attain a particular outcome on
a specific academic task (Bandura, 1997). Higher academic self-efficacy is one of the
core components of self-regulated learning (Schunk, 2005) and is related to fewer
unpleasant learning, such as test anxiety (Preiss, Gayle, & Allen, 2004) and, moreover, to more pleasant emotions such as enjoyment of learning (Pekrun, Goetz, Perry,
Kramer, Hochstadt, & Molfenter, 2004). High self-efficacy offers a sense of control
over the process of learning due to the beliefs that positive outcomes are attainable and
results in challenge and enjoyment instead of negative emotions such as anxiety.
Higher education and its model of pedagogy puts an increased emphasis on autonomy
and self-directed learning and that is why students’ confidence in their ability to
engage in self-regulated learning is crucial. Moreover, self-regulated learning is linked
with the regulation of emotions, and with the practical advice how to deal with the
negative ones during learning to reach optimal level of functioning. The aim is to
become a strategic learner.
Being a strategic learner means that students approach tasks with a high level of
confidence that they can succeed. Such learners are able to set meaningful goals that
can help them generate and maintain motivation. Moreover, learning is viewed by
strategic learners as an active process largely under their control. Encountering a
problem they know how to use help-seeking strategies, such as asking for teacher’s
or peer’s help. The role of a teacher would be to help students with the process of
establishing realistic, specific and measurable goals and not to focus on the product
The related concept in SLA is an autonomous learner. The origins of autonomy in the
field of language learning date back to the Council of Europe’s Modern Languages
Project, established in 1971. The term learner autonomy was introduced by Holec
(1981, p. 3) who defines it as “the ability to take charge of one’s learning”. This
definition remains the most cited definition in SLA. Learner autonomy is one of the key
issues nowadays, and is emphasised in the pedagogical tasks recommended by
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
researchers, such as the use of needs analysis, and a shift towards more learner-focused
approach i.e., communicative and task-based approaches. Extending learners’ freedom
in learning, by transferring the responsibility for their learning to the learners, leads to
greater awareness of their capabilities and may in turn result in enhanced motivation.
Komorowska (2012, p. 60) proposes the features of autonomous learners that should be
looked at in educational processes. Autonomous learners:
are actively involved in the learning process;
organise their study;
set themselves realistic goals;
find their styles and methods, but experiment also with other ones;
know how to monitor and evaluate their work;
are creative, inquisitive and tolerant, but also self-critical;
learn to live with uncertainty, overcome frustration and lack of confidence.
Teaching students how to become more strategic, autonomous and self-regulated
learners entails both teaching general learning strategies and domain-specific ones.
The first step would involve raising self-awareness of students in the context of
learning process. Moreover the teacher’s role should encompass not only modelling
and teaching learning strategies, but also providing feedback on students’ use of
learning strategies. Teachers should motivate students to become more aware of
strategic causes of their success and to attain skills needed for strategic learning, as
the development of self-regulatory skills is a “lifelong pursuit for all of us”
(Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 2009, p. 136). Self-regulation is crucial because a
major function of education is development of life-long learning skills. As
Zimmerman, Bonner, and Kovach, (2009, p. 135) argue “instruction in
self-regulation processes is an investment in student growth”. There is also research
confirming that the effects of self-regulatory training can raise morale of students
and teachers (Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 2009, p. 136).
3 Research
Recent developments in positive psychology have heightened the need for practical
applications of this approach. The aim of the research conducted at the University
of Warsaw (Kossakowska-Pisarek, 2014), as further described below, was to
research the potential of enhancing learners’ strategic capacity by preparing a
positive intervention and evaluating the findings. The research consisted of a pilot
study of the SRCVoc—Polish version instrument enabling the researcher to prepare
strategy training targeted specifically at the weaknesses concerning the control over
the process of intentional vocabulary learning among Polish students of Law at the
University of Warsaw, and the quasi-experiment conducted to compare the influence of strategy training on self-regulating capacity in vocabulary learning. The aim
of the pilot study was to validate the instrument and to find answers to the following
research question:
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
Q1: What are the strengths and weaknesses concerning the control over the process of
intentional vocabulary learning among Polish students of Law?
The qualitative data comprised answers to the open questions added to the
SRCVoc—Polish version instrument, establishing the learners’ motivation, goals
and needs related to Legal English vocabulary learning. The aim of the questions
was to give more insight into the motivation lying behind the choices of students
and their needs. The first question concerns the motivation and goals behind the
decision to participate in an optional Legal English course; the second concerns
their willingness to participate in a training “How to learn vocabulary effectively”
and the motivation connected with this decision.
The implications of the findings in which areas the students encounter problems
enabled the researcher to prepare strategy training targeted specifically at the
weaknesses concerning the control over the process of intentional vocabulary
learning. The following quasi-experiment aimed at identifying the change in students’ self-regulatory capacity and the control over intentional vocabulary learning.
Hence, the research question was as follows:
Q2: Does vocabulary learning strategy training enhance self-regulatory capacity and the
control over the process of intentional vocabulary learning?
The main hypothesis tested in the course of the conducted research is that
learners’ self-regulatory capacity in vocabulary learning can be enhanced with the
use of vocabulary learning strategy training. The research presented in this paper is
a mixed-method research, as it combines both qualitative and quantitative methods.
Qualitative data is combined with quantitative data to contextualise it and to add
depth to the quantitative results.
To sum up the research comprised the pilot study validating the Polish version of
the instrument and exploring the needs of students in the area of vocabulary
learning. Based on its results strategy training was designed to enhance students’
control over the process of intentional vocabulary learning, the quasi-experiment
was conducted and the results were assessed.
Pilot Study
The pilot study was conducted at the University of Warsaw, Poland in October,
2011. The participants were students taking part in all Legal English courses at
B2 CEFR at the University of Warsaw (229 respondents, 133F, 96 M) ranging from
19 to 23 years old. Legal English courses comprise 60 h of formal instruction per
academic semester and are optional. All participants’ first language was Polish. The
aim of the pilot study was to adapt and validate Self-Regulating Capacity in
Vocabulary Learning Scale, SRCVoc—Polish version, a psychometric instrument
proposed by Tseng, Dörnyei, and Schmitt (2006) for measuring self-regulating
capacity in L2 vocabulary learning. It is one of the domain specific instruments
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
devised for evaluating learning in the area of vocabulary learning. The instrument
draws on a system of self-regulatory strategies from the field of educational psychology developed by Dörnyei (2001), which was based on Kuhl’s (1987) and
Corno and Kanfer’s (1993) taxonomies of action control strategies (Tseng, Dörnyei,
& Schmitt, 2006, p. 85). It consists of five subscales: commitment, metacognitive,
satiation, emotion and environmental control and 20 items, four items per subscale.
Commitment control involves preserving and increasing the learners’ original
goal commitment by, e.g., keeping in mind favourable expectations or positive
incentives or focusing on what would happen if the original intent failed. There are
four questions:
1. When learning vocabulary, I have special techniques to achieve my learning goals.
2. When learning vocabulary, I believe I can achieve my goals more quickly than
3. When learning vocabulary, I persist until I reach the goals that I make for myself.
4. I believe I can overcome all the difficulties related to achieving my vocabulary
learning goals.
Metacognitive control is connected with the monitoring and controlling of
concentration, and the limitation of unnecessary procrastination, e.g., identifying
recurring distractions, developing defensive routines, concentrating on the first
steps to make when starting to do an activity. The questions are as follows:
1. When learning vocabulary, I have special techniques to keep my concentration
2. When learning vocabulary, I think my methods of controlling my concentration
are effective.
3. When it comes to learning vocabulary, I have my special techniques to prevent
4. When it comes to learning vocabulary, I think my methods of controlling procrastination are effective.
Satiation control enables boredom to be eliminated and to add extra attraction to
the given task by e.g., adding a twist to the task or using learner’s fantasy to liven
up the task. The satiation scale comprises the following statements:
1. Once the novelty of learning vocabulary is gone, I easily become impatient with it.
2. During the process of learning vocabulary, I feel satisfied with the ways I
eliminate boredom.
3. During the process of learning vocabulary, I am confident that I can overcome
any sense of boredom.
4. When feeling bored with learning vocabulary, I know how to regulate my mood
in order to invigorate the learning process.
Emotion control involves the management of disruptive emotional states, and the
generation of emotions that will be conducive to implementing learner’s intentions,
e.g., self-encouragement or using meditation techniques. The following statements
belong to this area of control:
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
1. When I feel stressed about vocabulary learning, I know how to reduce this stress.
2. I feel satisfied with the methods I use to reduce the stress of vocabulary learning.
3. When I feel stressed about vocabulary learning, I simply want to give up.
4. When I feel stressed about my vocabulary learning, I cope with this problem
Environmental control enables adverse environmental influences to be eliminated,
and positive ones to be exploited by making the environment an ally in the pursuit
of a difficult goal by e.g., eliminating distractions. The scale comprises the following statements:
1. When I am studying vocabulary and the learning environment becomes
unsuitable, I try to sort out the problem.
2. When learning vocabulary, I know how to arrange the environment to make
learning more efficient.
3. When learning vocabulary, I am aware that the learning environment matters.
4. When I study vocabulary, I look for a good learning environment.
A 6 point Likert scale was used ranging from the highest control to the lowest
level of control. The coding frame was 1 = definitely agree, 2 = agree, 3 = partly
agree, 4 = partly disagree, 5 = disagree, 6 = definitely disagree. Two negatively
worded items, that is S1 and S12, have been reversed and recoded before computing the score. After the reversal of the appropriate items, high scores on items
reflected more agreement with the item in question and subscale referents.
All teachers of Legal English courses at B2 level at the University of Warsaw (5
teachers, 15 groups) were asked to administer the pilot study during the Legal
English courses. The purpose of the study was explained, the consent of students
was obtained and the study was carried out in all 15 groups of Legal English at B2
level in October, 2011. Although the instrument has already been tested for quality
in terms of reliability and validity, the translation into Polish requires the data to be
assessed as valid and reliable in the field test. Table 1 presents the Cronbach alpha
internal consistency reliability coefficients of five subscales that confirm that the
Polish version of Self-Regulating Capacity in Vocabulary Learning (SRCVoc) is a
reliable research instrument. The whole instrument was also analysed for internal
consistency reliability (α = 0.855). Below the internal consistency reliability estimates are given in subscales.
Table 1 Descriptive statistics
and internal consistency
reliability of subscales of
SRCVoc—Polish version
Subscales of SRCVoc
No. of items
Commitment control
Metacognitive control
Satiation control
Emotion control
Environmental control
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
Sex Differences
Sex differences in some scales of the Polish study are clearly marked. As shown in
the table below the results of means of male students are often much higher or lower
than those of female students. The differences are marked the most significantly in
commitment control, while in the environmental control there are no marked differences. The differences will be discussed in detail in subscales (Table 2).
Commitment Control
Commitment control helps preserve or increase the learner’s original goal commitment which is crucial for learning. In order to diagnose strengths and weaknesses in the area of commitment control the answers are to be compared between
subscales and between the items that are a part of this subscale. Comparing to other
subscales we can see that this is the area that of comparatively low scores for female
students and it can be seen that no female student answered definitely disagree in
this area (max = 5) which implies that no female student believes that she has
problems in this area. In contrast, for male students the mean is higher M = 3.04 and
there are more students who definitely agree that in this area of control (max = 6)
they have problems. Overall, female students perceive themselves as slightly better
in this subscale and the difference is marked (+0.39 for M; M = 3.04, F = 2.65)
(Table 3).
Within the area of commitment, though, the highest difference is in question 4
which concerns special techniques (+0.6 for M; M = 4.02, F = 3.42). The most
problematic for both sexes is definitely question 4. As far as the special techniques
Table 2 Sex differences in
N valid
N valid
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
Table 3 Commitment
are concerned it is obvious that female students are more confident in their skills.
The lowest scores are for question 7 concerning achieving goals more quickly than
expected (+0.22 for M; M = 2.20, F = 1.98). This means that this area is the least
problematic. Overall, there is a problem with the skills of students concerning
special techniques to achieve learning goals.
Metacognitive Control
Comparing to other subscales we can easily see that metacognitive control is the
most problematic area for Polish students of all scales (M = 3.52). The differences
between sexes are marked moderately (M = 3.82, F = 3.57) (Table 4).
Again, the most problematic is the question concerning special techniques in
question 11 used to prevent procrastination (+0.4 for M; M = 4.28, F = 3.91) and in
question 5 special techniques to keep concentration focused (+0.4 for M; M = 4.01,
F = 3.64). Overall, this is the area that is the most problematic for both female and
male Polish students (M = 3.52). Nevertheless, metacognitive control is significantly more problematic for male students than for female ones.
Table 4 Metacognitive
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
Table 5 Satiation control
Satiation Control
Comparing to other subscales we can see that this is the area in which the difference
between sexes is not marked. Moreover, the results of the scales confirm that this
area is the second most problematic overall (M = 3.36) (Table 5).
Students definitely have problems with satiation control and the problems are
similar among female and male students. The most problematic are statements S 1
(M = 3.59, F = 3.44) and S 8 (M = 3.54, F = 3.45) concerning respectively
becoming impatient with learning and the ways of eliminating boredom. Students
appear to lack the knowledge of how to regulate the mood to invigorate the learning
process—S 19 (M = 3.40, F = 3.24). The least problematic statement is statement
18 (M = 3.08, F = 2.96) concerning the ability to overcome the boredom.
Emotion Control
Emotion control is connected with reducing stress and coping with it effectively.
The results of both groups are the lowest; <3, except statement 15 for female
students, and this is the area where Polish students have the least problems. The
difference in sexes is marked moderately (M = 2.78, F = 2.92) (Table 6).
Table 6 Emotion control
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
Table 7 Environmental
However, it is worth noting that in this area male students have slightly better
results (lower) than female students (−0.14 for M; M = 2.78, F = 2.92). The most
problematic statement for female students concerns coping with stress immediately,
while for male students the methods of reducing stress are the most problematic.
Environmental Control
The results of both groups are the lowest; <2.6 of all scales, and this is the area
where Polish students definitely have the least problems. There are no marked
differences between the sexes (M = 2.59, F = 2.55). Also in case of the questions
the results are similar (Table 7).
The most problematic for both sexes is S 14 concerning arranging the environment. This suggests that there is not so much a problem with choosing the
optimal environment as with changing it to suit the learners’ needs. It may suggest
that students are not aware that the conditions in which they learn immensely
influence their learning and that adjusting them is important for effective learning.
Discussion of the Results
The results of the research confirmed that the problems that Polish students face
concerning self-regulating capacity are marked, especially in the metacognitive and
satiation control. Moreover, among all the subscales the most problematic areas
tend to be those connected with special techniques to make vocabulary learning
more effective. When the statements concern methods and techniques then students
consider them their weaknesses as those statements have the highest scores. In the
case of metacognitive control, this is statement 5 concerning special techniques to
keep concentration focused (M = 4.01, F = 3.64) and statement 11 regarding special
techniques to prevent procrastination (M = 4.28, F = 3.91). Especially for male
students those techniques seem to be almost unavailable, as scores around 4 mean
an average learner disagrees that he or she possesses such techniques.
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
If we look at other scales there also examples confirming that students believe
they lack appropriate techniques and methods. In the commitment control, statement 4 concerning special techniques to achieve learning goals (M = 4.02, F = 3.42)
stands out from the scale (M = 3.05, F = 2.65). Although the learners overall
perceive themselves as quite good learners in this area, the outcome highlights the
fact that they lack special techniques. Moreover, in the environmental control,
statement 14 concerning knowledge how to arrange the environment to make
learning more efficient is also an example of learned skills that can be used to
increase the efficiency of learning. The scores are definitely higher (M = 2.96,
F = 2.96) than in the scale (M = 2.78, F = 2.55), especially among female students,
which means that the students seem to lack skills in this area.
It is important to stress that all the techniques or methods that students need can be
introduced through strategy training targeted at presenting and practising various
techniques and methods dealing with the problems identified by the conducted
questionnaire. Based on the results of the research the most important issues that
such strategy training should target are the following techniques and methods:
1. to keep the concentration focused;
2. to prevent procrastination;
3. to achieve learning goals.
In case of satiation control, which is the second most problematic area for
students based on the results of the questionnaire, the process of vocabulary
learning seems for students to be connected with the sense of boredom (M = 3.59,
F = 3.44) and impatience (M = 3.54, F = 3.45). Also the knowledge how to regulate
the mood to invigorate the learning process seems to be limited—S 19 (M = 3.40,
F = 3.24). Although it seems that learners seem to be more positive about their
ability to overcome any sense of boredom (M = 3.08, F = 2.96), overall this area
appears to constitute a serious problem for the learners.
Implications for Quasi-Experiment
Based on the results of the pilot study it has been determined that for Polish Law
students at the University of Warsaw there is a need to incorporate both
metacognitive and cognitive strategies into strategy training, as they play a pivotal
role for students and are assessed as the most problematic. Special techniques are
pointed as the weaknesses in the abovementioned students’ answers to the questionnaire in various areas of control. That is why training should relate to the usage
of special techniques in the area of metacognitive, satiation and commitment
control targeted at the following aspects:
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
keep the concentration focused;
prevent procrastination;
achieve the learning goals;
invigorate the learning process.
In the area connected with satiation control problems, implications for an
experiment are connected with the enhancement of motivation through the usage of
varied and more attractive activities concerning deliberate learning of vocabulary. It
is important to stress and practise during the strategy training how to apply the
strategies appropriately, as impatience and boredom may be caused by the ineffective application of them. The optimum use of a given strategy is strictly connected with its aim and function and not all the students are aware of those
implications and may sometimes use inappropriate or less effective strategies to
achieve a given goal. That is why the activities and strategies should be interesting
and, moreover, practised in groups of students as students are also affected by social
motivation in view of the social-cognitive approach.
In order to establish motivation of the students these questions were posed:
1. Is vocabulary learning important for you?
225 out of 228 students (98.68 %) confirmed that it is important.
2. The reason for participating in an English course is because…
The motivation of the majority of students (61 %) was instrumental and connected
with their future job. Also the answers about usefulness also could be interpreted in
relation with the future job and instrumental motivation could be traced here.
Knowledge and vocabulary development as the goals on its own were mentioned by
21 % of students.
3. Would like to participate in training entitled How to learn vocabulary effectively? Why?
The huge majority of students (82 %) wanted to participate in vocabulary learning
strategy training. The number is extremely high and may indicate learners’ problems in this area of learning. Based on the results, there were five main reasons to
participate in a vocabulary learning strategy training:
the need of effective methods;
problems with vocabulary learning;
usefulness of the knowledge;
wish to learn vocabulary;
novelty of the idea;
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
Approximately a quarter of students signal explicitly that vocabulary learning is
a problematic area for them. The need of effective methods is another recurring
answer which could also confirm that students have problems with efficient
vocabulary learning. The answers like “because I would like to learn the most and
retain knowledge for as long as it is possible” or “it would help me” suggest that
students welcome facilitating learning techniques and this is an area where teachers
can offer their assistance. All these findings support the standpoint that vocabulary
learning is not perceived by students as their strength.
Quasi-experiment with the Use of Strategy Training
Based on the results of the pilot study and in order to address the abovementioned
problems falling within the scope of vocabulary learning a quasi-experiment with
the use of strategy training was carried out. The hypothesis was as follows:
Vocabulary learning strategy training enhances self-regulatory capacity and the
control over the process of intentional vocabulary learning.
The quasi-experiment was conducted between October 2011 and January 2012
at the University of Warsaw. 73 (43 F, 30 M) students of Legal English groups at
B2 level participated in the experiment. At the University of Warsaw students select
and enroll in English courses online based on their timetable preferences. As random assignment of students was not possible, two teachers and all their students of
seven groups at the same level were selected to minimize the initial group differences; the syllabi of the courses matched. Each teacher had experimental groups
and one control group, one textbook; the lesson plans in the respective groups both
with and without embedded strategy training were identical. Also strategy training
was carried out in the experimental groups in the same way, using the same
materials in accordance with the schedule. It is worth noticing that the research was
carried out in an authentic learning environment, using genuine class groups. In
control groups there was no training, but there were more vocabulary learning
activities. All participants’ first language was Polish. The quasi-experiment
involved using the validated version of SRCVoc—Polish version; Statistical
Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS, PASW Statistics, version 18.0) was used for
statistical analysis.
The results of the pilot study indicated special techniques as the weaknesses in
various areas of control. That is why training comprised the usage of special
techniques in the area of metacognitive, satiation and commitment control. In the
area connected with satiation control problems, implications for a quasi-experiment
were connected with the enhancement of motivation through the usage of varied
and more attractive activities concerning deliberate learning of vocabulary. It was
important to stress and practise during the strategy training how to apply the
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
strategies appropriately, as impatience and boredom may be caused by the ineffective application of them. The goals of Vocabulary Learning Strategy-Based
Instruction VLSBI comprised (i) to raise awareness of the use of the strategies and
factors influencing vocabulary learning (ii) to offer a wide repertoire of options to
enable learners to make educated decisions concerning vocabulary learning (iii) to
increase learners’ self-efficacy as feeling competent is a major component of
motivation, critical in learning (Dörnyei, 2005; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996;
Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 2009).
Strategy training was a part of the lesson, as up to 10 min of each lesson was
designated for strategy training in the context of Legal English vocabulary learning.
Strategy training was based on the four steps of strategy-based instruction model
(Rubin, Chamot, Harris, & Anderson, 2007, p. 142), i.e., awareness raising, presentation and modelling, providing multiple practice opportunities, and evaluating
the effectiveness of strategies and transferring them to new tasks. The choice of
strategies was connected with the Legal English course and its aim was to enhance
the effectiveness of vocabulary learning by using it in the real context.
Self-regulatory instruction was carefully planned to integrate it with the curriculum
in order to ensure proper implementation and to avoid a dichotomy between
self-regulatory process and learning content. Strategy training aimed at optimising
vocabulary learning was scheduled for twelve weeks to provide ample opportunities
to practise and apply self-regulatory methods while learning vocabulary.
Training involved working individually, pairwork and groupwork and progressed principally in the following way:
1. The teacher introduces the relevant metacognitive strategies in accordance with
the schedule of VLSBI (see Table 8).
2. The teacher introduces the goal and enquires about how it can be attained with
the use of cognitive vocabulary learning strategies.
3. Students discuss in pairs, groups or in class their strategies, then report their
strategy choice to the teacher.
4. The teacher sums up the options presented by students, discusses their pluses
and minuses of vocabulary learning strategies for the given task.
5. The teacher demonstrates the use of the given strategy/strategies in compliance
with the VLSBI schedule appropriate for achieving the given goal, gives further
examples to practise.
6. Learners practise using the appropriate strategy/strategies in pairs or groups.
7. The teacher gives homework connected with the use of practised
8. The following meeting the teacher checks the homework, asks about problems,
provides feedback, consults students individually if required and continues with
the next point on the schedule.
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
Table 8 Schedule of embedded Vocabulary Learning Strategy-Based Instruction (VLSBI)
Cognitive strategies
Semantic mapping
Word parts
Semantic elaboration,
Practising pronunciation
Word lists, use of collocations
Keyword technique
Grouping of systematically related
Word cards
Relating legal use of words to
ordinary meanings
Metacognitive and social
Use of
Raising awareness of factors
influencing VL
Legal English
SRCVoc 1
Goal setting + preview
Identification of personal VLS
+ reflection
Peer learning
Planning and organising
effective learning
Using colour to aid memory
Increasing self-awareness
Peer learning
Task and strategic analysis
Outcome checking
Maintaining motivation
Strategy refinement
Combining strategies
Obtaining and using resources
Monitoring, time management
Interim test
Legal English
SRCVoc 1
Final test
Interim test
In order to confirm that the data of the two questionnaires before and after the
treatment is normally distributed K-S (KOLMOGOROV-SMIRNOV) one-sample
test was used. The test verified normal distribution positively as p > 0.05 which
conforms to the requirements of K-S test confirming that the parametric t-test for
paired samples can be conducted. The t-test for paired samples was carried out to
compare the scores in self-regulating capacity before (Scale 1) and after the treatment (Scale 2) first in both groups (Table 9).
As we can see there is a significant difference between the following subscales:
Metacognitive 1 and Metacognitive 2, t (72) = 3.89; p < 0.001
Commitment 1 and Commitment 2, t (72) = 1.99; p < 0.05
Satiation 1 and Satiation 2, t (71) = 2.49; p < 0.05
Environmental 1 and Environmental 2, t (72) = 2.26; p < 0.05
The difference is not significant only for the Emotion subscale.
S. Kossakowska-Pisarek
Table 9 T-test for paired samples
Pair 1
Pair 2
Pair 3
Pair 4
Pair 5
Commitment 1
Commitment 2
Metacognitive 1
Metacognitive 2
Satiation 1
Satiation 2
Emotion 1
Emotion 2
Environmental 1
Environmental 2
*p < 0.05
**p < 0.001
The t-test was then carried out in the experimental group. The t-test confirmed
the positive influence of the treatment as means in the post-test (Scale 2) are better
(lower) than means in the pre-test (Scale 1). As we can see there is a significant
difference between the following subscales:
1. Metacognitive 1 and Metacognitive 2, t (47) = 3.11; p < 0.01
2. Satiation 1 and Satiation 2, t (47) = 2.76; p < 0.01
Moreover, in the following scales there is significant statistical tendency in the
following scales:
1. Environmental 1 and Environmental 2, t (72) = 2.26; p = 0.063
2. Commitment 1 and Commitment 2, t (72) = 1.99; p = 0.072
The difference, however, is not significant for Emotion 1 and Emotion 2 subscales.
The t-test was then carried out in the control group. The t-test confirmed the
positive influence of the treatment as the means in the post-test (Scale 2) are better
(lower) than the means in the pre-test (Scale 1). There is a significant difference
only between the following subscale:
1. Metacognitive 1 and Metacognitive 2, t (24) = 2.29; p < 0.05
There is no significant difference between any other subscales.
Based on the statistical data we can conclude that only in the experimental group
there is a significant difference or at least a significant tendency for improvement in
four out of 5 subscales. The significance in Metacognitive 1 and Metacognitive 2
subscales is p < 0.001, which is the highest norm for significance. The means in the
SRCVoc 2 were lower in the experimental group in all those subscales, which
means that the students overall perceived themselves as better. Only in the results of
emotion subscale there is no significant difference. At the same time, in the control
Pedagogical Implications of Positive Psychology …
group there is no significant difference except Metacognitive 1 and Metacognitive 2
subscales, t (24) = 2.29; p < 0.05.
Discussion of the Results
The results of the study confirmed the positive effect of the strategy training on the
experimental group in four out of five subscales. It should be stressed that in both
subscales that were reported as the most problematic for students there is a significant difference after the treatment. That would suggest that strategy training has
been appropriately designed to assist in the targeted area of learning control and has
been successful. The findings can be explained in the sense that there was a significant difference in four out of five subscales before and after strategy training in
the experimental group while in the control group the difference was only in the
metacognitive control subscale. Therefore it may lead to the conclusion that strategy training enhances self-regulatory capacity and the control over the process of
intentional vocabulary learning.
4 Conclusions and Implications
In view of the abovementioned research the results seem to confirm that strategy
training may be regarded as a positive intervention, as it positively affects the control
over the process of learning. It is vital in the context of higher education which
prefers the model of pedagogy that puts an increased emphasis on autonomy and
self-directed learning. Not only does strategy training offer control over the process
of learning, but it raises morale of both students and teachers. In addition it helps
develop life-skills e.g., goal-setting, time-management and life-long learning skills.
Nevertheless, it is important to notice that the experiment showed that in the
emotion subscale there is no significant difference before and after treatment. It
seems that the training has not enhanced the control in this area. Positive emotions
are preferable for learning to occur, and furthermore they contribute to the
expansion of learner’s openness to learn (cf. Fredrickson, 1998). Emotions are
viewed as having powerful effect on second language acquisition in particular
(MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012). That is why it is important to pose a question what
can be done to address this issue. Emotion regulation is defined as “the recognition
and manipulation of emotions, when necessary, to reach optimal level of functioning” (MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012, p. 560). Some researchers propose
extending self-regulated learning to include self-regulated emotion strategies (Ben
Eliyahu & Linnenbrink-Garcia, 2012). From the point of view of positive psychology it may be a good idea to broaden the training to include self-regulated
emotion strategies as there is ample research suggesting that emotions can be
monitored and adjusted until a learning goal is reached (Efklides, 2011). More
research is thus needed in this area.
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A Positive Intervention: Personal
Responsibility Among First-Year, L2
University Students
Andrea Dallas and Mary Hatakka
Abstract Adjusting to English-medium instruction in higher education can be one
of the most challenging obstacles that students face when they have previously been
educated through another language, in this case Arabic. In writing courses, in
particular, students have difficulty coping with language demands, which sometimes leads them to rely on classmates with stronger English language skills.
Instead of viewing such a strategy as counter-productive to the learning process,
students at times blame external factors as an explanation of the behavior. This
situation led communication faculty at an English-medium institution to design a
positive intervention in the form of a workshop. The purpose of the workshop was
to encourage students to take personal responsibility for their education during the
first year of their studies. An emphasis was placed on the resulting consequences of
taking personal responsibility: an increase in positivity, self-image and
self-confidence; the assumption being that these outcomes could enhance learning
and reduce transition-related challenges. In this paper, two iterations of the workshop (face-to-face and online) will be evaluated by discussing the design, the
strengths and weaknesses of both workshops, and data gathered from students’
responsibility journals. Finally, recommendations and suggested future areas of
research are presented.
Keywords Personal responsibility
English-medium instruction
experience Higher education Academic success
First year
A. Dallas (&)
Department of Communication, College of Arts and Sciences,
Petroleum Institute, PO Box 2533, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
e-mail: [email protected]
M. Hatakka
Department of General Studies, College of Arts and Sciences,
Petroleum Institute, PO Box 2533, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_7
A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
1 Introduction
A positive intervention to enhance student learning by raising their awareness of
personal responsibility (PR) was introduced in an English-medium university in the
Middle East due to a concern regarding students’ attitudes towards written
assignments during their first year. The intervention took place within the framework of the First Year Experience (Nelson, Creagh, Kift, & Clarke, 2014), common
in the United States and Australia. The First Year Experience (FYE) program was
adapted in the current context to improve academic performance and student
retention, as studies show that “lack of attrition is a by-product of student success”
(Arnold & Pistilli, 2012, p. 1). In addition, another goal of the FYE program was to
reduce difficulties in other domains, namely social, associated with transition to
university. For example, living in student dormitories away from one’s family was
found to be challenging for students with close family ties, a phenomenon typical in
the Middle Eastern region (Hatherley-Greene, 2012). The FYE program at the
university where the intervention was carried out addresses three main areas:
academic skills, success and socialization. The positive intervention took place in
the form of an academic skills workshop, but the outcomes are applicable for all
three areas.
The positive intervention workshop was designed by two communication professors largely because we perceived the need for such workshops based on our
experience in teaching academic literacy skills to freshman and sophomore students. In courses which promote academic literacy skills in particular, non-native
English speaking students have difficulty in coping with the language demands
associated with studying at an English-medium university. Based on faculty
observation, a tendency exists for students with weak writing abilities to rely on
strategies such as plagiarism of published sources or allowing classmates with
stronger writing abilities in English to complete assignments, specifically regarding
team-based writing assignments. The result of this is a lack of language development and/or course failure. However, instead of viewing such strategies as
counter-productive, students often blame external factors for these failures and
avoid taking ownership of the process of learning, the product or the final grade.
This habit of blame fortunately tends to dissipate as students advance in their
academic careers. Faculty anecdotally report tremendous gains across students in
terms of developing a sense of personal investment in the learning process.
Recognizing that a habit of placing blame on external sources will not lead to
academic or personal success and that students do eventually develop a sense of PR
toward their education, we developed an interactive FYE workshop to support this
development early on in the students’ academic careers.
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility …
2 Definitions
In seeking a clear definition of the concept of personal responsibility, it is evident
that both context and level matter. Definitions can encompass political and social
ideals and, thus, can be heavily influenced by culture. One definition on the personal level that accounts for such differences is, “Personal responsibility is the
willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for
individual behavior and to make active personal efforts to live by those standards”
(Haskins, 2009, para. 1). Such a definition acknowledges the importance of the role
of the individual in accepting standards that a society establishes and then living by
those standards. Thus, even though Arab societies are often described as being
based on principles of collectivism, where cultural cohesion is more valued than
individual expression (Feghali, 1997; Klein & Kuperman, 2008), there is still a role
for the individual to take personal responsibility within a collective society. As the
late president and founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan
Al Nahyan, stated, “It is my duty as the leader of the young people of this country
to encourage them to work and to exert themselves in order to raise their own
standards and to be of service to the country. The individual who is healthy and of a
sound mind and body but who does not work commits a crime against himself and
society” (Gulf News, 2005).
3 Background
The positive effects of increasing students’ sense of PR have been widely recognized (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991; Singg & Ader, 2001; Stockdale & Brockett,
2011). In recent years, the Association for American Colleges and Universities
(AAC & U) integrated strands of responsibility into its Core Commitments (Call,
2011); furthermore, educators around the globe conduct research related to teaching
responsibility related concepts in a variety of educational contexts (Kandemir,
2014; Lee, Lee, & Kim, 2012). Overall, the picture that emerges is that societies
care about promoting a sense of responsibility in youth and that educational
institutions are an appropriate venue to carry out the promotion of this concept.
The application of PR in the educational context involves teaching students
self-directed ownership of learning where “individuals assume ownership for their
thoughts and actions” (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 26; Stockdale & Brockett,
2011). One reason to promote PR, thus, is to increase self-directed learning, which
is correlated with an increase in academic performance and retention (Hall, 2011).
Another possible reason why educational institutions invest time in teaching
PR-related concepts to students is because taking PR leads to success beyond the
classroom. In a recent study, Macaskill and Denovan (2013) found that independent
learning was associated with levels of self-confidence. The study also suggests that
pedagogical interventions that focus on the development of human potential
A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
promote confidence and autonomy in the academic environment. This means that
helping students to develop an awareness of their individual role in learning not
only impacts the learning process itself, but also extends to the character of the
4 Methodology
Context and Participants
To fully understand the motivation for promoting the concept of PR, the context
must be clearly defined.
All of the participants who participated in this intervention were incoming
freshman at an engineering university sponsored by a government-owned oil
company along with four other major international oil companies in the United
Arab Emirates. The university offers six engineering-related majors, as well as
guaranteed, initial job placement upon graduation. The student body consists primarily of both female and male UAE nationals. In addition, a minority of non-UAE
national students do attend; however, the majority of incoming freshman have
graduated from Arabic-medium high schools. The university maintains two separate campuses, female and male, with a shared, mixed-gender faculty.
Since the university is English-medium, there are English language proficiency
standards that the students must achieve before they can matriculate as freshman.
These standards are either the TOEFL (UAE nationals: iBT 61 or 500 paper-based;
non-UAE nationals: iBT 79 or 550 paper-based) or the IELTS (UAE nationals: 6.0;
non-UAE nationals: 6.5). The university supports students who do not initially meet
the English language proficiency standards with up to one year of additional
English language courses.
All matriculated freshman are required to enroll in a series of Arts & Science
courses before moving on to their respective engineering majors. Part of those
requirements involves taking one year of communication courses and another year
of team taught engineering/communication courses. In addition, all incoming
freshman also participate in a year-long FYE program where skills for academic
success and social integration are emphasized. The FYE program involves social
activities, field trips, mentoring and workshops, all aimed at reducing
transition-related challenges and improving retention, learning and academic performance. Students earn stamps by attending the various FYE events, which are
then submitted for course credit in their introductory engineering course; thus,
students who participated in the workshops earned stamps for attending.
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility …
Workshop Design
Initially, a face-to-face, interactive workshop was designed to encourage participation and to promote ownership of the concept of PR. Based on some of the
findings from the face-to-face workshop, a three week, interactive online workshop
was then developed. Across both iterations, the basic concept was to actively
involve the students in the creation of the concept of PR. The interactive components involved using the Socratic questioning method and targeted participation at
the group, the small group as well as the individual level. The workshop was also
designed to allow students to draw a direct connection between individual
choices/actions and consequences/outcomes. Furthermore, one of the key aspects of
the approach was to convey to the students that responsibility leads to success
because it produces feelings of well-being related to an increase in positivity,
self-image and self-confidence. The workshop itself was titled “PI First Year Guide
to Survival”. The title was a means to attract students without being overt in the
exact content as we did not want to discourage students from attending based on
assumptions that we would ‘lecture’ them on being responsible.
Since the university where the intervention took place maintains two separate
campuses for female and male students, two identical, but separate hour-long
workshops were initially offered during the Fall 2014 semester. Students received
one FYE success stamp for attending the workshops and an additional stamp for
completing a three week long responsibility journal. In the responsibility journal,
students described their own responsible and irresponsible behaviors, along with the
consequences/outcomes. The rooms where the workshops were held were set up so
that students could sit in groups of four or five students for group work. Both
instructors who designed the workshop acted as facilitators in the actual
workshop. The main components, materials and activities used in the face-to-face
workshop are described in Table 1.
Despite the fact that the workshop was well attended on both campuses, some
students complained that they had been unable to attend them, which is why the
possibility of offering an online workshop arose. While online courses provide
access which is not limited in time and space, online teaching and learning present
their own challenges, such as the nature of the interaction between students and
students and faculty depending on how the courses are set up (Arnold & Pistilli,
2012; Murphy, Walker, & Webb, 2013). Critics of online learning point out that
“assessing students’ preconditions and cultural prerequisites is often more challenging in an online context” (Anderson, 2008, p. 48). However, Dunlap and
Grabinger (in Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011) suggested that in view of lifelong
learning students’ sense of autonomy and responsibility should be supported, and
that it could be done online by assessing the students’ knowledge about the course
topic, setting specific learning objectives and creating plans for the achievement of
the objectives, setting a clear timeline and finding suitable resources. These ideas
guided the development of the outline of the workshop described here. Moreover,
peer evaluation and student-generated content (Rennie & Morrison, 2013) were
A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
Table 1 Face-to-face workshop outline
Lesson plan
Understand what
is meant by the
construct of PR
Introduce construct of PR
from a personal and
academic context
Define what PR is
Compare students’
definitions to existing
Understand why
PR matters
Discuss why one should take
PR and what it leads to
Learn how to take
PR in practice
Provide practical steps for
taking PR and get students to
apply in university context
Reflect on sense
of PR
Have students write
individually about PR during
the workshop
Reflect on sense
of PR after
Give students quotes about
awareness of link
between PR and
Students complete two
weeks of responsibility
journal entries
Power point slideshow
Understanding PR using the
metaphor of equating the move
from school to university with
moving to a new country
Group discussion #1
Three scenarios from students’
everyday lives were introduced
to elicit who was responsible for
the consequences
Small group activity #1
Students were given a list of nine
irresponsible behaviors and
asked to come up with equivalent
responsible behaviors
Small group activity #2
Three questions were posed to
elicit a definition of PR from the
students. Haskins’ (2009)
definition was then provided, as
was a short YouTube clip with
another definition of PR
Group discussion #2
Questions focused on the
outcomes of taking PR
Small group activity #3
List of five steps for taking PR,
which had to be applied the steps
to the academic context
Individual activity
Responsibility journal exercise:
Students write about three
responsible and three
irresponsible actions in a
responsibility journal (Ohio
Government Family Readiness
Group, 2003)
Laminated cards with quotes on
responsibility, such as “Your life
begins the day you take
responsibility for it”—Steve
Follow up activity
Responsibility journal exercise
continued via an online platform
(survey monkey)
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility …
included to encourage collaborative learning (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, &
Jones, 2009).
The online workshop was implemented in the Spring 2015 semester using the
course management system called Blackboard (Blackboard, 2015). Administrative
assistants assisted the instructors in setting up the enrollment. The online workshop
was set up so that students would gradually learn more about the topic and experience meaningful interaction in the process. It was important to consider the variety
of materials and types of exercises to maintain student motivation, as there were
problems getting students to complete the follow up task from the face-to-face
workshop. As a result, the original format of the workshop was reconsidered and it
was decided that the learning experience should be spread across three weeks to
provide some continuum and an opportunity for the students to see some development in themselves regarding PR.
The power point slideshow used in the face-to-face workshop was produced with
a voice-over in the online version of the course, as studies show that “video lectures
are as effective as in-person lectures at conveying basic information” (Bishop &
Verleger, 2013, p. 3). This is also why a further YouTube clip on being personally
responsible was added to the online version of the course. Most of the discussions
were implemented through the Discussion Board tool provided on Blackboard. Preand post-surveys and a reading assignment were also added to the original material.
One of the instructors who was experienced with Blackboard uploaded all the
materials in the required format for the students to use. The online workshop was
provided across three weeks near the end of the freshman year and the materials for
each week were released at the beginning of each week. The materials were only
available to the students during that week so that students would understand the
progression across three weeks and not attempt to complete the entire workshop the
day before it ended. The students earned two FYE stamps for completing all the
assignments provided during the three week workshop. Table 2 provides an outline
of the online workshop and right-hand column shows the number of student
responses for each required task.
Due to the different ways in which the two workshops were implemented, the
strengths and weaknesses of each workshop are discussed separately in the following section. In addition, the data obtained from the students’ responsibility
journals are discussed which shed light on the students’ understanding of PR and
the issues that they face regarding PR.
5 Results and Discussion
Strengths of the Face-to-Face Workshop
The face-to face workshop was highly attended and well-received by both female
and male students. The maximum number of participants per workshop is 25 and
Understand how PR
increases as
understanding the
consequences of
responsible and
irresponsible behavior
Understand various
aspects of PR as a
college student
Share one’s sense of PR
and reflect on other
students’ sense of PR
Week 2
Understand what is
meant by the construct
of PR
Reflect on current sense
of PR
Learning objective
Week 1
Table 2 Online workshop outline
Students watch clip and
answer questions on PR
Students reflect on PR
and consequences of
responsible and
irresponsible actions in
Online discussion
Students watch
slideshow and answer
embedded questions
Initial survey
Lesson plan
Video clip ‘Circle of
Multiple choice
questions (www.
Online survey on
(Stockdale &
Brockett, 2011)
Power Point
Slideshow (with
voice-over) on
Embedded multiple
choice questions
Discussion Board
Asked students
make one post and
comment on two
other posts
journal entry #1
Number and type of
Number and types of
responsible and
irresponsible behavior
and consequences
Number and type of
Number of views
Number and type of
responses to embedded
Self-reported sense of
Data gathered
# of responses
A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
Week 3
Reflect on current sense
of PR
Demonstrate own
understanding of PR as
a result of attending the
Post survey
Students try to
summarize their own
idea of personal
Students read text ‘How
is college different from
high school?’
Lesson plan
Students read about two
scenarios about PR
Learning objective
Table 2 (continued)
Write or find a quote
on PR. Post it on the
Discussion Board.
Comment on two
other posts
Online post-survey
Discussion Board
Asked students to
respond to the two
scenarios and then
comment on two
others on the
discussion board
Students listed three
things that surprised
them in the text
Comparison to initial
How students express
the notion of personal
responsibility in their
own words
Number and type of
Number and type of
Data gathered
# of responses
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility …
A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
both workshops were filled to capacity with a waiting list. The Independent
Learning Center (ILC), where the workshops took place, follows up with students
by asking them to complete a survey evaluating the usefulness and quality of the
FYE workshops. The overall rating of the workshop by male students (N = 17) was
3.76 on a 4-point scale (Due to an error, survey data from female students was not
collected by the ILC). All male respondents also reported that they would recommend the workshop to their friends.
During the workshops, the instructors evaluated the design choices. Participation
was at a high level; thus, the interactive aspects of the workshop design were
deemed successful by both instructors. The metaphor of the transition to university
being like moving to a new country in the PowerPoint and Group Discussion #1
(Table 1) generated much discussion. Students identified with it by producing a
similar set of challenges between a new country and university and their responses
to the scenarios revealed a tendency to place blame on external factors when faced
with the obstacles.
For Small Group Activity #1 and Small Group Activity #2 (Table 1), the students were easily able to generate the corresponding responsible action, and in
small discussions, they related the actions to their own lives often referencing real
life experiences. Due to a high level of participation in early aspects of the
workshop, Group Discussion #2 and Small Group Activity #3 (Table 1) were not
completed as planned, because the follow up activity required us to have the
students complete the first journal entry in the workshop. All 50 of the students
remained over the hour period to complete this individual activity and the results
are summarized below.
Weaknesses of the Face-to-Face Workshop
Three weaknesses in the workshop design emerged: insufficient time, the influence
of peer pressure, and lack of participation in follow up activity.
The issue of insufficient time, discussed above, was a sign that the initial discussion activities were engaging for the students. They readily identified with the
issues and contributed their own experiences and thoughts throughout the
workshop. This level of engagement was precisely what we were aiming at when
we designed the workshop since the prevailing approach was to involve the students themselves in the creation and application of the concept of PR. As previously
stated, one of the key aspects of the approach was to convey to the students that
taking PR leads to success because it produces feelings of well-being related to an
increase in positivity, self-image and self-confidence. Since the initial activities
were successful, we were not able to spend a sufficient amount of time on these
aspects of the workshop. Thus, the students were ‘told’ about the benefits of taking
PR without being ‘involved’ in the creation of these benefits.
Negative influences from peer pressure were not initially anticipated by the
instructors. In the male workshop, however, such influences of peer pressure were
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility …
present. There were five round tables with five participants at each table and two of
the round tables were off task during group and small group discussion. When the
tables were approached by one of the instructors, it was noted that one or two
students at each table were influencing the other students to not take the workshop
The last weakness of the workshop design was the lack of participation in the
follow up activity: the responsibility journal. The students were offered an additional stamp to continue writing journal entries for the following two weeks after
the workshop. Out of the 50 students who participated in the face-to-face workshop,
only six females and one male student chose to continue.
Themes from Student Responsibility Journal Entries
The student journal entries were examined and actions were analyzed and categorized by themes of responsible and irresponsible actions to help develop the
workshop in future. The major themes that emerged are presented Table 3.
As can be seen in Table 3, the majority of responsible and irresponsible actions
were focused on two themes: study habits and time management. Given that PR
was discussed in relation to the university context, it is not surprising that students
across gender focused on actions within an academic context. With regard to
specific time management actions that were not responsible, lack of
sleep/oversleeping emerged as the number one not responsible action for the males,
whereas skipping class/being late emerged as the number one not responsible action
for females.
Table 3 Themes of Actions
by Gender
Themes of
N = 67
N = 65
Not responsible
N = 70
N = 61
Study habits
Asking for help
Course of
A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
In terms of the consequences listed in the journal entries for the irresponsible
actions, the males and females differed slightly in their responses.
“Wake up lazy”.
“Attendance reduced and grades affected”.
“Sometimes got late”.
“Waking up late”.
“Missed 8am class”.
“Don’t come to class-get absence”.
“Had a very hard time waking up in the morning”.
“Not present in workshops”.
“I didn’t know what the professor was talking about”.
“I missed important information”.
“I missed the lecture and did not do well on the test”.
“I missed some point from the lesson”.
“I couldn’t understand the lecture”.
“Didn’t get enough practice for the quiz the next day”.
“High absence percentage”.
“Don’t understand the lecture”.
“Not receiving all of the material discussed”.
Notably, the consequences for the actions are short and, particularly for the
males, focus on the immediate consequences, revealing a lack of deep, critical
thought regarding the link between behavioral choices and outcomes. Ideally,
providing feedback in the form of questions would allow students to develop a
more nuanced understanding of the connection between personal choices and actual
outcomes. The female students were more detailed in connecting the action to the
outcome as they focused more directly on the impacts of the action on the learning
In terms of responsible actions, the majority of students focused on extrinsic
outcomes by listing high grades as the most common consequence. There were,
however, a small number of students who mentioned consequences related to an
increase in well-being which are underlined in the examples below.
“Was a revision for me as well and it helps them achieve better grades in turn, boasting my
self-confidence on that topic”.
“I have managed to reduce my stress and turn things in on time”.
“I gained more respect from my teacher and parents”.
“Less stress and more free leisure time”.
“Going home and being relaxed”.
“Felt less stressed”.
“I felt responsible. I didn’t have to blame myself”.
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility …
Strengths of the Online Workshop
The main strength of the online workshop was the potential for an unlimited
number of participants and the opportunity to participate regardless of time and
place. The online workshop did appeal to female students, as the initial number of
female students enrolled was 24. Alternately, only nine male students enrolled;
thus, while the potential was a strength, the actual enrollment, particularly in terms
of male students, was unexpected. The reasons for low enrollment will be discussed
A further strength of the online workshop was that the students had to type all of
their responses and thus had an opportunity to practice their academic literacy and
critical thinking skills while engaging with the content. In fact, some students wrote
fairly lengthy responses to the tasks (up to 300 words), while others responded by
cutting and pasting from provided materials or by a few words. The online nature of
the workshop also made it possible for us as the course instructors and as
researchers to collate all the student responses to assignments as shown in Table 2.
Weaknesses of the Online Workshop
The main weaknesses of the online workshop were lower than expected initial
enrollment, the significant drop in student numbers as the workshop progressed
(Table 2) and technological complications during the workshop enrollment stage
and in restricting the availability of the online materials to the students.
One reason for both low initial enrollment and the drop in enrollment could be
the timing when the workshop was offered. The online workshop was given in the
last few weeks of the academic year when students had already started preparing for
their final exams. The timing could not be avoided due to IT constraints, and we
still anticipated that many students would enroll to fulfill their stamp requirements
for FYE due to procrastination tendencies among students. Our assumption could
have been incorrect, meaning that many of the students had already accumulated
enough stamps by the time the workshop was offered. It could also be, however,
that the students considered the amount of work required in the online workshop to
be more arduous than attending face-to-face workshops, as the online workshop
was deemed worthy of two FYE stamps due to workload while normal workshops
are usually worth one stamp. An increase in workload during a time when the
students were beginning to prepare for finals might have discouraged both enrollment and completion.
The other weakness of the online workshop is related to technological issues. It
seems that the students required more detailed instructions on how to use the online
sources and to what extent they should respond to open-ended questions.
Furthermore, the students were not fully aware or accustomed to the fact that the
availability of the materials was limited. Several students reported that they had
A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
attempted to complete the assignments after they were no longer available. It was
evident from student complaints emailed to the instructors about this matter and
was perhaps one of the reasons for the drop in student numbers.
One additional weakness of the online workshop due to low enrollment and
attrition was the inability to quantitatively measure development of PR over the
course of the workshop. In the online workshop, an instrument measuring PR
developed by Stockdale and Brockett (2011) was given at the start and at the finish
of the workshop to determine whether there was any development over the course
of the workshop. Unfortunately, few respondents completed both surveys, making
it impossible to analyze data collected in the pre- and post-survey.
Themes from Student Responsibility Journal Entries
As can be seen from Table 2, there were only eight female entries and six male
entries in which students reflected on their responsible and irresponsible behaviors
and the consequences. Because the entries were not filled into a form with restricted
room for responses, some of the responses were surprisingly long. Two female
students wrote long (200–300 word) paragraphs and so did two of the male students. The main issues that arose were the same as those for the face-to-face group
as shown in Table 3, namely time management, study habits and family. Several
students also emphasized the importance of learning from the consequences of
irresponsible actions, such as getting bad grades, disappointing friends and parents,
and having the wrong information because of not paying attention in class. The
results from both workshops indicate a need to focus on the importance of
responsible behavior not only in university but in the students’ personal lives, too.
6 Conclusion and Recommendations
The two workshops described in this paper are the first steps in the process of
helping freshman students at an English-medium university to develop a sense of
PR toward their studies. Our overall aim is to use the results of the workshops to
make improvements on future iterations of the workshop so that new incoming
students have an easier time overcoming transition-related challenges, including
challenges created by studying content in a second language for the first time. In
addition, one of our goals is to encourage students to take ownership for their
thoughts and actions.
Based on the results, it is evident that more time is needed to involve students in
the process of creating and applying PR to their lives within the academic context
and beyond. The outcomes of taking PR need to be addressed in more detail using
pedagogical methods that can enable students to clearly see the personal benefits
related to taking PR. In addition, the students also need more feedback and support
A Positive Intervention: Personal Responsibility …
in linking their individual choices/actions to outcomes/consequences. Given that the
exercises and workshop were all conducted in English, it is not surprising that most
of the responses in the responsibility journals were brief and lacked deep critical
Our evaluation leads us to a set of six recommendations for improving the next
iteration of the workshop:
1. Utilizing prior student responses in future workshops
Some of the issues that arose regarding PR were already known to us, but it would
be beneficial to include matters concerning the consequences of responsible or
irresponsible behavior which were revealed in the journal responses.
2. Revisiting the actual time of year when the workshops are offered
It seems that the best time to have the workshop would be after the students have
experienced a few weeks of studying in university, when they start becoming aware
of the differences between school and college. The workshop, whether it is online or
face-to-face, should be held at a point in the semester when students are not
preparing for mid-term or final exams.
3. Reconsidering the length of the face-to-face workshop
A three week long seminar could be beneficial. Spreading the material and activities
across a three week period would allow the students to process the concepts at a
deeper level. Online workshops can be spread across three weeks by restricting
access to materials across the three weeks, but further instruction needs to be
provided concerning access.
4. Benefitting from an online platform whether it is Blackboard or some other
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A. Dallas and M. Hatakka
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Positive Emotions and Learner
Engagement: Insights from an Early
FL Classroom
Ewa Guz and Małgorzata Tetiurka
Abstract This paper aims at identifying the teacher-related factors which
contribute to positive emotions and learner engagement in a young learners’
(6–12 years old) foreign language (FL) classroom. We are interested in the relationship between teacher and learner emotions and the way teacher behaviour,
mindset and instructional practices contribute to learner engagement. The analysis
is based on video recordings of 45 lessons conducted by trainee teachers. The data
include teacher and learner verbal and non-verbal contributions to classroom
interaction. To begin with, periods of heightened learner engagement (PHEs) are
identified in the data basing on a list of descriptors of behavioural engagement
identified in previous research. PHEs are then analysed from the teacher’s perspective. We seek to determine those teacher behaviours and instructional practices
which coincide with the emergence of highest engagement. The results show that
learner engagement and the emergence of positive emotions in children is contingent upon the teacher’s mindset and his/her pedagogic decisions and choices.
Positively-oriented teachers who display positive emotions inspire a similar mindset
in learners creating a positively charged learning environment. We also found that
certain types of pedagogic intervention are inherently more substantively engaging
than others. The characteristics of engagement-generating teacher instruction are
discussed and instances of practices conducive to learner engagement are presented.
Keywords Young learners Learner engagement
mindset Personalisation Scaffolding
! Positive emotions ! Teacher
E. Guz (&) ! M. Tetiurka
Institute of English Studies, The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin,
Al. Racławickie 14, 20-950 Lublin, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
M. Tetiurka
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_8
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
1 Introduction
Recent research into the role of positive affect in learning (Fredrickson, 2001, 2003;
Reschly, Huebner, Appleton, & Antaramian, 2008; Schernoff, 2013) suggests that
positive attitudes and emotional involvement engage learners cognitively by
enhancing what Fredrickson (2003, p. 335) refers to as “broadened thinking”,
which fosters the learner’s readiness for language input (MacIntyre & Gregersen,
2012). Basing on the premise that positive emotions are conducive to engagement
and language learning, this paper looks at behavioural engagement as a window
into the emotional state of a child. Behavioural engagement is defined as the
external, observable and action-oriented behaviour (Appleton, Christenson, &
Furlong, 2008; Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004) indicative of positive emotions such as enjoyment, enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity and interest (Skinner &
Belmont, 1993) and the effort invested in the participation in classroom activities.
The main goal of the study is to identify those teacher behaviours and instructional
practices which promote concentration, commitment, interest in and enthusiasm for
classroom tasks, as well as learner response to classroom interaction. In the first
section we provide the necessary theoretical background and explain our rationale
for the study. We begin by briefly discussing the role of emotions in education and
focus on the importance of (positive) emotions in child development. The concept
of engagement is then presented and discussed. This is followed by a presentation
of the design and results of our investigation into engagement and positive emotions in early foreign language instruction at the primary level. Our findings and
possible implications for classroom practice as well as teacher training are presented
and discussed.
2 Education and Emotions
To date, emotions have played a minor role in formal education. Western school
systems have “split the head from the heart” by placing cognitive literacy in the
centre of curricula and educational systems (Sherwood, 2008, p. 13). The majority
of instructional practices within mainstream education have emphasised the
acquisition of knowledge and ignored learners’ emotional needs and their psychological well-being (Cefai & Cooper, 2009, p. 15). This overemphasis on cognitive literacy has found its reflection in the orientation of curricular goals towards
measurable standards and performance indicators. Progress in learning has become
equivalent to (and measured by) high scores in tests and examinations. These trends
can also be observed in Polish primary schools. Year 2015 has seen the introduction
of an obligatory test for all Polish 6th graders—Sprawdzian Szóstoklasisty (The
sixth grader’s test)—which targets learners’ achievement in Polish, maths and a
foreign language. Clearly, this has shifted the focus of classroom practices in the
majority of Polish primary schools. For instruction to be considered effective,
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
teachers need to ensure high-level of learner performance in tests by incorporating
extensive test-taking practice into their lesson plans. Test and exam preparation take
up an increasing proportion of class-time leaving little room for creating a supportive, emotionally-sensitive and engaging learning environment in which both
learners’ cognitive and emotional needs are addressed.
The need to integrate emotional and cognitive processes in child education had
already been acknowledged by Piaget (1981, p. 5), who compared the former to
gasoline that feeds the motor of an automobile, that is, cognition, without causing
change to it. Lemerise and Arsenio (2000, p. 108) express this relationship in the
following way: “the function of emotion is (…) alerting the attention of individuals
to important features of the environment and providing direction for cognitive
processes and behaviour”. In this view, emotions fuel selectivity of attention and
channel the investment of the child’s cognitive resources (Izard, 2009, p. 19).
3 Emotions and Child Development
Research in developmental psychology has provided ample evidence that emotions
play a central role in child development (Denham, 1998; Izard, 1991). They guide
and motivate behaviour and learning from infancy onwards and contribute significantly to children’s school readiness and academic success (Hyson, 2004, p. 9).
One of the primary positive emotions, which motivates exploration and problem
solving throughout childhood, is the emotion of interest (Izard, 1991; Renninger,
Hidi, & Krapp, 1992). Izard (1991, p. 106) defines interest as the most fundamental
and prevalent human emotion which guides perception, thought and attention.
Interest is of particular importance in early development as children are intrinsically
interested in how things and people are and naturally predisposed to explore and
experience the environment (Laevers, 2000, pp. 24–25). Interest, along with other
positive emotions such as joy, contentment, excitement, pride have been reported to
bring long-term learning benefits by broadening attention and thinking
(Fredrickson, 1998, 2001; Fredrickson & Branigan, 2001, 2005). It has also been
suggested that positive emotions lead to cognitive gains by enhancing memory,
comprehension, and selective attention (Renninger, 2000; Renninger et al., 1992;
Renninger & Wozniak, 1985). According to Izard (1991, 2009) selective attention
is the key component of exploration, learning and organised behaviour. An interested and happy individual more readily absorbs new information and experiences,
which leads to the growth of his/her self (Fredrickson & Cohn, 2008). Positive
emotional involvement engages learners cognitively by enhancing, what
Fredrickson (2003, p. 335) refers to as “broadened thinking” at the same time
fostering the learner’s readiness for language input (MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012).
In a classroom environment, especially that of young learners, the burden of
responsibility for managing learners’ emotions lies primarily with the teacher. This
is because, unlike adults, pre-adolescents do not recognise own and others’ emotional states effectively and are neither fully aware nor in control of their own
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
emotional reactions (Carr, 2004, p. 124; Morris, 2009). As regards emotional
expressiveness, preadolescent children do not “package themselves emotionally”
and are more likely to spontaneously display a whole range of positive and negative
emotions (Damasio, 2006, p. 133). Finally, it needs to be noted that positive emotions arise when individuals feel secure and their needs are satiated (Fredrickson,
2009). All in all, young learners’ classrooms are inherently emotion-laden and
emotionally-sensitive environments where teachers need to regulate their own and
learners’ emotions.
There are two ways in which teachers can influence learners’ emotions in the
(FL) classroom (MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012, p. 199). On the one hand, teachers
can elicit learners’ emotional reactions by creating conditions intended to provoke a
reaction. On the other hand, they might attempt to modify learners’ existing
emotional schemas by modifying pedagogic conditions. What teachers need to keep
in mind, however, is that in this age group learning is a process of active
engagement (Robson, 2006, p. 20) which involves paying attention to and
becoming interested in people, events and aspects of their surroundings that they
find meaningful and enjoyable (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). As pointed out by
Fredrickson and Cohn (2008), positive affect is the major trigger of active
engagement with the learner’s environment and his/her will to participate in
activities. This means that young learner engagement and positive emotions are
interrelated and mutually dependent and they need to be placed at the centre of any
pedagogic intervention taking place at the primary level.
4 Learner Engagement
Learner engagement, variously referred to as “student” or “school” engagement
(Finn & Zimmer, 2012) is described as a multifaceted concept relating to human
behaviour, cognition and affect. Broadly defined as the extent and manner of
involvement manifested by learners in relation to academic tasks, engagement
captures such aspects of learner activity as concentration, commitment, interest in
and enthusiasm for classroom tasks, as well as learner response to classroom
interaction (Fredricks et al., 2004; Janosz, 2012; Shernoff, 2013). The majority of
accounts of learner engagement see it as a combination of a cognitive, emotional
and behavioural element (Christenson, Reschly, & Wylie, 2012; Fredricks et al.,
2004, p. 60), but various accounts have accentuated various components of
engagement. For example, Skinner and Belmont (1993, p. 572), who studied student engagement at primary school level, emphasise the emotional aspect of
engagement as they see it as “the intensity and emotional quality of children’s
involvement in initiating and carrying out learning activities”. Newmann (1986,
p. 242), on the other hand, stresses the cognitive dimension by conceptualising
engagement as “devoting substantial time and effort to a task”. Russell, Ainley, &
Frydenberg’s (2005, p. 1) definition of engagement as “energy in action” prioritises
learner behaviour. In one of the most recent and in-depth investigations of learner
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
engagement, Shernoff (2013) conceptualises the notion as “the heightened, simultaneous experience of concentration, interest and enjoyment in the task at hand
(Shernoff, 2013, p. 12)”. This definition draws heavily on Csikszentmihalyi’s
concept of “flow experience” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993, 1996; Csikszentmihalyi &
Csikszentmihalyi, 1988; Moneta and Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) which is an optimal
state of complete cognitive and emotional engagement attained as a result of balancing the child’s skills/abilities and the degree of challenge presented by the task
at hand (Csikszentmihalyi, 1979, pp. 260–262).
This paper adopts an on-task, local, short-term, classroom perspective on learner
engagement. That is, we acknowledge but are not interested in the wider, educational and institutional context and the role of learner engagement in long-term
academic achievement (see for example Finn and Zimmer (2012) for a review of
research on engagement and dropout prevention, school misbehaviour and school
reform). Two elements are crucial in our approach. First, we see engagement as an
individual “in the moment” experience of the learner (Lawson & Masyn, 2014, p. 2)
that can be explored through context-specific research, that is in the context of a
specific lesson/task which serves specific pedagogic goals (Anderman & Patrick,
2012). Secondly, we follow Shernoff’s (2013) approach, which defines engagement
in relation to the extent and intensity of cognitive and emotional involvement
invested in the task. The starting point of our analysis is the child’s behavioural
engagement which is seen as a window to his/her cognition and affect.
5 Method
The goal of this paper is to determine the role of the teacher in evoking positive
emotions and generating learner engagement in a young learners’ (6–12 years old)
foreign language (FL) classroom. The following research questions are addressed in
this study:
1. What is the role of the teacher in generating engagement and positive emotions?
What teacher mindset/behaviour is conducive to engagement and positive
emotions in learners?
2. What instructional practices/learning activities contribute to learner engagement
and the emergence of positive emotions?
When addressing the research questions, the following research design is implemented. We begin with identifying learner behaviours consistent with engagement
in our dataset and determine the teacher-related factors which coincide with
heightened engagement. The participants, instruments and procedures used in the
study are described in greater detail in the subsequent sections.
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
The participants were 45 Polish pre-service teachers (n = 45, 37 female, 8 male)
who were students at the English Department of John Paul II Catholic University of
Lublin at the time the data were collected (2013–2014). They were working
towards their BA degree in English literature, linguistics or applied linguistics and
were in the final year of their studies. They were all enrolled in a teacher training
program, which is a non-mandatory 3-semester course providing students with the
teaching qualifications necessary to work as English teachers in Polish kindergartens and primary schools (grades I–VI, ages 6–12). The instruction they received
included: 120 h of practical classes and 90 h of lecture in Teaching English to
Young Learners (TEYL), 30 h of observation of lessons conducted by experienced
in-service primary school teachers and 90 h of teaching practice proper. The program was supervised by the authors of the study, who were also in charge of most
of the courses.
The data include 45 video recordings and transcripts of lessons conducted by the
students taking part in the program. The recordings were made during the trainees’
teaching practice and are based on lessons wholly planned by the trainees themselves. Trainees were instructed to design a lesson matching the pedagogic goals
outlined in the curriculum, but were not allowed to rely on a ready-made course
book-based lesson plan. Their task was to design, teach, record and transcribe their
own lesson. The use of additional didactic materials was permitted. The recordings
were supplemented with lesson plans and post-lesson notes and commentaries.
Written consents were obtained from all the parties involved to make and use the
recordings for pedagogic and research purposes.
The procedure adopted in this study consisted of two parts. To start with, we adopted
a learner-oriented perspective and analysed the video-taped lessons focusing merely
on the extent and intensity of learner engagement. The goal was to identify, what we
labelled the periods of heightened engagement (PHEs), that is, those stretches of
lesson time where learner engagement was at its highest. Here, the focus was on
learners’ behavioural engagement, that is, the external, observable, action-oriented
performance and the degree and consistency of actual participation in specific
activities. As already indicated in the introductory section, behavioural engagement
is indicative of the child’ positive emotions such as enjoyment, enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity and interest and the cognitive effort invested in the participation in
classroom activities. As regards the actual, real-life indicators of engaged classroom
behaviour, very few research studies have addressed this issue directly. Therefore,
we relied on the available set of descriptors identified in previous research
on early childhood education on the one hand (Laevers, 1994, 1999, 2000;
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
Table 1 Descriptors of engaged behaviour
Skinner and Belmont (1993)
Laevers (1994, 1999,
– Intense effort and concentration in the
implementation of learning tasks
– Showing positive emotions during ongoing
action—enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity,
and interest
– Initiating action when given the opportunity
– Concentration
– Lack of distance
between person and
– Lack of calculation
of possible benefits
– Energy
– Creativity
– Persistence
– Precision, reaction
– Facial expression
and posture
– Language and
– Concentrated
involvement in an
– Little sense of time
– Loss of ego and
– Merging of action
and awareness
– An activity
enjoyed for its
own sake
– Clear goals
– No fear of failure
– A balance between
challenges and
Skinner & Belmont, 1993, p. 572) and the psychology of well-being on the other
hand (Csikszentmihalyi, 1979, pp. 260–262). Table 1 provides a summary of the
descriptors outlined in these studies.
Drawing on the list of descriptors presented in Table 1, we isolated a common core
of potential areas for observing behavioural engagement which included the following aspects of learner activity: investment of attention, effort and concentration
into the task, commitment to the task, (lack of) self-awareness, goal-orientedness and
presence of positive emotions resulting from and directed at the task.
To gain insight into learners’ emotional states, we followed Lewis’ (2008)
methodology for observing emotional expressiveness in which emotions are seen as
“potentially observable surface changes” (p. 310) signalled across four modalities:
(1) facial expressions, (2) body postures and bodily expressions, (3) voice and vocal
expressions, (4) locomotions (level of activity, proximity, movement towards and
away from an object). These four modalities were also analysed as possible areas of
manifestations of cognitive effort and concentration. Additionally, to assure that the
descriptors fully captured the nature of learner engagement in our research context
(early foreign language instruction at the primary level), they have been supplemented with an index of features describing the mode of engaged behaviour reported
in Guz and Tetiurka (2015) on the basis of a similar data pool. In fact, Guz and
Tetiurka (2015) noted that engagement in a young learners’ FL classroom is signalled
by a wide range of verbal and non-verbal exponents which need to be interpreted in
close connection with local lesson goals. However, they further observed a high
degree of consistency and invariability in the manner of actions and reaction observed
in highly engaged learners (irrespective of pedagogic goals). To put it differently,
they described the mode of engaged performance in terms of a set of features which do
not pertain directly to what the learners do when they are engaged, but rather to how it
is done. Guz and Tetiurka’s (2015) observations are presented in Table 2.
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
Table 2 Mode of behavioural engagement (Guz & Tetiurka, 2015)
Dimension of
Engaged behaviour
Unengaged behaviour
Source of
Mode of
Internal = action is deliberate and
Impulsive, uncontrolled, unplanned
External = action is imposed
Reaction time
Continuous, persistent, prolonged, unwilling
to discontinue
Immediate, rapid
Intense, extreme
Versus controlled, planned,
Versus short-lived, easily
Versus delayed, slow
Versus inhibited, restrained
Versus passive, dormant,
Using the descriptors indicated above, the concept of engagement was operationalised to match our research context and goals. To summarise, in our interpretation, a cognitively engaged learner is concentrated on and committed to the
task. S/he is willing to invest effort in task completion in response to a clearly set
and perceived goal. In emotional terms, engagement invariably coincides with the
emergence of positive emotions such as interest, joy, satisfaction, optimism,
enthusiasm, excitement and curiosity. These might give rise to a flow-like state of
well-being in which the overall awareness of the self as well as the sense of time is
reduced. An engaged learner’s (re)actions are deliberate and fairly intense, often
initiated impulsively and without delay and willingly sustained for a long(er) time.
Finally, an engaged learner assumes a proactive rather than passive attitude towards
the task or even takes control over it.
The recorded lessons were coded for PHEs according to the description of learner
engagement provided above. We began by viewing the data with the sound off,
which allowed us to record fairly accurately the major changes in the learners’ facial
expression, eye contact, body position, posture and movement. We focused on those
moments/periods in the lessons where the changes were clearly observable and
affected the majority of the class in an intense, immediate and sustained fashion. The
identified PHEs were delineated by changes in learner behaviour and, in terms of
lesson structure, were mostly consistent with specific tasks/activities. Due to overall
low quality of the video recordings (fixed camera position, no zoom-in/out, poor
focus) we were not able to trace the behaviour of individual learners and focused
merely on whole group reactions. The lessons were then analysed with the sound on,
which provided insight into the verbal aspect of learners’ behaviour and allowed us
to interpret it in the context of specific classroom tasks and their local pedagogic
goals. Transcripts were consulted whenever necessary.
For each of the identified PHEs, a description of learner behaviour was provided
along with our interpretation of what kind engagement it is indicative of. An
exemplary description of a PHE is provided in Appendix 1. This description was
created for an activity which took place during a lesson with 2-graders, in which the
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
teacher was telling learners a story—“The very hungry caterpillar”. The activity
begins with the teacher (T) standing in front of the class, holding the story book in a
way which allows learners (ls) to see the pictures and follow the story. The goal
of task is to listen and understand the story. This activity was followed by a
comprehension check.
The engagement-identification procedure was conducted by each of the authors
separately for all the recordings. The final selection of the PHEs and the provision of
their descriptions is based on the observations made by both authors. In total, 69 PHEs
were identified in our data, with 24 lessons (53 %) showing no evidence of PHEs at all,
and 21 lessons (47 %) featuring multiple instances of heightened engagement.
The second part of the procedure involved viewing the same lessons focusing on
the teacher’s perspective. Essentially, whenever instances of PHEs were identified
during the lesson, we screened and followed closely the teacher’s behaviour
attempting to pin down those teacher-related factors which coincided with the
emergence of highest engagement and the most positive emotions in learners. Two
dimensions of the teacher were scrutinised here. First, we looked closely at the actual
words, actions and behaviour of the teacher along with his/her overall emotional
attitude to classroom goings-on (teacher mindset). Similarly to learner engagement
analysis, Lewis’ (2008) signals of emotional expression (face, body, voice, movement) were used as cues. Secondly, we focused on the nature and quality of instruction
provided by the teacher trying to determine those instructional practices (types and
features of tasks, task instructions etc.), which were consistent with the highest learner
engagement. The results of the analysis are presented in the section below.
6 Results
Teacher Behaviour and Mindset
The first research question we set out to address concerns the role of the teacher’s
behaviour and mindset in generating learner engagement and positive emotions. To
answer this question, we analysed the PHEs identified in our data from the perspective of the teacher. The goal here was to isolate a range of teacher-related
factors which tended to co-occur with the moments of heightened engagement in
learners. It transpired relatively early on in the course of the analysis that there is a
direct link between teacher and learner engagement and emotions in the primary
classroom. In particular, the teacher’s mindset and overall attitude to the lesson and
learners play a significant role in eliciting engagement and positive emotions in
learners. A positively-oriented, cognitively and emotionally engaged teacher elicits
similar mindset in learners, which in turns inspires engagement. The set of external,
objectively observable characteristics of teachers who were successful in sustaining
high learner engagement along with our interpretation of teacher behaviour are
presented in Table 3.
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
Table 3 Teacher behaviour during PHEs
Descriptors of
teacher behaviour
Researchers’ interpretation
– T faces the ls
– T maintains eye-contact with
the whole group making sure
all ls are within eye-sight
– T makes sure ls look at him/her
when a new task begins
– T smiles or has a neutral/open
facial expression
Body position,
body posture and
– T is positioned maximally
close to ls, ls can easily see T
and the visual prompts
– T is stands straight in front of ls
throughout the task
– there are few objects separating
T and ls
– T approaches individual ls
whenever necessary
– T uses gestures to illustrate and
emphasize the meaning of
his/her words
– T’s movement and gestures are
controlled and mirror the
meaning of T’s words
– T marks the onset of an activity
by changing the pitch and
loudness of his/her voice
– T speaks loud enough for all ls
to hear
– T tone is friendly and inviting
– T’s speech rate is fairly slow
– T’s intonation is lively and
varied, T emphasises key parts
of the instructions/input
– T’s turns are short and
sequenced logically relevant—
T uses short simple sentences
with a clear and varied
intonational contour (the use of
long turns or speeches is
Vocal expressions
– T sends a clear signal to ls that
a new stage of the lesson
– T focuses on and ‘reaches’ all
ls, all ls get T’s attention
– T is fully focused
on/committed to the task and
willing to assist ls in
completing it
– T sets the goal of the task
clearly and makes sure it is
– T is visibly interested in and,
enthusiastic about the task
itself and ls contributions
– T enjoys the task and is excited
about its outcomes
– T-ls interaction is genuine and
sustained by ls
– T activates a number of
channels to reach a maximum
of ls—T-ls communication is
– T exudes a positive attitude to
the lesson/task/ls
– T’s discourse is
developmentally appropriate
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
Table 3 (continued)
Descriptors of
teacher behaviour
Researchers’ interpretation
– if T notices that ls are not
following, s/he reacts
immediately by repeating or
clarifying a point
– T addresses ls directly by using
questions and imperatives, little
or no abstract language is used
– T uses body language/visuals
to reinforce his/her message at
all times
The picture of a teacher that emerges from our data is that of a behaviourally,
cognitively and emotionally engaged individual, whose actions, reactions, intentions and expectations are unambiguous and explicitly signalled verbally and
non-verbally. In terms of non-verbal communication, the teacher is in full control of
his body and its position, which are both used consciously to convey and reinforce
the teacher’s message. The teacher maintains physical contact with learners at all
times by positioning him/herself in learners’ close proximity and maintaining
steady eye-contact. The teacher’s body language mirrors and enriches his/her
words. Similarly, the teacher’s tone and pitch of voice are animated and varied to
match local lesson goals and the meaning of instructions or language input. Teacher
talk is developmentally appropriate in that it is controlled, direct and clear for
children. The teacher uses simple, non-abstract vocabulary structured in short
utterances directly addressing the learners. The presence of a focal point such as a
visual prompt (a picture, a toy, a flashcard) is an asset, as it attracts and sustains the
children’s attention. The teacher is attentive and takes notice of learners’ reactions
making adjustments to his language and actions whenever necessary. Taken
together, these verbal and non-verbal cues create an impression of a teacher who is
committed to the lesson and displays a positive attitude towards all the learners as
well as the task and its possible outcomes. S/he willingly invests effort in creating
opportunities for learning and works with learners to achieve a common goal.
Positive emotions are omnipresent throughout the lesson and they frequently result
from the cognitive effort required to meet task demands. The teacher appears animated, motivated and enthusiastic about the lesson content and classroom
goings-on. Encouragement and assistance are offered to learners. The teacher shows
interest, joy and excitement and welcomes displays of similar emotions in learners.
Learner outbursts of positive emotions are not treated as signs of loss of control or a
disturbance but as signals of learner engagement and well-being.
In conclusion, it appears that the teacher’s positive mindset and attitude to the
lesson inspires a similar attitude to the lesson in learners and that teachers themselves can create engagement. Interestingly, our results have also shown that when
it comes to manifestations of strong positive emotions in learners, these appear to be
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
contagious, with the teacher dictating the emotional tone of the lesson/activity and
the whole class picking it up and sharing very similar physical emotional expressions and reacting as one body rather than a group of individuals in a flow-like
state. During PHEs identified in our data, teacher-generated and teacher-regulated
positive emotions seemed to flow in abundance and they played a significant role in
generating and sustaining learner engagement.
Is All Engagement Engagement?
Another major observation made in the course of our analysis was that more than
half of the lessons showed no or little evidence of PHEs. This is not to say that
during those lessons learners showed no signs of engagement at all. They followed
teacher instructions obediently and completed the tasks designated by the teacher
but displayed very little or no emotional engagement in the lesson. In other words,
the teacher generated some degree of commitment to the tasks as learners did what
they were told and remained silent concentrating on the tasks at hand, but at the
same time they showed complete lack of interest, joy, and satisfaction. Basing on
evidence from English lessons taking place in the 8th and 9th grade, Nystrand and
Gamoran (1990, p. 3) labelled such lessons “emotionally flat”. The kind of learner
engagement observed in such lessons was described as “procedural engagement”.
Procedural engagement is defined as going through the motions of schooling in
response to institutional rules and conforming to school procedures “maintaining
reasonable standards of comportment” (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1990, p. 5). What
procedural engagement lacks is sustained cognitive or emotional commitment or
involvement. In our data, procedurally engaged young learners were passive and
emotionally alienated followers of teacher’s orders, willing to ‘survive’ the lesson.
They duly participated in and completed the tasks, showing little, if any, change in
facial expression, voice, movement and body posture (learners mostly sat still and
remained silent looking at their notebooks and course books). Overall, even if we
take into account individual differences in emotional expressiveness, the bodily
(re)actions of procedurally engaged children can be described as constrained and
carefully controlled and their overall behaviour as very unchild-like.
On the basis of our data, we were able to identify a set of characteristics
of teacher behaviour which coincided with procedural engagement. These are
presented in Table 4.
The verbal and non-verbal cues listed in Table 4 create an image of a teacher who
is not committed to the lesson and unwillingly invests effort in achieving task
outcomes and lesson goals. The teacher is relaxed and laid back and displays a rather
neutral or slightly negative attitude towards the learners and lesson. The teacher
appears disinterested and unenthusiastic and does not pay attention to learners’
actions, responses and needs. The goal of the lesson is task-completion according to
the lesson plan. Encouragement and assistance are not offered to learners.
Occasionally, the teacher appears slightly annoyed by learners’ questions and
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
Table 4 Teacher behaviour consistent with procedural engagement
Descriptors of teacher behaviour
Body position, body posture
locomotions (movement)
Vocal expressions
– T does not face ls
– T does not maintain eye-contact with ls, if s/he does, s/he
looks at individual ls or those seated in the front of the
– T gazes sideways, looks into the course book or at the
window, desk etc.
– T does not smile
– T is sitting or standing behind the desk
– when standing, T’s posture is laid-back and relaxed,
occasionally T leans against the desk, the wall, the chair
– T remains in the same position throughout the task
– T does not approach ls
– T’s movement and gestures are not controlled and chaotic
—T swings, waves his/her arms, scratches his/her head
– T’s voice is monotonous and flat
– T tone is indifferent and disinterested
– T’s speech rate is fairly slow, T gets stuck a lot, does not
finish his/her utterances and needs to begin afresh
– T’s intonation is rather flat
– T’s turns are of varied length but rather chaotically
– T takes little or no notice of the learners’ (re)actions
– T’s instructions are long and often unclear
– Teacher talk is abundant in abstract/meta-language
comments. However, the majority of learners do not signal lack of understanding or
difficulties and seem emotionally and cognitively detached. No evidence of negative
emotions on the part of the learners is observed, but this may be due to the fact that
the lessons were recorded, which affected learner behaviour. In any case, the lessons
appear to proceed in a very orderly fashion leaving the impression that the teacher is
delivering effective instruction. However, it is impossible to state for sure whether
learners are cognitively engaged and if they are following the lesson. In consequence, it is difficult to determine whether learning opportunities are created and
whether any learning is taking place. Evidently, the learners’ obedience results from
the institutionally-imposed power asymmetry between the teacher and learners, in
which it is the teacher who gives orders and it is the learners who take orders in the
classroom. Learners’ motivation to participate in the lesson and complete the tasks
results from the procedural hold the teacher has over them. In sum, the classroom is
devoid of any emotional undertones and cognitive engagement is limited.
Clearly, procedural engagement needs to be distinguished from the ‘real’ kind of
engagement investigated in this paper. The latter has been referred to as “substantive” learner engagement and defined as significant and ongoing, self-generated
investment of personal resources (effort, concentration, emotions) into completing a
task (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1990, pp. 5, 6).
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
Instructional Practices and Learner Engagement
The focus of our second research question was to identify the kinds of pedagogic
intervention which contribute to learner engagement and positive emotions. Having
identified PHEs, we attempted to analyse those instructional teacher practices which
immediately preceded them. This was based on the assumption that there is a direct
relationship between what the teacher does in the classroom and affects learner
emotions and behaviour. According to Lewis (2008, p. 344):
(…) emotions do not occur only in regions of the brain. The developing brain, affected as it
is by its genetic heritage, still needs an environment in which to grow and reveal its
complexity and plasticity in dynamic interpersonal exchanges with others in an interpersonal context.
Along similar lines, Morris (2009, p. 77) argues that external factors and
socio-contextual variables, such as behaviours of (or interactions with) caregivers,
peers, siblings and teachers are a source of affective styles and emotional patterns in
children. For young school children, teachers begin to play an important role in
their lives and often replace parents and immediate caregivers as role models due to
the fact that, unlike the former, the latter teach the child specific and tangible skills
(Erikson, 1959).
While analysing the recorded lessons, teacher instructional practices preceding
PHEs were coded according to the type of intervention or learning activity performed. Once again, the two authors conducted the analysis separately and compared their observations afterwards. Instances of disparate conclusions were further
discussed and recordings re-watched to reach agreement. Ultimately, the following
patterns were observed:
1. Young learners are engaged when the activity they are performing is set in a
familiar context.
2. Young learners are engaged when the activity offers an opportunity for
3. Young learners are engaged when the activity provides them with a feeling of
mastery and competence.
4. Young learners are engaged when there is evidence of carefully planned
Each of these regularities will be now discussed in detail.
The Positive Power of a Familiar Context
According to the data gathered in our study, whenever the teacher was engaging
young learners in an activity with a familiar context, we could observe all the
indicators of high engagement. For example, when the task evolved around a
topic/context in which the learners had some hands-on experience such as: the
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
weather, family, rooms in the house, school, birthdays etc. all the children eagerly
volunteered their answers, whether in English or in their mother tongue, encouraged
by topic familiarity and the ability to relate it to their personal experiences. This
gave them all an opportunity to participate and share their views.
Piaget (1967) claimed that for children in the concrete operational period
(7–11 years old) familiar objects, situations and events constitute best learning
contexts. Young learners at this stage cannot operate on abstract categories;
therefore they lose interest easily when abstract, decontextualised linguistic forms
and concepts are discussed. Having a short attention span and poor literacy skills,
young learners are naturally predisposed to focus on meaning and learn a foreign
language via familiar, meaningful contexts. Context and topic familiarity bring
some psychological benefits as well. Familiar contexts generate the feeling of safety
and enhance positive emotions. As Fredrickson and Cohn put it (2008, p. 778),
positive emotions “arise when organisms appraise the current circumstances as safe
and their currents needs as satiated”.
The Positive Power of Personalisation
Another observation that was made on the basis of the recorded lessons was that
children shared in and build on meaningful personal experiences in the classroom.
It can be argued that personalisation vents learners’ natural need for attention and
approval of the teacher and peer group, which, with time, will gain greater significance and will become a major source of the child’s self-esteem (Erikson, 1959).
Personalisation generates feelings of satisfaction and pride which arise from being
able to discuss own experiences and accomplishments.
In one of the lessons we analysed, a male student-teacher started the lesson with
a warm-up. He invited children to a carpeted area in the classroom and was
throwing a ball to different pupils asking a question ‘What’s your favourite toy?’.
Children’s physical and vocal reaction was a good indicator of their engagement.
They were trying to attract the teacher’s attention using their body language
(leaning forward, swaying) and making noises (squeaking, saying ‘Me! Me!’ in
Polish). They all signalled willingness to answer the question; however, when the
ball was finally thrown to them, some needed time to come up with something to
say and find suitable phrasing. This observation supports one of our earlier claims
that in children learning involves paying attention to and becoming interested in
people, events and aspects of their surroundings that they find meaningful and
enjoyable. Moreover, it appears that children’s emotional readiness to participate in
an activity they find enjoyable precedes the cognitive one suggesting their need for
positive emotional involvement is the major drive behind their participation in
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
The Positive Power of Mastery/Competence
Erikson (1959), in his primary child’s emotional profile, called the school age
(5–12) the competency age. He argued that at this age emotionally healthy
primary-age children acquire a sense of industry or competence—a belief that they
are knowledgeable and skilled. Given a chance to succeed, children begin to
develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Harsh criticism and prolonged
failure inevitably lead to feelings of inferiority, loss of interest in learning and, in
effect, never reaching the child’s full potential (Erikson, 1959). However, the
recordings we analysed did not contain instances of negative teacher influence. On
the contrary, there were numerous examples of teachers providing learners with
opportunities to experience and savour success.
In one such lesson, a male student-teacher set up a revision activity. Learners
were seated at their desks and each had mini flashcards illustrating different body
and facial features displayed on the table in front of them. The goal of the activity
was to listen to the teacher’s description and match it with one of the pictures on the
flashcards. The teacher described one character sentence by sentence, and
the learners’ task was to pick up the proper flashcard quickly and put it up facing
the teacher. Again, the learners’ engagement was manifested through their body
posture and excited gasping when they found the answer. The teacher praised the
pupils who gave correct answers and listed those who got it wrong. Each time,
however, he reassured the pupils who did not succeed that they would have another
chance to give the correct answer during the next round. The task was rather
difficult, and some students failed to complete it, but there was always scope for
improvement. Here, the factor that triggered learners’ will to complete the task and
motivated them to try was the well-adjusted level of task difficulty. In other words,
the task was within learners’ Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1987).
The learners were challenged by the task and had to put substantial effort into
completing it successfully. Had the task been not challenging enough, the learners
might have got bored, lose interest in the activity and, if the activity continued for a
longer period of time, start causing some discipline problems. The initial,
short-lived positive emotions, such as pleasure and joy, generated by an easy task
soon give way to boredom and lack of satisfaction. In other words, activities which
are not within ZPD might trigger but will not sustain learner engagement. Possibly,
if the activity was beyond learners’ ZPD, it would also have detrimental effect on
overall engagement as only the most determined learners can pursue a task while
constantly facing failure. Placing it within learners’ ZPD generated sustained
enjoyment and commitment, enthusiasm and determination to complete the task.
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
The Positive Power of Scaffolding
As it has already been stated, the opportunity to perform a task well generates in
learners the feelings of industry and confidence in their own abilities and accomplishment, which are important constituents of learner self-esteem (de Andrés,
1999). Apart from the task being within ZPD, the task needs to have a clear
structure, that is, it needs to be scaffolded (Wood, 1998). When the task procedures
and goals are clear, the task is modelled and the necessary language is provided, the
learners are able to become fully and positively engaged in the task. On the other
hand, we observed examples where lack of scaffolding led to disengagement,
discouragement and in effect to misbehaviour, even if other factors (familiar context, personalisation) were present. Understandably, sufficient scaffolding is a sine
qua non condition of mastery, so these two elements are closely interrelated.
Consider the example of a female teacher who practised language chunks used to
make and accept request such as ‘Can I have a…, please?’, ‘Here you are’ in short
conversations with a group of 4th-graders. She first revised vocabulary, then,
modelled the activity in a pair with one learner and only then did she start the
activity with the whole class. She encouraged learners with positive feedback at all
times, leading them on with additional questions, sandwiching her instructions
using both L1 and L2 (Kerr, 2014) and sustaining their interest by providing
attractive examples. The following exchange ensued between the teacher and the
〈T〉 Can I have a pencil case?
〈Ss〉 [there is a sudden wave of movement across the class, as most children put and hold up
their pencil cases]
〈T〉 Dobra! Super! I co mówimy? [Great! Excellent! And what do we say?]
〈Ss〉 [chorally, they shout out their answers excitedly] Here you are!
〈T〉 Here you are. Very good!
〈T〉 Can I have a book, please?
〈Ss〉 [learners put and hold up their books, some are looking at their desk trying to locate
their books and whispering and gasping excitedly] Book…..book?! Here you are.
〈T〉 Excellent, very good, very good.
It should be noted, though, that the above exchange illustrates the factors we
discussed before, i.e., a familiar context (asking for school objects) and personalisation (learners were showing their own belongings). This might lead to a conclusion that for sustained engagement to take place, all four factors differentiated in
our study should be present: familiar context, personalisation, scaffolding and
mastery. However, further investigation into the relationship between the factors is
needed to support this thesis.
E. Guz and M. Tetiurka
7 Conclusions
In this paper we set out to identify teacher behaviours and instructional practices
which are conducive to the emergence of engagement and positive emotions in
young learners in a FL classroom. This issue was approached from two perspectives. First, we investigated the teacher’s mindset and attitude as a possible trigger
of learners’ interest, enjoyment and cognitive effort. Second, we analysed teachers’
actions from a pedagogical perspective and made an attempt at determining those
types of teacher intervention which met with heightened engagement and emergence of positive emotions.
Our results suggest that learner engagement is closely linked with the teacher’s
emotional orientation and overall mindset. It appears that the teacher’s emotional
attitude plays a pivotal role in shaping learner’s engagement. We observed that the
teacher’s positive mindset and attitude to the lesson generates a similar positive
attitude to the lesson in learners. Through their positive, optimistic and encouraging
presence, manifested in physical features, voice quality and movements, teachers
can create substantive engagement and positive attitude in learners. What is crucial
here is that substantive engagement is marked by the presence of positive emotions
and self-regulated cognitive effort and does not result from the power relationship
between the teacher and the learners.
As regards the kind of teacher instruction which contributed to learner
engagement, we observed that some tasks and patterns of interaction are inherently
more substantively engaging than others. In our study we observed four characteristics of engagement-generating teacher instruction. Firstly, the activity learners
are performing must be set in a familiar context. Secondly, the activity should give
many opportunities for personalisation. Thirdly, the activity should be within
learners’ Zone of Proximal Development in order to provide them with a feeling of
mastery and competence. Finally, carefully planned scaffolding should make the
task clear and doable for learners. It seems, however, that it is the combination of all
these factors rather than a single factor in isolation that generates and sustains
learner engagement.
The study has a number of limitations which need to be borne in mind when
interpreting the results. Although the analysis of the data was carried out by the two
authors independently, the researchers’ observations are based on their introspection and therefore subjective in nature. The study was not triangulated by data from
the teachers and pupils involved, which would perhaps shed further light on the
issues investigated in this paper. Additionally, it needs to be noted that the teachers
we observed were trainee teachers and their lack of experience and the level of
anxiety or even stress (the lessons were produced for assessment purposes) could
have some bearing on the results. The fact that the lessons were recorded rather than
observed live could also have influenced the degree of spontaneity in observed
Positive Emotions and Learner Engagement …
Appendix 1
PHE description sheet for PHE 12—the very hungry caterpillar.
Indicators of
Researchers’ interpretation
– All ls are staring at the teacher
and the visual prompts and
listening carefully
– Little or no eye-contact with
peers is present, there is no
looking around
– ls’ facial expression is that of a
complete focus—their eyes are
wide-open, some ls are smiling,
others maintain a rather serious
facial expressions
– All ls are seated
– Most are leaning forward on
their desk to get closer to the
teacher, some are resting their
elbows on the desks and
holding up their heads in their
– Little or no movement is present
throughout the task—ls remain
almost completely motionless,
there is not fidgeting
– When the turning point in the
activity is reached, there is a
sudden movement across the
group—the majority of ls stand
or jump up, others clap their
hands, one or two ls cover their
mouth with their hands in
Body position,
body posture
ls are on task at all times
They are concentrated an
Committed to the task
ls are taking part in the task
willingly and are determined to
complete it
– They know what they are
expected to do and are
following T’s instructions at all
– ls are working willingly towards
a clear goa—finding out the
ending of the story
– There are no signs of other
activities or distraction
– ls are interested in the task and
curious in how it will develop
– ls are excited and show signs of
surprise when the task unfolds
to a slightly unexpected ending
– ls show enjoyment—some
request T to repeat the task
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Caring and Sharing in the Foreign
Language Class: On a Positive Classroom
Danuta Gabryś-Barker
Abstract The title of this article comes from Moskowitz’s book (1978) Caring and
sharing in the foreign language class, which was one of the first publications
demonstrating how positive psychology built on humanistic principles can be
effectively used by language instructors in enhancing not only learners’ foreign
language development but also their personal and (in particular) affective growth
and well-being. One of the factors conducive to this well-being of teachers and
learners is classroom climate. This article looks at the role the FL classroom’s
climate plays in fostering foreign language learning, personal development and the
well-being of teachers and learners. The introductory part begins with a discussion
of the concept of classroom climate (atmosphere) and continues with an overview
of a selection of studies on (positive) classroom atmosphere. The empirical part
reports on a study conducted among pre-service EFL teachers diagnosing their
awareness of the indicators of positive classroom climate, their understanding of
teacher’s and learners’ contribution to it and the trainees’ perceptions of significance of classroom climate for the well-being of teachers and learners. The
implications of the findings demonstrate possible ways of enhancing classroom
climate, which could be grounded in positive psychology assumptions about personal well-being. The data collected is based on (auto)biographical narratives of the
Keywords Positive psychology Classroom climate Foreign language learning
Code of conduct Personal well-being
D. Gabryś-Barker (&)
Institute of English, University of Silesia,
Gen. S. Grota-Roweckiego 5, 41-205 Sosnowiec, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_9
D. Gabryś-Barker
1 Introduction
One of the first sources in education, or more precisely in foreign language
instruction, that could be treated as offering a positive psychology framework was a
seminal work by Gertrude Moskowitz, Caring and sharing in the foreign language
class (1978). Moskowitz demonstrated how humanistic principles can be effectively
used by foreign language instructors in enhancing not only learners’ foreign language development but also their personal and in particular their affective growth
and well-being. The latter things constitute the main pillars of positive psychology.
Personal development, affective growth and well-being cannot occur in a void but
are contextually determined by enabling institutions, one of the pillars of positive
psychology. Thus, studying school as an enabling institution becomes one of
important dimensions of present day research, especially with the advent of positive
psychology in a language learning and teaching context. One of the factors that
undoubtedly deserves attention as an enabling factor at school is school and
classroom climate. From a positive psychology perspective, classroom climate
plays a role not only in fostering foreign language learning, but also in personal
development and the well-being of teachers and learners.
Numerous questions can be raised when studying classroom climate, as they
already were years ago when first formulated by Fraser (1989, p. 307):
What are the determinants of a classroom’s climate and what are its effects in terms of
students’ satisfaction and learning? Is there a discrepancy between actual and preferred
environment, as judged by students or teachers, and does this discrepancy matter? Do
teachers and students perceive the same classroom similarly? Can teachers conveniently
assess the climates of their own classrooms and can they change these environments? Does
the nature of a classroom environment influence curriculum implementation in important
Such a complex character and the multiplicity of questions related to studying
classroom climate call for a multidisciplinary approach and for making use of
research findings in social sciences in relation to “group dynamics, motivational
psychology, educational studies, and second language research” (Dörnyei, 2014,
Chap. 43 online). This article presents a pilot study of trainee perceptions of
classroom climate from the perspective of their own learning experiences and aims
to come up with their implications for teacher training programmes.
2 School as an Institution and a Class as a Group
Seligman (2002), the founder and coordinator of the PP network, enumerating the
three pillars of positive psychology (positive emotion, positive character and positive institutions) emphasizes the last of these by saying:
What larger structures, transcending the lone individual, support positive character, which
in turn engenders positive emotion? Strong families and communities, democracy, freedom
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
of inquiry, education, and economic safety nets are all examples of positive institutions
(ibid, p. 266).
And similarly, in the words of another positive psychologist, Peterson (2006, p. 20)
“Positive institutions facilitate the development and display of positive traits, which
in turn facilitate positive subjective experiences”. Schools are unique as institutions
Students are crucial members of schools, the equivalent of customers or clients, and they
are the ultimate goal or product. School is sometimes called a life industry, which means
that educational practices affect students not just in the here and now but also across the
lifespan in settings far removed from the classroom (ibid, p. 284).
What are the characteristics of a so-called good school? Unfortunately, this term
is often used to describe schools just with reference to graduation rates and grades
of its learners, whereas education is much more than this. It is also, as Moskowitz
said, concerned with the affective growth and personal well-being of both learners
and their teachers. In his discussion of the concept and characteristics of a good
school, Peterson (2006) summarizes the views of other researchers of what might
constitute the profile of a school which is a truly enabling institution:
• Students perceive courses to be relevant.
• Students perceive that they have control over what happens to them at the school.
• Students perceive school discipline policies to be firm, fair, clear and consistently
enforced, with a focus on correction and skills building rather than punishment.
• Students see the school reward system as rational: The school recognizes students for their achievement and rewards their positive behaviour.
• There exists strong and effective school governance.
• The school principal plays <sic> strong leadership.
• Practices are in place which decrease impersonality of the school and increase
contact between students and teachers, which in turn increase students’ feelings
of belonging and connectedness (ibid., p. 286)
In short, the key traits of a good school as pointed out by Peterson (ibid.) are
purpose, safety, fairness, humanity and dignity. The basic unit of school, a class, is
an administrative entity but first and foremost, it is a social group of pupils- learners
and their teachers, who build, maintain and develop an intricate network of relationships in their daily interactions. These interactions establish a unique climate
that governs the life of the group—a class.
3 Classroom Climate: The Construct and Its Different
The concept of classroom climate comes from social psychology and is rooted in
the notion of classroom as a social group. Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, and Lovett
(2010, p. 170) define classroom climate as
D. Gabryś-Barker
(…) the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical environments in which our students
learn. Climate is determined by a constellation of interacting factors that include
faculty-student interaction, the tone instructors set, instances of stereotyping or tokenism,
the course demographics (for example, relative size of racial and other social groups
enrolled in the course), student-student interaction, and the range of perspectives represented in the course content and materials.
It is also seen as perceptions that pupils hold about how they feel in a particular
class of a particular teacher, which have an effect on each of students’ willingness to
learn and put effort into this process using his or her potential to the full (McBer,
2000, p. 27). For Schmidt and Cagran (2006), classroom climate is a system of four
interacting variables of the physical involvement, the organizational objectives and
profiles of teachers and profiles of pupils. A successful classroom climate is described
by Kyriacou (1991) as purposeful, task-oriented, relaxed, and with an established
sense of order, whereas Brown (2001) describes a positive classroom environment as
a situation in which learning becomes interesting and stimulating for learners.
The already mentioned McBer (2000) describes classroom climate as a
nine-dimension construct embracing clarity, order, a clear set of standards, fairness,
participation, support, safety, interest and (physical) environment (Table 1).
Is McBer’s a complete list? Where is the enjoyment dimension of classroom
climate? One may ask: where is a sense of humour? Where are the emotions and
affectivity of group interactions? The Classroom Climate Inventory of Fraser,
Treagust and Dennis (1986), designed for small classes and tutorials, is a validated
Table 1 Dimensions of classroom climate (source McBer, 2000, p. 27)
The purpose of each lesson. How each lesson relates to the broader
subject, as well as clarity regarding the aims and objectives of the school
Within the classroom, where discipline, order and civilised behaviour are
How pupils should behave and what each pupil should do or try to
achieve, with a clear focus on higher rather than minimum standards
The degree to which there is an absence of favouritism, and a consistent
link between rewards in the classroom and actual performance
The opportunity for pupils to participate actively in the class by
discussion, questioning, giving out materials and other similar activities
Feeling emotionally supported in the classroom, so that pupils are willing
to try new things and learn from mistakes
The degree to which the classroom is a safe place, where pupils are not at
risk from emotional and physical bullying, or other fear-arousing factors
The feeling that the classroom is an interesting and exciting place to be,
where pupils feel simulated to learn
The feeling that the classroom is a comfortable, well-organised, clear and
attractive physical environment
A clear set of
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
instrument for measuring classroom climate. It embraces seven categories, which
also include the missing dimensions of McBer’s classification. They embrace:
emphasizes opportunities for students to interact
with the instructor and the instructor’s concern for
student personal welfare.
assesses the extent to which students participate
actively and attentively in class discussions and
STUDENT COHESIVENESS looks at the extent to which students know, help
and are friendly toward each other.
measures the degree of enjoyment of classes
considers the extent to which class activities are
clear and well organized.
to what extent the instructor plans new and
unusual class activities, teaching techniques, and
asks to what extent students are allowed to make
decisions and are treated differently according to
ability, interest and rate of working (Fraser et al.,
1986 online).
A more recent inventory, the Connected Classroom Climate Inventory of Dwyer,
Bingham, Carlson, Prisbell, Cruz, and Fuss (2004), follows the belief that a positive
and thus productive classroom climate depends to a great extent on connectedness
between the learners. Thus, this inventory emphasizes among other things, strong
bonds, sharing experiences, engaging in small talk and being nonjudgemental about
peers as factors contributing significantly to creating positive classroom climate.
As mentioned earlier, from the perspective of positive psychology, classroom
climate plays a role not only in fostering foreign language learning, but also in the
personal development and the well-being of teachers and learners. The importance
of classroom climate was recognised by the UK government as expressed in their
initiative, the programme called Social and Emotional and Behavioural Skills
(SEBS), which places emotional literacy, seen as an important aspect of a school as
an enabling institution, in the school curriculum (Killick, 2006). Their online survey (SEELS—The Schools Emotional Environment for Learning Survey at www.
antidote.org.uk) administered as an online emotional literacy audit focused on the
following issues understood to express a healthy learning environment:
• Safe—That emotions are acknowledged and impacting how they (staff and
students-addition mine) think.
• Accepted—How much individuals are allowed to “be themselves” as opposed to
simply complying with expectations.
• Included—Encouraged to find a distinctive and a valid role for themselves.
D. Gabryś-Barker
• Listened to—That people can say what they think or feel knowing that this will
have an impact on others and stimulate change.
• Competent—That there is a genuine interest in enabling them to realise their
potential in whatever field they choose (Killick, 2006, p. 62).
4 The Importance of Classroom Climate
(An Overview of Research)
Research on classroom climate and generally studying the educational environment
involves studying it from:
• an external observer’s perspective through a system of coding of classroom
• through naturalistic enquiry in case study interpretative research;
• the participants’ perspective including teachers and learners’ own perceptions of
the classroom environment.
The last type of research involves the use of different tools of measurement such as
various forms of classroom climate inventories. It also embraces tools more qualitative in nature such as narrative texts constituting perception studies. Fraser (1998,
Chap. 8 online) justifies the validity of perception studies for the assessment of
learning environments by stating that “students are at a good vantage point to make
judgements about classrooms because they have encountered many different
learning environments and have enough time in a class to form accurate impressions”. Selected studies on a positive classroom climate are presented in Table 2.
The studies enumerated above demonstrate how classroom climate influences
student learning. Their outcomes were summarized by Goh and Khine (2002), who
conclude that:
• Student-teacher relationships and classroom climate are significantly related to
students’ achievement and attitude towards learning.
• Certain teacher behaviours, e.g., teacher leadership, being understanding,
helpful and friendly are positive teacher behaviours that teachers should
demonstrate liberally in class—more of such teacher behaviours will result in
better/supportive classroom environment.
• A classroom environment is conducive to learning when a high degree of class
cohesiveness prevailed and little friction existed among students.
• Most of the studies worldwide revealed that the learning environment affects
both the cognitive and affective developments of students.
• The evidence is clear—the learning or classroom environment can promote or
hinder students’ learning; the more conducive the environment, the better the
students’ achievement and attitude towards learning.
• A close teacher-student relationship will further enhance and maintain this
conducive classroom environment.
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
Table 2 Selected studies on classroom climate
Duschl and
Waxman (1991)
Pre-service teachers’
perceptions of their environment
Gage and Beliner
The role of environment in
Fraser (1993)
Pre-service and in-service
teachers’ education
Turner, Meyer,
and Schweinle
Affectivity in a classroom
Hamilton, and
Hattie (2004)
The ecological perspective on
learning environment
Mazer and Hunt
The influence of instructor
(teacher) language on
motivation, learning and
classroom climate
Johnson (2009)
The role of student-student
communication in developing a
positive classroom climate
Glaser and
Bingham (2009)
Students’ perceptions of their
connectedness in the college
speaking course
Arnold (2009)
Affectivity in the classroom
instructional context
These perceptions constitute an
important element of
information about pre-service
teachers’ initial teaching
placement experiences
Ease of learning and its
effectiveness are enhanced in a
non-threatening environment
The need to implement training
in the development of classroom
climate by sensitizing the
trainees to it as a form of good
practice facilitating teaching
performance and its assessment
A positive classroom climate
promotes the arousal of positive
feelings and better learning
Classroom behaviours such as
participation self-reported
engagement and task completion
are influenced by classroom
climate and correlate with
measures of motivation
Informal language (positive
slang) is a more effective
communication tool than formal
speech, however negative slang
has adverse effects for among
others, classroom climate
Connected Classroom Climate
Inventory is a valid measurement
tool of classroom climate.
Connected classroom climate
appears to be positively related
to teacher nonverbal immediacy
and it directly affects student
affective learning
Students’ motivation and
bonding are impacted by such
aspects of classroom behaviour
as encouragement, humour,
honesty and interaction among
An affectively positive context
of learning makes it more
effective due to less stress and
more engagement in the learning
D. Gabryś-Barker
Table 2 (continued)
Frisby and Martin
The relationships between
teachers and students and
between students in building
positive classroom environment
Urboniené, and
The role of classroom climate in
language development
Sidelinger and
Creating a supportive and
connected learning environment
Gascoine (2012)
Myers and Claus
The relationship between
classroom climate and
performance in post- secondary
language instruction
Self-reports on students’
motivation to communicate in
the classroom context
Chaffe, Noels,
and McEown
Overcoming adverse
circumstances in learning
Gedamu and
Siyawik (2014)
The relationship between
students’ perceptions of
classroom climate and their
achievement in EFL
Wu, Wu, and Tasi
The relationship between
classroom climate and
satisfaction of adult learners
The rapport perceived by the
students is related to classroom
connectedness and enhance
student participation,
demonstrating that it is teacher
rapport only that is a good
predictor of engagement and
participation as well as cognitive
and affective learning
The creativity of classroom
climate as a significant factor,
assessment by means of the
creative classroom climate
assessment questionnaire
connectedness in the classroom
and teacher confirmation
behaviours increase in-class
involvement of students
The importance of
student-to-student connections
and interaction measured by the
Classroom Climate Inventory
Students’ motives to
communicate with their
instructors correlates positively
with their perceptions of the
classroom environment, except
for the excuse- making motives
which are not related to the
classroom climate
Developing positive reappraisals
of a situation by a learner due to
his/her self-determination
motivation, need satisfaction and
The positive correlations
between EFL classroom climate
variables such as task challenge,
involvement and teacher support
and language achievement on
the test. Classroom climate
variables predicted student
achievement in over 20 %
Positive impact of classroom
climate on learning satisfaction
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
5 EFL Pre-service Teachers’ Perceptions of Classroom
Climate (A Pilot Study)
The Previous Study: Conceptualizing Classroom Space:
Studying the Learning Environment
In my previous study (Gabryś-Barker, 2012) related directly to classroom climate,
the main assumption was that a significant variable in the contextualization of
teaching is the physical space (environment) in which it occurs, that is, classroom
space expressed in terms of its physical parameters. The main objective of the study
consisted in raising pre-service EFL teachers’ awareness of the complexity of the
issue of classroom space. This complexity was seen in both its physicality and its
direct influence on psychological (affective) aspects of classroom instruction. Both
of these dimensions of classroom space have to be perceived as contributing to the
effectiveness of teaching/learning processes in a given classroom context.
The perceptions of classroom space of pre-service EFL teachers were collected on
the basis of stimulus-response test in which the associations were made to the
stimulus phrase classroom space. The associations made by the trainees were the
following: seating arrangement, spreading knowledge, walls, posters, A-V aids,
equipment, air, smell, breaking boundaries cleanness, general appearance, size,
windows, the building, passing knowledge breaking boundaries, classroom atmosphere, feeling of ease, outside the building, silence, individual space “to breathe”,
physical space between people, mental space between teachers and learners, working
area, functionality, giving opportunity to express one’s thoughts, size of a group.
The different dimensions of classroom space as classified according to the data
gathered embrace the physicality of the room, pedagogical and interactive/mental
dimension (Table 3).
Table 3 Dimensions of classroom space (based on Gabryś-Barker, 2012)
Physicality of the room
(a) general appearance (architectural): walls, windows, lamps
(b) desk arrangement
(c) didactic objects: audio-visual aids/equipment, posters
(d) size (e.g., physical space between people)
(e) non-object qualities: air, smell, colour, cleanness
(a) spreading knowledge
(b) functionality (e.g., ease of movement)
(c) practicality (e.g., availability of aids)
(a) feeling of ease
(b) classroom climate (atmosphere)
(c) silence
(d) breaking barriers
(e) “individual space to breathe”
(f) mental space between people
(g) opportunity to express oneself
D. Gabryś-Barker
Literal perceptions of classroom space show a fairly homogeneous picture of the
main dimension of conceptualizing classroom space as purely physical, expressed
as: seating arrangements, walls, windows, equipment, decorations. The results of
the study demonstrated the subjects’ concern for classroom space mostly in relation
to the study and practice of different types of work, when grouping students
becomes an issue. Thus, it is the seating arrangement in the classroom which is
most frequently discussed by the subjects. This seems seriously reductive, as
classroom space means much more than this and can be conceptualized at a much
deeper level of mutual relations between the physical space and mental space of a
teacher and learners, their interactivity and individuality (Gabryś-Barker, 2012).
At the same time, the metaphoric perceptions of classroom space were also
present in the data and expressed the relations between the physical and the mental;
the mental being determined by the physical. The mental space was defined as
interaction between the teacher and learners, and between learners themselves,
individual learner autonomy (“space to breathe”), and more than anything else,
classroom climate. Thus, the study can be seen as contributing to research on
enabling institutions in paying attention to the physical aspects of school/classroom
environment and their relation to mental and affective dimensions which constitute
classroom climate.
Method: The Present Study
The following section presents the description of my pilot study on EFL pre-service
teachers’ perceptions of classroom climate. The research focus of the present study
is on
• Pre-service EFL teachers’ (trainees) perception of classroom climate and its
significance for the well-being of teachers and learners.
• Trainees’ awareness of the indicators of positive classroom climate and their
understanding of teacher’s and learners’ contribution to it.
• Classroom climate in FL learning experience of trainees.
The Participants, Instruments and Procedure
The subjects participating in the study were fifty-five pre-service teachers of EFL,
who at the time of data collection were involved in their school practice at school.
The discussion of classroom climate was an additional topic included in the syllabus of the B.A and M.A. seminar classes in TEFL didactics at the university.
The tools implemented in the research were:
• a questionnaire on positive classroom climate (pcc) including questions on
defining classroom climate, factors conducive to positive classroom climate,
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
symptoms of pcc, teacher and learner role, influence of pcc on teacher and
learners (appendix),
• a narrative text: Classroom climate in my FL learning history, which was a
personal reflective essay of 450 words, written in a non-guided free form.
The students were asked to fill in the questionnaire in a classroom time and a
narrative text as a homework assignment.
6 Results and Discussion
Questionnaire Data
Table 4 presents quantitative responses of the subjects in relation to their perception
of (positive) classroom climate.
Narrative Texts
The following excerpts illustrate the quantitative data of the study.
• Defining classroom climate
In defining classroom climate, the subjects see both its physical aspects relating to
the environment in which the teaching/learning process occurs and social aspects of
the interaction between the teacher and learners and learners’ willingness to participate in the above process:
Classroom climate is the classroom environment, physical setting as well as social and
emotional aspects of the classroom (s. 9).
Classroom climate is something we can feel, experience and sometimes even touch. It may be
a good or bad spirit of the class. The good spirit encourages you to take part in this small
community, invites you and motivates and the bad spirit frightens you and demotivates (s. 3).
It is not only a physical classroom environment but also a process of building the psychological framework for all the activities that happen in the classroom (…), the classroom
climate is a complex process which involves the active engagement of a teacher and of the
students. Their mutual interaction as well as positive attitudes and willingness to communicate
result in the development of the positive classroom climate (s. 39).
(…) classroom climate does not only refer to some external aspects of the learning process, as
for instance classroom decorations, but more importantly – it is deeply rooted in the emotional
and affective domains of teaching-learning context (s. 38).
D. Gabryś-Barker
Table 4 Positive classroom climate (questionnaire data), pcc—positive classroom climate
% of the
Atmosphere (positive, productive)
Other: interaction, attitude to the tasks, attitude to the
Students’ attitude to classes
Teachers’ attitude to students
Image of the classroom
Relations teacher- students
Relations St-St
Other: teacher feedback, teacher enthusiasm, teacher’s
position in the classroom tolerance, teacher being prepared
and organized, maintaining discipline, learners’ respect for
the teacher, interesting ways of teaching, good conditions
of work for the teacher and learners.
Participation in class
Effect on learning (progress)
Teacher and student motivation
Willingness to learn
Students’ feeling of safety
Other: guessing techniques, good communication between
the teacher and students, enjoyment for both the teacher and
Teacher as a motivator
Positive attitude
Provider of various activities, creator
Other: teacher as a guide, energetic attitude, being
enthusiastic, a manager, a fair assessor, a partner
Active participation
Willingness to learn
Co-operating with others students
Respecting the teacher
Creating good atmosphere in class
Other: responsibility, being positive and optimistic, full
Motivation to teach
Feeling of personal fulfillment
Enthusiasm to teach
Lack of stress
Other: teacher’s. enjoyment of his/her work, positive
assessment of lessons
Low affective filter
Other: feeling of achievement, fondness of the teacher,
being active, development of knowledge, easier and faster
Factors conducive to
positive classroom climate
Symptoms/effects of pcc
Teacher’s role
Learners’ role
Effects on
(a) Teacher
(b) Learner(s)
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
• Teacher versus learner role in establishing positive classroom climate
Relying extensively on their experiences as learners in the past, the subjects see the
dominant role of a teacher in creating positive classroom climate and perceive the
learners as only serving a complementary role in this respect. The following
excerpts illustrate this observation:
When it comes to my experience, the crucial factor influencing classroom climate is the
teacher’s attitude towards the learners and towards their job. (…) It depends mainly on the
teachers and it has a huge influence on the learners and their progress (s. 34).
Teachers influence student growth and behaviour. The students’ behaviour affects peer
interaction, and the responsibility for influencing these behaviours is placed with the
instructor. (…) teachers should learn to guide their students, not to alienate them. The safety
of students’ wellbeing is paramount to their development of social ties with peers and their
instructor. (…) Education becomes less of a chore and more enjoyable as growing as a
group can lead to the reduction of students’ acting destructively (s. 39).
The teacher and the students are responsible for classroom climate, but in my opinion the
teacher has to control the lesson in such a way to create a pcc. Being positive in language
learning is like a virus – when you catch it, you are infected with smile, laughter and
courage! (s. 20).
What I learnt by recalling my experiences is that the most important factor in classroom
climate is the teacher and his/her attitude (s. 12).
• Factors conducive to positive classroom climate
The subjects acknowledge the complexity of the construct of classroom climate by
pointing out a multiplicity of factors influencing it. Yet, once again it is the person
of a teacher that comes to the fore. The factors include teacher’s responsibility for
establishing classroom rules, being professional in lesson planning and its execution. At the same time, the trainees emphasise the role of feelings: of security and
spontaneity, avoidance of anxiety. The subjects say:
There are many factors that can influence classroom climate. One of them is quality of the
relationships. This involves interaction between students and a teacher as well as the
interaction between students themselves in and outside of the classroom. (…) it is teacher’s
role to fulfil learners’ potential by considering their needs and treating them as individuals.
Another factor is the smooth running of the classroom, characterised by an orderly environment where teacher’s expectations and standards of personal behaviour are clearly
established and understood by everyone. (…) The varied context provides students with
different tasks and opportunities and is representative of multiple views. (…) (s. 39).
When I think of classroom climate the first thing that comes to my mind is how do the
people feel in the classroom? (…) I believe that the most important factor is the dialogue
between the teacher and the students. It does not really matter whether the topic is strictly
connected with the subject. The most important thing is that people talk to one another and
they are willing to do that (s. 35).
First of all, the teacher should develop classroom rules. The rules should be created to support
safe and controlled behaviour. When the learners know their boundaries and feel safe, they are
able to focus on learning. (…) In order to learn more about a classroom climate and to adjust to
it correctly, teachers should take advantage of students’ written responses to some questions
concerning safety and kindness in the class, e.g., Do you feel safe in the class? (s. 13).
D. Gabryś-Barker
The feelings related to classroom climate are personal and subjective since every learner has
his/her own needs and preferences. (…). In my opinion, the teacher’s individual approach to
each student, fair grading and positive but constructive feedback are the most important
factors (s. 36).
Another factor that in my opinion plays a vital role for this climate is feeling free and being
spontaneous. It refers to both the teacher and students. The worst thing that can happen in the
classroom is the feeling of anxiety. It makes people stressed out and unwilling to cooperate for
fear of being humiliated or laughed at (s. 35).
• Classroom climate versus age of a learner
One of the factors determining how classroom climate should be established is the
age of the learners, which was expressed by the trainees as in the comment below:
In the primary school the teacher took care of students’ well-being and behaved like a
parent. She always smiled, joked with us and called us by our names. (…) In the lower high
school (…) classroom climate was characterised by competition, alienation, and hostility
(…). The best classroom climate was in the high school. Thanks to mutual respect students
were almost always willing to participate actively during the lessons and on tasks. (…)
Such attitudes promoted positive self-esteem, feeling of security and confidence (s. 9).
• Effects of classroom climate
The following quotations from the trainees are strong statements concerning the
importance of positive classroom climate, as it is perceived to be conducive first of
all to creating motivation, positive attitudes to learning and thus willingness to
participate in the lessons. Positive classroom climate establishes positive affectivity
in the educational context, whereas the opposite:
(…) a negative classroom climate feels hostile, chaotic, and out of control, however, a
positive one feels safe, respectful, welcoming and supportive of student learning (s. 7).
Establishing a positive classroom climate makes students feel much more comfortable,
valued, accepted and secure when trying to get involved in the language learning process.
This is why, when creating a positive classroom environment, teachers should focus on
developing and reinforcing classroom rules and norms, promoting and nurturing positive
peer relationships, nurturing positive relationships with all students and also classroom
decoration and arrangement (s. 30).
I believe that classroom atmosphere had and still has a considerable influence on my
attitude to learning the foreign language. However, my internal motivation and focus on my
aim make me not pay too much attention to it (s. 55).
• Subjects’ experiential comments
The trainees’ own experiential memories of classroom climate(s) in their own
learning histories are both positive and negative, with the latter being more
numerous. The positivity is recalled as related to the effectiveness of teacher, his/her
ability to make foreign language learning pleasant and fun as well as useful and
successful. These comments refer to the cognitive dimensions of learning as is
demonstrated in the quotations below:
The lesson passed very quickly. I left the classroom and felt something warm in my heart.
I realized that an English lesson can be nice, useful and not hard to understand. This day
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
changed my plans for the future because I passed my final school leaving examination in
English, enrolled in the English college and hoped I would be the teacher who would be
able to share experience and knowledge with pupils (s. 17).
I think my first foreign language lesson was really enjoyable. This lesson showed me that
learning can be pleasant. It is obvious that learning is not only playing and having fun but it
can be tough and difficult. A good first FL lesson encourages students to learn and it creates
a positive attitude towards learning especially when it affects children. The first impression
is essential (s. 5).
(…) The enjoyment connected with peer-teaching was a beautiful experience because I
could be useful for someone and somehow I learnt twice so my knowledge underwent
consolidation (s. 3).
The negativity is remembered as feelings of oppression and repression, lack of
enthusiasm and generally creating a hostile learning environment. These experiences relate to the affectivity of a classroom setting, which is pointed out in the
following excerpts:
My teachers did not create a proper environment, where all the learners could express their
opinion. After some time, I noticed that the lessons were not always attractive, the teacher
had knowledge but did not encourage me to speak, I do not remember any engaging
activities, usually students did not feel secure and relaxed during classes and the teacher did
not show enthusiasm (s. 22).
There was an uncomfortable silence, we could not talk, make any gestures and move in the
classroom. I had a sense of being there as punishment. Fear made me unable to work. Fortyfive minutes of agony (s. 16).
(…) learning foreign languages in Polish schools is a very difficult task, because most of
them lack the good climate and many young people gradually lose their motivation
throughout the process of learning. In order to succeed, the learner needs to be intrinsically
motivated and really patient, because the environment is usually harsh (s. 4).
The subjects’ understanding of classroom climate refers to the cognitive as well as
affective dimensions of teacher’s and subjects’ functioning in a classroom environment, with the latter (affective) constituting the major category. On the cognitive
level, the effects of positive classroom climate are seen in learners’ visible progress
and their active participation in classes. On the affective level, it is learners’
motivation to learn and participate actively in classes as well as teacher’s motivation always to be not only well-prepared for but also satisfied in the job. This
strongly expressed affectivity consists in the emphasis put on the role of attitudes of
both teacher’s and learners’, the willingness to learn on the part of learners and
openness and friendliness on the part of the teacher, and, above all, on creating
appropriate interactions between the teacher and learners and between the learners
D. Gabryś-Barker
themselves. Also, the physicality of the environment (classroom) is believed to be a
defining aspect of a positive classroom climate.
In their narrative comments, the subjects emphasize that positive classroom
climate turns a class into a group which forms a small community: “growing as a
group can lead to the reduction of students’ acting destructively” (s. 39). What is
interesting is that although both the teacher and learners are seen as agents in
developing a positive and productive climate, it is predominantly the teacher who is
declared to have the greater responsibility of a controller, a manager and also a
guide and a facilitator. These are the different dimensions of teacher activity in class
that contribute to the promotion of a positive classroom climate.
It is assumed by the trainees that it is the teacher who decides about the quality of a
dialogue or an interaction that occurs in the classroom. The subjects believe that only
well-organised lessons, fair grading and an individual approach to learners that the
teacher alone can institute which guarantee a positive climate for learning. It also
appears that classroom rules established by the teacher and not the learners are
essential for this to occur. These comments seem to express a rather traditional view, in
which learners appear to be passive recipients of what is more or less imposed upon
them. Additionally, the subjects express a strong belief that it is the teacher’s duty to
investigate the issues connected with classroom climate in his/her class, by occasionally questioning the members of the group about how they feel in class. Only then
they can be comfortable, feel valued and secure in their learning environment.
Comparing the questionnaire data and narrative data, it can be observed that the
focus on learners’ responsibility for classroom climate is expressed strongly only in
the former, emerging from the more structured way of expressing one’s views that
most questionnaires demand. When asked to reflect in an open reflective narrative,
the subjects seem to focus almost entirely on the teachers as the creators and
facilitators of classroom climate. This is also visible in the comments on their past
positive and negative experiences of classroom climate at different levels of education, in which teachers are either blamed or praised for how they coped with or
ignored the issues concerning classroom climate. What comes as a surprise is that the
trainees, future FL teachers, do not appear to be aware of the role a foreign language
itself can play in establishing a positive classroom climate. As a vehicle for communication, for instance, off-task interaction between the teacher and learners can be
a factor contributing to the development of more individually-oriented contacts, and
thus an individualized approach to learners.
Also comparing the comments with the categories presented by Fraser et al.
(1986) or more recently by Dwyer et al. (2004), the trainees do not acknowledge the
role of student cohesiveness, satisfaction (enjoyment), innovation or individualization (learner decisions, autonomy). Additionally, no reflection is offered as to the
degree of connectedness between the students themselves (bonds, common ground,
caring and sharing).
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
7 Conclusions and Implications
Relatively negative experiences concerning classroom climate, as expressed by the
trainees in this study, mean that perhaps it should become an obligatory theme in
training courses and introduced into the feedback the trainees receive from their
mentors and supervisors. It may be especially important for these future teachers’
affective functioning in their classrooms.
The findings demonstrate possible ways of enhancing classroom climate through
creating mutually-agreed-upon forms of classroom codes of conduct between the
teacher and the learners. In essence, the so-called code of conduct puts responsibility for what happens in the classroom equally on the teacher and learners as it is
both of them that have well-defined rights and duties. These rules can be grounded
in positive psychology assumptions about personal well-being, and not just on
formal regulations.
Analysing the understanding and approaches to classroom climate in the overviewed studies and in this study data, it can be observed that a school (and a class as
its microstructure) should appear to be a positive and enabling institution. To
function as such, it needs to demonstrate the strengths comparable to those that
Seligman considers to be character strengths, which in this case would also contribute to both learner and teacher well-being:
Wisdom and Knowledge developing creativity, curiosity, a desire to learn
encouraging persistence, authenticity, enthusiasm
expressing feelings of kindness, generosity and compassion, emotional intelligence
creating conditions for fairness, autonomy
promoting learners’ self-regulation, modesty
introducing humour, appreciation of aesthetics, optimistic attitudes, spiritual values.
If we first of all consider the teacher to be an agent of change, we have to focus on
his/her role as a facilitator expressed in the different dimensions of facilitation
(Table 5).
Table 5 The six dimensions of facilitation (based on Heron, 2002, p. 6)
How shall the group acquire its objectives and its programme?
How shall meaning be given to and found in the experiences and actions
of group members?
How shall the group’s consciousness be raised about these matters?
How shall the life of feeling and emotion within the group be handled?
How can the group’s learning be structured?
How can such a climate of personal value, integrity and respect be
D. Gabryś-Barker
Table 6 How to manage classroom climate and how to check it periodically (based on Cornell
Centre for Teaching Excellence)
classroom climate
Checking in on
classroom climate
• Incorporate diversity into your course and use inclusive teaching
• Use icebreakers and collaborative learning to give students the
opportunity to get to know one another
• Include diversity and disabilities statements in your syllabus
• Address incivilities right away
• Establish ground rules
• Check in on classroom climate periodically.
• Make efforts to connect with students.
• Inquire about the classroom climate (index cards for students to
respond how comfortable they feel, provide feedback to
• Inquire about students’ reactions to the teacher or the method of
instruction (chain notes, electronic feedback)
• Inquire about students’ experience with the course materials,
readings and assignments
• Reading Rating Sheets
• Group Work Evaluations
• Assignment Assessments
Also the Cornell Centre for Teaching Excellence, an online source focusing on
the teacher as the major agent of positive classroom climate, offers advice on how to
manage classroom climate. It additionally emphasizes the need to review it periodically, as was pointed out in one of the trainees’ comment:
In addition to being reflective about the events that take place in your class on a regular
basis, there are techniques you can use to gauge your classroom’s climate. Ask for feedback
directly from your students on their experiences in your course. This also serves to heighten
students’ awareness of their own study practices. A number of classroom assessment
techniques (CATs) (Angelo & Cross, 1993) are designed to do just that (Cornell Centre for
Teaching Excellence, online) (Table 6).
Considering training programmes for future teachers, it is often emphasized that
reflectivity is the key phrase at every stage of their professional development and if
introduced early, at the pre-service stage, it develops student teachers’ different
perception of what teaching stands for and what their role as teachers is (GabryśBarker, 2012). As one of the trainees in this study said:
As teachers we should draw conclusions from our own experience and remember that the
relationship that we establish with the learners, and being well-organised are crucial factors
for successful work (s. 25).
Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class …
Positive Classroom Climate (A Questionnaire)
Define classroom climate in your own words (3–4 sentences):
Enumerate factors conducive to positive classroom climate:
What are the symptoms of positive classroom climate?
What is teacher’s role in developing positive classroom climate?
What is learners’ role in developing positive classroom climate?
What are the effects of positive classroom climate on
• a teacher
• learners
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Personality, Emotional Intelligence
and L2 Use in an Immigrant
and Non-immigrant Context
Katarzyna Ożańska-Ponikwia
Abstract Intergroup climate and personality are at the basis of the pyramid of L2
users’ willingness to communicate (MacIntyre, Clément, Dӧrnyei, & Noels, 1998).
Therefore, it was acknowledged that an individual’s personality profile could
determine that individual’s willingness to communicate in the foreign language.
The present study aimed to investigate the link between Personality traits and
Emotional intelligence (EI) and frequency of L2 use in an immigrant and
non-immigrant context. Statistical analyses revealed that the degree of L2 use was
linked to different personality traits in the immigrant and non-immigrant sample.
Some differences in personality traits were also reported among non-immigrant and
immigrant informants with the immigrants scoring significantly higher on
Openness, Self-esteem and Wellbeing.
Keywords Personality
Emotional intelligence
L2 use
1 Introduction
Many researchers have noted that some second language (L2) users seek while
others avoid communication in the second language when presented with an
opportunity to do so. Consequently, even after studying a language for a long time,
many L2 learners might not become confident L2 speakers and users (Kinginger,
2008; MacIntyre, 2007a; MacIntyre, Clément, Dӧrnyei, & Noels, 1998; Regan,
Howard, & Lemée, 2009). According to MacIntyre (2007a), the reasons for
choosing to avoid using a second language are not straightforward or simple if one
takes into consideration the various individual, social, linguistic, situational or
psychological factors that are relevant to the decision to speak in the L2. When
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia (&)
Department of English, University of Bielsko-Biala, ul. Willowa 2,
43-309 Bielsko-Biala, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_10
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia
discussing opportunities for communication in a second language, we are considering these specific moments in time when communication might be conducted and
“(…) a willingness to speak in the L2 at such moments conditions the social
interactions among persons from differing language groups and in some respects
reflects the success of the interlocutors’ language learning efforts” (MacIntyre,
2007b, p. 4). Willingness to Communicate (WTC) represents the psychological
preparedness to use the L2 when the opportunity arises (MacIntyre, 2007a). This
requires a focus on the specific moment of decision where a L2 learner chooses to
become a L2 speaker (MacIntyre et al., 1998). At the base of the WTC are two
wide-ranging sets of influences: intergroup climate and personality. The intergroup
climate is defined by the broad social context in which various language groups
operate. Personality temperaments, on the other hand, predispose individuals to react
in a given way (with interest or fear) to ‘foreign’ people and cultures. Given the
interaction of basic personality traits with the social environment, the base of the
pyramid is formed by long term individual differences operating within various
social structures and networks, providing highly stable patterns (MacIntyre, 2007b).
Even though many factors (social, educational, linguistic and psychological) were
reported to affect amount of L2 use (Dewaele, 2011, 2012; Kinginger, 2008;
McIntyre et al., 1998; Ożańska-Ponikwia, 2013; Ożańska-Ponikwia & Dewaele,
2012; Regan et al., 2009), the present study is to focus only on the higher and
lower-order Personality traits and their possible influence on the frequency of the L2
use. It has been acknowledged that there is great variation in L2 users’ performance
with a suggestion that “individual differences may be yet more pronounced for those
who have been abroad” (Freed, 1995, p. 27). Considering this, we are to focus on the
possible relationship between Personality and EI traits and L2 use in an immigrant
and non-immigrant context trying to find out whether the same Personality factors
influence frequency of L2 in those two settings. However, before focusing on the
relationship between Personality and L2 use we are to describe briefly higher and
lower order Personality traits that were researched in the present study.
Higher- and Lower-Order Personality Traits
The present paper will focus on two widely acknowledged constructs measuring
higher order and lower order personality traits: ‘The Big Five’ personality traits
(Costa & McCrae, 1992) and Trait EI or trait emotional self-efficacy (Petrides &
Furnham, 2001). ‘The Big Five’ measures: Extraversion (tendency to experience
positive emotions and moods and feel good about oneself and the rest of the world),
Openness (proactive seeking and appreciation of experience for its own sake, toleration for and exploration of the unfamiliar), Agreeableness (tendency to get along
well with others), Conscientiousness (the individual’s degree of organization,
persistence, and motivation in goal directed behavior) and Neuroticism (tendency to
experience negative emotions and moods, feel distressed, and be critical of oneself
and others). Each of ‘The Big Five’ personality traits has its counterpart presented
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 …
on a linear scale. The reason for pairing these factors is that a high score for one of
the pair, e.g., Extraversion, entails a low score for its counterpart, in this case
Introversion. Between the extremes, there is place for the so-called ‘ambi’ scores
that characterize scores that are of neither extreme. Consequently, ‘The Big Five’
personality test (Costa & McCrae, 1992) measures:
Extraversion versus Introversion.
Agreeableness versus Antagonism.
Conscientiousness versus Undirectedness.
Neuroticism versus Emotional Stability.
Openness to Experience versus Not Open to Experience.
The ‘Big Five’ personality construct represents higher order personality traits
whereas Emotional Intelligence (EI) is termed as a lower order personality trait
(Petrides, Furnham, & Mavroveli, 2007). Emotional Intelligence was defined as an
ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between
different emotions and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to
guide thinking and behavior (Coleman, 2008). Trait EI is measured by Trait
Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue) by Petrides and Furnham (2003).
Trait EI (or emotional self-efficacy) concerns a constellation of emotion-related
self-perceptions and dispositions (Davey, 2005, p. 306). The construct itself posits
the existence of actual or perceived differences in the extent to which people attend
to, process and utilize affect-laden information (Davey, 2005, p. 306). It integrates
and extends EI-related ideas in a general framework that incorporates 15 specific
facets: Adaptability, Assertiveness, Emotion perception, Emotion expression,
Emotion management, Emotion regulation, Impulsiveness, Relationships,
Self-esteem, Self motivation, Social awareness, Stress management, trait Empathy,
trait Happiness and trait Optimism. Detailed description of the mentioned faces is
presented in the Table 1. Apart from assessing all of the aforementioned facets
through 15 sub-scales, it also provides scores on global trait EI and four factors of
broader relevance: Wellbeing, Self-control, Emotionality and Sociability (Petrides,
2009) which are described below. High scorers on the Wellbeing factor reflect a
generalized sense of Wellbeing, extending from past achievements to future
expectations. Overall, individuals with high scores on Wellbeing feel positive,
happy, and fulfilled. Meanwhile, high scorers on the Self-control factor have a
healthy degree of control over their urges and desires. In addition to fending off
impulses, they are good at regulating pressures and stress. Individuals with high
scores on Emotionality factors have a wide range of emotion-related skills. They
can perceive and express emotions and use these abilities to develop and sustain
close relationships with important others. Finally, the Sociability factor differs from
the emotionality factor in that it emphasizes social relationships and social influence. The focus is on the individual as an agent in different social contexts rather
than on personal relationships. Individuals with high scores on Sociability factor are
better at social interaction. They have good listening skills and can communicate
clearly and confidently with people from very diverse backgrounds (Petrides, 2001;
Petrides & Furnham, 2001, 2003).
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia
Table 1 The sampling domain of trait emotional intelligence adapted from the official trait
emotional intelligence questionnaire website (2001–2010)
High scorers perceive themselves as…
Emotion perception
Emotion expression
Emotion management (others)
Emotion regulation
Impulsiveness (low)
Social awareness
Stress management
Trait empathy
Trait happiness
Trait optimism
Flexible and willing to adapt to new conditions
Forthright, frank and willing to stand up for their rights
Clear about their own and other people’s feelings
Capable of communicating their feelings to others
Capable of influencing other people’s feelings
Capable of controlling their emotions
Reflective and less likely to give into their urges
Capable of having fulfilling personal relationships
Successful and self-confident
Driven and unlikely to give up in the face of adversity
Accomplished networkers with excellent social skills
Capable of withstanding pressure and regulating stress
Capable of taking someone else’s perspective
Cheerful and satisfied with their lives
Confident and likely to “look on the bright side” of life
Trait EI is narrower than the higher-order personality dimensions of ‘The Big
Five’ but correlates with several of higher-order factors, hence it is conceptualized
as lower-order trait (Petrides, Furnham, & Mavroveli, 2007). The evidence suggests
that personality traits are hierarchically organised, with more specific or lower-order
traits (like EI) combining to form more generalised higher-order traits. At the same
time, there are good reasons to consider that both higher- and lower-order levels of
the hierarchy are very important (Livesley, Jang, & Vernon, 1998) and inclusion of
both personality questionnaires might shed some light on the interaction of both
high and low order personality traits and L2 use in the immigrant and
non-immigrant context.
Personality and L2 Use in the Non-immigrant Context
Even though it is not clear to what extent Personality traits affect Second Language
Acquisition (SLA) or L2 production (Dewaele, 2013) many researchers have
studied possible influence they might have on SLA and L2 use. Among most
widely researched traits is Extraversion which is one of the ‘Big-Five’ dimensions.
Extraverts tend to experience positive emotions and moods and their gregariousness
and willingness to engage in interactions, driven by an innate optimism and love of
taking risks, seems to give them an edge over the introvert who is typically
reserved, task-oriented and quiet (Costa & McCrae, 1985, cited in Dewaele, 2013).
Ockey (2011, p. 987) reported that several facets of extraversion like assertiveness,
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 …
warmth, activity and excitement seeking were significant explanatory variables of
English L2 fluency ratings of Japanese learners. Dewaele and Furnham (1999)
noted that extraverts were found to score higher on oral fluency measures, especially in stressful situations. They were also reported to have higher speech rates,
less filled pauses, lower values of lexical richness and a higher proportion of
semantic errors than the introverts, preferring more implicit speech styles and
producing shorter utterances (Dewaele & Furnham, 2000). No significant correlations appeared between extraversion scores and morpholexical accuracy rates,
however, complex tasks performed under stressful interpersonal conditions seem to
differentiate extraverts and introverts more clearly (Dewaele & Furnham, 2000). On
the other hand, Ehrman (2008) suggested that the best language learners tend to
have introverted personalities and are intuitive, logical and precise thinkers.
Dewaele (2013) noted that indeed, some evidence suggests that introverts perform
slightly better on written tests compared to extraverts who excel in oral tasks
(Robinson, Gabriel, & Katchan, 1994).
Another Personality trait that might influence SLA is Openness to experience,
which reflects proactive seeking and appreciation of experience for its own sake as
well as a willingness to explore the unfamiliar. Verhoeven and Vermeer (2002)
found that Openness to experience was linked to the development of basic organizational skills involving lexical, syntactic, discourse, and functional abilities, the
acquisition of pragmatic skills and the development of monitoring strategies among
young L2 learners in The Netherlands. Ehrman (2008) reported that learners who
score high on Openness “concentrate on meaning, possibilities, and usually accept
constant change” (p. 66). They are typically seeking hidden patterns, are high
ability readers, and can pick up native-like ways of self-expression (Ehrman, 2008,
p. 66; Dewaele, 2013).
Personality and L2 Use in an Immigrant Context
Regan et al. (2009, p. 3) noted that knowledge of grammatical and structural elements of the L2 is only “(…) a part of the skills and competencies which are
necessary for the process of adaptation in the foreign country, where sociolinguistic
and sociocultural competences are of equal importance”. According to Harrison and
Voelker (2008) personality characteristics are considered among the most important
factors affecting the adjustment in the L2 country. Their research investigated the
cross-cultural adjustment of study abroad students and the associated impact of two
personality variables—emotional intelligence and entrepreneurial attitude orientation. Results of their study indicated that three sub dimensions of EI were significantly related to general adjustment in a host culture. Individuals with higher
self-emotional appraisal, higher others’ emotional appraisal and higher use of
emotion exhibited stronger general adjustment than those who scored lower on these
dimensions. Similarly, those who were higher on regulation of emotion tended to
have stronger general adjustment (Harrison & Voelker, 2008). Another study by
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia
Smith, Giraud-Carrier, Dewey, Ring, and Gore (2011) closely examined participants’ language socialization according to their bridging and bonding social capital.
They suggested that social capital, in terms of bridging and bonding, could provide
important insights into language socialization and acquisition in the immigrant
context. Previous studies have already shown that developing social networks with
native speakers while abroad via volunteer work, part-time employment, club
membership, etc. can facilitate language acquisition (Isabelli-Garcia, 2006;
Whitworth, 2006). Ożańska-Ponikwia (2015) reported that immersion in the L2
culture influenced self-perceived L2 proficiency and the degree of L2 use among
Polish immigrants in the UK and Ireland. It was noted that the longer the informants
of the study were immersed in the foreign culture the more frequent they reported
using L2 on everyday basis. It could be explained by engagement in the social
interactions and building up new social networks in the L2, what on the other hand
could be linked to higher and lower order Personality traits (Ożańska-Ponikwia,
2013). Informants of her study also noticed that only by immersion and socialization
in the L2 culture they were able to understand social, linguistic, and cultural aspects
of the L2 communication patterns what influenced their self-perceptions as far as the
degree and frequency of the L2 use (Ożańska-Ponikwia, 2015).
When it comes to Personality traits and L2 use in the immigrant context, some
previous studies (Ożańska-Ponikwia, 2013; Ożańska-Ponikwia & Dewaele, 2012)
confirmed that an immigrant’s personality profile was significantly linked to L2 use
and self-perceived proficiency in the L2 with Agreeableness, Openness and EI trait
of Empathy influencing self-perceived L2 proficiency and Self-esteem, Stress
management, Adaptability, Wellbeing and Global trait EI being related to L2 use. It
was also suggested that Openness and Self-esteem are the personality traits that best
predict the use and the development of English L2 by Polish immigrants living in
the UK or Ireland (Ożańska-Ponikwia & Dewaele, 2012).
Presented literature overview showed that both higher and lower-order personality traits seem to play an important role in cross-cultural adjustment process as
well as in the process of the SLA and L2 production in both immigrant and
non-immigrant contexts. Below we are to present detailed description of the study
that aims to analyse possible relationship between Personality, EI and frequency of
the L2 use among informants who never lived abroad and those who were
immersed in the L2 language and culture.
2 Study Description
The main aim of this study was to research possible relationship between higher and
lower order personality traits and frequency of the L2 use among immigrant and
non-immigrant participants. Quantitative data analysis was based on data gathered
from online questionnaires distributed by using snowball sampling procedure
among 137 informants. Detailed description of the research sample, analyzed
questionnaires as well as addressed research questions is provided below.
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 …
Research Questions and Hypotheses
The present study is to address three research questions and hypotheses:
1. What personality and EI traits are linked to the frequency of the L2 use in the
immigrant and non-immigrant context? It is expected that such personality traits
as Openness and Extraversion might be related to the degree of the L2 use in the
non-immigrant context whereas EI trait of Self-esteem, Wellbeing, Adaptability
as well as higher order trait of Openness possibly linked to the frequency of L2
use in the immigrant setting.
2. Will there be any differences in personality and EI traits related to L2 use on
everyday basis in the immigrant and non-immigrant context? It is speculated
that there will be some differences in personality and EI traits related to the L2
use on everyday basis with such traits as Openness, Self-esteem, Adaptability,
Emotionality and Global trait EI being more pronounced in the immigrant
3. Will there be any differences in the personality and EI traits among immigrant
and non-immigrant informants of this study. It is speculated that immigrant
respondents will score significantly higher on such variables as Openness and
Participants of the Study
The informants of the study were divided into two groups. The first group was the
“non-immigrant” group, consisting of Polish L2 users of English who had never
been abroad; the second was an “immigrant” group consisting of Polish L2 users of
English who had immigrated to the UK and Ireland. Detailed description of both
groups is provided below.
The “Non-immigrant” Group
There were 35 informants in the control group, consisting of participants who had
never been to an ESC and never used English on everyday basis. This group
consisted of 70 % females and 30 % males (n = 35, Mean = 0.3, SD = 0.46). Their
age varied from 20 to 57 with two thirds of the sample being in their twenties, 25 %
being in their thirties, and the remaining 5 % being either in their forties or fifties
(n = 35, Mean = 28, SD = 7). In terms of educational level, one third of the sample
had received vocational level education, one third had an MA diploma, 25 % had a
BA and the remaining 5 % had received only primary education (n = 35,
Mean = 2.9, SD = 0.9). Their L2 proficiency also varied from knowing English at a
beginner level (25 %) to fluency (5 %) with one quarter rating themselves on
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia
pre-intermediate level, one third as intermediate and the remaining 15 % as
upper-intermediate (n = 35, Mean = 2.4, SD = 1.3).
The “Immigrant” Group
There were 102 informants in the “immigrant” group. Two thirds were females and
one third were males (n = 97, Mean = 1.3, SD = 0.45). Their age varied from 17 to
58 years with two thirds of the sample being in their twenties, 23 % being in their
thirties, and the remaining 10 % being in their forties of fifties (n = 97, Mean = 29,
SD = 7.9). More than half of the informants held a BA, 8 % had an MA, 8 % had
received secondary education, and more than one quarter reported receiving
vocational education (n = 97, Mean = 3.4, SD = 1). Concerning L2 proficiency,
1 % reported beginner level, 3 % rated themselves as pre-intermediate, 15 % as
intermediate, one third as upper-intermediate, and nearly half as fluent (n = 95,
Mean = 4.2, SD = 0.89). Half of the participants had lived in an ESC for up to
12 months, one quarter reported living in an ESC from 12 to 24 months, and the
remaining 23 % had lived in an ESC between 24 and 324 months (n = 97,
Mean = 25.7, SD = 47).
Questionnaires Analysed in the Present Study
In the present study four questionnaires were implemented and analysed: Personal
background questionnaire, ‘The Big Five’ personality test, Trait Emotional
Intelligence questionnaire (TEIQue) and a questionnaire measuring frequency of
the L2 use. All questionnaires were used in a Polish version (informants’ L1) to
avoid comprehension difficulties in the L2. Below we provide a detailed description
of all enumerated questionnaires.
Personal Background Questionnaire
Personal background questionnaire, measuring such variables as age, gender,
self-perceived L2 proficiency, age of L2 onset, length of stay in an English-speaking
country, educational level, and length of L2 instruction as well as a statement ‘I use
English on everyday basis’ which the informants of the present study were to rate on
a five point Likert scale from 1-Strongly disagree to 5-Strongly agree.
Frequency of the L2 Use
A questionnaire measuring exposure to L2 was adapted from Eilola, Havelka, &
Sharma’s paper on “Emotional Activation in the First and Second language” (2007)
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 …
and comprised questions on the following L2 activities: read books in English, read
newspapers in English, read magazines in English, read comics in English, browse
English websites, listen to English music, watch films in English, watch English TV
programs, discuss in English, give presentations/speeches in English, write
letters/e-mails in English, and write essays/articles in English. Informants were
required to choose an answer from a 5-point Likert scale of 1-never, 2-yearly,
3-monthly, 4-weekly, and 5-daily. Cronbach’s α for the 12 statements in the frequency of the L2 use scale equaled 0.872.
The Big-Five Personality Test
The ‘Big-Five’ broad domains personality test (Goldberg, 1992), obtained from the
International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) measured personality traits as
Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability/Neuroticism
and Openness. The correlation of the IPIP Big-Five broad domains Personality Test
with the Costa and McCrae (1992) Big-Five factor structure ranged from 0.66 to
0.90 with an overall correlation reported 0.81 (Goldberg, 1992). The Cronbach’s α
for the Big-Five broad domains personality test was 0.84.
Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue)
Petrides and Furnham’s (2003) TEIQue used in the present study comprised 153
items rated on seven-point Likert scale providing scores on four factors of broad
relevance: Wellbeing, Self-control, Emotionality, and Sociability. In addition, it
incorporated 15 specific factors and measured global trait emotional intelligence. It
was used in the Polish adaptation created by Wytykowska and Petrides (2007).
TEIQue required participants to use the rating scale from “completely disagree” to
“completely agree” with a mid-point of “neither agree nor disagree”. The TEIQue
Cronbach’s α for the whole questionnaire was 0.88.
3 Data Analysis
The main aim of the present study was to study possible link between higher order
and lower order personality traits and L2 use. L2 use was firstly measured by a
question ‘I use English on everyday basis’ that was scored on a five point Likert
scale. Due to the fact that non-immigrant group did not have as many opportunities
to use L2 on everyday basis as the immigrant group and it would be very difficult to
compare those groups just on the basis of one question it was decided to add
another questionnaire that focused on the frequency of the L2 use. It comprised 12
items (scored on a five point Likert scale) measuring how frequent informants of the
study decided to use their L2 to read, write, discuss etc. At the same time it is
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia
Table 2 Results of the t-test analysis
‘I use English on
everyday basis’
Frequency of the L2 use
important to remember that statistical analysis showed differences in scores of both
groups on mentioned items. Detailed results of the t-test analysis are presented in
the Table 2.
Below we present detailed data analysis considering higher and lower-order
personality traits and frequency of the L2 use and using L2 on everyday basis in an
immigrant and non-immigrant context.
Higher and Lower-Order Personality Traits
and Frequency of the L2 Use in an Immigrant
and Non-immigrant Context
One of the research questions concerned the influence of the personality traits and
EI traits on the frequency of the L2 use in the immigrant and non-immigrant setting.
Below we are to present detailed analysis of results separately for immigrant
context (Table 3) and non-immigrant context (Table 4).
It was interesting to notice that in both contexts frequency of the L2 use was
linked to the same higher and lower personality traits of Openness and Empathy.
Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for
novelty and variety therefore it could be speculated that informants who are open to
new experiences as well as those who are capable of taking someone else’s perspective (Empathy) will actively seek situations where their L2 could be used
whether they are immersed in the L2 language and culture or not. However, in the
Table 3 Correlation analysis
results for the frequency of
the L2 use in an immigrant
setting (Pearson’s r)
Frequency of the L2 use
Emotion expression
*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
0.321** p < 0.001
0.197* p < 0.047
0.197* p < 0.047
0.230* p < 0.020
0.226* p < 0.022
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 …
Table 4 Correlation analysis
results for the frequency of
the L2 use in the
non-immigrant setting
(Pearson’s r)
Frequency of the L2 use
Emotional stability
Emotion regulation
*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
immigrant context this correlation was stronger than in the non-immigrant one what
could suggest that these traits are more pronounced while living aboard. Another
important thing to mention is the fact that in both settings a number of factors
connected with emotions like Emotion expression and Emotionality in the immigrant context and Emotional stability and Emotion regulation in the non-immigrant
one are related to the frequency of the L2 use. It could be hypothesized that people
who are capable of communicating their feelings to others (Emotion expression)
and can perceive and express emotions and use these abilities to develop and
sustain close relationships with important others (Emotionality) are those who use
their L2 more frequently in the immigrant context. On the other hand informants
who tend to experience pleasant emotions easily and have stable and calm personality (Emotional stability) as well as those who are capable of controlling their
own emotions are using their L2 more frequently in the non-immigrant setting.
Adaptability (immigrant context) and Assertiveness (non-immigrant context) were
also related to the degree of the L2 use. It could be speculated that those immigrants
who are flexible and willing to adapt to new conditions are using L2 more frequently. In the non-immigrant setting, those who are forthright and frank seem to be
using their L2 more often than those who do not possess such personality trait.
Higher and Lower-Order Personality Traits and Using
L2 on Everyday Basis in an Immigrant
and Non-immigrant Context
Below we are to present results of the correlation analysis for the L2 use in
everyday situations for both immigrant (Table 5) and non-immigrant context.
As it could be observed using L2 in everyday life is related to a number of higher
and lower personality traits. Those immigrants who are using L2 on everyday basis
could be described as open to new experiences (Openness), successful and
self-confident (Self-esteem), with excellent social skills (social awareness), flexible
and willing to adapt to new conditions (Adaptability), capable of taking someone
else’s perspective (Empathy), capable of withstanding pressure and regulating stress
(Stress management), capable to perceive and express emotions and use these
abilities to develop and sustain close relationships with others (Emotionality) as
well as having an ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia
Table 5 Correlation analysis results for the frequency of the L2 use on everyday basis in the
immigrant setting (Pearson’s r)
Frequency of the L2 use
Social awareness
Stress management
Global trait EI
*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately and to use
emotional information to guide thinking and behavior (Global trait EI).
In the non-immigrant context, using L2 in everyday life was not correlated to
any of the higher or lower order personality traits. As previously mentioned,
non-immigrants scored significantly lower on that variable. The very situation could
be explained by the fact that in the non-immigrant context, when the informants are
not being immersed in the L2 language and culture, even using L2 at school or
work for professional purposes would probably not be perceived as using L2 on
everyday basis. At the same time it could be speculated that L2 use on everyday
basis might be linked to other sociobiographical variables that were not analysed in
the present study.
Informants’ Personality Traits
One of the research questions concerned differences in the higher and lower order
personality traits between immigrant and non-immigrant participants of the study.
Statistical analysis revealed that indeed there are some differences in personality
traits in both mentioned groups. Detailed t-test results are presented in the Table 6.
Table 6 Results of the t-test analysis
Immigrant group
Non-immigrant group
Immigrant group
Non-immigrant group
Immigrant group
Non-immigrant group
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 …
As it could be observed, immigrants scored significantly higher on Openness,
Self-esteem and Wellbeing in comparison to the non-immigrants. Therefore, the
immigrant group could be described as open to new experiences with intellectual
curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty (Openness), successful and
self-confident (Self-esteem) and feel positive, happy, and fulfilled with a general
sense of Wellbeing extending from past achievements to future expectations.
4 Discussion
The presents study addressed three research questions and hypotheses. The first one
considered possible link between personality and EI traits and the frequency of the
L2 use in an immigrant and non-immigrant context. Our hypotheses were partially
confirmed as it was expected that Openness and Extraversion might be related to the
degree of the L2 use in the non-immigrant setting and Openness, Self-esteem,
Adaptability, Emotionality and Global trait EI being more pronounced in the
immigrant context. Statistical analysis showed that Openness. Empathy, Emotional
stability, Emotional regulation and Assertiveness were linked to the frequency of
the L2 use in the non-immigrant context. In the immigrant setting Openness,
Empathy, Emotion expression, Emotionality and Adaptability were correlated with
the degree and frequency of the L2 use. Such outcomes might suggest that actively
seeking an opportunity to use a non-native language for reading, writing, conversing or even watching TV is related to Openness and Empathy in both mentioned settings. It was also related to EI traits, however, different traits were more
pronounced in both contexts. Among immigrants Emotion expression, Emotionality
and Adaptability seemed to influence the very process and for non-immigrants
Emotional stability, Emotional regulation and Assertiveness were more pronounced. These results are in line with the previous literature suggesting that
personality characteristics are considered among the most important factors
affecting the adjustment in the L2 country as well as the frequency of the L2 use in
the immigrant setting (Harrison & Voelker, 2008; Ożańska-Ponikwia, 2013;
Ożańska-Ponikwia & Dewaele, 2012). At the same time it is important to note that
some Personality and EI traits were also linked to the frequency of the L2 use in the
non-immigrant context among which two (Openness and Empathy) where the same
traits that influenced the very process in the immigrant context. Therefore, it could
be speculated that higher and lower-order personality traits influence the frequency
of the L2 use among immigrant and non-immigrant informants of this study with
some nuanced differences depending on the setting of the L2 use.
Second research hypothesis stating that there will be some differences in
Personality and EI traits related to the L2 use on everyday basis with such traits as
Openness, Self-esteem, Adaptability, Emotionality and Global trait EI being more
pronounced in the immigrant context was fully confirmed. All of the above mentioned factors were related to the everyday L2 use in the immigrant context with
additional three traits of Social awareness, Empathy and Stress management that
K. Ożańska-Ponikwia
were reported to influence the very process among the immigrant respondents of
this study. These results once again support the claim that using a foreign language
on everyday basis is related to a number of Personality and EI traits
(Ożańska-Ponikwia, 2013; Ożańska-Ponikwia & Dewaele, 2012) as well as the fact
that certain factors (Adaptability, Emotionality. Social awareness, Empathy or
Openness) might facilitate not only the process of the frequent L2 use on everyday
basis but also the process of adaptation in the host culture (Harrison & Voelker,
2008) and language socialisation (Smith et al., 2011). Harrison and Voelker (2008)
suggested that both emotional intelligence and entrepreneurial attitude orientation
might be crucial factors in the process of adaptation in the foreign culture with
individuals who were higher on regulation of emotion exhibiting stronger general
adjustment than those who scored lower on that factor. At the same time Smith et al.
(2011) suggested that social capital, in terms of bridging and bonding, could provide important insights into language socialization and acquisition in the immigrant
context. We believe that in the case of the present study frequent L2 use on
everyday basis could be linked to both bridging, bonding and the adaptation in the
host culture as the more we use L2 in everyday contacts the more social networks
and occasions for bridging and bonding we create, what, as a result, might facilitate
adaptation in the host culture.
What was interesting to note was the fact that none of the higher and lower–
order personality traits were related to the everyday use of a foreign language
among non-immigrants. It could be speculated that even though the non-immigrant
respondents reported using L2 for different purposes, as we could observe in the
data analysis of the first research question, they would not typically perceive it as
the use of their foreign language on everyday basis (therefore such low scores on
that question in the non-immigrant group). It could be related to the fact that while
not being immersed in the L2 language and culture it is difficult to report using a
non-native language on everyday basis as it tends to be related more to using it at
the shops, with strangers on the street, with friends or at home, and not necessarily
at school or work as it is in the case of non-immigrant informants of this study.
Third research hypothesis which speculated that immigrant respondents will
score significantly higher on such variables as Openness and Self-esteem was fully
confirmed as the immigrant informants of the study scored higher on the mentioned
traits as well as on the EI trait Wellbeing. These results are in line with some
previous research reporting that Openness and Self-esteem are the personality traits
that best predict the use and the development of English L2 by Polish immigrants
living in the UK or Ireland (Ożańska-Ponikwia & Dewaele, 2012). Based on data
analysis it could also be speculated that these personality traits of Openness,
Self-esteem and Wellbeing were more pronounced among people who decided to
immigrate because they were also related to the using a foreign language on
everyday basis, allowing immigrants for sustained L2 contact with native speakers
of the target language, creating social networks and possibly facilitating adaptation
in the host culture.
Personality, Emotional Intelligence and L2 …
5 Concluding Remarks
The present study researched the relationship between higher and lower–order
personality traits and the frequency of the L2 use as well as L2 use on everyday
basis among immigrant and non-immigrant informants. The results of the study
showed that a great number of Personality and EI traits was related to mentioned
above variables. What was interesting to see was the fact that even though some of
the traits (Openness and Empathy) were linked to the frequency of the L2 use in
both immigrant and non-immigrant setting some other EI traits were more pronounced depending on the context of the L2 use, having Emotionality, Adaptability
and Emotion expression in the immigrant one and Emotional stability, Emotional
regulation and Assertiveness in the non-immigrant setting. Data analysis showed
that immigrants who are capable of communicating their feelings to others
(Emotion expression) and can perceive and express emotions and use these abilities
to develop and sustain close relationships with important others (Emotionality) as
well as those who are flexible and willing to adapt to new conditions, use their L2
more frequently. Another important finding was the difference in personality scores
in the immigrant and non-immigrant group, with the immigrant group scoring
significantly higher on Openness, Self-esteem and Wellbeing. Since all these traits
were related to using L2 on everyday basis in the immigrant context, it could be
speculated that they might potentially influence developing social networks and
adaptation in the host culture. Reported results are important as they show that the
relationship between, Personality traits, EI, and frequency of the L2 use in an
immigrant and non-immigrant setting is very complex and nuanced, with various
mediating variables that need to be taken into account while researching L2 use
among immigrants and non-immigrants. Therefore, more cross-linguistic research is
needed in the field of higher and lower-order personality traits and their role in the
L2 use in different linguistic contexts.
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(1), 97–110.
International Students in Australia: What
Makes Them Happy? Student Data
from the Positive Education Perspective
Beata Malczewska-Webb
Abstract The process of internationalisation of education in Australia and globally
is frequently viewed from the deficit perspective of difficulties and challenges
international students face while studying in another country. This paper examines a
different perspective of the international educational experience. It explores the
positive aspects of the international students’ view on their life in Australia and
studying at an Australian university. The paper examines possible interpretations of
data from student surveys using dimensions from educational positive psychology
for the analysis. First, it outlines the concepts of negative and positive emotions and
their role in learning. Then, it introduces the applications of positive psychology in
Australia, to provide a wider background for understanding the role of positive
education at an Australian educational institution. The research project uses the
qualitative data from the international students’ survey. The paper explores in detail
student perspective on various aspects of their studying and living in Australia.
Keywords International education Student mobility Positive psychology
International student experience International student perspective
1 Introduction
The process of internationalisation of education in Australia and globally is frequently viewed from the deficit perspective of difficulties and challenges international students face while studying in another country. This paper examines a
different perspective of the international educational experience. It explores the
positive aspects of the international students’ view on their life in Australia and
studying at an Australian university. The paper examines possible interpretations of
data from student surveys using dimensions from educational positive psychology.
First, it outlines the concepts of negative and positive emotions and their role in
B. Malczewska-Webb (&)
Faculty of Society and Design, Bond University, Gold Coast, QLD 4229, Australia
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_11
B. Malczewska-Webb
learning. Then, it introduces the applications of positive psychology in Australia, to
provide a wider background for understanding student data, followed by the
examination of the qualitative data from the international student survey. The paper
concludes in Sect. 10.
2 Humanistic Psychology and the PERMA Model
MacIntyre and Mercer (2014, p. 154) pronounce positive psychology (PP) succinctly
after Peterson (2006) that “as a defined scholarly area, PP has been said to have a
short history and a long past”. Indeed, human happiness is deeply rooted in ancient
philosophy and was explored in the virtue ethics of Confucius, Mencius and
Aristotle. Much later, it was brought forward by post-WWII approaches in psychology. Positive Psychology is deeply embedded in the humanistic approaches
developed by Rogers, Fromm and, perhaps the most influential of them all, Maslow,
who introduced the term positive psychology in 1954 (Maslow, 1954). Although the
post-war humanists studied and propagated the concept of happiness and its role in
an individual’s life, it was the work of Seligman (1999), four decades later, which
re-defined it as a branch of general psychology based on the empirical study.
According to Maslow (1954, p. 354), “The science of psychology has been far
more successful on the negative than on the positive side”. Whilst traditional
psychology emphasises mental health problems and the best ways to diagnose and
treat them, positive psychology (PP) compliments this with another standpoint. The
aim of positive psychology is to study ‘how people thrive and flourish’ (MacIntyre
& Mercer, 2014, p. 154). PP explores human well-being and how humans can
function to the best of their potential (Institute of Positive Education, Geelong
Grammar School, 2015). Consequently, PP has added a different dimension to the
palliative approach to dealing with human suffering, by taking the preventative path
and aiming to study how to “help people lead better lives” (MacIntyre & Mercer,
2014, p. 154). Furthermore, PP aims to study how people can lead thriving lives
and what strengths and virtues can contribute to their well-being (MacIntyre &
Mercer, 2014, p. 154).
Positive psychology studies three areas which contribute to people building
positive tools for better living: positive internal experiences, positive individual
characteristics, and institutions which enable people to live flourishing lives.
Seligman and Peterson examined a wide range of philosophical and religious texts
and, based on their cross-cultural study, created “a classification and measurement
system for the human strengths” (Seligman, 2002, p. 132). Their classification
consisted of the following six core virtues: (1) wisdom and knowledge, (2) courage,
(3) love and humanity, (4) justice, (5) temperance and (6) spirituality and transcendence. These achievable virtues were valued in their own right and across
cultures, which meant they aimed to create a universal cross-cultural framework.
Seligman (2011), however, developed the concept of how to measure happiness
further by adding two more dimensions to this classification: positive relationships
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy? …
and accomplishments. He also altered the reference to the core concept from that of
‘happiness’ to that of ‘well-being’. This important change emphasised a more
complex nature of ‘well-being’ and aimed to avoid the confusion between ‘happiness’ and ‘cheerfulness’. Other researchers (Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King,
2008) also explored the disparities between the two senses of the word ‘happiness’
rooted in philosophy: ‘eudaimonic’ and ‘hedonic’ happiness. While the Aristotelian
‘eudaimonic’ happiness denotes the fulfilment of one’s human potential and it
reflects the actualisation of self, ‘hedonic’ happiness encodes the high frequency of
positive emotions and low frequency of negative emotions (Kashdan et al., 2008).
Consequently, Seligman chose the term ‘well-being’ as it better reflects the
Aristotelian sense of eudaimonia; the concept referring to the ultimate goal of one’s
life; a long-term aim referring to the ability to live one’s life to its full human
potential. The reason for the change of terms of reference was the fact that ‘happiness’ is often interpreted as a ‘hedonic’ happiness, a subjective, temporary
emotion, when one says they are ‘happy’ to have a coffee with a friend.
Consequently, ‘well-being’, in the sense used by Seligman (2011), refers to the
prolonged state involving much more than sole temporary positive emotions.
In his last book, Flourish (Seligman, 2011), proposes a multidimensional model
for measuring well-being. According to Seligman (2011), an individual can pursue,
for their own sake, one or many of the PERMA dimensions, which contribute to
their well-being. PERMA stands for the following five elements: (P) Positive
emotion, (E) Engagement, (R) Relationships, (M) Meaning and
(A) Accomplishments (Seligman, 2011). Consequently, (P) positive emotions refer
to feelings of happiness. These hedonic feelings of happiness include joyfulness,
contentment and cheerfulness. The next dimension, (E) engagement, refers to being
engaged in activities or organisations which use character strength of an individual
and this psychological connection involves feeling interested and absorbed in life.
The third one (R), indicates developing positive interpersonal relationships; being
socially integrated, feeling cared for and supported by others. Meaning
(M) describes serving the cause other than self, believing that life is valuable and
feeling related to something greater than self. Finally, Accomplishment (A), identifies areas of achievement, progress towards goals and the belief that doing daily
activities drives you towards achieving those goals (Seligman, 2011).
3 Positive Psychology, Positive Education: Globally
and in Australia
The area of extreme relevance of positive psychology tenets is education, and the
interest in PP resulted in the new pedagogical approach referred to as positive
education (Green, Oades, & Robinson, 2011; Norrish, Williams, O’Connor, &
B. Malczewska-Webb
Robinson, 2013; Vella-Brodrick, 2011). Consequently, the concept of positive
education is relatively new but it has already found a very rich place for its growth
in the Australian education context (McGrath, 2009). Seligman, Gillham, Reivich,
Linkins and Ernst (2009, p. 293) described this approach to education as “education
for both traditional skills and for happiness”. According to Norrish et al. (2013,
p. 148), positive education aims to “promote flourishing or positive mental health
within the school community”.
This aim has been particularly relevant for Australian educational institutions,
which re-evaluate their goals, as the sole focus on academic excellence is currently
viewed as insufficiently preparing young people for life ‘in the real world’ (Green
et al., 2011). In Australia, the statistics concerning mental health problems in young
people are overwhelming. Currently, 180,000 young people are experiencing
depression, 440,000 of Australians aged 16–24 have suffered from an anxiety
disorder in the past 12 months, and one in four young Australians (750,000 people)
has a mental health condition. In 2012, 324 Australians, which is 10.5 per 100,000
between the ages 15 and 24, took their own life, which means that suicide is the
biggest killer of young Australians (By comparison, the second biggest killer, road
accidents, took lives of 198 young people that year.). Young people in Australia are
concerned about coping with stress, school, study problems, body image, depression and family conflict. The increasing alarm about early age intervention is
supported by the data showing that three out of four adult mental health conditions
emerge by age 24 and half by age 14 (https://www.youthbeyondblue.com/footer/
This very sad view of the state of health of young people in Australia is in
contrast with some of the statistics provided by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) examining the well-being of countries and
regions of the world (OECD 2013; http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/
australia/). The OECD Better Life Initiative develops statistics concerning aspects
of life that shape people’s lives and is based on 11 defining features identified as
essential to well-being. These life qualities range from the traditional ones such as
income, to health, education, local environment, personal security and overall
satisfaction with life. The main goal of this initiative is to measure what matters to
people’s life on a global scale, in order to understand these processes, with the
ultimate aim to improve the lives of nations, regions and individuals.
Australia outperforms many countries in most categories in the Better Life Index
such as civic engagement (it is the top country for this measure) and positions
itself ‘above the average in environmental quality, health status, housing, personal
security, jobs and earnings, education and skills, subjective well-being, social connections, but below average in work-life balance.’ (http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.
org/countries/australia/). In general, Australians demonstrated higher than OECD
average of 6.6 overall satisfaction with life, with 7.3 grade on a 0 to 10 scale. This
average general satisfaction of 7.3 is much higher in Australia than it is in many
countries. Poland, for example, scored lower than the OECD average, thus, with the
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy? …
satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Polish people gave it a 5.8 grade. On the
other hand, Poland ranked higher than the OECD average on issues of personal
security, education and skills, as well as social connections. However, the Polish
ranked other measures of well-being in the Better Life Index lower than the OECD
average. These measures comprised health status, income and wealth, subjective
well-being, jobs and earnings, environmental quality and housing. Overall, on the
complex OECD graph, Australia overtakes many countries as one of the top places in
the world for well-being.
Yet, this optimistic and encouraging national ranking of well-being is in
immense conflict with the reports on mental health of young Australians. Therefore,
the Australian initiatives applying the model of positive psychology to education
aim to fill the void between what educational institutions do traditionally and the
needs of a modern mobile society, with its depleted social support structures.
Following Green et al. (2011), who view this as a duty of care, the focus on school
aims needs to be shifted from academic skills towards the holistic goals which
would prepare young people better for adulthood. They (Green et al., 2011) quote
National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983), which states that this
preparation ‘is one of the hallmarks of developed countries’. This change in orientation of the role of education and institutions is the process which needs to be
addressed at all levels of education.
In Australia, the positive education initiatives have been pioneered in a variety of
contexts. Possibly, the most well-known example is the introduction of the positive
psychology tenets to the core curriculum of the Geelong Grammar School (GGS) in
Victoria. Green et al. (2011) suggested a term for the program as applied positive
psychology for education. In 2008, Seligman helped design a positive education
curriculum in this iconic Australian school, based on Penn Resiliency Program,
which have been found to combat depression and anxiety (Gillham, Hamilton,
Freres, Patton, & Gallop, 2006; Seligman, Reivich, Jaycox, & Gillham, 1995;
Gillham & Reivich 1999 in Vella-Brodrick, 2011). The Geelong program aims to
help understand and develop high levels of psychological well-being of students,
staff and school. Following the successful response to the program, according to
Vella-Brodrick (2011), more and more schools around Australia are applying
positive psychology principles to their curricula. More recently, Kern, Waters,
Adler and White (2015) examined the possible applications of the PERMA Model
in St. Peter’ s College, in Adelaide. Their research suggests that measuring the
multi-dimensional and subjective perspectives of well-being leads to the promotion
of student well-being. Kern et al. (2015) further supported the applicability of the
PERMA Model in the field of positive education. Green et al. (2011) are currently
conducting positive education research at three Sydney high schools. Although
these developments are relatively new, an increasing number of Australian schools
introduce positive psychology interventions, aiming to increase well-being through
the conscious cultivation of positive feelings, cognitions and behaviours.
B. Malczewska-Webb
4 International Student Mobility and Student Satisfaction
at Universities
Although the school system received the most attention, other educational sectors
also explore the applications of positive psychology to their policy and practice.
Some Australian universities have also applied different measures to examine the
well-being of their students. One of these measures which is particularly relevant
for the purpose of this study is International Student Barometer (ISB), administered
by i-graduate. ISB is the world’s largest survey of international student satisfaction
for higher education, involving hundreds of universities across the world. The data
helps understand the student international experience, with the aim of improving it
for all stakeholders. One of the major findings of the ISB is that this experience
varies considerably depending on institutions. Therefore, it is necessary to examine
the nature of this experience at individual institutions in order to provide the data
complimenting the “big picture findings” (Garrett, 2014).
The significance of understanding the nature of the international experience
cannot be underestimated. Globally, an astounding 4.5 million individuals chose to
study in other countries in 2011, which is more than double, from 2 million in 2000
(Garrett, 2014; UNESCO, 2012, 2015). In countries such as Australia, the USA and
the UK, between 15 and 20 % of the students come from overseas. This phenomenon in education has become also a major source of national income and a
significant contributor to national economies. Although many aspects of the
internationalisation of Australian education, which are related to this research
project, have been described before (Malczewska-Webb, 2014; Webb, 2011, 2013,
2015; Webb, Nowacka, & Ong, 2014), it is necessary to present at least some facts
to demonstrate the importance of such studies for Australian universities. In
Australia, the rise in numbers was even more dramatic than globally, with 85,000
international students in 1985, to over half a million students per year, consistently,
in the last few years. In 2013, international education provided 15.6 billion dollars
and, remarkably, it has consistently been the third largest export commodity, after
iron ore and coal (Webb, 2014, 2015).
Many countries are experiencing similar trends in education. Nearly half (47 %)
of the international students worldwide choose only the following five countries of
destination: the USA (18 %), the UK (11 %), France (7 %), Australia (6 %) and
Germany (5 %). In the United States, the international student enrolments in
undergraduate programs went up by 70 % in the past decade (Garrett, 2014).
However, the new markets change dynamically and for various reasons. For
example, the number of international students in Polish universities has risen 700 %
in the last few years, from 6563 in 2000/2001 to 46,101 international students in
2014/2015. With international students making up 3.1 % of the student population,
Siwińska (2015) points out that this figure was only 0.6 % seven years ago and that
the Polish universities had never experienced such a growth in international students before. Other countries, such as Canada, Japan, China aim to increase their
numbers of international students further. Canada plans to double this number in the
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy? …
next decade, Japan and China plan to attract 300,000 in the higher education sector
by 2020 (Garrett, 2014). More and more countries recognise the multitude of
advantages in international education and they actively promote its increase.
Overall, to understand what contributes to the positive educational experience of
international students means gathering data which leads to improving this complex
experience for all involved: the international students themselves, their international
and domestic peers, their lecturers and institutions. The ability to recognise positive
aspects of their international experience will assist educational institutions in
endorsing positive education, which aims to promote both academic excellence and
the well-being for everyone involved.
5 Positive Education, International Students and SLA
The terms ‘international students’ and ‘international student experience’ within the
context of many countries, including Australia, refer to students who may or may
not be second language learners. The data used for the purpose of this paper
includes students who come to Australia from countries where English is spoken as
the first language (the UK, the USA, etc.) or the second language (Germany,
France, China, Russia, etc.). The paper also makes a distinction in analysing data
from this perspective. This differentiation follows earlier research outcomes, which
suggested its usefulness in data interpretation. Accordingly, it was found that the
students’ cultural and also linguistic background, played an important role in their
international experience (Webb, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015; Webb et al., 2014).
Oxford and Cuéllar (2014) emphasise the importance of the duality in studying the
target language, where not only a language but also culture need to be considered.
For students whose English is their first language, such as the British or the US
students, the challenges of living in another culture, largely, do not stem from the
fact they need to ‘live’ also in another language. On the other hand, the students
from non-English speaking backgrounds, experience a form of immersion, not just
in class but outside the classroom as well. This immersion may take a form of the
content and language integrated learning, as at least some students do not just study
the content in English as their second language but they also undertake English
language program to complement their mainstream studies. Other students do not
enrol in the Academic English subjects but they may seek support with their
English from the delegated staff in the Student Learning Support, which proves to
be in very high demand (Webb, in press).
Consequently, International Student Mobility generates a specific second language acquisition context for students whose first language is different to the language spoken in the country of their destination. In the case of international
students in Australia, non-English speaking background students function in the
context of developing and using their English while studying at a university. This
specific SLA context is particularly complex: second language learners are of very
diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, some receive systematic institutional
B. Malczewska-Webb
support in improving the target language, others do not, they also study together
with the first language learners either from another culture (the UK, the US), or with
the domestic students. Moreover, their lecturers very often speak with diverse
varieties of English; with different accents and dialects. The understanding of this
context is essential for constructing positive environments where students can
succeed academically and be supported in other aspects of their international
The role of positive psychology (PP) in the field of second language acquisition
has been expertly captured in the papers published in the June 2014 issue of Studies
in Second Language Learning and Teaching (Gabryś-Barker, 2014; Gregersen &
MacIntyre, 2014; Gregersen, MacIntyre, Finegan, Talbot, & Claman, 2014;
MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014; Oxford & Cuéllar, 2014). The authors cover a wide
range of topics related to SLA and review the concepts particularly valuable for the
educational contexts, such an examination of positive and negative emotions and
their relationship with language acquisition. Among others, Gregersen and
MacIntyre (2014) discuss a very important distinction between two continua, of
positive and of negative emotions. As mentioned before, the prior analyses of
different elements of data in this research project had mostly focused on the negative attitudes and negative aspects of the students’ experience of living and
studying in Australia. These analyses aimed to determine the problems, with the
hope of solving them. However, it is proposed here that determining the positive
aspects of that same experience may provide a much shorter way of improving it by
determining and re-enforcing what is already working for the students.
6 Research Project: Educational Experience
from Students’ Perspective
The research project described in this paper aims to examine student views on
positive features of their international experience while studying at Bond
University, Gold Coast, Australia. Bond University is a private, non-profit university, which has been consistently rated, several years running, as the top university in the country for the educational experience by the independent body Good
Universities Guide in Australia (Bond University Official Website, 2015). This
suggests that the university provides the educational environment with positive
features and understanding the fabric of this experience would provide a very
effective way of further improving the educational experience for all stakeholders.
Overall, between 2010 and 2014, 1066 domestic and international students from
58 countries responded to the survey. The qualitative sample chosen for the purpose
of this particular paper includes the responses from 597 international students: 214
from Asia, 159 from Europe, 187 from North America and 37 from the Middle
Eastern countries. Although the sample is very uneven, with qualitative research,
the paper aims to examine the trends rather than statistical measures, which have
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy? …
been the focus of the previous papers (Webb, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015; Webb et al.,
2014). The North American sample was added for the comparison with the
responses from students in non-English speaking backgrounds. The students
answered one open question, inviting them to state the best aspects of their experience of studying and living in Australia.
7 Factors Contributing to the Positive International
Experience: Students’ Perspectives
Based on the student responses to the open question concerning the positive aspects
of their Australian experience, ten categories of positive factors were distinguished.
These are presented in Table 1 and described in more detail next.
As demonstrated in Table 1, the two most important factors, which make the
experience of living and studying in Australia a positive one, are the environment
(32 %) and the social aspects of the experience (23.8 %). These two factors have
been nominated by more than a half of the respondents (55.8 %) as being the best
aspects of their Australian experience. The environment is also the only factor
nominated evenly by the students from all four geographical regions, with only
3.5 % difference between them. Consequently, the environment was selected by
33.2 % of the students from Asia, 32.7 % from Europe, 30.5 % from North
America and by 29.7 % of the Middle-Eastern students. As far as the significance of
the natural environment is concerned, the overall result represents accurately the
regional preferences.
The students specified the three sub-categories of climate, the beach and the
overall environment while answering the questions. They specifically talked about
the weather and the sun of the Gold Coast, its location and the beaches. Many
responses referred to an overall environment, with liking ‘all of it’. Many students
expressed the positive attitude towards the natural beauty of the place with comments such as ‘the amazing environment’, ‘beautiful location’, ‘beautiful scenery’,
‘the landscapes are amazing’. Notably, they also estimated cleanliness and safety of
Table 1 Factors contributing to the positive Australian experience
Factors contributing to the positive Australian experience
Percent (%)
Social aspects
Studying at the university
New cultures
B. Malczewska-Webb
the environment as its important features. Students from different continents made
observations about ‘clean environment’ (‘I can see the stars in the evening because
there is no pollution’) and ‘fresh air’ (‘the air quality is so amazing’). Students also
appreciated the fact that the environment is ‘peaceful’, ‘not crowded with people’,
and ‘quiet’. Safety is often nominated as the positive aspect of the environment, in
statements such as ‘safe environment’ or ‘I feel safe here’. Other explicit features of
the environment included the beach and the climate. Many students state that the
best part of their Australian experience is ‘being able to walk to the beach’, or ‘surf
and the beach’. One comment in particular reflects the ultra positive (and very
subjective) attitude towards these features of Australia: ‘the best thing about my
Australian experience is living in the country where the sun is always shining and
the beach is not far away’.
The next table demonstrates the fact that, although the category of the social
aspects is designated by almost a quarter of all the students, this overall result does
not accurately reflect the regional trends in the way the previous category of the
environment did (Table 2).
Although overall 23.8 % of the students pointed to the importance of the social
aspects in evaluating the positive qualities of the Australian experience, there is a
significant variation between students from different regions in this category. While
almost a third of the North American and European students expressed the
importance and, clearly, the success of the social aspects in their experience, students from the Middle East were a little less positive. The most significant difference between the expressed positive attitudes towards the social aspects was
distinguished between the American and Asian student responses, with Asian
students designating only approximately a half (16.4 %) of their responses when
compared to their American classmates (28.9 %). Clearly, the social aspects of the
experience are more central to the American and European students than they are to
their Asian peers. This supports earlier findings (Webb, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015;
Webb et al., 2014) which suggested that the overall social experience of studying in
Australia is much more significant and, possibly, successful, for the European and
American students than for their Asian peers.
The social aspects of the student experience included an overall social experience, and, further, experiences involving both the locals and multicultural friends.
In the comments concerning the overall experience, students stated that the best part
of their Australian experience was ‘getting to know people here’, meeting ‘friendly’
‘new people’, (‘people I have met’, ‘good people here’ or ‘people are amazing
here’). They clearly enjoyed ‘social life’, ‘great friends at uni’ and ‘party!’). The
Table 2 Environment and social aspects in different regions: student perspective
Factors contributing to
the positive Australian
Social aspects
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy? …
students evaluated the local Australian community very highly; the comments in
this category are numerous and include references to many features: ‘Australian
people are very friendly’, ‘Australians are outgoing and relaxed’, ‘understanding’,
‘extremely kind’, and ‘open-minded’. According to the comments, ‘Australians
communicate freely’, are ‘easy-going’ and always show ‘great hospitality’. The
image of the local Australian community, which emerged from the students’ volunteered answers, was extremely positive and it clearly played a very important role
in perceiving the international experience in a positive light.
Another crucial facet of the student international experience involved studying
and working with people from different cultures. For many students, the most
valuable part of their Australian experience was ‘meeting people from around the
world’ and ‘making international friends’. They clearly appreciated ‘the diversity of
people’, both at Bond University and the wide Australian communities, and
enjoyed that diversity. Some experienced that type of diversity for the first time, as
is pointed by an American student: ‘so many different nationalities are represented,
it’s amazing, don’t get that at my home uni’. A part of that positive experience is
‘getting along with people from different cultures’ and having ‘friends who come
from different countries’. That experience of cultural and linguistic diversity rates
exceptionally high in the student evaluation of their international experience.
The third most positive factor distinguished by the Bond University students in
their international experience was lifestyle. This category was created based on
student comments referring to their definition of ‘lifestyle’, ‘the way I live in
Australia’ and it also includes references to activities they engage in their daily life.
Some overall comments describe their way of life as ‘joyful’, ‘freedom lifestyle’,
they also indicate the appreciation of ‘relaxing lifestyle’ and ‘living pace’. A range
of activities is included in their positive aspects of the Australian experience and
these are ‘tourism activities’, as well as ‘surfing’, ‘diving’, ‘fishing’. This category
overlaps with ‘the social aspects’ but it contains references to activities: ‘different
festivals’ and also ‘going out’, ‘partying’, ‘being able to drink under 21’ (American
students) and, overall, ‘always having fun stuff to do’. This category is the third top
overall group of responses demonstrating the fact that the quality of international
student experience is intrinsically bound with activities they engage in, not just in
the classroom and the university, but outside their academic activities.
While examining the regional differences of the ‘lifestyle’ category, there were
some differences in attitudes between the regions. For Asian, European and Asian
students, lifestyle was the third most important positive factor, while for Middle
Eastern students it was the fourth, after a different category of everything. Yet, of all
the regional groups, it was the Middle Eastern students who commented most on
lifestyle. Although the patterns were similar, only 8 % of the students from North
America and 10.1 % of Europeans chose this as a contributing factor to the positive
experience, while Asian and Middle Eastern students rated it higher, 14.5 and
16.2 % respectively. Again, there were more similarities in attitudes between Asian
and Middle Eastern students and between the European and the North American
B. Malczewska-Webb
The fourth category defined by students as adding to their level of satisfaction
was the first directly related to their university studies. Studying at the university
was designated by 8.7 % of the students as being the most important positive factor
in their Australian experience of studying and living in Australia. Interestingly, the
regional cohorts exhibit different patterns in this category. It seems that studying at
the university is the most positive factor of the international experience for Asian
students, and 12.1 % of this cohort designated the academic aspect of their experience as having the most importance. The academic component of their international experience is a little less significant for the European students, with 9.4 %
nominating studying at the university. By comparison to the Asian cohort, less than
a half, 5.3 %, of the American students designated studying as the positive aspect of
their experience. Further, only 2.7 % of the Middle Eastern students considered
studying at the university an important factor contributing to their positive international experience. The analysis of the results in this category support the view
that the student background is a significant factor in evaluating and perceiving some
positive aspects of their international experience.
The students expressed positive attitudes towards a range of aspects associated
with studying at the university. The factors which they nominated as the most
positive ones included references to the educational system overall, the teaching
faculty, studying in general, the way the classes are structured, subjects, peers, and
campus activities and facilities. Many Chinese and European students wrote that
‘studying’ was the best thing about their Australian experience and a German
student supported that by saying ‘growing academically (…) realising how I can do
more than I think I can’. Some Asian students pointed to differences in the systems
and stated that they enjoyed most ‘learning critical thinking’ and ‘developing
(my) own opinions’.
Examining specific student comments showed that many students found the
teaching staff, classmates and classes to be the most positive feature of their international experience. North American students found the faculty to be ‘very helpful’
and ‘easy to interact with’. They also appreciated the fact that their lecturers came
from ‘diverse backgrounds and spoke with different accents’. Asian students stressed
the fact ‘the teachers here are very nice’, ‘patient’ and many valued their lecturers’
‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’. Students also expressed very positive attitudes
towards their classes (‘the system of classes’, ‘I love that you have two-hour lecture
and tutorial. You learn a lot’) and the campus in general (‘living on campus has been
great’, ‘the many activities and events’, ‘sports facilities’). Asian and European
students formulated very positive opinions about ‘the high quality’ of courses and
subjects and how they were made ‘interesting’ by the lecturers.
Overall, the Bond students evaluated positively different aspects of their
studying at the university. They were very positive about the system of education,
the classmates and their diversity, the professionalism of the teaching faculty who
are easy to communicate with, experienced and also culturally diverse. Studying
and learning in general were also referred to. The aspects of learning they enjoyed
most included learning another language and culture, critical thinking and developing the ability to formulate own opinions.
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy? …
Travelling was another category, which demonstrated the differences between
students of different background. While 15 % of the North American students
stated this was the most positive aspect of their Australian experience was travelling, less than a half, 8.8 %, of the European students expressed that view. This
still, however, demonstrates that both American and European students arrive to
Australia with the view that travelling is part of their international experience. The
difference in the goals of their stay in Australia is demonstrated by the fact that only
3.7 % of the Asian students nominated travelling as a positive aspect of living in
Australia, and no Middle Eastern students nominated it as a positive feature of their
international experience. Travelling, then, demonstrates the fact that at least some
aspects of the educational and life experience are different depending on students’
The last two categories formulated on the basis of student responses included
references to ‘wholistic’ categories everything or nothing. Here again, the differences based on the student background depicted a different image for each region.
The students most satisfied with the international Australian experience were from
the Middle East, with 18.9 % of the respondents claiming they enjoyed ‘everything’
about studying and living in Australia. Again, North American and European
students’ responses were parallel, with 5.9 % of the American and 4.4 % of the
European students replying ‘everything’ to the question. Only 2.3 % of the Asian
students expressed that they liked ‘everything’ as far as life and study in Australia
were concerned. This scale of preferences, where the Middle Eastern students
showed the most approval with all aspects of their experience and the Asian students the least, is also supported by the category expressing the overall lack of
satisfaction. Consequently, 4.7 % of the Asian students admitted to enjoying
nothing about living in Australia, 0.6 and 0.5 % of the American and European
students supported that, while no Middle Eastern made comments expressing an
overall dissatisfaction with their experience.
The five most important aspects contributing to international student experience
include the environment they live in, the social aspects of their experience, the
lifestyle they engage in, studying at the university and travelling. The environment
is appreciated for its beauty, cleanliness, safety and peace. Students appreciate a
variety of social contacts, both on and off campus, and they equally value their
interaction with the locals and their peers from culturally and linguistically diverse
backgrounds. As far as lifestyle is concerned, students appreciate the activities,
which they can participate in, which range from fun social events to healthy, sport
orientated opportunities to undertake on and off campus. Studying at the university
is the fourth and only category directly related to their university part of the
experience and they value a range of features such as the quality of teachers, peers,
classes, and the educational system. The fifth category, travelling, similarly to the
studying, differs depending on the student background.
B. Malczewska-Webb
8 Student Perspectives and Global Megatrends
The top categories demonstrating students’ most positive aspects of their international experience align astoundingly with the work on global trends undertaken by
the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the
federal government agency for scientific research in Australia. This fascinating
work undertaken by CSIRO team (Hajkowicz, 2014; Hajkowicz, Cook, &
Littleboy, 2012) resulted in defining the mega-trends in the world economy and
societies. While a trend is an important pattern of social, environmental and economic activity, which will play out in the future, mega-trends occur at the intersection of many trends. According to the CSIRO team, (Hajkowicz, 2013, 2014;
Hajkowicz et al., 2012), these shifts in environmental, social and economic conditions will alter the way people live and are relevant to contemporary decision
making in major areas of governance.
The top five results of the research on positive aspects of the Australian international education experience, according to a student perspective, reflect five out of
six mega-trends defined by Hajkowicz and his team. The mega-trend ‘Going, going,
gone…?’ refers to the significant loss of the natural environment with the question
mark referring to the uncertainty about how much can and will be done to preserve
it. Environment is clearly the great leveller for all the regional diversities and the
majority of students view the importance of the environment as primary to their
experience. The second megatrend, ‘Great Expectations’ refers to the fact that,
despite the digitalisation of human communication, people will increasingly search
for direct social interaction. Again, this is already reflected in the results of the
student survey, which demonstrates the importance of social contacts, and the
varied difficulty in establishing these, with American and European students
expressing the most positive attitudes in this category.
The third and fifth most positive aspect of student experience encompasses the
social aspects and the healthy lifestyle. While students enjoy the social events, they
also focus on undertaking healthy activities such as sport or relaxation. This, in turn
reflects the ‘Forever young’ megatrend describing the society where people live
longer not only due to the advancement of medical research but also increased
health awareness. The fourth category, studying at the university, captures well the
‘More for less’ megatrend, which recognizes the fact that people must find innovative ways in which to tackle the changing economies, job markets and the global
economic demands, with education being a crucial factor in this process.
Accordingly, five out of six top categories formulated as the most positive aspects
for international student experience reflect accurately the presence of the world
megatrends as defined by the Australian CSIRO team. (Perhaps it is important to
note here that the previous analysis of the quantitative student data pointed to the
crucial significance for students of the last megatrend, the digitalisation of the world
around us (Webb, 2014).
International Students in Australia: What Makes Them Happy? …
9 Student Positive Categories and Positive Psychology
The project undertaken for this paper focuses on the two of the three focus areas for
positive psychology introduced earlier: positive experiences and institutions which
enable people to live good lives, within the context of a tertiary institution in
Australia. Students reported on positive experiences closely related to their university studies as well as life on and off the campus and they also included the
evaluation of the different roles the university plays in that experience. The top five
most positive aspects of the student experience demonstrate that students engaged
in international experience often evaluate that experience according to the two
dimensions developed by Seligman (2011): positive relationships and accomplishments. The students value the social aspects of their experience, and engage in
educational processes and activities, which lead to the accomplishment of their
The most positive aspects of studying and living in Australia reflect the fact that,
overall, the most favourite experiences involve only some ‘happy’ experiences in
the ‘hedonic’ sense (the beauty of the environment, partying, some aspects of
travelling and lifestyle). The majority of the student most positive categories are
more accurately defined following the concept of the ‘eudaimonic’ happiness, using
the concept of ‘well-being’ introduced by Seligman (2011) in positive psychology.
The students refer to the environment and activities they engage in, different aspects
of the healthy lifestyle and, most importantly, learning. In fact, most of the categories reflect the motivation and initiative for learning and accomplishments:
meeting new people, learning new cultures, languages, learning about the world
(travelling) and, last but not least, studying to achieve the educational goals.
With two different approaches in which we can examine emotions in learning in
educational settings, the results on positive aspects of the educational experience
provide invaluable information for universities and educationalists. As suggested by
Gregersen and MacIntyre (2014), the examination of the negative emotions offers a
palliative approach to problems as it examines what is already not working. The
next steps include the interpretation of this data and, hopefully, employing the
strategies to address the issues.
While the interpretation of the research project examining student experience
student has so far focused on the deficits (Webb, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015; Webb
et al., 2014), however, the most recent work has revealed that the study of positive
emotions and aspects of the experience offers an invaluable perspective over student
experience at a university (Webb, in press). It provides another dimension to
defining student experience and is much simpler to interpret and implement (Webb,
in press). The interpretative step, where the data needs to be ‘translated’ and the
solutions found following that, becomes redundant. The link between what is and
what needs to be done is straightforward. To put it simply, that information is
constructed as a message ‘I like this and I want more of it’, thus, not risking, on one
hand, the misinterpretation of the data or, on the other, implementing the wrong
strategies to solve the problem.
B. Malczewska-Webb
To sum up, this paper presents the results of student positive aspects of their
international experience of studying and living in Australia. The results demonstrate
the similarities and differences in students’ positive evaluation of their experience.
The three categories, which rated for all the students as the most important, include
environment, social aspects and fun and healthy lifestyle. The categories defined by
student responses address the concepts introduced by the tenets of positive psychology, with positive relationships and accomplishments in particular. The results
also support the view that the concept of happiness in the ‘hedonic’ sense is very
limiting and the concept of ‘well-being’ reflects the positive experiences much more
Additionally, the most positive categories demarcated by student responses
reflect very well the megatrends defined by the Australian scientists as the future
megatrends and, moreover, indicate the current presence of these megatrends while
studying the nature of international student mobility. Regionally, there were differences in students’ evaluation of the role of social aspects, studying and travelling, as well as the overall attitude of everything or nothing being positive.
The results on positive aspects of international student experience contribute to
the understanding of its different perspective. This perspective offers a
non-palliative approach to improving the experience for all stakeholders: students,
lecturers, administrators and the universities overall. The interpretation of such data
is simpler as it can promote what already works. The ways of promoting the
positive aspects of the experience are, however, beyond the scope of this paper.
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Part III
Focus on a Teacher: Personal and
Professional Well-being
Helping Language Teachers to Thrive:
Using Positive Psychology to Promote
Teachers’ Professional Well-Being
Sarah Mercer, Pia Oberdorfer and Mehvish Saleem
Abstract In the field of language learning psychology (LLP), research has tended
to focus on the learner with comparatively little attention paid to understanding
teacher psychology and what helps promote teachers’ professional well-being. In
this paper, we begin by reviewing research which shows the central role played by
teacher psychology, not only for themselves but also for their learners. We consider
insights specific to the field of SLA and identify gaps in the knowledge base about
teacher psychology, which we argue needs expanding and complexifying. Then,
drawing on insights from positive psychology, we discuss approaches which can
help to esteem, protect and support language teachers working in this rewarding but
demanding profession. The paper concludes by calling for more
teacher-centredness in LLP research and suggests a role for positive psychology in
promoting the professional well-being of language teachers in a range of settings.
Keywords Teacher-centredness
Teacher psychology
! Positive psychology ! Professional well-being !
1 Introduction
Since the advent of the communicative approach and the rise of ‘learner-centred’
approaches, the learner, their psychology, behaviours and well-being have been the
focus of language teaching approaches, educational interventions and the vast
majority of research studies in the field. In respect to psychology in language
S. Mercer (&) ! P. Oberdorfer ! M. Saleem
Department of English Studies, University of Graz, Liebiggasse 9/HP,
A8010 Graz, Austria
e-mail: [email protected]
P. Oberdorfer
e-mail: [email protected]
M. Saleem
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_12
S. Mercer et al.
learning specifically, psychology has been examined primarily with the aim of
seeking to empower learners and facilitate their learning. In contrast, very little
attention has been paid to teachers and their psychology considering how this can
help them not just ‘survive’ but ‘thrive’ in their jobs (Castle & Buckler, 2009, p. 4).
Concentrating on the domain of language learning psychology, we suggest that
teachers have been somewhat neglected and it may be time for a little more of a
teacher-centred approach in the field. We begin by considering research that shows
the importance of teacher psychology not only for the teachers themselves but also
for their learners. Through processes of contagion and given the centrality of the
teacher in the classroom dynamics, the teacher is strongly able to influence the
psychology of the learners as individuals and as a collective group. In turn, positive
group dynamics and engaged learners are known to be beneficial for teacher
well-being and positive emotions. Reflecting on what we already know about
teacher psychology in the field of SLA, we discuss our perception of some gaps that
still exist in this area. We then reflect on what lessons we can draw from work in
positive psychology to help teachers not only cope with the stresses and strains of
this demanding profession, but, indeed, ‘flourish’ in their jobs. We conclude the
paper by calling for more teacher-centredness in the language learning psychology
research and suggest a role for positive psychology in promoting the professional
well-being of language teachers in a range of settings.
2 Teacher Psychology, Stressors and Professional
The field of language learning psychology has grown considerably in recent years.
Traditionally, the field has centred around learner motivation, although other areas
such as learning strategies, style and learner autonomy are also well developed.
More recently, a plethora of other constructs have been given more attention such
as the self/identity, beliefs, emotions, attributions and personality (see, e.g., Arnold,
2011; Barcelos & Kalaja, 2011; Dewaele, 2012; Kalaja & Barcelos, 2003; Mercer
& Williams, 2014; Williams, Burden, Poulet, & Maun, 2004). There have also been
dramatic shifts away from traditional conceptualizations of learner individual differences towards more holistic, dynamic understandings of constructs and learner
psychology as a contextualized whole (e.g., Dörnyei & Ryan, 2015; Mercer, Ryan,
& Williams, 2012). Indeed, various publications (Dörnyei, 2010; Dörnyei & Ryan,
2015; Gkonou, Tatzl, & Mercer, 2016; Ryan & Mercer, 2015a, b; Williams, Mercer
& Ryan, 2015) and the establishment of a biannual conference on language learning
psychology (see, for example, https://www.jyu.fi/en/congress/pll2016) suggest the
field is moving increasingly towards more integrated perspectives on the psychology involved in language learning. Yet, the focus typically remains on the
learners as participants. Indeed, a recent special issue of the journal, Humanizing
Language Teaching (2015), concentrating on language learning psychology
Helping Language Teachers to Thrive …
focused exclusively on learners in their major articles section. However, there have
been some landmark studies and publications recently (see, e.g., Hiver & Dörnyei,
2015; Kubanyiova, 2012), which suggest more attention is starting to be paid to
teachers and their psychology in its complexity.
Our premise in this article is that teacher psychology is equally if not more
important than learner psychology in the language classroom. Firstly, the welfare
and well-being of teachers themselves is a worthy goal in and of itself (Holmes,
2005). As Maslach and Leiter (1999, p. 303) state, “the most valuable and costly
part of an education system are the people who teach. Maintaining their well-being
and their contribution to student education should be a primary objective of educational leaders”. Indeed, despite the fact that, “teaching is the core profession in
our global knowledge society, it is also clearly a profession in crisis—and […]
language education is no exception to this trend” (Hiver & Dörnyei, 2015, p. 2).
There are record rates of burnout and high numbers of teachers leaving the profession (e.g., Hong, 2010; Macdonald, 1999). “Teaching is among the top-five
occupations affected by work-related stress, with 70 % of teachers and lecturers
saying their health suffered because of their job” (Lovewell, 2012, p. 46). In
addition, changes in today’s educational landscape have further contributed to the
stress that all educators experience in their jobs as their work becomes increasingly
complex (Day & Gu, 2010). Generally, there has been an increase in workload,
more administration, rising stress from challenging student behaviour, larger class
sizes, a steady stream of reforms, increasing pressures of standardized testing,
league tables etc. (e.g., Kyriacou, 2001; Rogers, 2012). Additionally, teachers often
no longer find themselves the sole source of knowledge and information in the
classroom. With the growth of and accessibility to the internet, students often have
already gained specific knowledge and will frequently be more technically savvy
than their teachers. For some teachers, this may feel like a threat to their status and
authority too.
This suggests an urgent need for research to better understand teachers’ perspectives and psychological responses towards their work, which in turn could help
to counteract these worrying trends. Within mainstream educational research, there
is a considerable body of research which has long recognized that what teachers
think, believe and feel about themselves and their professional lives affects their
overall psychological well-being and ability to cope with stress and thus avoid
burnout (e.g., Brackett, Palomera, Mojsa-Kaja, Reyes, & Salovey, 2010; Schwarzer
& Hallum, 2008; Vandenberghe & Huberman, 1999; Zembylas, 2003a, b).
However, such work in SLA is rare. One very recent exception that indicates a
shifting of attention is a recent study by Hiver and Dörnyei (2015) who introduced a
new concept termed ‘teacher immunity’. This refers to the processes by which
teachers’ experiences of coping in their jobs generate a protective ‘armour’ which
helps them to manage and cope with their professional lives. This ‘armour’ can be
helpful leading to innovation and creativity or, in its maladaptive form, it can hinder
continued professional development and growth leading to rigidity and conservatism (ibid).
S. Mercer et al.
Importantly, positive teacher psychology is not only beneficial for teachers
themselves, but teachers’ well-being is vital for their learners too. Multiple studies
suggest there is a causal connection between teacher well-being, student performance and quality of teaching (e.g., Bajorek, Gulliford, & Taskila, 2014; Caprara,
Barbaranelli, Steca, & Malone, 2006; Day & Gu, 2009; Klusmann, Kunter,
Trautwein, Lüdtke, & Baumert, 2008). Bajorek et al. (2014, p. 6) explain that a
“teacher with high job satisfaction, positive morale and who is healthy should be
more likely to teach lessons which are creative, challenging and effective”. Within
the classroom dynamics, the teachers serve as the anchoring point of interaction and
communication and inevitably their well-being plays a key role in the quality of the
classroom atmosphere and the in-class group dynamics (e.g., DeVries & Zan,
1995). Research has shown that teacher positivity is clearly linked to learner positivity through processes of contagion (Dresel & Hall, 2013; Frenzel & Stephens,
2013). As the driving force behind the teaching/learning process, teachers play a
crucial role in developing an “emotionally healthy classroom” (Frenzel & Stephens,
2013, p. 35). In the positive psychology literature, Seligman (2011, p. 149) reports
on studies conducted within the army and concludes that, “the contagion of happiness and the powerful role of the leader make selecting for positivity and nurturing the well-being of those in command of an army unit especially crucial”.
Clearly, the same principles apply in the language classroom and we can conclude
that the well-being of the teacher is vital to attend to for the whole classroom group.
Another important aspect of the process of contagion between teacher and
learner psychology concerns teacher motivation. Numerous studies have shown
more self-determined and intrinsically motivated teachers also motivate learners
and provide greater opportunities for autonomous learning (Agezo, 2010; Dolton &
Marcenaro-Gutierrez, 2011; Hanfstingl, Andreitz, Müller, & Thomas, 2010).
However, the relationship between teacher and learner psychologies is bidirectional. Naturally, teacher psychology can also be affected by learner psychology.
For example, it has been shown that teachers’ levels of stress can be adversely
affected by demotivated, disengaged, disrespectful, and inattentive learners, just as
much as learners can be affected by demotivated teachers (e.g., Frenzel & Stephens,
2013; Skinner & Belmont, 1993). On the whole, we hope to aim for the positive
psychology of both teachers and learners; however, given their centrality in the hub
of classroom relationships, it is clear that the teachers’ psychology is pivotal for
everyone in the classroom.
Language Teacher Stressors
Although all teachers are facing growing pressures, stress and increasing complexity in their professional lives (Day & Gu, 2010), it is also worth reflecting
briefly on some of the specific characteristics of language teaching that may generate stress for teachers. For example, using a language is a skill-based competence.
Some non-native language teachers could suffer from lower levels of
Helping Language Teachers to Thrive …
self-confidence in their language skills, whilst being confident about their pedagogical and didactic skills. Horwitz (1996, p. 365), for example, finds that “many
foreign language teachers can experience foreign language anxiety and that this
anxiety can have negative consequences for language teaching”. This language
anxiety might be nourished by that fact that “while a mathematics or history teacher
can prepare the material necessary to a specific lesson, language teachers must
always be ready to speak the language in front of the class” (ibid., p. 367).
Consequently, while teachers of other subjects can compensate for gaps in their
knowledge through preparation, this is more difficult for language teachers who
might not be able to predict the path of a classroom conversation. Additionally,
bearing in mind that language belongs to a person’s whole social being (Williams &
Burden, 1997, p. 115), not (always) being able to express oneself fully in the FL
might also challenge a language teacher’s self-efficacy and professional identity.
This could be a particular risk for teachers who find themselves teaching their
content subject(s) through a foreign language (such as CLIL teachers). As a result,
these teachers’ professional confidence and well-being could be challenged by
potential language problems and/or extra preparation time (e.g., Gierlinger, 2007).
In addition, it has been proposed that the more complex a person’s responsibilities
and task, the more susceptible they will be to stress (Byrne, 1999), which again has
clear implications for those required to take on CLIL responsibilities, potentially
involuntarily in some settings. Also, it has been the nature of the profession,
especially in the private sector, that some language teachers often have to tackle
problems such as being paid low wages and/or having to work on temporary
contracts—two factors that not only influence their general professional job security
but that will also influence their private life plans profoundly. Finally, teaching a
FL, as indeed any subject, in difficult circumstances such as in large and
under-resourced classes is a challenge that many teachers in developing countries in
particular have to face (Kuchah, 2013). Such working conditions not only affect the
overall quality and effectiveness of teaching, but can also affect teachers’ psychological well-being.
3 Teachers’ Psychology in SLA
Although research on language teacher psychology is generally sparse, there have
been some notable exceptions, primarily in the areas of language teacher identity,
cognition and, increasingly so, language teacher motivation. It is important to build
on these in our understandings of language teacher psychology and they also help
us to identify gaps in the field. In this short section, we will consider some of the
main insights gained and what areas remain to be explored.
S. Mercer et al.
Identity and Self-efficacy
Back in the 1990s, educational research and development experienced a revived
interest in teachers’ biographies and life histories with the goal of understanding
teachers and their professional lives. An especially notable finding of such studies
has been the recognition of the “integration of the ‘personal’ and the ‘professional’
sides of becoming and being a teacher” (Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004,
p. 113). SLA has also witnessed a growth in studies focusing on teacher identities,
including also the interconnections between L2 teachers’ professional and social
identities (see, e.g., Clarke, 2008; Johnson & Golombek, 2011; Kanno & Stuart,
2011; Motha, 2006; Simon-Maeda, 2004; Varghese, Morgan, Johnston, & Johnson,
2005). We also agree with the conclusion of Coldron and Smith (1999) who call for
a more holistic view of teachers and their lives, in order to better understand teacher
identity in all its complexity, especially in regard to the individual’s interactions
with various social contexts, not just their professional ones. A potentially unique
facet of L2 teacher identity concerns the relationships between language teachers’
linguistic and professional identities. Work in the area has also drawn particular
attention to the influence of the native-speaker/non-native speaker dichotomy on
teacher identity (e.g., Golombek & Jordan, 2005; Jenkins, 2005; Liu, 2004; Moussu
& Llurda, 2008).
A related self construct, which has received some attention in research, is teacher
self-efficacy, which is associated with teachers’ enthusiasm, persistence and effort
(Allinder, 1994; Milner, 2002). Professional self-efficacy has been defined as being
“the professional’s beliefs in his or her abilities to perform in professional work
roles” (Friedman, 1999, p. 166). For teachers, this can cover areas such as
managing classroom discipline, motivating learners, contributing to classroom
atmosphere, decision-making abilities, relationships with parents etc. (Bandura,
2006). Teacher self-efficacy has been found to be one of the key determinants of
teacher well-being (e.g., Day & Gu, 2010; Friedman, 1999; Tschannen-Moran,
Woolfolk-Hoy, & Hoy, 1998) and connected to job satisfaction and also student
achievement (Caprara et al., 2006). In SLA, Mills and Allen (2007) have investigated French teachers’ self-efficacy and found that native-speaker status makes a
difference to teacher self-efficacy.
Thus, there is a notable basis of work on teacher identity and self-efficacy both in
general education and also SLA. What “has not yet been fully addressed in studies
of language teacher identity are the ways in which intrapersonal factors of teacher
identity intersect with contextual and organizational factors in building that identity” (Hiver & Dörnyei, 2015, p. 2). In other words, there is a need for a more
holistic view and integrated approach to appreciating how teacher identity intersects
with other facets of their psychology (e.g., Richardson, Karabenick, & Watt, 2014)
such as their professional well-being, relationships and various school contexts and
identity importance
Helping Language Teachers to Thrive …
Teacher cognitions are another relatively well-established domain of inquiry in
SLA. Borg (2006) presents a comprehensive overview of the empirical studies
investigating both pre- and in-service teacher cognitions. Research within this area
includes in its scope an array of concepts or constructs such as pedagogical content
(Borg, 1999; Breen, Hird, Milton, Oliver, & Thwaite, 2001); prior learning experiences (Golombek, 1998; Hayes, 2005); language teaching practices (Woods,
1996); language learning processes (Peacock, 2001); identity (Liu & Xu, 2011);
teachers’ beliefs about communicative language teaching (Feryok, 2008; Sato &
Kleinsasser, 1999); impact of teacher development on language teachers’ change in
cognitions and practices (see Kubanyiova, 2012 for a detailed discussion).
A key debate surrounding much of teacher cognition research concerns an
ongoing division between the cognitive and affective dimensions of teachers’
psychology. Yet, what teachers do in the classroom is “irretrievably emotional”
(Hargreaves, 2000, p. 812). Typically, research in this area does not tend to consider how cognitions interact with other psychological constructs such as teacher
emotions and motivations. In a similar vein, Barcelos (2015) also argues that earlier
studies examining the affective dimensions of language learning (Arnold, 1999; So
& Dominguez, 2005) did not consider the role of beliefs in the emotional processes
of teachers and learners. More recently, researchers have increasingly recognized
beliefs to be intrinsically related to emotions and identities (Aragão, 2011; Barcelos,
2015; Barcelos & Kalaja, 2011). Therefore, one of the areas worthy of further
investigation is how teachers’ emotions and beliefs interconnect.
Although student motivation has been a major focus of research in language
learning psychology for many decades, comparatively, there has been a lot less
attention paid to language teacher motivation. Despite limited research in this field,
researchers have found teacher motivation to be associated with not only students’
learning outcomes (Agezo, 2010; Dolton & Marcenaro-Gutierrez, 2011), but also
with teaching quality, engagement, and personal commitment to the profession
(e.g., De Jesus & Lens, 2005; Kunter and Holzberger, 2014).
However, much of existing research on teacher motivation is situated in the general
education context. The absence of a strong body of research on language teacher
motivation is being increasingly recognized (Dörnyei & Kubanyiova, 2014; Falout,
2010; Kubanyiova, 2006). Once again, language teachers’ motivation is especially
interesting given issues surrounding language proficiency and the power, status
dynamics and politics of the native and non-native dichotomy. Clearly, further
research is needed to understand the specific motivations of language teachers, why
they join the profession and why they remain in the profession. Given the growing
S. Mercer et al.
interest in dynamics, it would also be invaluable to learn more about how teacher
motivation fluctuates across different timescales such as during a class or an academic
year. Once again, a more holistic approach examining the links between teacher
motivation and other aspects of their psychology and social settings would be vital.
Other Constructs and Absences
Despite the fact that educational research on teacher motivation, stress, and job
satisfaction has placed an emphasis on the importance for teachers’ well-being of
having autonomy (e.g., Brunetti, 2001; Davis & Wilson; 2000), work on teacher
autonomy in SLA only started more recently (e.g., Benson, 2007; Lamb &
Reinders, 2008; Smith, 2003) and still remains relatively in its infancy, certainly
compared to learner autonomy. A few studies that have explored this field have
shown show its significance not only for learners but also for teachers’ own professional well-being (Pearson & Moomow, 2005).
Related to agency and autonomy is the concept of ‘locus of control’, which has
been shown to be crucially important in combating teacher stress and promoting
professional well-being (Byrne, 1999; Mavroupoulou & Padeliadu, 2002; Rogers,
2012), as have also teacher attributions which have been connected to self-efficacy
as well as perceptions of stress and propensity for burnout (Bibou, Stogiannidou, &
Kiosseoglou, 1999; Chwalisz, Altmaier, & Russell, 1992; Manassero, García,
Torrens, Ramis, Vázquez, & Ferrer, 2006; McCormick & Barnett, 2011; Wang,
Hall, & Rahimi, 2015). Clearly, these are areas of teacher psychology that hold
great promise not only for better understanding the complexity of language teacher
psychology but also for seeking to ensure more positive professional well-being.
Another area with little research at present but with considerable implications for
classroom life and teacher well-being concerns teacher emotions, their emotional
intelligence and ability to self-regulate. Frenzel and Stephen (2013, p. 41) argue
that, “teachers, just like students, experience successes and failures as part of daily
school life, and thus repeatedly feel happiness, sympathy, and anger, etc. Therefore,
any discussion of emotions in the classroom should also focus on those experienced
by teachers”. At present, there exists only limited work on teacher emotions in SLA
(e.g., Cowie, 2011; Daubney, 2010; Daubney & Araújo e Sá, 2012; Horwitz, 1996;
King, 2016; Xu, 2013). This suggests there remains a whole rich underexplored
area for future research.
Thus, whilst there exists a broader empirical basis on teacher psychology in
general education, work within SLA is on the whole considerably less developed.
Although there are some strong areas in the current SLA knowledge base, there
remain underdeveloped areas of research and some clear gaps. In the final section,
we take a more practical view of teacher psychology and consider how we can
support teachers to help them cope with the stresses and strains of being a contemporary language teacher, and to ensure they in fact ‘flourish’ in their professional roles.
Helping Language Teachers to Thrive …
4 Positive Psychology for Language Teacher Well-Being
Given the importance of language teacher well-being for their professional roles, it
is important to understand how to esteem, protect and support those working in this
rewarding but demanding profession. In this respect, recent work introducing
positive psychology to SLA could offer valuable ideas of possible approaches to
take (MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Mercer, 2016).
Seligman (2011, p. 13) sees positive psychology as being concerned with the
topic of ‘well-being’ and the goal as being to increase ‘flourishing’, which is an
expression of well-being. Essentially, well-being is not just the absence of stress
(Holmes, 2005), but is a series of positive states, traits and ways of being that lead
to a person thriving and flourishing in their environment. Seligman explains that
well-being is multicomponential and has several measurable elements. He employs
the mnemonic ‘PERMA’ to help remember them: positive emotion, engagement,
positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. In contrast to traditional
psychology, which has tended to focus on dysfunction and disease, positive psychology concentrates on the positives and on strengths. This means looking not
only at how to combat stress and overcome challenges in our daily teaching lives,
but also at how to build on, promote and nurture our personal and social strengths.
Positive psychology is built upon the three pillars of positive emotions, positive
traits and positive institutions (Seligman, 2011). In this article, given limits of
space, we will focus primarily on the individual and what they can do to promote
their own professional well-being considering the facets of PERMA. However, it
should be noted that the ideal approach to helping teachers flourish involves
adaptation and interventions at the institutional and national level to support and
nurture teachers in their professional roles. It also means we need to continually
reflect on the interaction between teachers and their contexts given that their professional well-being emerges from the interaction between the individual and their
perception of their contexts (see Mercer, 2015).
The first section of PERMA refers to positive emotions. All emotions are necessary but the crucial distinction is that positive emotions have a different function to
negative emotions (MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012, p. 193). Frederickson (2001,
p. 219) asserts that positive emotions tend to “broaden people’s momentary
thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal
resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources”. So, for example, language teachers’ positive emotions (e.g.,
interest, enjoyment, joy) can facilitate the broadening of perspectives by triggering
their curiosity and desire to creatively explore innovative teaching methods.
Consequently, these emotions can help build teachers’ personal resources such as
their intellectual resources and better equip them for their future work and teaching.
Naturally, such positive ‘upward spirals’ (Frederickson, 2009) can help greatly
contribute to teachers’ personal and professional well-being. This broaden-and-build
theory of positive emotions posits that success does not generate positive emotions
but rather positive emotions lead to success (Frederickson, 2009). One possible way
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of focusing more on positive emotions could be for teachers to keep a gratitude
journal reflecting daily on the things they feel positive and grateful for in their
workplace and teaching (Seligman, 2011). Alternatively, teachers could reflect on
the activities that they do that they can rely on to make them feel positive in respect
to their jobs—an activity Holmes (2005, p. 18) refers to as drawing up your ‘bliss
list’. It involves savouring and becoming mindful of the positive experiences you
have as a teacher. Even with negative experiences at work, it can become useful to
reflect on the positives within that experience considering how or what can be
positively gained or learned from the experience.
Engagement is the second facet of PERMA and refers to an action-oriented
concept, which emerges from the interaction of various cognitive, affective and
behavioural elements (cf. Reschly & Christenson, 2012). Cognitive engagement
refers to teachers feeling sufficiently challenged, mentally focused on their teaching
moment and willing and able to invest effort in their teaching. Teachers would be
affectively engaged when they are interested, enjoying their work and feel positively
towards their teaching and pupils. Finally, they would be behaviourally engaged
when they are actively and effectively focused on their teaching, working positively
with pupils and colleagues (see, e.g., Fredericks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004;
Mercer, 2015). Engagement stems from teachers feeling competent and sufficiently
supported and prepared for their roles as well as having goals to focus on and work
towards that they feel they are able to achieve. To promote teacher engagement and
reduce stress, teachers need a sense of purpose, to feel valued, a sense of
self-efficacy and a clear locus of control (Rogers, 2012; Vandenberghe &
Huberman, 1999). Locus of control refers to whether a teacher feels that events are
the result of their own actions and thus within their control (internal locus of
control) or whether they feel a sense of helplessness with events and outcomes
being beyond their control (external locus of control) (see, e.g., Byrne, 1999).
Those with external locus of control have been found to be more likely to suffer
from burnout (Byrne, 1999; Rogers, 2012). To promote a more internal sense of
control, teachers can be encouraged to consider their explanatory styles seeking to
develop a realistic and appropriate degree of optimism and sense of control. For
example, after teaching successes or failures, teachers can reflect on what reasons
there could be for why things worked or did not work. They can then concentrate on
those aspects that can be changed and which are within their locus of control
deciding on what steps need to be taken to initiate change.
The third letter of PERMA refers to positive relationships and Peterson (2006,
p. 249) summarised positive psychology in three words: “Other people matter”.
Relationships serve some of our basic human needs such as our need to belong, to
feel loved and understood, and to be supported socially (see, e.g., Lyubomirsky,
2010; Seligman, 2011). For teachers, research has also shown that social support
and positive collegial relationships are one of the best antidotes to workplace stress
(see, e.g., Rogers, 2012). The other from of relationship that is perhaps the most
important is that which teachers form with their learners. A considerable body of
research has shown that one of the key factors which reduces discipline problems
and promotes positive engagement and learning is a positive teacher-pupil
Helping Language Teachers to Thrive …
relationship (e.g., Frisby & Martin, 2010). There are many steps teachers can take to
develop a mutual relationship of respect and trust. One of the key skills is learning
to stop, listen to pupils’ perspectives and resist judging. Teachers can also ensure a
positive rapport with their students by acknowledging students’ interests, knowing
and using their names, encouraging collaborative learning opportunities in the
classrooms, using positive non-verbal behaviours, showing empathy, and giving
them respect and a role in decision-making processes (see, e.g., Dörnyei &
Murphey, 2003).
The fourth facet, ‘meaning’ is defined by Seligman (2011, p. 17) as a subjective
feeling of “belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the
self”. For teachers, many commence their career and stay in their jobs because they
find the work meaningful and often their initial motivations to become teachers
stem from a sense of meaning derived from their jobs (Steskal, 2015). This makes
this facet one of the strengths teachers can build on, consciously reflecting on and
reminding ourselves of what drew us to the profession and what rewards it can offer
in terms of our meaningful contribution to society and others. It may even be worth
teachers writing down explicitly the meaning that they can draw from their work
and the contribution they are making to something greater than themselves. Another
activity would be to imagine that it is your retirement party and consider who is
there, what they would say about you, how you would feel about what you have
achieved in your professional life and what meaning you draw from your life as a
teacher (idea adapted from Hazelton, 2013).
The final dimension of PERMA is accomplishment, also occasionally referred to
as achievement. This involves setting goals, having future visions and a sense of
self-efficacy that you can achieve them. Accomplishment could be a driving force
for teacher commitment and help teachers to maintain high levels of motivation and
job-satisfaction. However, accomplishment is not something that is given but rather
it is something that individuals need to actively seek to develop. One way of
helping teachers to develop their motivation would be to work on articulating and
formulating their visions of their desired possible future selves (e.g., Dörnyei, 2009;
Dörnyei & Kubanyiova, 2014; Kubanyiova, 2009). Possible selves represent the
“individual’s ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become,
and what they are afraid of becoming” (Dörnyei, 2009, p. 11) and a person’s
imagined future selves are an “incentive for development and change”
(Kubanyiova, 2009, p. 315). Here again teachers can write narrative descriptions of
the teacher they would like to become (Dörnyei & Kubanyiova, 2014, p. 139) and
consider taking part in professional development activities.
5 Conclusions
In this brief article, we hope to have shown how vitally important it is that we
support positive, happy, motivated, engaged teachers who experience their jobs as
appropriately stressful but ultimately enjoyable and rewarding. We feel that it is
S. Mercer et al.
crucial that the field of language learning psychology makes language teacher
psychology equally as much a priority on its research agenda as that of the learner.
Reflecting on what learners need to flourish means we must also think about what
their teachers need to flourish in their professional roles. The well-being of both
teachers and learners are intricately connected. In respect to teacher psychology in
SLA, there remain many exciting avenues of research as yet unexplored and other
areas that can be built upon and expanded further. In practical terms, Durr, Chang,
and Carson (2014, p. 203) make the important point that, “most teacher education
programmes primarily focus on developing a teacher’s arsenal of instructional
strategies and pedagogical skills, but these skills do not seem to help teachers
emotionally handle the stresses of the profession”. Indeed, in their extensive study
of teachers’ lives, Day and Gu (2010, p. 36) argue that teacher professional
well-being is central to their ability to affect their students’ learning and lives. They
propose that supporting teachers in their emotional and personal competences
should become a key part of teacher training and professional development concluding that “experience and research, then, suggest that a dichotomy between
promoting technical competence and personal growth in professional learning is
false, and that ignoring the contributions of teachers’ sense of emotional wellbeing
to their capacities to teach to their best is foolish” (ibid.).
Therefore, we suggest that pre-service and inset teacher training programmes
would do well to equip teachers with the self-regulatory and socio-emotional skills
needed to manage their own levels of stress, emotions, motivation and general
professional well-being. In order to do this, we suggest that positive psychology can
provide some useful directions and interventions, which could support teacher
professional well-being such as through activities centered around the PERMA
model. We hope with this paper to have been able to position teacher psychology
firmly in the forefront of people’s minds and centre stage on the research agenda for
those working in language learning psychology. We hope also to have encouraged
teachers themselves as well as teacher trainers to think seriously about how we
equip and train teachers to cope with the social and emotional demands of their
jobs. Successful language learning depends to a large degree on teachers and, as
such, for all concerned, we must make their professional well-being a priority.
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High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem
as Factors Contributing to Foreign
Language Teacher Stress
Anna Ligia Wieczorek
Abstract Although teacher stress is a widespread phenomenon and a source of
concern nowadays (Jepson & Forrest, 2006; Lazarus, 2006) there are practically no
studies investigating factors evoking stress among foreign language teachers
(Cowie, 2011). In view of the specificity of foreign language teaching, the study
conducted in Poland suggests that there are stressors unique to people who teach
foreign languages (Wieczorek, 2014). At language teaching courses much time is
devoted to well-being of FL learners and the acceleration of their learning, whereas
not much is said about how teachers could cope with heavy demands set upon them.
Our knowledge is also weak with regard to how FL teachers could improve their
well-being and self-esteem, the lack of which contributes to their occupational and
general stress. The focus of the study presented in the paper is on the role of
inhibitions and self-esteem of FL teachers in relation to their knowledge of the
language they teach, and its impact on stress they experience. Using extracts from
transcriptions of semi-structured interviews with teachers of foreign languages, the
author discusses the impact of inhibitions and self-esteem on the stress of these
teachers and their well-being at work.
Keywords Foreign language teacher stress
! Inhibitions ! Self-esteem
1 Introduction
Teacher stress has become a widespread phenomenon and a source of great concern
nowadays (Jepson & Forrest, 2006; Kyriacou, 2001; Lazarus, 2006; Williams &
Gersch, 2004). While, much has been said in relation to teacher stress in general,
there is a research gap in the area of foreign language teachers’ emotions (Cowie,
2011). The emphasis is placed on the affective domain of the learner, whereas the
A.L. Wieczorek (&)
Institute of English, University of Silesia,
Gen. S. Grota-Roweckiego 5, 41-205 Sosnowiec, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_13
A.L. Wieczorek
affective states of teachers also matter in relation to foreign language teaching.
According to Hargreaves (2000), teaching is, especially for foreign language
teachers, very emotional, but Freeman and Richards (1996) are of the opinion that,
unfortunately, the focus of research on teacher development has so far examined
only pedagogical and cognitive concerns, rather than relationships that teachers
have with others in the workplace. Such relationships may affect teacher development and even have an influence on whether a given teacher remains in the
profession or leaves it.
The literature on teacher stress, in general, is voluminous, and seeing that the
area of foreign language stress is underdeveloped, the author of the paper chose to
investigate which factors evoke stress among foreign language teachers. The main
assumption was that, in view of the specificity of foreign language teaching, there
may be stressors that are unique to teachers who teach foreign languages.
A qualitative type of research was selected, hence the principles of the interpretative paradigm to which such research belongs, because these principles are
reputed to produce the most accurate results when utilized to investigate how
people construct the world around them. This also allowed the researcher to get
very close to the ones constructing and presenting the empirical data, and such
closeness would not have been possible in case of quantitative methods (Konecki,
2000). The data was analysed according to the principles of Seidel’s (1998) QDA
(Qualitative Data Analysis) model.
Two clusters of factors emerged from the study results: factors evoking general
teacher stress, and foreign language-specific factors. The general teacher stressors
were compatible with the results of Kyriacou (2001). In the case of foreign
language-specific stressors, a very interesting assumption emerged, and that is that
nearly all of the stressors appeared to be connected with the levels of self-esteem
and inhibition of the investigated teachers. It is not, however, clear whether foreign
language-specific stress factors are caused by low levels of self-esteem and high
inhibitions of teachers, or if it is the other way round.
2 Brief Literature Review on the Selected Aspects
of Teacher and Foreign Language Teacher Stress
Teacher stress has been identified as a major problem in nine out of ten workplaces
(Warren & Towl, 1995) and teachers and teaching unions are increasingly aware and
concerned about this fact (Brown, Ralph & Brember, 2002). In the teaching profession, the issue of occupational stress is extremely important due to the relationship
between stress, potential health problems, and in the reduction in work performance
effectiveness, which stress can lead to (Borg & Riding, 1991; Quick & Quick, 1984;
Van Der Linde, 2000). Teacher stress is also an important dimension to consider when
evaluating teacher-student relationships, especially the negative ones (Yoon, 2002).
As research has demonstrated, teacher stress may not only lead to physical and mental
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
health problems, but it can also affect the quality of teachers’ work and their relationships with students, therefore this issue deserves considerable attention. It may be
assumed that teachers whose mental or physical health suffers due to occupational
stress are not effective workers, who very often are on the leave, or whose performance
tends not to be good enough to pass the knowledge even if they do go to work every
day. Such situation, in turn, results in learners learning in a less effective way, which,
accordingly, may be stressful for their teachers, which, accordingly, may be stressful
for the teachers, which then leads to a vicious cycle of the lack of effectiveness of
teachers and learners because of the stress of the teachers.
The Definition of Teacher Stress
According to Austin, Shah and Muncer (2005), stress is difficult to define for the
reason that it has different implications for different individuals. There were, however, researchers who attempted to define this phenomenon, which, later led others to
develop the definition of teacher stress and burnout from the existing definitions.
When defining teacher stress, most researchers (e.g., Borg, 1991; Wilhelm,
Dewhurst-Savellis & Parker, 2000; Lazarus, 2006; Williams & Gersch, 2004) seem
to unanimously choose the definition constructed by Kyriacou (1987) which says
that “Teacher stress may be defined as the experience by the teacher of unpleasant,
negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, tension, frustration or depression,
resulting from some aspect of their work as a teacher” (p. 3).
Kyriacou (2001) stresses that this definition is linked to a model of teacher stress
that he developed and, in this model, stress is viewed as a negative emotional
experience that can be triggered by teacher’s perception that his/her work situation
is a threat to his/her ego or well-being. Kyriacou (2001) also indicates that some
researchers were of the opinion that stress is the level of pressure and demands
made on an individual, while the reaction to such stress should be called strain.
Leach (1984), though, claims that both usages of job stress he described should be
incorporated into a comprehensible definition of teacher stress that reflects not only
the importance of personal perspectives of the teacher, but also those related to the
school environment as well. Therefore, taking these things into account, Leach
(1984) defines teacher stress as:
a state of the individual in which physiological and biochemical changes in the organism
(such as increased heart-rate, blood pressure or the release of adrenocorticotrophic hormones into the bloodstream) occur as a result of some discrepancy between the teacher’s
perceived work demands and ability, or an anticipation of negative consequences (such as a
threat to self-esteem or well-being) following a failure to cope with demands seen as
important by self or others, or following the frustration of attempts to apply skills effectively to achieve goals perceived as important by the individual by factors in the school
environment (p. 160).
Leach’s definition seems more elaborate and environmental factors are taken
into account there as well. The definition proposed by Kyriacou (2001), however,
A.L. Wieczorek
may imply that environmental factors are also given appropriate importance for the
reason that the negative emotions experienced by a teacher result from some aspects
of his/her work, which can include environmental aspects, as well as personal
aspects or affective factors. This definition is most likely so widely used because it
is accurate, but simple at the same time and therefore, in this paper Kyriacou’s
definition is the definition primarily used.
Sources of Teacher Stress
There have been researchers who attempted to classify and describe the sources of
teacher stress. All those endeavours, however, were modifications of typologies
proposed by Kyriacou (2000) and for that reason only this typology is going to be
described here. Kyriacou (2000) indicates that there are ten areas considered as the
most frequently occuring sources of stress reported by teachers (after Borg, 1990,
Dunham & Varma, 1998). One should, of course, remember that every teacher has
his/her own unique profile of what typically causes his/her stress. Therefore, apart
from the ten main sources of stress that will be elaborated upon in this research, the
primary source of stress for a particular teacher may not be listed here, such as e.g.,
counselling pupils who have problems in their home life.
The ten main sources of stress identified by Kyriacou (2000, pp. 22–35) are:
Teaching pupils who lack motivation.
Maintaining discipline.
Time pressures and workload.
Coping with change.
Being evaluated by others.
Dealing with colleagues.
Self-esteem and status.
Administration and management.
Role conflict and ambiguity.
Poor working conditions.
Some of these sources are interconnected because they simply influence one
another. These are general teacher stressors, but as mentioned earlier, there are very
few researchers dealing with foreign language teacher stress (Cowie, 2011), and
teachers of foreign languages are also exposed to general teacher stressors, apart
from the foreign language teaching-specific ones.
Foreign Language Teacher Stress
Foreign language teachers experience general stress that all other teachers experience as well, however, they are also likely to be exposed to additional factors,
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
triggering stress resulting from the specificity and the emotional character of foreign
language teaching (Brown, 2000; Cowie, 2011; Hargreaves, 2000). A crucial issue,
which makes the specificity of foreign language teaching so important in the context
of occupational stress, is the fact that the language of instruction in the foreign
language classroom is the target language. Teachers of other subjects use their
native language to conduct lessons, whereas foreign language teachers need to use
foreign language in their lessons. They have, of course, been trained to do so, and
one can assume that they are proficient users of the language they teach. On the
other hand, however, if they are not native speakers of the languages they teach,
they are likely not to feel less at ease than they would while speaking their mother
Horowitz (1996) claims that foreign language teachers tend to have negative
feelings towards their language proficiency, often manifested by their anxiety
referring to it. What is more, they need to vary the language input to adjust it to the
level of the group taught, which can also be stressful, especially at the beginning of
one’s career (Harmer, 2003). Furthermore, foreign language teachers are expected
to have high linguistic competence, in addition to pedagogical competence and
competencies referring to the subject matter (Werbińska, 2005). two reasons for special anxiety
Another issue worth raising concerns teaching language skills—foreign language teachers, apart from teaching grammar and vocabulary and tackling various
aspects of foreign culture, need to focus on four language skills in order to help their
learners become proficient users of a foreign language (Harmer, 2003). Teaching
skills entails not only a great ability to do so, but also the ability to adequately
utilize teaching aids such as multimedia, authentic materials and a lot of time. It, in
turn, requires on the side of the teacher good lesson planning skills (Komorowska,
2001). Foreign language teaching is also teaching, apart from skills, learner
autonomy because, according to Brown (2000), no foreign language can be learnt
without at least small degree of autonomy on the side of a learner. It is not an easy
task to teach young people how to be autonomous users and learners of a foreign
language since it requires not only discipline, but also motivation and willingness of
students to learn more (Komorowska, 2001).
have to be autonomous
In examining teaching methods, there seems to be an emphasis to teach foreign
languages using modern methods, for instance the ones stemming from humanistic
psychology (Werbińska, 2005). Teachers teaching other subjects do not seem to be
pressed so much to use so many modern methods. When it comes to teaching
foreign languages utilizing modern teaching methods, it requires that teachers be be
up-to-date with all those methods, which can be problematic, especially for older
teachers and, because of great number of modern teaching methods, it is time
consuming and confusing for some teachers. These factors all may trigger foreign
1. foreign language anxiety
language teaching-specific stress.
2. native-non-native status
3. using foreign language as instruction
4. modern methods
5. have to be autonomous
6. language and culure
A.L. Wieczorek
Teacher’s Individual Factors Determining
Their Proneness to Stress
Although there seems to be many researchers who, so far, have attempted to make
numerous comparisons between various subgroups of teachers, such as young/old
teachers, female/male, or primary/secondary school teachers, etc., the level of stress
reported is, according to Kyriacou (2000), very similar for each of the subgroups.
He (2000) claims that about 25 % teachers describe their job as stressful or
extremely stressful and these people belong to a so-called survival population of
those who are generally able to cope, but where about one person in four experiences the higher levels of stress. Others who found the job too stressful either left it,
or changed their role within it so as to be able to cope with the demands made upon
them. The reason why some teachers cope with the stress they experience at work
and others do not, may lie in their personality.
Jepson and Forrest (2006) are of the opinion that some individual contributory
factors either mediate or moderate the relationship between teachers’ perceived
levels of stress and stressors intrinsic to the job, as well as the environmental ones.
Travers and Cooper (1996) indicate that there are some characteristics that make
certain workers more prone to stress. These characteristics are type A personality,
external locus of control personality, and neurotic personality. Jepson and Forrest
(2006) also state that type A behaviour and level of teacher-specific achievement
striving, which can be defined as a tendency to work hard in order to achieve goals,
contribute to increasing levels of perceived stress.
3 Factors Evoking Foreign Language Teacher
Stress—Qualitative Study
The main objective of this study was to identify factors evoking stress among
foreign language teachers. Although stress is a ubiquitous phenomenon accompanying all human beings and animals throughout their entire lives, and much has
already been said and written about it in general and in relation to teachers in
general, there are practically no accounts of factors evoking stress among foreign
language teachers (Cowie 2011). Cowie (2011) is of the opinion that the area of the
emotions and anxieties of foreign language teachers is understudied and
undertheorised, whereas, taking into consideration the specificity of teaching foreign languages, there are foreign language teacher-specific stressors that are likely
to be found after carrying out relevant research. Winograd (2005) claims that
researchers should understand how important emotions are for teachers; those
not specifically examed
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
emotions, whether they are positive, or negative, have an influence on teacher
development and well-being which, in turn, has influence on the process
of teaching.
Study Objectives
As far as the objectives of the study are concerned, they were as follows:
Main study objective: to identify factors evoking stress among foreign language
teachers. Detached objectives:
• To identify who and what may cause the stress of foreign language teachers.
• To investigate whether, and if so, to what an extent, there are stressors unique to
foreign language teachers.
• To investigate whether there are any significant differences between factors
causing stress while teaching different foreign languages.
• To investigate how the teaching experience influences factors evoking stress
among foreign language teachers.
• To investigate how individual-related and context-related features such as sex
and family situation of a teacher, type of school, education influence factors
evoking teachers’ occupational stress.
The level of the respondents’ stress, their possible personality traits that may make
them more prone to stress, and their affective features, were not diagnosed and
elaborated on as the researcher is not a psychologist and, as a result, may not be
able to carry out such analyses properly.
Study Sample, Techniques and Procedures
The main research technique chosen for the purpose of this study was a
semi-structured, in-depth interview. Another technique used to clarify issues that
emerged as a result of the interviews was a focus-group interview.
The process of sample selection, data collection and analysis took 16 months to
complete. Each interview varied slightly, but the procedure was the same each time
—all the interviews were transcribed, then double-coded and the results were
analysed according to the principles of Qualitative data Analysis (Seidel, 1998).
The sample was composed of 25 teachers teaching foreign languages in various
types of Polish schools (primary, secondary, university; private and public ones).
The sample was non-random and snowball-sampling techniques were applied. The
data was collected till saturation was achieved. Next, a focus interview was carried
out with 8 teachers in order to clarify all the unclear issues that emerged in the
course of data collection.
A.L. Wieczorek
Study Results
As a result of the study, two clusters of stressors emerged: general teacher stressors
and foreign language teaching-specific stressors. The general stressors were compatible with the results of Kyriacou (2000).
General Teacher Stressors
There have been eight groups of stressors relating to teaching in general isolated as
a result of research data analysis, the following groups are:
Discipline problems.
Lack of student motivation.
Low results of students.
The atmosphere at school.
Social pressure on teachers.
Lack of career development prospects.
Conflicts at work and home.
The process of teaching.
All these factors refer to general teacher stressors since teachers of all subjects are
likely to experience them. They also affect foreign language teachers, apart from
foreign language teaching-specific ones which are going to be elaborated on in the
next section.
Foreign Language Teaching-Specific Stressors
In the process of carrying out the study, apart from stressors applying to teaching in
general, there also emerged stressors unique to foreign language teachers. Some of
them appear to be interconnected with the general stressors since they refer to
stressors already elaborated on, but they are also, in a sense, foreign language
teacher specific. These are: lack of job security, work overload, marking, and the
contradictory expectations of others. Those factors are treated not only as general
stressors, but also as foreign language teacher-specific ones since current
socio-economic situation makes the teachers of foreign languages more prone to
such stressors as the lack of job security and work overload, whereas marking and
contradictory expectations of others as foreign language teacher-specific stressors
refer to the specificity of teaching foreign languages.
Three clusters of stressors have been identified: stressors referring to the current
socio-economic situation of foreign language teachers, stressors referring to specific
expectations of others towards foreign language teachers, and stressors referring
exactly to the process of teaching a foreign language.
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
• Socio-economic stressors
– lack of job security;
– teachers of Polish teaching English.
• Stressors associated with expectations of others towards foreign language
– excessive societal demands;
– expectations of students’ parents.
• Stressors directly associated with the process of teaching a foreign language
heterogeneous groups;
lack of equipment and teaching aids;
teaching listening and speaking;
teaching grammar;
implementing new material in a foreign language;
teacher’s own inhibitions.
Primary stressors referring to socio-economic situation of foreign language
teachers relate to the massive firing of those teachers and their difficulties in finding
a new job. It happens due to a variety of reasons, some of which are going to be
discussed, the outcomes, however, always tend to be associated with high levels of
foreign language teacher stress, tension and exhaustion.
The issue of contradictory expectations has already been tackled while discussing the general stressors, but foreign language teachers claim that apart from
expecting contradictory things, people first of all demand more from foreign language teachers than from teachers of other subjects.
When it comes to stressors directly connected with teaching a foreign language,
some of them refer partly to general stressors, and partly to the foreign language
teacher-specific ones. There is, however, a group of stressors which refer directly to
teaching a foreign language and they are going to be elaborated on.
Teaching too heterogeneous groups
A significant number of respondents indicated that too heterogeneous groups make
them stressed at work since teaching a foreign language is very difficult and
sometimes nearly impossible if groups are too diverse. The teachers point out that
sometimes, especially in schools which are popular and have many students, one
class is divided into two language groups according to language levels—for
instance one group are beginners, and the other—more advanced learners of a
foreign language. If a given teacher teaches those divided groups, everything seems
alright, but it often happens that, when a colleague is ill, the language teacher needs
to teach two groups at the same time. The levels are not even, so either one group is
bored, or the other does not benefit from the lesson, is bored and some of its
members start misbehaving. The respondents report that it is very stressful, especially hence they see that such whole class practice in case of heterogeneous classes
A.L. Wieczorek
makes no sense at all, but they need to teach anyway, no matter how much it stands
in contradiction with their believes. The teachers who tackled such problems
indicated that it is foreign language teaching-specific issue since it does not seem as
important in the case of other subject. This situation is also an organizational
problem which influences the process of teaching and triggers, as a result, foreign
language teacher stress. In the previous section the problem of not dividing one
class into two groups was discussed, but as it can be seen, also group division may
entail problems due to reasons mentioned above.
The lack of equipment and teaching aids
The next two stressors refer to similar things and are organizational in nature. These
are the lack of teaching aids and the lack of equipment, such as CD recorders,
overhead projectors, etc. Lack of aids refers here to the lack of items such as
dictionaries, phonemic charts, CD records, etc. Many respondents claim that they
stress much if they do not have a CD recorder since they are not native speakers of
the languages they teach and they would like to present the authentic pronunciation
and language to their learners. They do not feel they are able to do it themselves by,
for example, reading from the transcript that is usually placed at the end of each
teacher’s book.
Teaching listening and speaking
Other two stressors reported by the respondents are connected with teaching two
skills: listening and speaking. Many informants claim that teaching those two skills
makes them really very stressed. First of all, according to the respondents, it is very
difficult to teach skills rather than particular pieces of knowledge, facts that could be
learnt by heart. The teachers stress that they not only teach about the language, but
they also, or even first of all, teach to use language in order to be able to construct
numerous utterances. They point out that they also teach communication and it is not
easy since there are learners who refuse to communicate because of many reasons
such as, for instance, affective factors, the willingness to retain one’s identity, etc.
The respondents claim that teaching such skill as speaking is difficult hence there is
no ready recipe how to do that properly and it all depends on a variety of factors like
a given group and the rapport that a given teacher has with such group, appropriate
teaching aids, teacher’s creativity, teacher’s knowledge about teaching speaking and
even the choice of topics; and this is one stressor. The other one, also connected with
teaching speaking, refers to the unwillingness of many learners to talk. The teachers
state that they sometimes, even though all conditions of a good speaking lesson are
fulfilled, cannot make their learners talk and they find it frustrating hence they feel
they have done whatever was possible to encourage and prepare their learners to
speak in a foreign language, but they then refuse. The teachers admit that teaching
speaking is the most stressful part of teaching a foreign language.
When it comes to teaching listening, it is rated by the respondent as second worst
skill to be taught. Here also the fact that teaching a skill is very difficult plays a role
and, additionally, the fact that teachers very often do not have equipment necessary
to do that. This also triggers stress and frustration for the reason that the teacher
cannot focus on all the skills during the lesson, as it is recommended.
teaching language equals to teaching skills, culture and communication
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
The teachers did not mention teaching the skills of reading and writing as
triggering stress. This may be because no special equipment is required to teach
students how to read and write properly. All the reading texts and models useful
while writing are usually contained in the course book, and even if they are not, it is
enough to copy them. The teachers usually copy materials in advance, so here there
is no threat of something unexpected happening.
Some of the investigated teachers stated that they sometimes are not able to copy
some extra materials at school since either the photocopier is broken, or the school
authorities are of the opinion that it is a waste of money, and they do not allow
teachers to copy materials. This situation is not nice, but they are of the opinion that
it is not stressful for them. They seem to be used to such state of affairs and they do
not mind it.
Teaching grammar
Another stressor connected with teaching a foreign language is teaching grammar.
The respondents are of the opinion that teaching grammar is problematic since there
are vital differences between L1 grammar of the learners and grammar of such
languages as, for instance, English or German. English teachers claim that they find
it especially difficult to teach the present perfect tense hence there is no Polish
counterpart, whereas German teachers report teaching cases as difficult. The
teachers also claim that teaching grammar of a foreign language is difficult because
they try to use that language during the whole lesson and it is difficult to explain
grammar in that language which should be adjusted to the level of learners and also
the willingness to avoid metalanguage makes them nervous. Students, according to
the investigated teachers, do not like learning grammar, they are of the opinion that
it is boring and unnecessary. Especially exercises based on drilling are considered
very mundane.
The teachers also argue that even nowadays, when there is a conviction that
communication and the ability to convey message is most important, some degree
of grammar accuracy is necessary in order to communicate without hindering
understanding. The teachers claim that that they would like to devote more time to
teaching grammar, but they cannot since they want to teach according to the sylteach something really different
labus. This is also a source of frustration and stress.
Implementing new material using foreign language
The next stressor is closely connected with the previous issue since it is the issue of
explaining and implementing new material in a foreign language. Here again the
respondents claim that it is very difficult if one is to do that in accordance with the
principles of foreign language teaching methodology which specifies that whenever
possible the explanation and instruction should also be conducted in that very
language. The language should be also appropriate in relation to the level of a given
group. This all makes it stressful for many respondents who emphasize that they did
not have enough practice at university and they simply do not know how to manage
that. It can be assumed that it comes with the experience of a teacher since after
teaching a foreign language for a few years the teacher have already worked out
their own strategies of implementing new material using foreign language. They
A.L. Wieczorek
more, less know what to expect in relation to their students’ level and they do not
try to use foreign language all the time, what is a typical feature of teachers new in
the profession. It was obvious from the research results that it is young and inexperienced teachers who worry most about implementing new material in a foreign
language. Their older colleagues stated that they, all knew how to make the students
understand and, they do not insist on teaching everything in that language being
taught. Their primary goal was student comprehension.
There are certain areas of teaching a foreign language where, according to the
opinion of the study respondents, it is better to switch to the mother tongue of
students. When asked to explain it, the teachers gave examples of teaching
beginners new vocabulary items. They stated it was not possible to explain the
meaning of new items of vocabulary in a descriptive way because beginners would
not understand it. In case of teaching children they said they tried to use pictures,
but when teaching adult beginners, it was not as easy, since many abstract concepts
were elaborated on and they could not be illustrated by a simple drawing. Besides,
adults like being given Polish counterparts and laugh when they are shown pictures.
Teachers’ own inhibitions
The last group of foreign language teaching-specific stressors refers to the problems
and inhibitions that the teacher has as a speaker of a foreign language. These
problems may be partly responsible for the stressors mentioned above since teachers
report that they are stressed and frustrated by their own lacks in vocabulary, pronunciation problems and the necessity to speak a foreign language at all times within
the classroom setting. Many respondents claimed they were ashamed of themselves
and embarrassed in situations when they were asked by their learners about certain
items of vocabulary which they did not know. They were extremely afraid of losing
face in such situations and reacted nervously, either reprimanding their learners for
not knowing that vocabulary items themselves, or assigning finding the answer to
their own question as homework. The teacher respondents stated they were aware
that such behaviours discouraged learners from asking questions, which is not good
since it leads to many problems with understanding. The teachers indicated they felt
remorse, which ass stressful since they blamed themselves and, they cared too much
about their own lack of vocabulary knowledge, which added to their stress.
After the individual interviews were carried out and the results were analysed, a focus
group interview was conducted in order to clarify some issues tackled by the interview
informants. The issues needing clarification concerned lack of equipment and teaching
aids, implementing new material in the target language, or teaching grammar and
language skills as sources offoreign language teacher stress. During the focus interview,
it was revealed that nearly all of the above stressors were the result of the teachers’
inhibitions and low self-esteem with regard to the language they were teaching.
Below there are three narratives obtained from respondent responses, which
demonstrate the issues of teachers’ inhibitions and self-esteem as primary factors in
foreign language teacher stress.
I am really stressed when it turns out that my CD recorder doesn’t work. I can’t
imagine reading from the transcript since I’m not a native speaker of English and I
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
know I make many mistakes, I mean pronunciation, etc. I’m extremely afraid of
losing face in front of my students or colleagues. (Respondent 8, translation mine)
It is apparent that the teacher is afraid of losing face in front of her students because
she has inhibitions concerning her own pronunciation. For that reason, the lack of
equipment is an indirect stressor, whereas teacher’s own pronunciation is the primary stressor.
I know I’m not a walking dictionary, but I tend to get embarrassed when a
student asks about a vocabulary item I don’t know. I’m aware I don’t need to know
everything, but I don’t have high self-esteem levels as a Spanish teacher, I feel I’m
not a very good speaker of the target language though I should be. (Respondent 7,
translation mine)
Here, in turn, it is clear that the teacher is uneasy about her own knowledge of target
language vocabulary and unaware of the fact that it is not possible, even for a native
speaker, to know all vocabulary items of a given language. It testifies that this
teacher is very inhibited and doubts her own capabilities.
People [native speakers of English] often tell me I’m a fluent English speaker,
but I know that’s not true. While speaking to my students I hear my mistakes, I
know I should not be a teacher because I’m not proficient enough. (Respondent 2,
translation mine)
This respondent seems to have a really low level of self-esteem when it comes to
the language she teaches. The respondent seems to be petrified while speaking to
her students for fear of making mistakes.
These three examples of narrations were the most controversial ones, however all
the teachers but one, who participated in the focus interview, mentioned that they are
afraid of losing face when they teach a language, that they have low levels pf
self-esteem with regard to their language competence and that they are in general
afraid of making mistakes because they treat it as a failure. The focus interview results
suggest that most foreign language-specific stressors seem to derive from teachers’
inhibitions and low levels of self-esteem with regard to the language they teach.
4 Discussion of the Study Results
As a result of the study, two clusters of stressors emerged. The first group constitute
stressors that are general teacher stressors, so they concern teachers of all subjects.
Respectively, they also concern foreign language teachers who are exposed to
general teacher stressors as well as to foreign language teaching-specific ones. The
stressors relating to the specificity of foreign language teaching were divided into
three groups. The socio-economic stressors of foreign language teachers concerned
only the teachers of English and therefore they cannot be treated as foreign
language-specific for all foreign language teachers. Besides, lack of job security can
also be categorized as triggering general teacher stress. As far as expectations of
others towards foreign language teachers are concerned, it is visible that these are
quit high, bit on the other hand, nowadays general expectations of the society
A.L. Wieczorek
towards all teachers are high therefore this group of stressors cannot be treated as
referring to foreign language teaching only.
The third group of stressors refers directly to the specificity of foreign language
teaching. They relate to the heterogeneity of the learner group, lack of equipment
and teaching aids, teaching the skills of listening and speaking, teaching grammar
and implementing new material using the target language. After the conclusion of
the focus interview, the study results revealed that all of these stressors, except
teaching too heterogeneous groups, are connected with teachers’ low levels of
self-esteem and high inhibitions with regard to the taught language.
The inhibitions concerned teachers’ mistakes, lacks in vocabulary and general
fear of losing face. Many teachers admitted to being ashamed of their pronunciation
and becoming stressed as a result. Study results indicate a tendency for older teachers
to be more ashamed of their pronunciation and to report it more often that teaching
pronunciation is for them problematic because of their own flaws. It may be the
result of different teaching paradigms in the past—the emphasis was on grammar and
direct translation, but not on pronunciation and, for instance listening skills.
There were two teachers in the sample who stated that the necessity to speak a
foreign language makes them stressed. Their explanation, however, suggested that
this stressor is triggered by their doubting their own capabilities as speakers of a
foreign language.
5 Conclusions
Teaching a foreign language is very specific because foreign language teachers do
not only have to choose appropriate teaching methods in accordance with the policy
of the school they work in and/or with their own believes about teaching, but they
should also take the issue of learner differences and individual variations into consideration. Learning a foreign language is a sensitive matter, because people engage
emotions in learning the language and these emotions are varied. Learner differences
such as learner styles, individual variations, etc. (Brown, 2000; Harmer, 2003) need
to be taken into consideration as well. Additionally, teachers are non-native speakers
of the target language they teach and they are exposed to stress as a result.
Hargreaves (2000) claims that teaching is very emotional in nature and in the
case of foreign language teachers, it may be even more emotional due to the fact
that teaching a foreign language entails emotional challenges to one’s sense of self
and identity that it implies, because of the necessity to learn, speak and then teach a
language which is not their native language.
According to Brown (2000), learning and teaching a foreign language is a very
emotional process since it requires changing one’s ego and for that reason many
people find it problematic. Horowitz (1996) states that foreign language teachers
tend to have negative feelings towards their language proficiency, often manifested
by their anxiety referring to it. Foreign language teachers have to not only fight their
own inhibitions to use the target language while giving explanations and
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
instructions, but they also need to help their learners fight their inhibitions concerning learning a new language. Of course, the fact that foreign language teachers
claim to be stressed because of their inhibitions and low levels of self-esteem
concerning the language taught, does not necessarily mean that they are not good
teachers, or proficient users of language. They may simply doubt their capabilities
due to low levels of general self-esteem or because of the attitudes of the society
towards all teachers nowadays. It is, for sure, an issue worth investigating further.
Limitations of the Study
The study was qualitative in nature, so the results were not presented in the form of
numbers and percentages. The author tried to describe what makes the foreign
language teachers stressed and frustrated at work and what the roots of the stressors
enumerated by those teachers are. All possible measures were taken to make the
process of collecting the data and carrying out the analysis objective and transparent. There were, however some limitations of the study. There was not an even
sex distribution among the respondents, so it could not be investigated how sex
moderates factors evoking stress of foreign language teachers. There were practically no differences referring to stressors and situations triggering stress declared by
male and female teachers, but the author feels that, if there were more male teachers
in the sample, some differences might be visible. Also the levels of stress were not
diagnosed, so the stress levels reported by the respondents were declarative. On the
other hand, thanks to the nature of qualitative research, the author had the chance to
be really close to the investigated teachers and learnt a lot about their stress,
especially due to the research technique which was an in-depth interview allowing
for exploration of the topic if such opportunities arose. The saturation was achieved,
so an assumption could be risked that the problem has been explored. When it
comes to the limitations, thanks to further research all the things that were not
explored can be investigated in the future.
Suggestions for Further Research
The qualitative research that was applied is by definition explorative in nature, so it
might be assumed that the research brought new insights into foreign language
teaching. On the other hand, the research was not based on random large sample, so
the results should be interpreted cautiously. In the future a model of factors triggering foreign language teacher stress could be proposed and tested on the large
sample in the future. This may allow the researcher to verify if the results are
invariant with regard to specific research context, e.g., age, sex of the teachers and
the type of school that they work in. Furthermore, the stress levels and personality
traits of the prospective respondents could be diagnosed by the use of special
A.L. Wieczorek
batteries of tests designed by psychologists. This would allow for the further
exploration of the problem and may give new insights with relation to teacher
stress, but also coping strategies of foreign language teachers and the burnout
syndrome which is often the outcome of long-term occupational stress. Also a more
even sex distribution among the respondents would ensure more objectivity with
regard to sex affecting factors evoking stress of foreign language teachers.
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“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How
Emotions Impact Teacher Professional
Elena Gallo
Abstract The role that affective factors play in the teacher professional development (PD) process has not been sufficiently investigated. This emotional work still
remains a neglected, “untapped vein” (DiPardo & Potter, in Vygotsky’s educational
theory in cultural context. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 317–45,
2003). Approaching PD as a self-determined task that involves a sequence of
decisions and actions theoretically frames the perspective in this study which
examines the ways teachers relate to their own learning processes. Open-ended
questionnaires distributed before and after teacher workshops and follow-up
semi-structured qualitative interviews were used to explore how ten university
language teachers proceed in accomplishing their PD. Four kinds of teacher goals
(instructional, occupational, developmental and affective-emotional) and three
appraisal patterns in teacher learning behaviour emerged, with critical consequences
for the two professional teacher profiles that were identified. The results prove a
close link between positive emotions and teacher professional development and
confirm some of the essential functions of positive emotions.
Keywords Teachers’ emotions
University language teachers’ professional
development (TPD) Role of goals in TPD Affective-emotional goals Teachers’
learning behaviour
1 Introduction
The currently crucial goal of educating life-long learners impinges on the need to
build life-long ‘learning’ teachers. However, the diverse challenges that the
endeavour of teacher professional development (TPD) involves are often
under-estimated. Professional development has been a long debated topic in teacher
E. Gallo (&)
Sprachenzentrum, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München,
Schellingstraße 3/Rückgebäude, 80799 Munich, Germany
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_14
E. Gallo
education literature, and has been developed from many perspectives. Generally
there has been the tendency to regard the topic from a technical-rationalist point of
view (Golombek & Doran, 2014; Van Veen & Sleegers, 2006), whereby the focus
was on the teachers’ body of knowledge, on what teachers need to know and do
(Blackmann, 1989, p. 2) or on the effects of teacher training and development
programmes on teacher practices. This view on teachers’ development mostly
focused on what the promoting and hindering factors for the programmes were and
assumed a rather passive conceptualisation of teachers, whereby PD is ‘done to’
them (Campbell, McNamara, & Gilroy, 2009, p. 47). The link between the teacher’s actions and the mental processes was assumed to be almost causal.
New perspectives on TPD in the last few decades have assumed a different
perspective viewing teachers as active agents who self-determine their own agendas. This developmental perspective emphasises the active role of teachers as they
create their professional knowledge and interact with their contexts. More interest
has thus been aroused in how teachers cope with complexities and in the mental
processes emerging out of teaching experiences in social contexts (Golombek &
Doran, 2014; Johnson, 2009).
Along with this shift in research interest in teacher learning, some scholars have
recently put forward the increasing importance of teachers’ emotions in TPD and
pointed to emotions as a critical feature in understanding how contextual factors
affect teacher’s well-being (Liebermann, 2010). Within this new perspective on
teacher education, emotions have been mainly associated with external causes and
contextual factors, such as imposed reform agendas and policies or norm systems
(DiPardo & Potter, 2003; James, 2010; Van Veen & Sleegers, 2006; Zembylas,
2003), implementation of teacher projects (Kennedy, 2013), or with burn-out
manifestations (James, 2010).
Recently, the necessity to uncover the interconnection between emotion and
cognition in teacher development has come to the foreground. Hargreaves (1998,
2000), Nias (1996), and Van Veen and Sleegers (2006, p. 86), among others, argue
for the importance of attending to teachers’ emotions as inseparable from their
cognitions. In a recent line of research, the interest has shifted to the internal
processes involved in teacher learning (Johnson, 2009). Still, very few studies have
investigated the impact of emotions in teacher learning. Two are summarised here
for their relevance for language teachers. In one of the few empirical accounts to
date, Kubanyiova (2012) has begun to explore language teachers’ emotions and
incorporated them into teachers’ development. She expands Gregoire’s (2003)
Cognitive–Affective Model of Conceptual Change and demonstrates the relationship between emotion and cognition based on the concept of cognitive dissonance.
She concludes that cognitive dissonance is necessary but insufficient for conceptual
change. Central in her model are teachers’ appraisals that determine the extent to
which the teachers feel implicated and the depth of their conceptual change. Central
as well is also the ‘reality check appraisal’ of resources, however it leaves
unspecified what these resources are. In another empirical study Golombek and
Doran (2014) analysed the way emotions of novice language teachers emerged in
their journals. The teachers’ emotional responses to teaching were investigated for
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact …
their indexical value, as signals to areas of positive growth or growth points, or
areas where further development is needed or desired. Nonetheless, many aspects of
TPD and the impact of emotions on internal teachers’ learning processes have rarely
been investigated. This is the focus of this study.
2 The Perspective
This article draws on an empirical study which was the basis of my Ph.D. dissertation (Gallo, 2012). This qualitative study investigated how university language
teachers approach their own professional development. There are not many conceptualisations of teachers’ learning behaviour and the few existing models of PD,
for example Wallace’s (1991) Reflective Model, are not holistic, in that they fail to
take account of affective factors. Therefore, two perspectives were combined and
adapted to frame this study. First, because this investigation looks at university
language teachers as autonomous learning professionals whose professional progress is in their own hands, it draws on the concept of ‘autonomous teachers’ (Smith
& Erdogan, 2008). This implies that teachers are not considered ‘self-instructed
learners without teachers’ or that their learning simply occurs ‘outside the classroom’ (Benson, 2008, p. 23 quoting two misconceptions of autonomous learning
highlighted by Little, 1991). This study rather emphasises both the capacity to
self-direct one’s own learning as a teacher (Smith, 2000) and the need for teachers to
take on the responsibility for their own professional learning. By adopting this
perspective I looked at TPD as a self-determined task with the teacher in charge of
the core decisions involved, i.e., setting goals, deciding on methods and contents,
implementing, monitoring and self-assessing (Holec, 1981; Schunk, Pintrich, &
Meece, 2010). This approach enables us to operationalise teacher PD as a
self-determined sequence of actions that teachers undertake when they intend to
change, innovate or do something in order to professionalise themselves.
Second, because goals play a key role in directing learning behaviour (Dörnyei
& Ottó, 1998, p. 44; Schunk et al., 2010, pp. 35–40, 139–156), the action sequences
at the basis of action control theory (Achtziger & Gollwitzer, 2010; cf. also the
Process Model of L2 Motivation by Dörnyei & Ottó, 1998) were deemed to be very
useful for this investigation. Action control theory (Kuhl, 2000, pp. 114–117),
intended to explain the processes that facilitate enactment of intentions, fits into this
study better to conceptualise teachers as agents.
This procedure not only emphasises both the prominence of goals in teachers’
PD and the active and participatory role of the teachers. It also enables us to
represent teachers’ development in a dynamic way and to holistically expand the
action sequence of PD, including affective and individual characteristics.
The main research question of the original study was: How do university language teachers approach their own professional development? Other research
questions that are relevant for this paper are: What role do affective factors play in
the professional development of the teachers?
E. Gallo
3 Methodology
Context and participants—The data originate from a TPD-project, KommUNIkation,
which ran from 2005 to 2007 at the Language Centre of Ludwig Maximilian
University in Munich. I was the coordinator. The project offered workshops and
targeted materials for academic purposes in five European languages (English,
French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish). The aim of the workshops was to support
the professional development of language teachers at Bavarian universities.
The main characteristics of the ten teachers who were interviewed are as follows:
they are all female, have different L1s (Chinese, English, German, Polish, Italian,
Dutch, Spanish) and were teaching their L1s (except two German teachers who
taught English for Intercultural communication and English for translation classes).
They all hold a university degree and were working at Bavarian universities mostly
as freelancers (n = 7), without being employed by them (this corresponds to the
American Adjunct Professor). Two teachers held a permanent position, although
only one as a teacher). Their years of teaching experience ranged from 7 to
30 years. With one exception, none of the teachers began language teaching with
specific training for foreign language teaching. They participated in the interviews
on a voluntary basis.
Data collection and procedure—The study included two phases. In the first
phase (2005–2007) four cycles of workshops were offered and targeted materials
for academic purposes were developed. One specific feature of the programme was
the “reflective frame”. This consisted of distributing reflective questionnaires before
and after the workshops. The reflective frame was thought to be an important tool to
have the teachers pause for some minutes and reflect on themselves as learning
professionals. The questionnaires included open-ended questions, respectively nine
before the workshops and eleven after the workshops. They were intended to
address the appraisal system of the teachers, and asked them to reflect on the
relevance of the workshops for them, their expectations, their prior knowledge etc.
before the workshops began and to reflect on their learning gains after the
In the second phase (2009–2010), 10 of the approximately 120 teachers who
attended the workshops were contacted for a follow-up interview. The questions
asked about their current job situation, their expectations about language teacher
development programmes or teacher training in general, their opinions about the
benefits they felt they had from KommUNIkation, their motivation to teach and their
development over time. The duration of the interviews amounted on average to
about 90 min. In one case it took three hours. All interviews took a positive course.
The openness of the teachers in interview was remarkable. The interviews were
mainly conducted in English or German (one in Italian) and were transcribed by
mother tongue speakers.
The data gathered consisted of handwritten entries in the questionnaires, and
audio-recorded answers from the interviews. Both were transcribed. Each interview
resulted in a transcription of on average 10 double-sided pages.
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact …
what is constructivism!!
Research Design—In designing the programme it seemed fundamental to
assume a constructivist perspective. Constructivism sees people as active agents
and focuses on the active role of the learners in the process of learning (Lantolf,
2003; Lantolf & Appel, 1994; Vygotsky, 1978). From this perspective, learning is
the very personal accomplishment of constructing one’s own knowledge from
experience in the social context. Constructivist approaches to learning accentuate
the ways in which learners create their understandings (Williams, 1999, p. 12) and
consider it to be central to learning that learners become aware of their existing
knowledge and schemata (ibid. p. 13).
The criteria for choosing the participants were mainly based on methodological
concerns and pragmatic reasons. They proceeded on the basis of a “purposive
sampling” (Flick, 2009, p. 122) for the “maximal variation” to be achieved,
choosing “few cases but (…) as different as possible” (pp. 122–3 quoting Patton,
2002). Pragmatic reasons had an impact on the sampling in the plurilingual and
flexible approach to conducting the interviews either in English or in the language
the participants felt most comfortable with (for the majority of the teachers, German
was a foreign language). In some cases the interviews were conducted in a mixed
mode, with questions in one language and answers in another, according to the
teachers’ degree of confidence. Ethical issues were considered by asking the participants for their consent prior to participating.
Analysis—An exploratory and qualitative approach in this study was adopted for
the data analysis as being better positioned to help discover the unresearched domain
of the personal and emotional contribution of the teachers to their own development.
In the process of data analysis deductive and inductive categories were used. Apart
from a few ‘sensitising concepts’ “that suggest directions along which to look”
(Flick, 2009, p. 473) as the process of analysis began, the categories were developed
inductively by focusing on the concepts emerging from the data. This assured that
the participants’ points of views were included in the analysis. A system of categories then evolved that were “grounded in the data” (Freeman, 1996, p. 371; Glaser
& Strauss, 1967) and guided by the meanings the participants expressed in the
interviews. The definition of categories in the process of data analysis, followed an
iterative approach (Freeman 1996, p. 371), with a cyclical return to the data.
4 Results
The most difficult question for the majority of the teachers was the one about what
goals the teachers had set for their own professional development or how they
would like to develop as teachers (similar difficulties are described by Lortie, 1975).
The questions were all open-ended, with no right or wrong response and the
teachers could express as many goals as they could think of. Only a few teachers
answered with ease and were accustomed to reflecting on their professional goals.
E. Gallo
Four kinds of dimensions in teachers’ goals were identified: instructional, occupational, developmental and affective-emotional, and will be elaborated on in the
Instructional goals relate to those answers whereby teachers focus on issues
such as supporting students’ learning or instructional matters. “Having visuals and
oral aids to make classes very interesting” are typical answers of this type of goal.
This is understandable and recalls what Nias (1989) argues, pointing out that we as
teachers are socialized into this tradition of love and caring as the basis of teaching
and that teachers tend to identify with their classes (p. 157). Also Lortie (1975)
argues that teachers’ “core psychic rewards come from feeling that their teaching
efforts are successful” (p. x).
Occupational goals Three teachers were concerned with what their profession
meant for their livelihood. Important aspects included teaching more hours and
having many classes, as well as retaining students, since the consequence of losing
them would mean not being capable of sustaining themselves financially and not
being capable of living on their limited income. This type of goal is understandable
as well and shows that some teachers regard teaching in the same way as anyone
who has an occupation.
Developmental goals address projects the teachers may have for their career as
teachers, or professional development plans. Five teachers explicitly made this
distinction clear and related their development goals to their own learning process
as teachers. The answers include “having increased awareness of what I am doing”,
“being on top of things”, “publishing a book”, “avoiding becoming ‘lazy’” or “I
want to be a colleague to others and I want them to be colleagues to me”. The last
answer (“I want to be a colleague to others and I want them to be colleagues to me”)
suggests that professional goals also have a social dimension. Overall, the results
indicate that only half of the teachers were able to set own professional goals and
could see their own learning as distinct from their learners’ learning. This result is
somewhat surprising because the question asked what development they would
envisage for themselves and what goals they had set for their own learning.
Affective-emotional goals relate to affective and emotional aspects of the
development process. Teachers refer to long-term goals that express a well-being
factor for them: “being happy as a language teacher until retirement” and “growing
old as a language teacher”. Only two teachers expressed these goals which convey a
strong sense of mission for their work on the part of the teachers and stress the
importance of a holistic perspective on teachers.
With regard to goal setting, the data indicate that:
1. Only half of the teachers (n = 5) saw their own learning goals as distinct from
their learners’ goals and had set own professional goals.
2. Only a few teachers were aware of the many dimensions of their development
and had multiple goals, ranging from obvious and immediate instructional goals
(learners’ learning is their focus) to professional and affective-emotional goals
(their own professional learning and their well-being are their focus).
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact …
Fig. 1 Patterns in teachers’
realisation of goals
The affective-emotional goals were the most difficult to grasp. The question
arises as to what their function is in relation to the PD process. To shed more light
on the significance of affective-emotional goals, the ways the teachers achieve their
goals will be analysed, and how the goals interact with the individual characteristics
of teachers’ learning behaviour and other factors.
Realisation of Goals
The focus in this section is on teachers’ learning behaviour, i.e., on what they
decide to do and how they proceed to achieve their goals. For reasons of brevity, in
this article I have reduced an action sequence to its minimum: task planning,
realisation, self-evaluation1 (Fig. 1).
What stands out in the ways teachers act and implement their decisions related to
their professional development are their appraisal forms. These refer to the forms of
immediate and spontaneous appreciation of the task or subtask at hand. As Lazarus
(1991) explains, an appraisal involves an evaluation of the “significance of what is
happening for our personal well-being” during an encounter with the environment
(p. 354). Three forms of appraisal emerged. They can occur at any point of the
action sequence (cf. arrows pointing from right to left in Fig. 1), and can refer to
short actions of a few minutes or long term initiatives (projects, classroom implementations, engaging with theoretical issues, etc.). They are listed below and present the following characteristics.
The first form of appraisal shows teachers with a positive (+) “appraisal with
action”. This pattern refers to those teachers who see a learning opportunity in a
situation, accept it, roll up their sleeves and do something, i.e., some kind of action
follows, such as implementations in the classroom, follow-up readings, reflection
activities, etc. The teachers assign a ‘value’ to new ideas or input (encountered for
example during a workshop or in other situations) and then actively engage with
them afterwards. Some examples to illustrate them are the following.
Self-evaluation will be not dealt with in this article. For the results related to this aspect cf. Gallo
E. Gallo
Appraisal of reflective activities—The teachers attending the workshops offered
by the programme KommUNIkation received the reflective questionnaires designed
to let them reflect for a few minutes on their objectives, expectations, etc. Some
teachers engaged in the task at hand, perceived the reflective questionnaires as
useful (positive appraisal of the situation) and completed the questions (i.e., an
action followed the appraisal). Teacher A54 was the only one to explicitly address
the questionnaires as a learning opportunity during the interviews and was one of
the few teachers who completed all the questions in the questionnaires:
Q.: And do you think you need more support for your professional development as a
language teacher?
Teacher A54: That’s a good question. I mean what you did…, what I liked, was that you
had this very complex structure from beforehand, you know, asking people what their
expectations were, and what their general philosophy of teaching was […] and then to think
about ‘what have I learned from it [the workshop]’. So you followed through the whole
process of us attending the workshop, holding our hand all the way through. So I think this
promoted the sense that you could get something out of the workshop. Because otherwise
you might go in, and find one or two ideas, but you don’t really reflect on the learning
process in attending the workshop, so that was helpful.
Of course, in the cases when the task at hand (in this example the reflective
questionnaires) was positively appraised, then a deeper level of reflection was
reached compared to those teachers who did not get involved in the task. Moreover,
the teachers who did engage in the task may have uncovered aspects of self, so a
sense of self-discovery added to the reflective gains.
Class implementations—These appraisal patterns refer to cases when the
teachers try to implement in their teaching interesting and appealing ideas and
methods that they encountered during the workshops.
Q.: How different from now did you see your teacher’s role in the language classroom at
the beginning of your career?
Teacher P73: In part, not totally. I try, although it does not always work, to avoid playing
the main role in the classroom, I try, I try.
Q.: Was it like this also before or is it something new?
Teacher P73: New, and such seminars did help me to recognise this. Otherwise I would
have not come up with the idea that I am not always the main person in the classroom!
Teacher A54 provides many examples of this appraisal pattern, one of which is the
following. Talking about attending a well-known international conference for
teachers of English as a Foreign Language, she recounts how pervasive her
engagement is with ideas from workshops or alike:
Teacher A54: […] we were dealing with spoken English, just a special interest of mine,
where we were talking about […] this ellipsis […] and now that I’ve got this concept of
ellipsis, I’m looking all over the place: I’m looking on the internet, I look in magazines, I
think a little bit about the different softeners and intensifiers that we use that kind of fill in
the spaces that ellipsis leaves, and then do exercises around those. … I wouldn’t know
which words to ask for if I didn’t have the concept of ellipsis in my head.
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact …
These teachers engage in numerous activities for their professional growth. As a
result of trying ideas out in classroom activities and of expending efforts and
energies, the teachers obtain multiple benefits: they commit to their professional
development goals, they experience greater involvement and also have a tangible
outcome, which is a catalyser of motivation (Schunk et al., 2010, p. 227).
Moreover, another important consequence of the appraisal forms of this first type is
that the teachers move from one action to the next and enter a sort of emotional and
professional “upward spirals” (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002) or a kind of “flow”, in
other words they grow.
A second form of appraisal is “appraisal without action”. This form refers to
teachers’ positive (+) appraisal of the situation or of the task at hand whereby,
despite recognising a benefit or a learning opportunity, no subsequent action is
taken. Illustrations of this second form of appraisal refer to classroom activities.
Some teachers reported having appreciated ideas and methods encountered during
the workshops. However interesting and appealing the content of the workshop
might have been, though, these ideas and methods were not always implemented in
the teachers’ classes. Time or difficulty are mostly the reasons the teachers indicated
for not being able to carry something out. Teacher I312 best exemplifies the former.
Teacher I312: Yes, the film one. I’ve used films, but Lernstationen [carousel workshop] I
couldn’t use because it’s too much work, you know, and when we teach people we have
them for ninety minutes, and that’s not really enough time.
‘Time’ is used by the teachers in two contexts: first, it refers to an activity that is too
time-consuming for the teachers in the lesson preparation phase, when the teachers
create new materials. Second, ‘time’ also refers to implementation of new materials
that is too time-consuming for classroom learning. New activities, then, can hardly
compete with old established routines: whereas traditional or well-known materials
and methods seem to be quicker to manage, new materials slow down the work or
learning pace, which cannot be afforded when the lessons only last 90 min. Thus,
despite appreciation, the teachers’ subsequent action is stopped and new methods or
ideas are discarded.
Time was one of the main reasons why no action followed the teachers’ positive
appraisals. Difficulty is another reason and Teacher J106 is cited in the following to
exemplify this issue. She attended a workshop on language processability and
found it very interesting. Nevertheless, during the interview she also reported that
she did know how to apply this knowledge. She was indeed more knowledgeable
about the stages of language development but unable to transfer this knowledge to
her classroom situations:
Teacher J106: The handouts and programmes he [the referee] had were all based on
English, but I wanted to have it in German and actually work with it […] I had to apply it.
[…] It was too difficult. I mean I know now that there are steps [the stages of development],
I know that now, that changed my way of thinking, but I don’t know exactly how, you
know? I understand the point, but I don’t know how it works. I know what they are and I
know, I can see it. But I cannot pin it down.
E. Gallo
The transfer competence required from the participating teachers to apply content,
knowledge or input of the workshops to their teaching context was too difficult for
her and sparks a sense of helplessness and uneasiness which she cannot resolve
alone. Tailored materials for her specific teaching situation (German as a second
language) would be necessary to help her fully understand their meaning, as she
reported in the interview, and exchanges with other colleagues, which was unfortunately missing due to lack of time. Loneliness is another emotion that percolates
through the teachers’ accounts.
The examples cited above show that when teachers were inhibited in the
implementation of ideas and methods encountered in the workshops, they were also
unable to establish ownership over their professional development. Their level of
engagement was lower when compared to their colleagues presented above in 1.
(positive appraisal with action). Consequently, the expenditure of energies and
efforts for these teachers displaying the second appraisal pattern is also lower,
which is assumed to affect motivation (Schunk et al., 2010, p. 5). Furthermore, this
pattern of teachers’ appraisal is beset with negative emotions.
The third form of appraisal is a negative one (-): there is no appreciation of the
task or learning situation and no action is undertaken. One example of this pattern is
again the appraisal of the reflective questionnaires: a number of teachers did not
complete the questionnaires at all. Teacher B282, for example, left almost all
questions unanswered and, as she stated during the interview when asked about the
usefulness of the questionnaires, she did not find them useful. This might point to a
difficulty addressed in the literature whereby the teachers’ disposition to reflect is
less than minimal (Aoki, 2002).
Besides those teachers who left their questionnaires blank, one of the best
examples of this appraisal pattern is represented by the teachers’ engagement with
theoretical issues. Unlike teacher N51 or teacher A54, who looked for answers and
solutions in theories when they had teaching problems, other teachers refuse to
engage with theoretical issues, using strong emotional expressions, like the
Teacher I312: Engaging with theoretical issues: this is difficult, I just don’t do it.
Teacher M171: I hate theory, I don’t know how to apply it in my private tutoring so to say,
no, I don’t like it.
In both cases task difficulty, here represented in the encounter with theoretical
issues in language pedagogy, provokes strong negative emotions, such as ‘hate’ for
teacher M171. This is the same for the second pattern. Also this type of teachers’
appraisal is beset with negative emotions. For some teachers, something that is
perceived as difficult or not consonant with one’s situation or preference seems to
spark negative emotions. As a consequence these teachers tend towards detached
learning behaviour and are impeded in their action or unable to resolve the conflicts.
To sum up this section, three forms of appraisal were identified in the ways
teachers realise their goals and implement their decisions. These appraisals are a
mixture of cognitive and emotional elaboration of the situations and indicate the
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact …
dynamic interrelationship between the participants, the artifacts, the context and
their affective experiences (perezhivanie, Mahn & John-Steiner, 2002, p. 49).
In terms of appreciation there are two patterns: either positive or negative,
whether new impulses are appraised or not. In terms of teachers’ action (engagement, implementations, etc.), there are again two patterns: there is either action (in
the first pattern) or no action (in the remaining patterns) on the part of the teachers,
with noticeable consequences: in the first pattern (positive appraisal with subsequent action), a deeper level of involvement in terms of investment of energies,
motivation, reflection and additional gains, such as self-discovery, stands out. The
same was not evident in the remaining two patterns.
Because in the face of similar difficulties the teachers have different reactions,
this leads us to the question how individual factors relate to the learning behaviour
of the teachers and this will be summarised in the next section.
Two Professional Profiles
In this section I will briefly describe the two profiles that were identified and will
then illustrate the main differences between them, focusing on the impact of goals
on the professional development of the teachers and on how the various factors
Overall, the two professional profiles can be seen with Hiver (2015) as “patterned outcome[s] of self-organisation” (p. 21). They were named the ‘Learners’
and the ‘Developers’ (cf. Gallo 2012) based on Vygotsky’s (1978) distinction
between learning and development (pp. 83–91). ‘Learning’ refers to the potentiality
of an expansion of the self (Mahn & John-Steiner, 2002, p. 52) through interaction
with more capable peers or other individuals and “creates the zone of proximal
development” (ZPD) which constitutes the basis for successive development.
‘Development’ follows the successful accomplishment of the learning potential, it
depends on an internalisation process on the part of the learners and refers to an
active process whereby the learners progress to the zone of actual development
(ZAD), which defines what the learners can accomplish without any assistance
(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 85).
The differences between the teachers in the ‘Developers’-profile and those in the
‘Learners’-profile are manifold, mainly related to the role that the goals seem to
play, to the attitudes of the teachers towards their own learning, to the strategies that
were used and developed and to the impact of positive emotions on the ways the
teachers proceed to attain their goals. Because teachers’ goals, attitudes and
strategies have been discussed in depth elsewhere (Gallo, 2012), I will concentrate
here on the interaction between teachers’ goals and their learning behaviour.
Goals certainly play a crucial role for the ‘developers’. They set multiple goals
showing enhanced awareness of the many specific dimensions involved in their
own professional learning, including their own well-being. However, the data show
that being aware of oneself as learning professionals (professional development
E. Gallo
goals) was in itself not a guarantee for subsequent learning behaviour. As the
teachers B282 and I312 demonstrate, they had professional development goals,
which were being up to date and keeping abreast of innovation and publishing a
book) respectively. Their appraisal patterns, though, were not in accord with their
goals. Also some of their own statements are noteworthy: teacher B282 remarks
more than once in the interview that she would have wished to get further than she
did: “I haven’t got as far as I would like to get”. Similarly, teacher I312 utters very
clearly her fear of undertaking something in order to accomplish her professional
goal of publishing a book:
You can’t imagine how afraid I am of publishing because this is something where the
material is over there, stacks of papers like this that my students and my trainers did, but I
don’t really know where to start. And I always have something else to do.
The data suggest that professional development goals were not an end in themselves, they were functional as a means to achieving higher-order goals, such as
their affective-emotional-goals. For the teachers in the ‘developer’-profile, namely,
the most important thing was maintaining job satisfaction in the long term: “being
happy as a teacher” or “growing old as a teacher”. These emotional goals seem to
function as an internalised guideline for and exercise the necessary pressure on the
teachers to act accordingly, for example through the use of specific strategies that
were in line with their goals and that led the teachers to attain their goals. On the
other hand, these affective-emotional goals were absent in the teachers of the
‘Learner’-profile, who either did not have professional development goals and
assumed their students’ learning as their own learning goals or the link from goals
to subsequent behavior was lacking or weak.
As for the learning behaviour displayed in the patterns of appraisal towards new
stimuli or new educational content, the data suggest that the teachers’ in the ‘developer’-profile tend to be associated with the first type of the appraisal forms.
Positive appraisal of learning opportunities followed by active implementation
fueled teachers’ engagement in many activities for their professional growth2 and
mediated their cognitive activation, whereas the other two appraisal patterns were
mainly associated with the teachers in the ‘learner’-profile receding from action,
whose engagement was mainly restricted to very few professional development
activities. The data also indicate that task difficulty, due to the deep conceptual
processing and cognitive effort required when encountering new ideas or new
content, was one of the main reasons for teachers’ reduced engagement and for the
arousal of negative emotions, such as the discomfort of the teachers with respect to
theory. Possibly, the teachers in the ‘learner’-profile were too distant from a zone of
proximal development and the circumstances did not turn into opportunities of
‘transformative learning’ (Mahn & John-Steiner, 2002, p. 52). These teachers then
were not able to take responsibility for their own professional learning. To reduce
These activities include observing colleagues, writing for a teachers’ magazine, being a teacher
trainer, and attending a teaching qualification diploma programme specifically designed for
teachers of a second/foreign language or attending teaching conferences, to quote some of them.
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact …
the effort, the teachers either avoid difficulty or are oriented toward ‘proximal
events’ (Frijda, 1986 quoted in Van Veen & Sleegers, 2006, p. 106), looking for
shortcuts in the forms of external help, such as handouts, instructions or supervisors
(Gallo, 2012). However, in so doing the conceptual processing necessary for the
cognitive appropriation of the scientific concepts at the core of the ZPD-metaphor is
bypassed (cf. Gallo, 2012 for the importance of the availability of various specific
strategies and of the corresponding attitudes towards learning). If we include
“Strategies” and “Attitudes” under the “Resources” needed to face the cognitive
and affective challenges of PD, the results about the appraisal patterns might
substantiate and complement Kubanyiova’s (2012) segment of “Reality check” in
her Conceptual Change Model.
Critical features of the two profiles relate to the self-responsibility towards their
own learning development and to the subtle distinction between ‘learners’ and
‘teachers’. The teachers in the ‘developer’-profile attest to strenuous attention to
themselves as learning professionals which extends to all phases of the learning
process, from the pre-actional phase (goal-setting, planning) to the actional phase
(implementation) up to the post-actional phase (self-evaluation3). This is also evident in another set of data related to what the teachers say about their motivation to
teach. While the teachers in the ‘learner’-profile found that the most rewarding
aspects of teaching for them was that their learners learn, for the ‘developers’ their
reward was that they themselves learn. The gratifying aspect of educating learners
and contributing to their growth is indeed one source of teachers’ rewards
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1997a, b/2014; Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011) and is surely a positive emotion. On the other hand, the answers of the ‘developer’-teachers recall
another source of teachers’ reward which comes from increasing “one’s level of
professional skills”, as argued by Csikszentmihalyi (1997a, b/2014) who explains
the tight relationship between learning and happiness: happiness depends not only
on pleasure or absence of pain but also on the feeling that one is growing and
improving, “learning is necessary for happiness” (p. 155). This could explain why,
as a result of their effortful investment in their own learning process, teaching
becomes for the ‘developer’-teachers an “autotelic”, intrinsically motivating activity
pursued for its own sake (but not only). Although I should remind the reader that
connectedness with the learners and dedication to them are important for all the
teachers in this study and that they are features of good teaching (Csikszentmihalyi,
1997a, b/2014), however, the results in this study point to a hidden feature of
positive emotions related to teaching and TD: as long as they feel closely connected
with their students, the teachers do not seem to feel the need to put in a lot of effort in
the pursuit of continuous PD or to undertake alternative action in their teaching
practice. Feeling connected with their students has beneficial effects for the teachers
in this study and proves to be a source of self-confidence and professional identity
for the teachers (Van Veen & Sleegers, 2006, p. 89). Nevertheless, when the distinction ‘learners’ and ‘teachers’ is blurred in teachers’ thinking, this positive feeling
For weaknesses in the self-assessment/evaluation phase in this study cf. Gallo (2012).
E. Gallo
Fig. 2 Impact of goals on teacher professional development
of connection may divert teachers’ attention from their own professional development, and establishing an emotional link with the learners is sufficient in giving them
a sense of professionalism. As Van Veen & Sleegers (2006) warn, “attention to
personal development is largely unimportant because the most important task of the
teacher is to teach his or her subject” (pp. 96–97) and teachers’ attention is mainly
devoted to learners’ well-being.
If goals are thought to have an energising function (Schunk et al., 2010, p. 142;
Alexander, 2008), only emotional and professional goals in this study seem to
provide the necessary power for the teachers to sustain the whole professional
development process and to continue their engagement over time, proceeding
towards the zone of actual development. With instructional, occupational or
developmental goals alone the teachers had a proximal development (Fig. 2).
In this sense, the data in the present study are in line with the results offered in
Golombek & Doran’s (2014) study, according to which emotional content indexes
areas “where conceptual development may be needed” (p. 110) and substantiate
Kubanyiova’s (2012) claim that in order to understand teachers’ conceptual change
we must examine their goals (p. 102).
To sum up, what teachers’ emotions in this study reveal is that teacher cognition
is not entirely cognitive and that emotions are inextricably interwoven with cognition and action. Emotions surface at many levels in the professional development
process: they figure under the ‘emotional goals’ at the level of goal setting, in the
appraisal forms that mediate teachers’ learning behaviour and in the teachers’ retrospection about the rewards they get from teaching. Overall, the results related to
the two profiles confirm some of the functions of positive emotions (Fredrickson,
2013), such as ‘broadening’, i.e., promoting availability of resources, for the
‘developers’, and ‘undoing’, i.e., counterbalancing effects of negative emotions, for
the ‘learner’-profile. For the latter, an additional function is ‘eclipsing’,4 as positive
feelings related to teaching may divert teachers’ attention from their own professional development.
The use of the word ‘eclipsing’ was inspired by Fredrickson’s (2013) article.
“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How Emotions Impact …
Beyond the exploratory nature of this investigation, some other limitations of this
study relate to the following aspects: the sample and the instruments (more limitations in Gallo, 2012).
The sample of ten teachers is indeed small but overall suitable for the
exploratory character of the study, and more research would be needed to validate
the results. Moreover, the participants in the interviews were all female. Gender
differences have been proved to play a role in identity formation (Kahn,
Zimmerman, Csikszentmihalyi, & Getzels, 1985/2014). Whether these issues
contribute to the formation of professional identity and are relevant to teacher
development needs further investigation.
As for the instruments used, open-ended questionnaires and interviews can serve
us as indirect measures of the teachers’ complex inner processes and as such, they
help only as an approximation. The danger of relying heavily on self-reports is not
that participants “obfuscate their true feelings or beliefs or seek to provide answers
they perceive as socially or professionally acceptable” (Alexander, 2008, p. 489)
but rather that we depend on their ability to identify or explain complex or abstract
realities. This issue should be kept in mind so that we remain aware of the
numerous constraints that can impact on the data.
5 Conclusions
Awareness of affective-emotional goals is interesting for researchers but powerful
for the teachers themselves, as it seems to affects TPD in a positive way. Making
affective-emotional aspects explicit may support teachers in having more control
over their PD. Besides, the results advocate for further investigations of emotional
aspects in TPD, confirming the need to reconsider the boundaries of language
teacher cognition (Kubanyiova, 2012 quoted in Golombek & Doran, 2014) by
integrating emotions. Further studies are needed that examine alternative ways of
how positive emotions affect professional development.
Finally, the present study limited its scope to the analysis of the role of teachers’
personal contribution to their own PD as crucial to the way teachers construct their
professional growth. There are possibly other, more external explanations for some
of the results, as suggested by Camilleri Grima (2007, p. 98) according to whom the
context may cause disengagement. This might explain the learning behaviour of the
teachers in the ‘learner’-profile in this study. Further studies could investigate
whether the institutions’ attitudes towards the teachers, such as being unrewarding,
indifferent, or not recognising teachers’ standing in an appropriate manner, may
have an impact on teachers’ involvement.
E. Gallo
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1741-5446.2003.00107.x/pdf on September 10th 2015.
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning
Foreign Language Teachers
and the Teaching-Learning Process
Teresa Maria Włosowicz
Abstract The purpose of the study has been an investigation of adult learners’
expectations concerning foreign language teachers, especially the teacher’s character and personality, behaviour, and his or her ways of conducting classes. The
expectations of three groups of adult learners are analysed: first, philologists and
philology students, second, polytechnic students and young engineers, and third,
other adults enrolled in foreign language courses (nurses, clerks, etc.). As the results
show, there are both similarities and differences between the groups. For example,
all three groups stress the importance of speaking skills and, consequently, conversation during the classes. The majority also expect the teacher to be patient and
empathetic rather than strict and demanding, yet there is a statistically significant
difference between the groups, as in the“other” group there is a higher percentage of
learners who want the teacher to be strict. The study also reveals the participants’
sources of motivation and, to some extent, their language needs. In general, the
philology group want to obtain more detailed knowledge of the language, whereas
the engineering group and the “others” have a more ‘practical’ approach and focus
on the ability to communicate with foreigners. The results are then interpreted in
terms of Seligman’s PERMA model of well-being. From the point of view of
positive psychology, meeting learners’ expectations increases the positivity of their
learning experiences, and it must be remembered that adult learners are particularly
aware of their needs, expectations and language learning goals.
Keywords Adult learners Language needs
psychology The PERMA model
! Learners’ expectations ! Positive
T.M. Włosowicz (&)
University of Social Sciences, ul. Smoleńsk 14, 31-112 Cracow, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]; [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_15
T.M. Włosowicz
1 Introduction
The purpose of the study has been an investigation of adult learners’ expectations
concerning the ways of conducting foreign language classes (lesson contents,
activities, language choice, etc.) as well as the teacher’s personality, character and
behaviour. Yet, the study also takes into consideration the language skills perceived
by adult learners as important and worth acquiring and, last but not least, the
sources of their motivation to study foreign languages.
Another aim of the study is an attempt to describe the learners’ expectations in
terms of the tenets of positive psychology. On the one hand, it might be assumed
that adult learners are fairly conscious of their language needs, which are related,
for example, to language use at the workplace or, in the case of students, to their
future jobs (at least as they imagine their future jobs). However, people who study
languages only for job-related reasons may have only external motivation (for
example, the boss wants them to study English) or instrumental motivation (a
higher salary, promotion to a higher position, etc.), which might be supposed to
involve less interest in the target language and culture than integrative motivation.
On the other hand, as Knowles (2002, pp. 94–95, as cited in Gabryś-Barker 2013,
p. 104) has observed, “[a]dults respond less readily to external sanctions for
learning (such as grades) than to internal motivation”. It might thus be assumed
that, even in the case of adults studying languages for job-related reasons, the
sources of motivation are quite complex and that, for example, extrinsic motivation
evoked by the learner’s superiors’ expectations may be related to intrinsic motivation to be perceived as a professional, reliable employee and, last but not least, to
earn more money to support one’s family. At the same time, if adult learners are
under time pressure to learn the target language as soon as possible, they might
develop excessive motivation which would be counterproductive. As Szałek (2004,
p. 56) observes, excessive motivation inhibits learning, as it leads to the weakening
of control and slower decision-making, and it also impedes perception and the
functioning of memory.
Apart from motivation, another factor which should not be neglected is adults’
language learning experience, which is, arguably, particularly visible in the case of
learners who have in the past been taught by outdated methods, such as the
grammar-translation method, and whose expectations may be based on those
methods. In fact, anecdotic as such evidence may be, the present author once met a
person who was so much used to the grammar translation method that she insisted
on translating every single sentence from English into Polish, or else she claimed
not to understand the English texts. Indeed, as Woytowicz-Neymann (1970, p. 52)
points out, adults’ habits, such as focussing on reading, writing, translation and
memorizing grammar rules (Woytowicz-Neymann, 1970, p. 51), as well as complexes, such as a fear of speaking and making mistakes (Woytowicz-Neymann,
1970, p. 49), pose a serious obstacle to foreign language learning.
In summary, adults constitute a very specific learner group. On the one hand,
they have fairly specific needs and expectations, but on the other hand, they can be
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
impeded by negative habits and emotional limitations. The teacher should therefore
adjust the syllabus and the way of conducting lessons in such a way as to fulfil adult
learners’ needs. However, it might be argued that certain words and structures have
to be taught, even if learners do not perceive them as useful. For example, an
engineer may want to focus on technical vocabulary, but some non-technical
vocabulary is also indispensable for a person to function in a foreign country or
even to communicate with foreign customers as an employee of a multinational
company. At the same time, overcoming adults’ fear of speaking and other psychological limitations can constitute a serious challenge for the teacher.
2 Language Needs
Undoubtedly, learners’ expectations concerning the teaching-learning process are
related to their language needs. According to Long (2005a, p. 1), “[e]very language
course should be considered a course for specific purposes, varying only (and
considerably, to be sure) in the precision with which learner needs can be specified
(…)”. In Long’s (2005a, p. 1) view, whereas programs for most young children do
not require much precision in specifying their needs, “occupationally-, academically- or vocationally-oriented programs for most adults” (Long, 2005a, p. 1) often
have to be based on a detailed needs analysis.
Moreover, as Long (2005b, pp. 22–24) points out, the basic unit of needs analysis
should be the task. “It would be of little use to analyse learner needs in terms of
linguistic units, such as words, structures, notions or functions, if syllabus content is
not to be specified in such terms” (Long, 2005b, p. 22). As he also observes (Long,
2005b, pp. 22–23), job descriptions are usually formulated by experts in a particular
domain, not by language teachers, and, similarly, an expert can describe his or her
work in terms of the tasks he or she does, not in terms of language. Consequently, for
example, the language needs of hotel maids (Jasso-Aguilar, 2005) differ from those of
the employees of business companies (Vandermeeren, 2005).
Furthermore, as Holmes (2005, p. 344) observes, apart from general linguistic
competence and vocationally oriented language, a very important role is played by
socio-pragmatic skills, such as the ability to manage small talk in the workplace.
From a sociolinguistic perspective, learners need to be able to manage on-going, dynamic
social interaction in a wide range of settings, and this entails the ability to accurately
analyze the relative weight of different dimensions, such as power, solidarity, formality and
function (Holmes, 2001, as cited in Holmes, 2005, p. 344).
It can thus be assumed that, apart from language skills and technical, economic,
academic or other vocational vocabulary, adult learners need a certain degree of
cultural communicative competence. However, while learners acquiring their second language in a naturalistic context are likely to know what kind of sociolinguistic and cultural competence they actually need, it is not so certain that foreign
language learners in a formal context (for example, a language course) will have
T.M. Włosowicz
enough language awareness to evaluate their needs not only in linguistic, but also in
sociolinguistic and cultural terms.
3 Positive Psychology
By and large, as Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000, p. 5) explain, “[t]he aim of
positive psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology
from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building
positive qualities”. As a result, positive psychology focuses on promoting positive
values related to individual experience and personality.
The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the
future); and flow and happiness (in the present). At the individual level, it is about positive
individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic
sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high
talent and wisdom. (…) (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 5).
In fact, the concept of flow, or “complete absorption in what one does” (Nakamura
& Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p. 89) is particularly important because “[w]hen in flow,
the individual operates at full capacity” (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p. 90).
Being in flow, as described by some interviewees (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi,
2002, p. 90) constitutes “the subjective experience of engaging just-manageable
challenges by tackling a series of goals, continuously processing feedback about
progress, and adjusting action based on this feedback”. It can be assumed that this is
particularly true offoreign language learning, because manageable challenges, such as
communicative activities which allow learners to use the target language productively, strengthen their self-esteem, help them notice what they can already say in the
foreign language, and thus uphold their motivation for further study.
Undoubtedly, in order to be in flow while learning (or performing another
activity), one needs to feel good in several respects, which are covered by
Seligman’s concept of well-being, expressed by the acronym PERMA:
(…) positive emotion (P), engagement with activities that use one’s character strengths (E),
developing positive interpersonal relationships (R), finding meaning by serving a cause
beyond oneself (M), and recognizing areas of accomplishment and achievement
(A) (Seligman, 2011, as cited in MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014, p. 154).
As can be seen, positive psychology is not “an art for art’s sake”, but a powerful
tool which can motivate people to reach a variety of goals. One of the aims of
applying positive psychology to foreign language learning is “to foster the positivity of our learners’ educational experiences” (MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014, p. 163)
and to support them “in reaching their personal highest levels of achievement of
success” (Fredrickson, 2001).
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
It can be supposed that learners who are in a state of flow because they are
learning material that meets their language needs, and also because of a positive
relationship with a patient and empathetic teacher and other members of the group,
will pursue their goals of language learning (GLL, MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014,
pp. 162–163) and learn more efficiently. In accordance with the PERMA model, it
would also be good to exploit learners’ strong points, for example, by teaching
English to engineers in a way that engages logical-mathematical intelligence and to
help learners find meaning, for instance, in communication with native speakers of
the target language.
4 The Characteristics of Adult Learners
Generally speaking, adult learners are more mature and might be assumed to have a
higher level of language awareness and be more conscious of their language needs
than children. Theoretically, they might thus be supposed to be able to express their
language needs, negotiate the syllabus with the teacher and cooperate with him or
her so as to reach their language learning goals as effectively as possible. However,
adults are also subject to a number of limitations which can considerably impede
the learning process.
Given their better developed logical thinking skills, adults have an initial
advantage over children in terms of the rate of learning, especially in grammar. In
naturalistic settings they may later be overtaken by children who receive enough
input, but this is not necessarily true in instructional settings, where the critical
amount of exposure may not be available (Ellis, 1994, pp. 491–492). However,
even though some adults “may succeed in acquiring native levels of grammatical
accuracy in speech and writing and even full ‘linguistic competence’” (Ellis, 1994,
p. 492), children are more likely to achieve both native-like grammar and
At the same time, unlike children and adolescents, adults usually have to reconcile studying with their jobs and other duties and, as Woytowicz-Neymann
(1970, p. 47) observes, for adults learning a foreign language constitutes an additional burden or, conversely, it can be a luxury. Moreover, adults’ attitude to foreign
language learning is very emotional and they often experience mental inhibition
which prevents them from speaking in a group. However, strong material motivation (instrumental motivation related to one’s income, Woytowicz-Neymann’s
(1970, p. 49) term) can help them overcome emotional inhibition. Finally, adults are
more prone to interference, both from the native language and from previously
studied foreign languages (Woytowicz-Neymann, 1970, p. 49). Consequently,
adults may be assumed to be more prone to failure and frustration in foreign
language learning, that is why they should be particularly well motivated, also by
having their needs and expectations met, in order not to become discouraged.
In fact, as Gabryś-Barker (2013) has shown, in foreign language learning this
maturity of adult learners should not be taken for granted. Instead, in the case of
T.M. Włosowicz
adults, affective factors play a particular role, as “adults demonstrate more vulnerability in terms of their self-confidence, self-esteem, sensitivity to how others see
them, and how they see themselves” (Gabryś-Barker, 2013, p. 110). At the same
time, adults display a higher level of teacher dependency and perceive the teacher
as the significant other, which is particularly visible in L3 learning. However, this
does not necessarily mean that adult learners regard the teacher as an authority on
the target language. In fact, they can evaluate their teacher critically and often
express a negative perception of the teacher’s competence (Gabryś-Barker, 2010, as
cited in Gabryś-Barker, 2013, p. 110). It can thus be supposed that, given the
significance of the teacher’s role in adult language learning, fulfilling learners’
expectations concerning the teacher’s personality and behaviour is particularly
important for the teaching-learning process.
5 The Study
The aim of the study was an investigation of adult learners’ expectations regarding
foreign language teachers, in particular, the teacher’s character and personality, his
or her teaching style, as well as course contents and the language skills perceived by
the learners as important. The tool used for eliciting the participants’ responses was
a questionnaire, which means that the responses could be expected to be considerably subjective and reflect the learners’ personal preferences, yet it is also possible
that they were to some extent affected by popular beliefs acquired, for example, at
school. Still, as the study actually focused on the participants’ personal expectations
and not their general beliefs about foreign language teaching, the questionnaire did
not include questions about the sources of such beliefs; it was assumed that the
participants would simply indicate what kind of teacher they expected to have and
what language skills they wanted to learn.
Given the considerable differences between the sizes of the age groups (see
Sect. 5.1), it was impossible to carry out a comparison based on the learners’ ages.
However, a comparison based on their professions and fields of study was performed and some significant differences were indeed found (see Sect. 5.3). As will
be discussed in more detail in Sect. 5.3, this indicates that learners’ expectations
largely depend on their professions and, consequently, language needs (for example, the language as a tool or as a passion). Yet, as the “other” group (neither
philology students nor engineering students and young engineers, but people of
different professions, see Sect. 5.1) included the most older learners (between 30
and 70 years of age, as opposed to students), it is possible that their expectations
were to some extent influenced by age and may have involved more traditional
views on foreign language learning and teaching.
The study, including the participants, the method and the research questions will
be presented in detail in Sects. 5.1 and 5.2, whereas the results will be discussed in
Sect. 5.3.
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
The study was carried out at the Silesian Polytechnic in Gliwice, at the Jagiellonian
University in Cracow, at Casimir the Great University in Bydgoszcz, and at several
foreign language schools, with 202 adult learners of foreign languages. Undoubtedly,
most of them were learners of English (156 participants), but as the languages they
were currently studying the participants also mentioned German (55 participants),
Russian (29), Italian (8), French (5), Spanish (4), Japanese (2), Dutch (1), sign language (1), Georgian (1) and Ukrainian (1). Three participants were native speakers of
Ukrainian who wrote they were studying Polish. As can be seen, some of the participants were studying more than one foreign language at the same time, for example,
English and French, English and Russian, or English, German and Spanish. In fact, the
Ukrainian students had not come to Poland to study Polish only, but they were
students of English philology who also had a German course at university.
In fact, since the study aimed to investigate the general attitudes and expectations of adult learners, and since the participants could only devote a limited
amount of time to the questionnaire, each participant filled out the questionnaire
only once, regardless of how many languages he or she was currently studying.
However, in future research it might be a good idea to carry out a more fine-grained
study, with only one questionnaire per language. That might reveal learners’
expectations concerning the teachers and teaching of languages imposed by the
workplace or university, and their expectations regarding the teachers and teaching
of languages studied out of purely intrinsic, especially integrative motivation. Still,
such a fine-grained analysis lies beyond the scope of the present study.
The participants were divided into three categories: 55 philology students (in
fact, this group also included one person with a master’s degree and one with a Ph.
D. in English philology, learning further foreign languages, but they were classified
together with the English philology students due to their “philological” approach to
language learning, as distinct from the other professions), 101 polytechnic students
and young engineers, and 46 “others”, that is, adults of various professions (nurses,
clerks, welders, economists, psychologists, etc.) attending foreign language courses.
This division is based on the assumption that there may be a difference in the
approach to foreign language learning between philologists and philology students
as one category of learners, engineers and engineering students, who may have a
“mathematical” approach to language, expecting clear-cut answers, and, finally,
other adult learners who may not have specific learning strategies nor individual
language learning theories, but who study languages for various reasons, also
because knowledge of a particular language is required at the workplace. Though it
might be argued that the latter group is too heterogeneous, dividing them into
professions would have resulted in a number of tiny groups, which would be too
small for a quantitative analysis.
The participants belonged to the following age groups:
• 18–25 years: 158 participants;
• 25–30 years: 12 participants;
T.M. Włosowicz
11 participants;
10 participants;
10 participants;
1 participant.
Again, the group is not very homogeneous because the majority are university or
polytechnic students aged between 18 and 25 years, whereas the other age groups
are less numerous. However, this is due to the limited availability of older learners,
who have less time to enrol in foreign language courses and, even if they do, they
have less time for such activities as participation in surveys. Even so, it is hoped
that the results of the present study reveal interesting tendencies in adult learners’
expectations, and that they can serve as a basis for larger-scale future research.
Finally, among the participants there were 129 women, 67 men, and 6 did not
indicate their sex.
The survey was carried out by means of a questionnaire aiming to explore four
areas connected with foreign language learning:
– expectations concerning the teacher’s way of conducting lessons (activities,
focus on grammar and/or vocabulary, language choice i.e., speaking the foreign
language all the time or translating texts, instructions, etc. into the native language, error correction, etc.);
– expectations concerning the teacher’s character and behaviour (patience or
strictness, empathy, creativity, fair evaluation, broad knowledge, etc.);
– language skills perceived as important by the learners (vocabulary, grammar,
speaking, creative language use, cultural competence, etc.);
– the sources of the participants’ motivation for learning foreign languages as well
as their self-perceived motivation levels.
The questionnaire was in Polish in order to allow even less advanced learners to
understand and fill it out as spontaneously as possible, which might not have been
possible if the questionnaire had been formulated in English. An English translation
of the questionnaire is presented in the Appendix at the end of the article.
The research questions were as follows:
1. What do adult learners expect of their foreign language teachers in terms of
conducting lessons?
2. What character traits and what kind of behaviour do adult learners expect of
their foreign language teachers?
3. Do adult learners’ expectations concerning foreign language teachers depend on
their profession or field of study, and in what way?
4. What motivates adults to study foreign languages?
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
In general, as the results indicate, similarities as well as differences have been
observed between the groups. In fact, some expectations are shared by all the three
groups, for example, the need for conversation during foreign language classes
(72.73 % of the philology students, 62.38 % of the engineering group, and 76.1 %
of the “other” group) and the importance of speaking skills.
However, there is a difference in the approach to speaking between the philology
group and the other two groups. While the other two groups put emphasis simply on
the ability to speak (78.22 % of the engineering group and 78.26 % of the “other”
group), but much less so on speaking without mistakes (23.76 and 21.74 %
respectively), the philology group indicated speaking without mistakes (65.45 %)
as more important than just speaking (32.73 %). A Chi-square analysis comparing
all the three groups’ attitudes towards speaking as opposed to correct speaking
revealed a statistically significant difference at p < 0.001 (Table 1).
This indicates that while accuracy in speaking is more important for philologists
than just the ability to speak, members of other professions take the opposite
approach: they want to learn to speak in order to convey some information, while
accuracy seems less important to them.
Even so, the participants’ expectations concerning error correction display a
different pattern and do not differ so much across the groups. Here, higher percentages of the participants in the philology (45.45 %) and the “other” group
(56.52 %) want the teacher to correct all their mistakes, while 29.09 % of the
philology group and 39.13 % of the “other” group want the teacher to correct only
their most serious errors which distort communication. However, the engineering
group has the opposite approach: 41.58 % want the teacher to correct all their
mistakes and 43.56 %—to correct only the most serious ones which distort communication. It is possible that while philology students want their errors to be
corrected in order to achieve accuracy, engineering students and engineers adopt a
more communicative, fluency-based approach. Yet, members of the “other” group
also want to have all their errors corrected, not only the most serious ones. There are
two possible explanations: either they realise that their foreign language skills are
limited and want to improve them, or especially older learners are accustomed to
the traditional approach, in which accuracy was regarded as much more important
Table 1 Chi-square
contingency table presenting
the three groups’ attitudes
towards speaking accuracya
df = 2
v2obs ¼ 34:05; v2crit ¼ 13:816; p\0:001; v2obs [ v2crit
The Chi-square values have been taken from Brown (1988,
p. 192)
T.M. Włosowicz
Table 2 Chi-square contingency table presenting the participants’ expectations concerning error
Correcting all errors
Correcting the most serious errors
df = 2
v2obs ¼ 2:175; v2crit ¼ 13:816; p\0:001; v2obs \v2crit
than it is nowadays. Still, as the Chi-square test has shown, the difference between
the groups is not statistically significant (Table 2).
On the other hand, contrary to Holmes’s (2005) claim that sociolinguistic
competence constitutes one of the most important language needs of adults, the
participants do not consider it (described in the questionnaire as “cultural competence as the ability to behave in the way appropriate to a given culture”) to be
important. It was marked in the questionnaire as an important language skill by only
40 % of the philology group, 24.75 % of the engineering group and 19.56 % of the
“other” group. In fact, knowledge of the target culture is regarded by the participants as even less important (38.18 % of the philology group, 18.81 % of the
engineering group and 12.5 % of the “other” group). However, a comparison of all
three groups by means of a Chi-square has revealed the difference not to be statistically significant (see Table 3).
Similarly, the difference between the groups in terms of the importance of such
“core” components of language competence as grammar and vocabulary as opposed
to cultural competence and knowledge of the target culture is not significant either
(Table 4).
This suggests that the learners are so deeply anchored in their native culture that
they do not probably realise that cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings.
In fact, mistakes at the sociolinguistic and cultural level can be even more serious
than language mistakes; as Thomas (1983) has pointed out, a foreigner who speaks
the target language fluently but commits errors at the sociolinguistic level may be
regarded as impolite and not as lacking linguistic competence.
Another important difference can be observed in the case of the participants’
expectations concerning language choice during lessons, namely translating everything (texts, instructions, etc.) into Polish, as opposed to conducting the lessons in the
Table 3 Chi-square contingency table presenting the three groups’ perception of the importance
of cultural competence
Cultural competence
Knowledge of the culture
df = 2
v2obs ¼ 0:3077; v2crit ¼ 13:816; p\0:001; v2obs \v2crit
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
Table 4 Chi-square comparing the three groups’ attitudes towards cultural competence, as
opposed to grammar and vocabulary
Cultural competence
Knowledge of the culture
df = 6
v2obs ¼ 10:48055; v2crit ¼ 22:458; p\0:001; v2obs \v2crit
Table 5 Chi-square comparing the three groups’ expectations concerning language choice during
foreign language classes
Translation into the native language
Lessons in the foreign language
df = 2
v2obs ¼ 20:56; v2crit ¼ 13:816; p\0:001; v2obs [ v2crit
foreign language. As the Chi-square test shows, the difference between the groups is
statistically significant at p < 0.001 (Table 5).
Though most of the participants (83.64 % of the philology group, 61.39 % of
the engineering group and 60.87 % of the “other” group) prefer lessons in the
foreign language to translating everything into Polish (1.82, 29.7 and 41.3 %1
respectively), the difference between the proportions of the participants’ answers
within each group is quite striking. While the philology students want to be exposed
to the target language as much as possible (though one person still wants everything
to be translated into Polish!), the other two groups probably feel less secure when
classes are conducted in the foreign language, that is why quite many of them want
everything to be translated into the native language. In the case of the “other” group
it is also possible that especially the older learners are still accustomed to the
grammar-translation method.
On the other hand, no statistically significant differences have been observed
between the groups in terms of the focus on grammar or on vocabulary, even
though vocabulary is perceived by the learners as more important (87.18 % of the
philology group, 69.3 % of the engineering group and 56.52 % of the “other”
group) than grammar (61.82, 17.82 and 34.78 % respectively). This confirms
Wilkins’s (1972, p. 111, as cited in Singleton, 1999, p. 9) claim that: “Without
One participant ticked both answers, preference for classes in the foreign language, as well as for
translating everything into Polish. On the other hand, some participants did not tick either answer.
T.M. Włosowicz
grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be
Another non-significant difference has been observed in terms of the extent to
which the teacher’s explanations are expected to be detailed. However, predictably
enough, only 3.64 % of the philology students want the teacher’s explanations to be
clear-cut (for example, only one meaning of a word, only one use of a grammatical
structure), as opposed to 9.9 % of the engineering group and 17.39 % of the “other”
group. Predictably enough, philologists want to learn the language in depth,
including different shades of meaning, but even though the expectation of clear-cut
answers is more frequent in the engineering group, it might have been supposed that
more engineers and polytechnic students would expect clear-cut answers, just as in
mathematics. It is possible, though, that they already realise that language is not as
clear-cut as mathematics and that many aspects of language use depend on the
context. On the other hand, the “other” group may either have insufficient language
awareness, or may just want to learn how to communicate in specific situations
without going into detail.
As for the character traits they expect of the teacher, the overwhelming majority
(90.99 % of the philology group, 84.16 % of the engineering group and 78.26 % of
the “others”) want the teacher to be patient and empathetic, while only 20 %
(philology), 7.9 % (engineering) and 28.26 % (“others”) want the teacher to be
strict and demanding, and the difference between the groups is statistically significant at p < 0.001 (Table 6). It is possible that this is due to the age differences
between the groups, where the philology and the engineering groups consist mainly
of young people, while the “other” group is more varied and includes more
middle-aged people, who may expect teachers to be as strict as they were in the
The participants also want the teacher to be self-confident and have authority
(80 % of the philology group, 61.39 % of the engineering group and 54.35 % of
the “other” group) and to evaluate them fairly (72.73 % of the philology group,
80.2 % of the engineering group and 58.69 % of the “other” group). While the
desire to be evaluated fairly seems to be self-evident, this expectation of
self-confidence confirms Gabryś-Barker’s (2013) statement that the teacher is the
“significant other” and constitutes an important point of reference for adult learners.
Moreover, the participants want the teacher to be creative (67.27 % of the
philology group, 74.26 % of the engineering group, and 63.04 % of the “other”
group), which indicates that adults nowadays no longer expect the teacher to stick
Table 6 Chi-square
comparing the three groups’
expectations concerning the
teacher’s patience or
Patience and
df = 2
v2obs ¼ 41:136; v2crit ¼ 13:816; p\0:001; v2obs [ v2crit
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
strictly to the textbook, but that they want him or her to use a variety of materials
and activities (73.73 % of the philology group, 62.38 % of the engineering group
and 54.34 % of the “others” expect the teacher to use varied materials).
Finally, the learners’ motivation, evaluated on a Likert scale from 1 (very low) to
5 (very high) is highest in the philology group (mean motivation: 4.22), followed by
the “others” (3.67) and the engineering group (3.634). While philology students are
quite highly motivated to study the language they have chosen as their main field of
study, other adults have too little time to focus on language learning. However, the
level of motivation in the “other” group is higher than in the engineering group,
possibly because the engineers use or will use the language as a tool only, while the
“others” may think of going to work abroad and communicating in different situations. Moreover, as some of the respondents in the “other” group have remarked,
their motivation is lower because they have no time to focus on foreign language
learning, but it is possible that lack of time is the only factor that discourages them.
As for the sources of motivation, the main source indicated by the participants is
the ability to talk to foreigners (81.82 % in the philology group, 82.18 % of the
engineering group, and 65.21 % of the “other” group), which reflects adult learners’
perception of the practical use of foreign languages. Another important factor is
professional advancement (83.64 % of the philology group, 76.24 % of the engineering group, and 45.65 % in the “other” group. However, the participants also
want to exercise their minds. This answer was chosen by 72.73 % of the philology
group, by 67.39 % of the “other” group, and by only 45.54 % of the engineering
group; apparently, the latter exercise their minds by solving mathematical and
scientific problems rather than by learning a language.
At the same time, the groups vary more in terms of their passion and fascination
with the language. While only 7.92 % of the engineering group have a passion for
the language and only 14.85 % are fascinated by it, it is a passion of 54.54 % of the
philology group, in which 30.69 % are fascinated by the language, and in the
“other” group 34.78 % are fascinated by it, though only 15.22 % regard it as a
passion. Thus, even though the fact that the majority of the philology group regard
the target language as a passion is very positive, it is a little disquieting that so few
of them are fascinated by the language. It is possible that their motivation is mainly
instrumental: there will always be demand for English language teachers, so they
want to learn a profession in which the chances of employment are relatively high.
Yet, perhaps quite surprisingly, the desire to work abroad is not the main source
of motivation. It was indicated by 40 % of the philology group, 24.75 % of the
engineering group, and 15.22 % of the “other” group.
However, purely external motivation is relatively rare: the answer “my boss has
told me to learn the language” was ticked by 23.9 % of the “other” group, 2.97 %
of the engineering group (one student explained that it was the school, not a boss as
such) and 0 % of the philology group. It is thus reassuring that, among the participants, internal (or intrinsic, cf. Dörnyei, 1994, p. 275) motivation prevails over
external (or extrinsic) motivation and that the learners themselves want to study
foreign languages.
T.M. Włosowicz
6 Conclusions
By and large, the groups differ in some respects, but not in others: while some
expectations are common to adult language learners as such, there are differences
connected with the learners’ professions and, possibly, with their ages. In fact,
while the philology and the polytechnic groups consist of young people (most of
them are between 18 and 25, and nobody is over 40), the “other” group is more
varied (18–25: 8 participants, 25–30: 8, 30–40: 9, 40–50: 10, 50–60: 10, and 60–
70: 1). Quite predictably, philology students and philologists want to learn the
target language in a more detailed way, while people of other professions have a
more “practical”, “goal-oriented” approach (communicating in the foreign language, though not necessarily correctly, meeting the goals set by the company,
possibly working abroad and communicating with foreigners, etc.), which confirms
Woytowicz-Neymann’s (1970, p. 7) observation that adults mainly want to learn a
foreign language as an auxiliary skill which will allow them to talk to foreigners,
improve their professional skills, obtain useful information, etc. However, even
though adult learners’ expectations depend to some extent on their professional
category, the differences are not always statistically significant.
In general, the participants expect varied materials and activities, with particular
emphasis on conversation practice. In fact, speaking is a fairly difficult skill to
master because, first, it is acquired by practice and cannot be learnt from books and,
second, it requires on-line processing, which can be quite stressful because of the
time limitations. The fact that they expect the teacher to correct all their mistakes
rather than the most serious ones indicates that they realise the importance of
accuracy. However, they are not aware of the importance of cultural, sociolinguistic
competence, probably because they study the foreign languages in Poland and do
not have much contact with native speakers.
Moreover, it is important for them to have a good relationship with the teacher,
who should be patient and empathetic. In fact, as adult learners often have to
reconcile studying a language with a job and with household duties (especially
learners who are no longer students, but who work and have families) and thus have
little time, the teacher should take this into consideration and focus, for example, on
the learners’ professionally-oriented language needs, rather than on less relevant
aspects of the target language and culture, however interesting there may be.
Furthermore, the sources of motivation vary as a function of the learners’ profession or field of study, but practical and professional uses prevail, though intrinsic
sources of motivation, such as training one’s brain, or fascination with the language
are also quite frequent. It is, however, good that the overwhelming majority of the
participants draw upon intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation and study foreign
languages on their own initiative, rather than being compelled to do so by their
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
In general, it may be concluded that adult learners’ expectations can be
explained in terms of the PERMA model. First, if they learn what interests them and
find empathy on the teacher’s part, they experience positive emotion. The activities
in which they become engaged may, on the one hand, be related to their character
strengths, but first of all, to their professions and professional language needs.
Undoubtedly, a good relationship with the teacher is crucial, that is why the teacher
should show patience and empathy with the learners. As for “finding meaning by
serving a cause beyond oneself” (MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014, p. 154), the situation
may be more complex, but it can be assumed that learning a language that is useful
in one’s job may also constitute such a meaningful cause. Finally, as one manages
to communicate effectively in a foreign language, it can give one a source of
accomplishment and achievement.
Therefore, as already pointed out by Long (2005a), language needs analysis is
particularly important in teaching adults. Still, as groups can vary in terms of the
learners’ professions and language needs (for example, a welder’s language needs
are likely to differ from those of a secretary or a nurse), teachers should be
encouraged to adopt a personalized approach as much as possible. In fact, in the
case of more homogeneous groups, such as philology or polytechnic students, the
approach should also be adjusted to the group’s needs, though in this case the
learners may have more needs in common. Given that different professions
involve different tasks, Long’s (2005b) statement that needs analysis should be
based on tasks has only limited applicability to general foreign language courses
for adults. Undoubtedly, some communication skills (shopping, small talk,
arranging basic formalities, etc.) are useful to all learners, but more specific tasks
(for example, advising customers by phone on how to solve a computer problem)
had better be taught on courses tailored to the needs of a particular profession or
company. Therefore, more research into adult learners’ needs—preferably, connected with their subjectively perceived expectations and motivation—would be
Acknowledgements I wish to thank Dr. hab. Monika Kusiak, Dr. Małgorzata Rachwalska-Mitas,
Dr. Anita Sadzka, Dr. Łukasz Matusz and Mrs Izabela Szczęsna, M.A. for their help with carrying
out the survey with their students, as well as the students themselves who participated in the study.
Appendix: Questionnaire Used in the Study
(English Translation)
T.M. Włosowicz
(c) Age group:
□ 18–25 years
□ 25–30 years
□ 30–40 years
□ 40–50 years
□ 50–60 years
□ 60–70 years
□ over 70 years
2. What do you expect of your foreign language teacher? (You can tick more
than one answer.)
(a) in his or her way of teaching
□ translating everything (e.g. texts, instructions, etc.) into Polish
□ conducting lessons in the foreign language so that the students can listen to
the language
□ a lot of grammar
□ a lot of new vocabulary
□ varied materials, for example, supplementing the textbook with photocopies,
films, etc.
□ little new vocabulary and grammar, but constant repetition in order to consolidate what we already know
□ creative exercises (writing stories, creating dialogues, etc.)
□ a lot of conversation so that we can practice speaking
□ correcting all my errors
□ correcting only the most serious errors which distort communication
□ clear-cut answers (e.g. only one Polish equivalent of every English word);
giving many possibilities confuses me
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
□ exhaustive explanations, for example, various language forms depending on
the context
□ detailed explanations of all grammatical structures, word meanings, etc.
□ giving students a lot of independence and possibilities of discovering the
language on their own
□ giving and correcting homework consistently
□ other things (what?)
(b) The teacher’s personality and character
□ patience and empathy
□ strictness; a teacher should be demanding
□ self-confidence; a teacher should have authority
□ fair evaluation
□ creativity
□ a lot of knowledge of the subject (language)
□ perfect preparation for the classes
□ praising students as often as possible
□ motivating students to study
□ other features/behaviour (which ones?)
Why? (Please, explain.)
3. What is particularly important for you in learning a foreign language? (You
can tick more than one answer.)
□ the ability to speak, to communicate (not necessarily correctly)
□ the ability to speak correctly (correct pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary,
□ a good knowledge of grammar
□ a rich vocabulary
□ correct pronunciation
□ the ability to read and understand texts in the foreign language
□ listening comprehension skills in the foreign language
□ the ability to write texts correctly in the foreign language
□ the ability to use the language creatively
□ cultural competence (the ability to behave in the way appropriate to the given
□ knowledge of the culture of the country or countries in which the language is
used (its/their history, tradition, etc.)
□ distinguishing myself against the group, being praised by the teacher
□ mental comfort, the feeling that I know more and more
□ other skills or factors (which ones?)
Why? (Please, explain.)
4. Motivation for learning a foreign language. (Please, indicate the language:
(a) Why do you study the ______________ language? (You can tick more than
one answer.)
□ I intend to take up a job abroad
T.M. Włosowicz
□ knowledge of the language gives me a chance of professional advancement
(e.g. a higher position, a higher salary, a more interesting job, etc.)
□ my boss has told me to learn the language (although I would not do it myself)
□ I am a researcher; I want to be able to read foreign language publications
□ I am fascinated by the ____________________ language
□ I am fascinated by the culture of the country in which the language is spoken
□ I would like to talk to foreigners easily
□ I would like to use the Internet easily
□ I would like to read books in the original
□ I would like to understand songs in this language
□ I would like to understand films in this language
□ I would like to develop, exercise my mind
□ I have family abroad; I want to go there in order to help them (for example, to
look after my grandchildren)
□ learning languages is my passion or hobby
□ for other (what?) reasons
(b) How high is your level of motivation for studying this language? (1—very
low, 5—very high)
Thank you.
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Cambridge University Press.
Dörnyei, Z. (1994). Motivation and motivating in the foreign language classroom. The Modern
Language Journal, 78(3), 273–284.
Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fredrikson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The
broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218–226.
Gabryś-Barker, D. (2010). Multilinguals’ learning stories: Stability and change. Paper delivered at
TAL conference, University of Opole, November 2010.
Gabryś-Barker, D. (2013). The affective dimension in multilinguals’ language learning experiences. In D. Gabryś-Barker & J. Bielska (Eds.), The affective dimension in second language
acquisition (pp. 99–111). Bristol/Buffalo/Toronto: Multilingual Matters.
Holmes, J. (2001). Introduction to sociolinguistics (2nd ed.). London: Longman.
Holmes, J. (2005). When small talk is a big deal: Sociolinguistic challenges in the workplace.
In M. H. Long (Ed.), Second language needs analysis (pp. 344–371). Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Jasso-Aguilar, R. (2005). Sources, methods and triangulation in needs analysis: A critical
perspective in a case study of Waikiki hotel maids. In M. H. Long (Ed.), Second language
needs analysis (pp. 127–158). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Knowles, M. (2002). Andragogy: An emergent technology for adult learning. In R. Edwards, A.
Hanson, & P. Raggatt (Eds.), Boundaries of adult learning (pp. 82–98). London/New York:
Routledge and Open University.
Adult Learners’ Expectations Concerning Foreign Language …
Long, M. H. (2005a). Overview: A rationale for needs analysis and needs analysis research. In M.
H. Long (Ed.), Second language needs analysis (pp. 1–16). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Long, M. H. (2005b). Methodological issues in learner needs analysis. In M. H. Long (Ed.),
Second language needs analysis (pp. 19–76). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MacIntyre, P., & Mercer, S. (2014). Introducing positive psychology to SLA. Studies in Second
Language Learning and Teaching, 4(2), 153–172.
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(Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 89–105). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Part IV
Focus on Assessment: Achievement
and Success
How to Test for the Best: Implementing
Positive Psychology in Foreign Language
Monika Kusiak-Pisowacka
Abstract The paper aims to develop the concept of “positiveness” in relation to
evaluating reading comprehension in a foreign language (FL) classroom. It explores
the question how to make this kind of evaluation a positive experience for both
learners and teachers. First, the most common testing techniques, such as multiple
choice questions and open-ended questions are discussed, which is followed by a
presentation of less traditional techniques, i.e., think-aloud protocols, interviews
and conferencing with students. The validity, reliability, practicality and authenticity of the techniques are examined. In the paper the author puts forward a crucial
question in what way the aforementioned techniques can “bring out the best” in
both those who are evaluated and those who evaluate, thereby making evaluation a
fruitful constructive learning/teaching situation. The discussion is illustrated with
the examples taken from the author’s own teaching practice as well as her research.
Keywords Evaluation Reading comprehension Tests Positiveness in testing
Think aloud
1 Introduction
All participants of formal education would undoubtedly admit that evaluation can
be a source of stress and anxiety for both teachers and learners. Thus, exploring the
question how to make it a positive experience seems a worthwhile task. The paper
focuses on evaluating foreign language reading comprehension skills. It seeks to
develop the concept of “positiveness” in relation to evaluating this language skill in
a foreign language (FL) classroom. It discusses the most common testing techniques, such as the multiple choice questions and open-ended questions. It also
examines less traditional techniques, i.e., think-aloud protocols, interviews and
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka (&)
Institute of English Studies, Jagiellonian University, Al. Mickiewicza 9A,
31-120 Kraków, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_16
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
conferencing with students. The author looks at the validity, reliability, practicality
and authenticity of the techniques. She also puts forward a crucial question in what
way these techniques can “bring out the best” in both those who are evaluated and
those who evaluate, thereby making evaluation a fruitful constructive
learning/teaching situation. The discussion is illustrated with the examples taken
from the author’s own teaching practice as well as her research.
2 Tests in FL Teaching
Although tests are just one form of evaluating learners’ FL competence, without
any doubt they are the most popular way of measuring students’ knowledge and
skills. My own experience with language testing has revolved around a wide range
of individuals involved in formal education, most of them having to cope with
testing as an omnipresent element of language teaching programs. As a FL teacher I
have observed learners’ reactions to the tests that they have to write as part of their
classroom reality; as a teacher trainer I have met many pre-service and in-service
teachers who experienced difficulty in designing tests for their students; as a
supervisor of BA and MA seminars I have advised students who need to develop
tests for their teaching and research purposes. It seems that in many cases both
teachers and students have developed negative feelings about tests, which, I think,
was often the result of their misunderstanding of the nature of evaluation and a
place of tests in it. Therefore, before I tackle the question whether it is possible to
make testing situations more positive experiences, I suggest looking at basic issues
related to testing, namely qualities of tests and the role that tests play in school
Qualities of Tests
For the clarity of discussion a short presentation of test qualities is provided. The
following qualities of test will be discussed: reliability, validity (construct, face and
response), authenticity, interactiveness, impact and practicality. The presentation
will be based mainly on how two groups of test specialists: Bachman and Palmer
(1996), and Alderson, Clapham, and Wall (1995), describe the main features of
language tests.
“Reliability is often defined as consistency of measurement” (Bachman &
Palmer, 1996, p. 19). It is a characteristic of a test as a measuring instrument
(Alderson et al., 1995). Validity is the extent to which a test measures what it is
intended to measure. A test construct refers to an ability that the test intends to
measure. Thus, construct validity is defined as “the extent to which we can interpret
a given test score as an indicator of the ability(ies), or construct(s), we want to
measure” (Bachman & Palmer, 1996, p. 21). Although the idea of face validity is
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
often criticized as being unscientific (e.g. Bachman, 1990), the concept of test
appeal seems extremely useful in the discussion of positive tests. Alderson et al.
(1995, p. 172) define face validity as:
an intuitive judgment about the test’s content by people whose judgement is not necessarily
‘expert’. Typically such people include ‘lay’ people – administrators, non-expert users and
students. The judgment is usually holistic, referring to the test as whole, although attention
may also be focused upon particular poor items, unclear instructions or unrealistic time
limits, as a way of justifying a global judgment about the test.
The researchers claim that face validity is important in testing. When the test
takers’s opinions about the test are positive, “they are more likely to perform to the
best of their ability on the test” (Alderson et al., 1995, p. 173). Data on face validity
may be collected by interviewing students about their feelings and attitudes towards
the test they have taken. Also response validity is considered to be important,
especially in the process of test validation (e.g. Alderson et al., 1995), which
involves collecting information about how test takers respond to tests, e.g., by
means of introspective and retrospective methods.
As regards authenticity, it refers to the extent to which the test resembles the use
of target language in real life situations, i.e., outside the test itself. Bachman and
Palmer (1996, p. 24) explain that “[i]n developing a reading test, for example, we
are likely to choose a passage whose topical content matches the kinds of topics and
material we think the test taker may read outside of the testing situation.”
Interactiveness of tests is the extent to which the test task involves learners’ individual characteristics such as language knowledge, strategic competence, affective
schemata and metacognitive strategies (Bachman & Palmer, 1996). The researchers
advise test constructors and teachers to be very tentative when estimating interactiveness and authenticity of a given test since different test takers will process the
same test in different ways. Another quality of tests important in designing tests is
their impact on those involved in testing situations, i.e., test takers and teachers (a
micro level of impact) as well as the educational system within which tests are
administered and society (a macro level of impact). The last test quality to be
discussed in this paper is practicality. When assessing practicality, we have to
consider resources (human resources, material resources and time) needed to
develop and administer the test. A test is practical if the resources required do not
exceed the available resources.
In this short discussion concerning test features, it is crucial to add that test
qualities are interrelated. Bachman (1990, p. 289) says: “While validity is the most
important quality of test use, reliability is a necessary condition for validity, in the
sense that test scores that are not reliable cannot provide a basis for valid interpretation and use”. Similarly, Hughes (1989) claims that if the test is not reliable, it
cannot be valid. The discussion shows that testing as a domain of language learning
and teaching is a complex phenomenon. In this complex nature of testing it is useful
to distinguish one more quality important in developing and evaluating tests—their
“positiveness”, a feature that would indicate the degree of “bias for the best” that a
given test allows for (the issue widely discussed by Fox, 2004 and Swain, 1985).
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
Pros and Cons of Tests
Despite many voices of criticism, tests are a valuable element of education.
Bachman and Palmer (1996, p. 8) summarize the main advantages of language tests
in the following way.
Language tests can be a valuable tool for providing information that is relevant to several
concerns in language teaching. They can provide evidence of the results of learning and
instruction, and hence feedback on the effectiveness of the teaching program itself. They
can also provide information that is relevant to making decisions about individuals, such as
determining what specific kinds of learning should be provided to students, based on a
diagnosis of their strengths and weaknesses, deciding whether individual students or an
entire class are ready to move on to another unit of instruction, and assigning grades on the
basis of students’ achievement. Finally, testing can also be used as a tool for clarifying
instructional objectives and, in some cases, for evaluating the relevance of these objectives
and the instructional materials and activities based on them to the language use needs of
students following the program of instruction.
It is hard to deny that evaluation is not only an element of school education; it is
a natural part of everyday life. A simple question arises why in the context of school
reality tests arouse strong feelings in everyone engaged in education: those
responsible for teaching, those involved in managing the system and those for
whom schools function, i.e., learners. Bachman and Palmer’s (1996) discussion
about language testing in practice suggests an answer. They see a difference
between tests and other components of an instructional program. The main aim of
tests is to measure, whereas the aim of other components is to promote learning.
Although tests can serve pedagogical purposes, their primary goal is to measure.
And it is these measurement qualities that gives tests the impression of a negative
factor that pervades school reality and dehumanizes teaching and learning. In fact,
the need to humanize the experience of testing has been the subject of many
publications, e.g., that of Canale (1987).
Tests as instruments to measure learners’ language competence may have a
negative impact on both test takers and teachers. Bachman and Palmer (1996: 31)
enumerate the following three aspects of the testing procedure that can affect test
takers: “1/the experience of taking and, in some cases, of preparing for the test,
2/the feedback they receive about their performance on the test, and 3/the decisions
that may be made about them on the basis of their test scores”.
All the three aspects can be the source of stress and anxiety, especially when
high-stakes external exams are used for placement into higher levels of the educational system. Test anxiety has been investigated by a number of studies. For
example, Kalnberzina (2009) in an interesting study measured the level of FL
classroom anxiety and the level of FL test anxiety and their impact on learners’
performance during the final FL exam in Latvia. She found that classroom anxiety
had a significant negative effect on FL test performance; while FL test anxiety had
an insignificant effect on FL test performance. In her conclusions she emphasized
the role of a good working relationship in FL classrooms with teachers and peers.
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
Another group of individuals affected by tests are teachers. Also they are likely
to feel a negative impact of external exams, which make them “teach to the test”,
i.e., spend most of their teaching time on procedures that are not necessarily
compatible with their concepts of good instruction but which can help their students
to pass the test.
How to Test for the Best—Suggestions of Solutions
Negative opinions about tests raise a question what can be done to make tests a
more positive component of education and a positive experience for learners and
teachers. Below some suggestions will be presented.
“Positive” tests should be teacher-friendly and learner-friendly. They should
bring out the best in learners, i.e., tests should let learners see what they can do best
in a FL. Tests should also bring out the best in teachers, i.e., tests should help
teachers to facilitate students’ learning.
If we asked teachers what a teacher-friendly test would be like, I suppose that
they would like tests that are practical, i.e., easy to construct and score. Apart from
the ease connected with test construction and marking, teachers would also
appreciate tests that are a natural part of the instructional practice. To achieve this,
building a harmony between teaching (and learning) and testing, both in terms of
the language material covered as well as knowledge and skills practiced, would be
If we asked students what a learner-friendly test should be like, first of all they
would like to take tests that are not difficult to pass. Probably students would also
mention the fairness of tests. This would mean a clear policy on test administration
and the scoring system as well as transparency concerning decisions made on the
basis of test scores. From the psychological point of view, learners would like to see
tests as elements of instruction that would give them a feeling of success, not stress
and failure.
What actions can be taken to change tests into a more positive component of the
learning and teaching process? A common teaching practice is to teach students test
taking strategies so that learners feel more confident when taking tests. This
technique can be helpful; however, in my opinion it does not promote reflection in
students, presenting tests as a situation in which learners can manage by means of
some universal automatic tricks. Another idea is to humanize testing procedures, for
example by treating test takers as partners, not only subjects of tests. Teachers can
elicit feedback from their students about their opinions and feelings concerning the
tests they are supposed to take or have just taken, for example by means of
questionnaires or interviews. Insight into students’ performance on tests is also
valuable; data can be obtained by asking test takers to introspect or retrospect about
actions they are taking or have taken. It is also crucial to give students feedback
about their performance on tests, not only in the form of numbers or critical
comments. By involving learners in the process of interpretation of the test scores,
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
we encourage them to see tests as situations that can help them in their learning.
Introducing informal forms of testing into the classroom can be another way of
making testing a more positive element of a FL classroom. This issue will be
developed in more detail below.
3 Testing Reading Skills
The major aim of this section is to look at what we test when we test reading skills
and what techniques are used in testing reading. This discussion includes a presentation of several formal and informal techniques used in testing reading.
Reading Comprehension Versus Interpretation
There is agreement among those concerned with the theory of reading that every
text is incomplete and it is the reader that should convert it into meaningful discourse. Candlin (1984, p. x, as cited in Urquhart & Weir, 1998, p. 112) explains:
Texts do not have unitary meanings potentially accessible to all, they rather allow for
variety in interpretations by different readers, governed by factors such as purpose, background knowledge, and the relationship established in the act of reading between the reader
and the writer.
It seems clear that the same text can be read in a different way by different readers.
Even the same reader at different times with different background knowledge will
read the same text in a different way. Readers from different cultures (ethnic or
professional) would produce different interpretations of the same text.
Is this interesting aspect of reading taken into account by those involved in
testing? The difference between comprehension and interpretation is important in
testing. Urquhart (1987) claims that reading (comprehension) tests measure comprehensions, not interpretations. Candlin (1984) agrees that conventional tests do
not make allowance for individual interpretations. Traditional test items elicit
certain reading behaviors, specific ways of reading. They measure the product of
reading controlled by specific test tasks, a state of achievement, which is comprehension. A complex nature of reading raises our awareness of the limits of
testing reading.
Another issue worth discussing is the construct of reading itself, i.e., the question
what is tested in reading tests. Although reading theorists give evidence both
against fully unitary views on reading on the one hand and multidivisible views on
the other, for testing purposes it is more useful to accept a view that breaks reading
into separate skills. A taxonomy that practitioners (e.g., Kusiak, 2002) found
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
Table 1 A taxonomy of reading subskills as suggested by Urquhart and Weir (1998)
Reading quickly (skimming) to
identify discourse topic and main
ideas. Search reading to find quickly
and comprehend information relevant
to the reader’s predetermined goals
Reading carefully to establish accurate
comprehension of the explicitly stated
main ideas the author wishes to
express; propositional inferencing
Scanning to locate specific
information, such as symbols,
names, dates, figures or words
Understanding syntactic structures
of sentences and clauses.
Understanding lexical and
grammatical cohesion.
Understanding vocabulary, e.g.
deducing meaning of lexical items
helpful in test development is the one suggested by Urquhart and Weir (1998,
p. 123) summarized in Table 1.
The authors distinguish four reading subskills (which they call reading types):
global expeditious, global careful, local expeditious and local careful. I will refer to
the taxonomy in the discussion below concerning a selection of testing techniques.
The Most Common Formal Testing Techniques
Multiple-Choice Questions
When designing tests, it is of vital importance to select testing techniques appropriate for the purpose of the test. In standardized (high stakes) summative assessment tests multiple-choice techniques have been one of the most common testing
techniques. They elicit comprehension of details or specific information. They are
not very suitable for testing global reading or comprehension of the structure of the
text. It is possible to test skimming but we are never sure whether this skill is really
tested because we provide answers for test takers, which learners keep in mind
when processing the text. As regards test construction, multiple-choice questions
are easy to mark (thus very practical in this respect), but very difficult to construct
(which lowers their practicality considerably). When designing and using
multiple-choice techniques it is useful to realize that answering the questions is a
separate skill, very different from the reading subskill we intend to test. This feature
of multiple-choice techniques decreases their test validity. As Alderson (1990)
proves, it is possible to get an item correct for the wrong reason or to get the item
wrong for the right reason. A solution can be asking test-takers to explain their
choices; however, making this procedure a part of the test would undoubtedly
influence its practical advantage in terms of marking.
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
Short-Answer Tests
Short-answer tests (open-ended questions), because of the amount of time needed
for marking, are not common in high stakes testing. They lend themselves to testing
all types of reading: search reading, skimming for gist, scanning for specific
information and reading carefully to extract the main ideas and important details.
This testing technique is recommended because of its good discriminating qualities
(Carrell, Pharis, & Liberto, 1989). It is possible to see from the students’ answers if
the test-taker understood the text. Another advantage of this type of test is that,
unlike multiple-choice questions, short-answer tests seem more authentic. Asking
questions about texts we read is a natural intellectual activity. Unfortunately,
short-answer tests are not easy to construct. Alderson (2000) underlines the
importance of clear wording of questions at the stage of test construction; to produce a complete answer key, it is important to ensure that all possible answers that
test-takers can produce are foreseeable. This procedure will have a positive impact
on the reliability of the test. Another important issue to consider is the fact that to
complete this kind of test learners have to produce answers in writing. It may
happen that learners understand the text but because of poor writing skills they have
serious problems to provide answers. To ensure the validity of the test, test takers
should decide in advance how to treat answers written in poor language. To
overcome problems connected with marking, a useful technique at the stage of test
construction can be pre-testing questions and asking test takers to introspect or
retrospect, for example in a think-aloud session, about the actions they take to
answer the questions of the test.
Let us look at the impact of both testing techniques on test-takers. During my
work as a teacher and test constructor I have observed that learners usually like
multiple-choice questions because the tests seem easy to complete; learners circle
the options and this gives them the impression that they have successfully completed the test. When learners complain, it is often about misleading wording of
questions, which students see as a deliberate attempt to trick them (and fail them).
As regards open-ended questions, learners often do not like the fact that completing
such tests requires producing answers in the written form. In conclusion, it seems
that formal testing is not easy both for students and teachers. In the next section a
selection of informal testing techniques is discussed as an alternative way of
measuring reading skills.
Informal Testing Techniques
Standardised (high stakes) summative assessment tests should not be the only types
of tests that are used in education. Diagnosing students’ problems and formative
assessment are also useful procedures. The purpose of testing should be extended to
gaining insight into the reading process. I believe that in the school environment
“checking on reading” (a less formal and threatening way of evaluation) should be
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
as common as “assessing” or “testing” (as suggested by Fordham, Holland, &
Millican, 1995). Below four ways of checking on reading are discussed: classroom
conversations, immediate-recall protocols, self-assessment and think aloud
Classroom conversations can take the form of teacher-student conferencing.
Learners read texts and talk with their teacher about what they have read. The
questions discussed can be of a very general nature, connected either with the
content of the text or problems that students encounter while reading the text. The
following questions can be asked: what students think about the text, whether they
find the text interesting, what problems they experienced when they were reading
the text. The teacher can talk with individual students or small groups. For testing
(or rather “checking on”) purposes, it is crucial the teacher takes notes and keeps
record of the results of his/her observation. It this way the teacher can collect
important information concerning his/her students as readers and observe changes
in their reading styles and preferences.
Immediate-recall protocols, called by Bachman and Palmer (1996) extended
production response tests, are interesting, but not very common techniques applied
to assess students’ comprehension of the text. Learners are asked to read the text
and then without referring to the text write down everything they can remember
from the text. To score recalls produced by students in a reliable manner, it is
important to establish a clear scoring system. One way is to divide the text students
read into idea units and relationships between idea units, and then to analyze
students’ recall in the same way. The technique can be criticized as it seems to be a
test of memory rather than a test of comprehension; another disadvantage is that
analyzing texts and protocols can be very time consuming. Despite its limits,
immediate-recall protocols have been found quite revealing about how readers
process and organize the information from the text (e.g., by Bernhardt, 1983).
Self-assessment techniques provide a valuable opportunity to involve learners in
the process of assessment in a more direct way. They can be a useful source of
information on students’ opinions about themselves as readers and their conceptualisations of developing reading skills. Students can use can-do statements that
can be found e.g. in Common European Framework for Foreign Languages (2001).
Another way of using self-assessment is to combine this technique with formal
tests. Test-takers can be asked to do a test and later to evaluate the correctness of
their answers. Surprisingly, research (e.g., Kusiak, 2001; Ross, 1998) has found
positive correlations between a self-assessment of foreign language ability and a test
of that ability.
In think aloud techniques readers are directed to talk about what do when they
read a text. Ericson and Simon (1980) distinguish two types of verbalisations:
concurrent and retrospective. If information is verbalised at the time that it is
attended to, the procedure is named concurrent verbalisation. If the subject verbalises his/her cognitive processes that occurred sometime earlier, he/she retrospects, i.e., we deal with retrospective verbalisation. It is important that the interval
between the moment of acquiring the information and the moment of recall should
be very brief.
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
Think aloud techniques have been used for a number of purposes, also to
investigate test-taking strategies. Research into how students take reading comprehension tests reveal interesting insight in L1/FL reading differences. Zupnik
(1985, as cited in Cohen, 1986) compared strategies used by a weak and a strong
reader while reading an English text (students’ FL) and answering questions in
English (FL) and in Hebrew (L1). Subjects were asked to think aloud and then
provide answers in writing. It was found that on the Hebrew test the two readers
reported almost the same number of strategies. On the English test the poor reader
reported four times as many strategies as the good reader did. The analysis of types
of strategies, based on Sarig’s (1987) taxonomy, revealed that most of the strong
reader’s moves were comprehension-promoting, whereas the weak reader’s moves
were often comprehension-deterring.
Nevo (1985, as cited in Cohen, 1986) was interested in what strategies her
subjects use while answering reading comprehension questions. To elicit feedback,
Nevo prepared a checklist of 15 strategies students were likely to use. Among the
strategies in the checklist were: using background knowledge, using clues in the
text, matching the question with the text, etc. She administered a multiple-choice
test in Hebrew (students’ L1) and French (students’ FL), and asked students for
each test item to select two strategies that helped them to answer the question. The
researcher found that students transferred test-taking strategies from the first language to the foreign language. Nevo also investigated whether the strategies students chose facilitated choice of the correct answer. The investigator noticed that it
was in the foreign-language test where students more often selected strategies that
did not promote choice of the correct answer.
As regards testing in formal education, think aloud can be an interesting alternative. It can be used for both diagnostic and formative testing. Below an example
of such a test is given.
An Example of Using a Think Aloud Technique
in Testing
The think aloud study described in this section was part of a more extensive study
presented in Kusiak (2013). The aim was to evaluate students’ reading comprehension, for the purpose of the study defined as an ability to identify the main idea
of each paragraph of the text. Since I had not taught the students earlier, the main
aim of the evaluation was diagnostic. I was interested in finding information about
my students as foreign language readers. The students were ten undergraduate
students of a foreign language teacher training college. They were asked to read an
expository text from Time, an authentic news magazine article (see Appendix).
They were directed to read in silence and describe how they read. The subjects were
informed that the session would be recorded. My role during the think-aloud session involved fostering verbal reporting. However, I attempted to minimize any
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
social interaction with the subjects so that they could focus their attention on the
task. The think-aloud session was followed by a semi-structured interview, during
which the students were asked to comment on the way they had read the text and on
their general reading styles in English. The subjects were also asked to comment on
the think-aloud task.
Before presenting in detail the procedure of the evaluation, I would like to
discuss the main principles of the van Dijk and Kintsch (1983) model and Britton’s
(1994) theory, which contributed to the conceptualisation of reading comprehension
evaluated in the study.
Both the van Dijk and Kintsch (1983) model and Britton’s (1994) theory are
mental model theories, which view reading as a process of building and maintaining
comprehension of the situations described in a text. Readers not only process a text
at a propositional level, but also develop a mental model that is analogous in
structure to the events or situations described in the text. In the van Dijk and
Kintsch (1983) model, text information is represented in memory at three levels:
surface form, propositional textbase and situation model. The surface form refers to
the representation of the exact wording and syntax; the propositional textbase
corresponds to a multileveled, locally coherent propositional network of semantic
text information; and the third level, the situation model, depicts real-life situations
presented in the text, as perceived by the reader, i.e., the reader’s interpretations of
the text.
The model proposed by Britton (1994) is an approach that views reading an
expository text as a dynamic mental process in which the text structure and the
reader’s background knowledge intertwine. Britton (1994, p. 641) claims that
“[e]xpository texts are intended to build a structure in the readers’ mind”. The
author of an expository text guides the reader by providing the instructions that will
enable the reader to construct the correct structure of the text and the concepts that
the reader can use to develop the intended structure. The reader’s role is to recognize and execute text instructions, use the concepts provided by the text and add
any building material not provided by the author. Britton (1994, p. 644) suggests
that “the mental structures that readers derive from a text often will be incomplete
or incorrect, when compared to the structure intended by the author”.
After van Dijk and Kintsch (1983) and Britton (1994), it was accepted that the
reader constructs in his/her mind mental structures (units of knowledge) which
correspond to propositions (units of information) expressed in the text. Britton’s
theory was used to analyze the texts used in the study and students’ protocols
obtained in the think-aloud session. For each reader, the results of two analyses, that
of the protocol and that of the text, were compared; the propositions (idea units) that
the subjects constructed were evaluated in relation to each paragraph.
The think aloud data were analysed twice: first to find the students’ individual
patterns of constructing comprehension (which involved analysing qualitative data)
and then to measure the readers’ ability to understand the text (which entailed
quantifying the think aloud data). The first analysis allowed me to identify the most
common strategies applied by the students and characteristics of reporting. Below
the results concerning three students (which I considered different from one
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
another) are presented along with two examples taken from the protocol of
Student D and that of Student J.
Student B—A very verbose report, frequent predictions, consistent in pursing her
predictions, frequent reference to her background knowledge, a variety of strategies
reported, able to evaluate the product of comprehension
Student D—A very brief report, a very haphazard style of reading (focusing only on
the first sentences, “jumping” from paragraph to paragraph), as a result constructing
a very simple model of the text (a network of very general ideas drawn from
paragraphs), satisfied with her comprehension; no attempts to evaluate the final
state of comprehension
Student J—A verbose report, reading with ease, identifying main ideas as the most
frequent strategy, discussing the text information, very few problems reported, a
very logical approach to the text
Student D: OK, now I’ve decided to read the next paragraph. (…) uhm I’ve read uhm the
first paragraph, uhm the second paragraph and to conclude I thought that it’s hard for me
to predict what the next paragraph may be about so I decided to read the sentence from the
next paragraph to see what it contains. (..) eeh Now I’ve read ‘cause in the first, in the
second paragraph there are things which seemed modern in the past and are now, become
everyday XX and then in the next paragraph which I started to read uhm they talk about
about the price that we had to pay for progress and now I’ve jumped to uhm the next
paragraph to see what the text consists of so I didn’t read the whole paragraph, but I
decided to read uhm the next introduction to the next paragraph.
Researcher: The one that begins with “yet none”? (the researcher means the fourth paragraph in the text).
Student D: hmm no. I didn’t even notice this one, I jumped to “the real question” (the
researcher means the beginning of the fifth paragraph).
Researcher: Aha. So what? What are reading now?
Student D: Yes, I’m beginning to read. (…) And now I’ve jumped to the next one. (laughter)
I will just check this paragraph.
Student J: The first thing I pay attention to is not the title but the three words in red at the
top of the page “The century ahead” – the century that will begin, the century that we are
just about to enter, so I’m sure the text will be about our future, about some progress. And
the other thing is the title “is progress obsolete?”, which means “is progress necessary?”
Uhm (the student by glancing through the text checks how long it is) I don’t know why but
I’m looking at the name Christopher Lasch, then I return to the top and right away under
the title there is one sentence, yes it is an introduction (the student reading aloud “A noted
historian argues that the dream has become far too exclusive’). (…) It means that a famous
historian claims that uhm It is unclear for me at this point of reading. I’m beginning to read
the first paragraph (…) uhm intriguing here they say that that uhm progress and democracy go hand in hand, thanks to progress everyone’s standard of living gets higher, not just
the life of those privileged uhm I’m reading the sentence at the end, it’s what we had
thought till some events began to indicate that progress has limits. I’m beginning to read
the second paragraph (…).
The descriptions of the students’ reading behaviour enabled me to see the
learners as individuals. Each of them approached the text in his/her own manner,
applying strategies that he/she found most effective in the think aloud situation.
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
In the next analysis the ability to comprehend the text (which in this study meant
identifying the main ideas) was evaluated. The propositions that the readers constructed and reported were analyzed in relation to each paragraph of the text. The
readers’ performance (while reading each paragraph of the text) was compared with
the model answers and scored from 0 to 4 points. It is important to explain that in
the scoring system the following abilities were evaluated: an ability to identify the
main idea, an ability to draw conclusions, an ability to link pieces of information
and an ability to paraphrase the text. To compare the students within the group and
to obtain a simplified picture of the students’ reading ability, traditional grades were
introduced. Below the model answers (only for the first three paragraphs), the
scoring criteria and the grades are provided. All the results are presented in Table 2.
Model answers:
Par. 1. Progress involves democracy. It means a better life for everyone, not only
for those privileged. But it seems that progress may have limits.
Par. 2. When compared with life in the past, nowadays industrial countries lead a
better, richer life. Examples: better general living standards, more advanced medicine, longevity.
Par. 3. We pay a price for progress. Examples: consumption results in producing
garbage, living longer entails spending more money on the health-care system,
changes involve more stress.
Scoring criteria:
Very good (4 points)—the protocol indicates complete understanding of the main
idea of the paragraph; only paraphrasing the text, i.e., talking about it in one’s own
words, is accepted for this score;
Good (3 points)—the protocol indicates partial comprehension of the main ideas,
the reader ignores some important parts of the main message; only paraphrasing the
text, i.e., talking about it in one’s own words, is accepted for this score;
Fair (2 points)—the report indicates superficial comprehension, i.e., the student
understands pieces of text information but is not able to find links among them and
to draw conclusions concerning the main idea of the paragraph; only paraphrasing
the text, i.e., talking about it in one’s own words, is accepted for this score;
Poor (1 point)—miscomprehension, missing the main idea; instead of paraphrasing
the text only reading aloud the text, in the case of the English text translating the
text is observed;
Extremely poor (0 point)—the protocol related to reading a particular paragraph
was not found.
80–100 % very good (5)
79–65 % good (4)
64–50 % fair (3)
49 % and less poor (2)
21, 75
Students and scores
p. 1
p. 2
p. 3
p. 4
p. 5
p. 6
p. 7
Total: in points,
percents and grades
14, 50
19, 68
10, 36
26, 93
(very good)
22, 79
23, 82
(very good)
Table 2 Reading comprehension scores (in numbers, percents and grades) concerning the whole text
27, 96
(very good)
22, 79
28, 100
(very good)
212, 100
21.275 %
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
The analysis provided me, a researcher and a teacher, with interesting information about the students’ learning. Thanks to the quantitative data (see Table 2) I
could see how well the students comprehended the text paragraph after paragraph.
As regards an ability to understand the whole text, the analysis showed that four out
of ten students obtained a very good grade, only one student—a fail grade.
Additionally, the results showed which paragraphs were the most difficult to
comprehend. The inspection of the students’ reports enabled me to see difficulties
that the students experienced when reading the particular parts of the text. It seems
that the concept of democracy proved the most difficult to understand. The first
paragraph introduces two concepts: progress and democracy; 5 out of 10 students
reported paying attention to the word “democracy” and developing the concept of
democracy in their reading. Two students noticed this concept; however, they did
not discuss it, e.g., what it may mean and how it may develop in the further parts of
the text. As a result, most of the readers did not understand the concept of the
democratisation of affluence in paragraph 7, which, as indicated in the table, was the
most difficult paragraph for the readers. It seems that the students did not take
advantage of numerous overlaps of ideas between concepts in paragraph 7 and the
earlier parts. This resulted in an incomplete, partial understanding of the text. This
means that the representation of the text the subjects developed did not reflect the
message intended by the author of the article.
In conclusion, the think aloud session provided me with invaluable information
about my students as readers. I had an opportunity to see the students in action, i.e.,
in the process of comprehending the text. It gave me a picture of my students’
reading abilities, the problems they had and strategies they applied to solve the
problems. It was of considerable help for me in preparing lessons for the students. It
is crucial to emphasize that different teachers would “invent” a different way of
analyzing the text and protocols, and a different scoring system; as a result, they
would obtain different conclusions about their students.
To sum up, the think aloud technique has many advantages as a technique to be
used in “checking on” reading. Although in this study it was used for diagnostic
purposes, I think it could be also applied in summative evaluation. The undeniable
advantage is that it can be followed by an interview, which can facilitate cooperation between the teacher and students, and can be a source of feedback for both the
teacher and students. As regards the construct to be evaluated, the think aloud
technique can be used to elicit and evaluate both comprehension and interpretation.
The technique is not without weaknesses. As a testing technique it is very time
consuming, thus not very practical for testing large classes. Another disadvantage is
that it can be stressful for students. Learners may not accept the idea of reading and
talking at the same time. However, in my opinion in certain situations, e.g. for
diagnostic purposes, it can be a very positive way of testing, promoting communication between the teacher and the learner and providing interesting insight into
the learner’s abilities and the reading process itself.
M. Kusiak-Pisowacka
4 Conclusion
In the discussion presented above I have aimed to demonstrate that there is no best
technique to test reading skills. Each technique has its weak points, which can cause
problems for test constructors and test takers. However, to make testing situations
more positive experiences several actions can be taken. It is vital that everyone
involved in testing gets a better understanding of the nature of testing techniques;
this knowledge can help to develop more positive attitudes towards testing as an
element of school reality. Since it is not likely that high stakes exams (and formal
forms of testing) will disappear from institutionalized education, it would be useful
to build more effective communication between those who organize exams and
design test, teachers and test takers. To create a more positive atmosphere around
testing, qualitative techniques, such as think alouds and immediate recall, can be
applied. They can provide valuable insights into the process of answering test
questions, the strategies learners use as well as test takers’ feelings concerning
testing. The information obtained in this way can be of considerable help in a
difficult process of making tests more positive learning situations.
The text the students read in the think aloud session, taken from Lasch (1992,
p. 71). Only the first three paragraphs are provided.
Is Progress Obsolete?
A Noted Historian Argues that the Dream Has Become
Far Too Exclusive
1. Progress and democracy, we assume, go hand in hand. Progress means abundance: more labor-saving machines, more comforts, more choices. It means a
rich life for everyone, not for the privileged classes alone. Or so we used to
believe, until recent events began to suggest that progress may have limits after
2. Compared with the rest of the world, industrial nations enjoy a lavish standard
of living. The affluence generated by industrialism looks even more impressive
when compared with living standards that prevailed throughout most of the
millennium now drawing to a close. Goods that would once have been considered luxuries have become staples of everyday consumption. Medicine has
reduced infant mortality and conquered many of the diseases that formerly
How to Test for the Best: Implementing Positive …
struck down people in their prime. A vast increase in life expectancy dramatizes
the contrast between our world and that of our ancestors in the distant past.
3. To be sure, we pay a price for progress. Constant change gives rise to widespread nervousness and anxiety. In solving old problems, we often create new
ones in their place. Improvements in life expectancy make possible an aging
population that puts a growing strain on the health-care system. Private cars give
us unprecedented mobility but swell the volume of traffic to the point of gridlock. In the course of enjoying the delights of consumption, we generate so
much garbage that we are running out of places to dump it.
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Canale, M. (1987). The measurement of communicative competence. Annual Review of Applied
Linguistics, 8, 67–84. doi:10.1017/S0267190500001033
Candlin, C. (1984). Preface. In C. Alderson & A. Urquhart (Eds.), Reading in a foreign language
(pp. ix–xiii). London: Longman.
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TESOL Quarterly, 23, 647–678.
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for Specific Purposes, 5(2), 131–145.
Coste, D., North, B., Sheils, J., & Trim, J. (2001). Common European framework of reference for
languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Council of Europe.
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Fordham, P., Holland, D., & Millican, J. (1995). Adult literacy: A handbook for development
workers. Oxford: Oxfam/Voluntary Service Overseas.
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Swain. Language Assessment Quarterly, 1(4), 235–251.
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Kalnberzina, V. (2009). Foreign language anxiety in test and classroom situation. In M. Kusiak
(Ed.), Dialogue in foreign language education (pp. 141–153). Kraków: Jagiellonian University
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(Vol. 1, pp. 255–274). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
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Can Earning Academic Credits be
Enjoyable? Positive Psychology
in a University Course of Intercultural
Agnieszka Strzałka
Abstract Positive psychology in the realm of education seeks to accentuate the
role of well-known non-cognitive factors, such as motivation, attitude as well as
those less recognised ones, such as well-being. Looking at the positive, rather than
pathological, side of psychology in education, we wish to ask questions that concern the happiness, enthusiasm and freedom from anxiety of those who learn a
language. It is these factors which should contribute to student engagement and
long-term motivation, which in turn should help in learning to study autonomously
throughout their lifetime. Intercultural competence (IC), a crucial part of communicative competence, and thus an important element of language education today, is
a certain candidate for life-long development. How can this aim be achieved
without intrinsic motivation or simply enjoying IC matters? Enjoyable learning,
however, may sound trivial and out of context at a university. Should not academic
coursework focus on individual intellectual capacities for understanding and
learning and be achievement, that is exam-oriented? Are not the lower levels of the
educational ladder more appropriate for the introduction of student-centred
instruction and collaborative skills tasks? The article is an attempt at suggesting
the extent to which the tenets of positive psychology can be realised in an academic
Keywords Positive psychology
! Intercultural communication ! Project work
1 Introduction
Introducing project work as a form of assessment, instead of a traditional exam, is
an attempt at increasing student engagement, fostering interest in intercultural
communication and promoting a self-regulated process of learning for English
A. Strzałka (&)
Institute of Modern Languages, Pedagogical University, Ul. Karmelicka 43,
31-128 Cracow, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_17
A. Strzałka
teachers, who are expected to continue their intercultural development beyond their
university years, hopefully—throughout their lifetime. The idea is for this technique
to increase intrinsic motivation—students should enjoy exploring what they
themselves decide that they want to study and present in class.
In this paper I hope to answer the question as to whether group project work
motivates and empowers university students to learn and whether this type of
learning and assessment develops character strengths described by positive psychology literature.
The Intercultural Project
Intercultural Communication project work, in which the students work in groups of
3–4 over a minimum of 6 weeks to develop their understanding of intercultural
communication, is an example of autonomous learning. The students first decide on
the culture they want to research further and consequently choose the ways in which
they can do so.
Rooted in a sociolinguistic approach to intercultural communication, the course
encourages the students to move from a purely sociolinguistic perspective on
communication to a sociocultural one, in which not just language behaviour but
larger social practices are discovered. For example, students who chose to work on
“Communication between students and lecturers at an American and Polish university” compare the forms of address used at universities with the larger context of
the respective society’s communicative styles, dependent, among other factors, on
Hofstedian Power Distance. These are the expected goals of the project:
Cognitive goals
1. Students know and understand a number of facts about the culture in question
2. Students understand more facts about their own culture
3. Students know about (negative) stereotyping between the two cultures in case and are able to
explain how it arose
4. Students can quote examples of situations/stories which debunk the stereotypes
Affective goals
1. Students are able to control the (negative) emotions arising in connection with the new culture:
fear, sense of inferiority/superiority, superficial fascination, (“I love to watch flamenco”),
prejudice (“the Jews will always cheat on you”,) stereotyping (“the Russians drink to death”)
Behavioral goals
1. Students know how to behave when meeting someone from the given culture, what (topics) to
avoid, how to address people, how to greet, apologize, compliment etc.
2. Students are ready to use the project experience in their teaching. They know how to explain
the cultural difference, help others control negative/superficial feelings and stereotyping about
culture in question
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology …
Looking for Positive Affect in Earning Course Credits
Introducing project work instead of a final exam to obtain credits for the Intercultural
Communication course, I hypothesise that autonomous learning will not only ensure
better results, but increase the enjoyment of the task and the well-being of the
learner. Undertaking project work as a form of earning credits should open more
space for experiencing positive affect while learning. More specifically, it could be a
tool for the development of Peterson and Seligman's (2004) character strengths listed
by MacIntyre and Mercer (2014). Out of the list of 24 such character strengths I
chose just three, those which seem to be likely candidates for development within
this particular educational intervention.
• Project work should foster CURIOSITY, as the students might find not only the
subject matter—Intercultural Communication—but also the way of earning
credits—searching for information, interviewing people from their own and
other cultures, presenting the results of their work in class—interesting.
• It could, for those really keen on working in non-standard ways, foster ZEST, or
the excitement working in a social milieu, rather than studying on one’s own.
Just like travelling abroad is exciting to many of us, doing ethnographic research,
travelling virtually, perhaps making foreign friends, may sound exciting.
• It should strengthen TEAMWORK, if the students find pleasure in collaborating
with others, sharing the work to be done, planning, discussing and putting
together the results of their work.
In order to check whether positive psychology tenets are present in the process
of learning the researcher, who is also the course lecturer, will apply an elicitation
tool for the students after the intercultural project is completed.
2 Lifelong Learning in Intercultural Education
The Autonomous Learner
Intercultural education for language students is based on the notion of life-long
learning (Byram, 1997). The life-long development of any competence, in this case
the students’ intercultural competence, is based on the concept of autonomous
learning, that is one in which a self-directed, active student takes the risk and
responsibility for the outcomes of learning (Smith, 2003).
It seems that the tenets of positive psychology, intrinsic motivation and enjoying
what one learns, happiness, enthusiasm and freedom from (debilitating) anxiety of
those who learn, should contribute to the autonomous student’s engagement and the
long term motivation necessary for learning for life.
Let us first compare the traditional teacher-centred type of classroom, including
the university classroom, with autonomous learning. In the former educational
setting learning is based on the reproduction of knowledge and the information
A. Strzałka
transmitted by the teacher. If the course material includes a number of facts or
specialist terminology the learning process is often based on memorisation. The
traditional teacher-student relationship and type of teaching translates into
teacher-centred close-ended assessment methods.
On the contrary, learning in autonomy is characterised by the use of learning
strategies, such as speculation and hypothesis, the students’ choice of the material to be
learnt through the use of these strategies, and their learning to learn in their own specific
way. The role of the teacher becomes more of an experienced colleague and collaborator, preliminary critic and adviser. Her role may be to help the students to learn
outside the classroom (e.g., by providing dictionary training, CALL training, etc.).
As we can see, the very first step towards the ability to learn autonomously is a
change in teacher and learner roles. In Poland we are experiencing a shift in these
roles and project work seems to be a more and more popular form of academic
credit work, which was not, however, the case until recently.
In fact the idea of learning in autonomy may be a cross-cultural issue in itself
(see Huber-Kriegler, Lazar, & Strange, 2003). Although “cultures also assign
meaning to people’s autonomous experience, interpreting it either as positive and
desirable, which needs to be supported and cultivated, or as a negative and undesirable, which needs to be prevented and circumscribed” (Chirkov, 2009, p. 254),
the tendency towards autonomous actions is a part of human nature which will be
exercised under favourable conditions (ibid). In this context ‘favourable conditions’
will include the type of classroom the students work in, as mentioned above, and
the type of knowledge to be attained.
• The real world issues
The goals of the course in Intercultural Communication, such as broadening the
ethnocentric perspective (affective goal), recognising cultural differences in values
and behaviours (cognitive), and ultimately being able to bridge the differences by
helping English learners toward intercultural understanding (behavioural), go well
with the idea of (experiential) learning outside the classroom. It is “experience with
real-world issues [that] prepares students to become life-long learners” Laursen
(2005, p. 22). Intercultural communication is a real world issue as it refers to people
in real intercultural situations. Also the method, that is group work involving both
face to face and virtual social interaction, makes the course immersed in real life
issues. The idea is for the project work students to develop a growth mind-set (ibid),
while enjoying the actual process of learning and their own creativity, rather than
the mere product of obtaining the credit as a result of studying for an exam, which is
the case in the traditional classroom setting.
• Evaluation for positive learning
Group project work was introduced into my course “Intercultural Communication”
as an attempt at creating a learning culture in which the students can decide how
they learn and how they are evaluated. Presented with a choice (exam or project
work) they decided to work with the project technique which meant changing the
assessment method from summative into formative.
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology …
For the period of ten weeks before the end of a 15 week course, students explore
a culture of their choice from a sociolinguistic and ethnographic perspective. While
discussing intercultural issues in class under the supervision and input of the lecturer, in between classes they collect information, videos, and illustration as well as
conduct interviews with so called informants coming from the culture in question.
(for a detailed description of the course see Strzałka, 2009, 2011).
The change from the summative exam assessment into a formative project work
should generate more space for positive affects in academic learning. However,
there were some concerns. Can earning credits at university be enjoyable?
Preparing for an exam is associated with a certain dose of test anxiety and failing an
exam is a powerful possibility. But to apply the principle that “learning can be fun”
at this level of education may sound problematic. Is coursework to be treated
seriously if it seems enjoyable?
Another challenge is evaluating the students’ projects. We need to go beyond the
routine test preparation scheme—establish content—design tasks—decide on the
scoring. Evaluating autonomous learning tasks may be difficult, first of all because
the results of the students’ work they bring to the classroom differ in terms of topic,
content and individual approach, or even their IT and presentation skills.
As for evaluating intercultural learning, Byram (2008) discusses the difficulties
of assessing intercultural competence when there is a lack of explicit criteria. In
trying to establish criteria, we encountered a number of ambiguities. Shall we
consider the usefulness of a (intercultural) action or its moral values? With reference to Byrams’s savoirs (Byram, 1997), we can try to include more than the
traditional knowledge component, but also the (changed) attitude—towards intercultural openness, the ability to interpret some (sociolinguistic) events in another
culture with reference to one’s own, as well as the skills of discovery, that is the
extent to which the students dealt with the task of autonomous learning from
self-selected sources in order to understand (and present) a problem.
Thinking about the ‘positive’ component of the whole assessment intervention, I
wondered if there should be an additional credit for ‘enjoying the project’, which
might lead the students to continue their exploration in the future. The students
whose work shows the motivation, humour, and pleasure involved in its preparation
might obtain extra points, perhaps on the basis of peer assessment so as to avoid the
subjectivity of teacher perception.
Having compiled a comparison of ‘assessment through project work’ and typical
‘exam assessment’, based upon a modification and extension of the OECD
Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms (2005), I
decided to weigh the pros and cons of the two approaches (Table 1).
It seems that the project assessment has many advantages over the traditional
exam scheme. However, the final decision, to do a project rather than take another
exam, was taken by the students themselves. It is also their actual experience of
learning in this way that I would like to explore further. The research described
below examines the “positive” effects of the changed assessment form on students’
learning experience during the project, elicited from data collected right after its
completion. Examining the long-term effects (that is the potential lifelong learning
A. Strzałka
Table 1 Assessment through project work versus exam assessment
Assessment through project work
Exam assessment
• Formative
• Individualises learning
• Requires steady engagement (although the
work load in the case of group projects may
not be equal)
• Values student creativity
• Values the scope and detail of student
• A number of strategies, including social
ones, are used
• Peer assessment possible
• Potentially positive backwash effect on
learning: experience-based approach
• Promotes life-long learning
• Summative
• Objectivised, standardised
• Disengagement possible (a student who
misses a number of the classes and sits the
exam might still be successful)
• Based on recognition/reproduction
(correctness a criterion)
• Memory strategies
• Teacher is the source of knowledge and the
ultimate assessor
• Negative backwash: fact-based approach,
cramming-passing—forgetting loop
• Little enjoyment
• Little chances for life-long learning
effect) would require a separate study in which students are “tracked” after their
graduation, observed or asked to provide questionnaire data at time intervals (for
instance: a year—five years—fifteen years after the course).
3 Research
Research Questions
The main aim of the research is to answer the question as to whether group project
work on intercultural issues can be recommended as an example of a positive affect
while learning at university level and whether its gains can be explained in terms of
the tenets of positive psychology. More specifically, the following research questions were asked:
• Can university students of English thrive and flourish while studying?
• To what extent can the tenets of positive psychology be realised in an academic
• Do positive emotions enhance learning at the university level?
• Does project work contribute to the development of character strengths
(MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014).
The Sample
24 students from two groups in their 1st year of MA studies at the English
Department of the Pedagogical University were asked to participate in the research
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology …
which lasted for one semester. While one group, called The Digital Teacher, followed an innovative programme focused on e-learning, the other group followed a
regular program in Language Teaching Methodology. An interesting aspect of the
group dynamics was that five Erasmus students (from Turkey, Germany and
Slovakia) had joined the regular Language Teaching Methodology group for the
semester. As is normal in a university or any other learning context, the groups
included both outspoken and shy students, those who find it easy to speak and
present in the classroom, as well as students who prefer to listen to others. As far as
intercultural experience is concerned, the participants also differed: all the Erasmus
students and a few Polish students had the experience of a period of study abroad.
All the students had an opportunity to work with the project technique before.
The Tool
After finishing their the project work, the students were asked to complete a
questionnaire with 11 statements that referred to the motivation, engagement,
emotions and problems experienced during the project, to which they were to react
using a five point Likert scale (from strongly disagree to strongly agree), as well as
give reasons for their choice. Below there are two examples of questionnaire
statements for the project participants to rate.
I think I will continue learning about Intercultural Communication on my own
after the project is done.
Please comment briefly on your choice:
I enjoy working with others in this project.
Please comment briefly on your choice:
The results of the questionnaire are presented and analysed below.
The results of the questionnaire are presented and analysed below.
A. Strzałka
4 Data Analysis
Quantitative Analysis
The following table presents the results obtained for each of the statements, calculated as a mean from all the 24 students (Table 2).
As we can see, the highest mean scores were obtained for statements referring to
(2) increased motivation (students admitted to feeling more motivated than in a
course ending with a traditional exam assessment), (7) enjoyment of teamwork and
(8) satisfaction with the choice between doing a project rather than sitting a final
exam (students believed their decision was a good one). With reference to all the
statements one can observe that the project did evoke a positive affect among the
students: they found working on IC interesting, they felt happy and motivated while
working on their projects.
Let us now look at the qualitative results of the students’ original comments on
their project work, which may shed some more light on the actual feelings and
attitudes that are worth exploring.
Qualitative Analysis
This part is divided into three sections, which analyse the elicited material against
the three character strengths: curiosity, zest and teamwork.
• Engagement in the project versus preparing for a regular exam
While only five students were undecided as to whether the project increased their
engagement in learning, the remaining 18 students observed they were actually
Table 2 Students’ rating of
the statements referring to
project work
1. Project more engaging (than studying for an exam)
2. Motivation higher
3. Motivation different
4. Project enjoyable
5. Discovering IC more interesting
6. Will continue learning about IC
7. Working with others enjoyable
8. Happy with assessment tool
9. Doing research triggers curiosity
10. Talking to people from other cultures interesting
11. Projects exciting
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology …
more engaged, positioning the results of this engagement in the following categories: social gains (“I spend more time with friends”, “I feel responsible for other
people’s achievement”), more autonomy (“The topic I choose myself is connected
to me”, “I have a personal attitude towards it”, “It’s more enjoyable and I’m more
independent, able to choose what I like”), more regular work (“I prefer working
during the semester than studying for an exam”, “ I procrastinate, in a project I
have to work continually”), a more practical approach (“I like to put theory into
practice”, “Focusses on practical things rather than theories”, “We use our
knowledge”), a wider use of sources (“We have access to sources that are forbidden during exams”), less anxiety (“It is less stressful”, “There is more time”,
“Preparing for an exam is much more stressful”), and, finally, more interest
(“Projects are much more interesting”, “We prepare things on our own not just
from books”, “Its more interesting to complete the project than to study”,
“Studying for an exam is boring”).
There are many positive elements relating to the students’ attitude to project
work. They feel more engaged because learning is individualised (“the topic I chose
myself”), requires the application of knowledge to practical solutions, because they
appreciate doing things over time and not at the last minute and because they feel
other people depend on them for the work being done.
• Motivation
Only four students who took part in the project were undecided whether their
motivation was higher. The rest of them offered a number of statements supporting
the claim that this form of learning increases student motivation. These could be
categorised as those stressing the different nature of the learning process (“No need
to cram useless information”, “More interesting to do research and talk to people
than theory”, “I discover, experience, preparing for an exam is just reading books
in order to pass”, “It more about discovering than learning by heart to later
forget”, “Projects give real knowledge, include creating something”), more
autonomy (“You decide what to focus on and what to learn”, “I have a choice and
more opportunities”, “More influence on the project makes it more interesting”),
the advantages of working with others (“I feel responsible for more people”, “I do
not want to disappoint friends”, “I learn from other people not just from books”),
more profound learning outcomes (“It’s a more personal way of learning”, “I need
to understand things to present them”).
The majority of the students who considered their motivation as being higher
ascribed it to the fact that they were engaged in activities other than “just reading”,
they could create something on their own, they learnt from others. It was important
that they consider the kind of knowledge coming from experiential learning as more
lasting, hence more worthwhile.
There were 17 students who believed that their motivation to prepare the project
was of a different kind than the motivation to pass an exam. Their answers could be
put in the following categories: intrinsic rather than extrinsic (“In a project you
want to get as much information as you can, in an exam you want to pass”, “The
motivation is more intrinsic”, “More personal”, “Exams are never interesting
A. Strzałka
because we have to take them”, “I’m more involved”, “I don’t think about the
grade so much when working for the project”), more positive than negative (“A
projects is less stressful so I don’t feel discouraged and nervous”, “Passing an
exam depends on luck, involves stress, in a project it’s not the case”), powered by
contact with others (“Other people are involved, it’s more motivating than solitary
studying”, “I have to present in front of others”, “It’s different since it’s a group
As we can see, the students working with the project method feel their motivation is completely different, it is coming from the inside (“intrinsic”) rather than
being external, which is amazing. They feel no pressure to recall information in
which they “have no interest in”, so the whole process is enjoyable rather than
• Discovering intercultural communication instead of studying it in books
When providing evidence with respect to the statement suggesting that discovering
IC was more interesting than studying books, the students stressed the following
advantages of the method: autonomy (“We can be more independent”, “I like
drawing conclusions myself rather than following the opinions of others”, “I get to
experience my findings on my own, don’t have to take anything for granted”,
“Researching on my own requires more involvement”), practical approach (“Real
life situations are better than text books”, “Because its more realistic”,
“Knowledge from books is too theoretical”, “It’s always better to have your own
experience,”), development of social skills (“We may interact with real people”,
“Always more exciting and interesting to communicate with people”, “We can talk
to people, learn from real life experiences”), deeper understanding (“definitely yes,
while discovering we learn more”, “It’s more authentic”), more positive feelings
(“Things that we experience ourselves are always more fun”), and, finally,
improved speed and retention of knowledge (“Doing things myself allows information to be …deeper into my memory”, “I learn faster by experience”, “Books
are boring, attention span is low, I (prefer) to be a researcher”).
Students seem to prefer a new learner role in which they are independent, deal
with realistic tasks, authentic data, and most importantly, discover things rather than
“take anything for granted”. Very much in line with positive psychology, learning
from a project made the students experience challenges (“it changes your comfort
zone”) as “fun”.
Those for whom project work is not necessarily more interesting than studying
from books complained that “It does not give a general impression”, and suggested
that “Some theory is essential”. Depending on the learner type and cognitive style,
some students may have expected more structure (“theory”) and did not appreciate
the different way of working. As another student observed, project work “changes
your comfort zone”.
• Searching for information (doing research) triggers my curiosity
The statement was true for the majority of the students, whose supporting
arguments can be grouped under the following headings: open-ended results
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology …
(“True, you always come across something you didn’t expect”, “Always something
new to learn”, “I am usually surprised while reading the results”, “I tend to find
interesting information, I get to find out such interesting things I haven’t known
they existed, “As I discover new things, I get excited for more”, “I stumble upon
many different views and ideas), autonomy (“I decided on the aspect I want to
discover”, “I have the impression that I discover on my own”), positive affect
(“The more you read about something interesting, the more you want to know”,
“It’s fun although we don’t have huge multiculturalism”, “The information is
interesting and sometimes surprising”).
Curiosity seems to be developed well in project work. The students look for
information and always find something they “didn’t expect”. It is good to observe
that the students clearly felt positive when preparing the project, and that their
activities were not purely intellectual but that the emotional component of learning
was present.
The students for whom the cultural information search was problematic were
negatively affected by the (the perceived) volume of information and the shortage of
time (“There is too much sources”, “I don’t have enough time to browse through
all of them”, “It’s tough to find corresponding scientific research.”). It seems that
some students may be overwhelmed with the amount of information they encounter
when working on their own, but of course this depends on the individual students’
time and work management skills. It suggests we need to work on the skills necessary for a critical search for relevant material. It also seems, however, that the
general attitude of the students in such cases was not good enough and hence
perceived difficulties which others did not report.
• Talking to people from other cultures increased my curiosity
The majority of the students (17) supported this statement, using the following
arguments: usefulness of the information (“It’s good to have knowledge about other
cultures”, “It’s good to know how other people live, what they do”), raised
awareness (“It’s an eye-opener, enables to ponder on other cultures as well as my
own”, “I didn’t know or noticed before how cultures can be different and similar at
the same time”, “Interesting to discover differences one didn’t know existed”, “It’s
interesting how culture influences the way we use language”, “Interesting to learn
to learn about other cultures from their representatives”), change in perspective
(“People from our cultures are really interesting, we get to see our culture from
their perspective”), the direct experience (“It may sound not authentic at all, but
it’s 100 % true, we aren’t forced, we learn a lot, touches us”, “I used to experience
this issue, I fully agree”, “It’s better than reading about it”).
The project on intercultural communication was a chance to ask questions that
are normally not raised. It showed the participants a new perspective and helped
them to see intercultural issues as something “simple”, which, however, requires
reflection on both the other and one’s own culture.
A. Strzałka
• Enjoyment of the project
Not all of the students found the new assessment tool enjoyable: “Its time consuming”, “It would be better if each student prepared their own project”, (it took)
“More effort and time than an exam”. For students who prefer working on their
own and studying “fast”, the feeling of enjoyment was not present when working in
a team of “researchers”. The others, however, admitted that the intercultural project
was enjoyable, and for the following reasons: the social aspect (“I like working with
my friends, exchange ideas, you can learn a lot from others”, “Group work is
engaging”, “I meet other people”), novelty (“Because it’s a new and different kind
of assessment, It gives more place for creativity than an exam”, “A lot of new
things to come across”), usefulness of knowledge (“Very interesting topic useful
for the future”), autonomy (“I like the topic that we chose”, “I can chose the form
and realisation of the project”, “It’s fun, engaging, motivating”).
If the students developed a zest for learning, it was because they were excited
about the new way of assessment, they liked learning in a group and felt it let them
be creative in what they do. Every project was different, each group could develop
their own ideas as to how to gather and present information, which can be enjoyable
only if you like working with others and are not in too much of a rush. As one of the
students said, “The topic is interesting although the project is time consuming”.
• Being happy because of having chosen project work as an assessment tool
In general, the students expressed positive opinions about their decision taken at the
beginning of the course. Those who did not regret having decided to undertake
project work were motivated by the following: positive affect (“Apart from
preparing the project we also have fun”, “Project is more exciting”, “It’s interesting”, “Good opportunity to try something else”, “Projects more interesting and
engaging”, “Less stress”, “I have learned a lot without pressure”, “Exams are
more stressful”, “I love when our lecturers do this”), gain in the quality of
knowledge (“I think I learn more of this way”, “Knowledge from research to be
more memorable”, “We can learn more through projects than exams”, “Because
culture isn’t something that can be simply learned”, “It simply puts theories into
practice”, “I don’t have to study useless theory by heart”).
To many students it is simply obvious (“self-explanatory”) that projects offer
more possibilities and more enjoyment than studying for exams. Their reasons, if
explored, seem be related to the affective component of learning—they mention the
lack of stress or anxiety and the very positive affect towards the teachers who let
them work on projects rather than within the traditional division of labour, in which
the teacher transmits knowledge and the student sits the exam. They realised that it
may pay off to work on projects throughout the semester, although their time
investment is actually greater: “The work is more interesting, but actually takes a
lot of time and effort (even more than an exam)”.
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology …
• Excitement about the project
Excitement is perhaps too strong a word to describe what the students feel while
working on their projects. In fact the largest group was sceptical: “Obviously
English linguistics cannot be the most interesting thing I do”, “Too many projects
hinder my motivation and enthusiasm”, “It exhausts me”. One ambivalent comment was made: “There are more exciting things, but I like it and I would love to do
something like that again”.
Another 17 students, however, simply supported the idea: “The project is really
exciting experience”, “I enjoy projects like this”, claiming that it is the social aspect
which induces the excitement (“Yes, because we can compare results”, “Other
students present ideas in a way that it’s fun”, “It would be interesting to listen to
what other people found out”, “Topics are interesting, I’m curious to see presentations of other groups”, “I’m truly interested in the results”) and that the
excitement is matched against the challenge. (“It’s something different from our
projects and quite challenging”, “The feedback from teacher is needed”.)
Although the word “excitement” seems to trigger relatively weak connotations
with academic subjects (”linguistics cannot be the most interesting thing I do”), and
for some students the challenge of being “open-minded” toward other cultures may
outweigh their pleasurable feelings, many admitted to actually enjoying the thought
of seeing (the results of) their work and the work of others.
The students did find a lot of pleasure in collaborating with others, sharing the work
to be done, planning, discussing and putting together the results of their work.
Teamwork evoked positive attitudes for a number of reasons, like: good spirit
within the groups (“Good company a motivating factor”, “I like people I work
with”, “I like my group and we get on well”, “Great people”, “They are my
friends, and we are well organised”, “We understand each other, I like them”, “We
have additional opportunity to meet”), international colleagues (“Always nice to
work in groups especially from another country”), as well as the facilitative effect
of it (“Always better to discuss ideas together”, “I can count on others, together we
explore more”, “Sharing responsibilities plus ideas”, “Like working in groups,
everybody has different ideas”, “Gives insights to different views”, “Group work is
motivating we work on the same goal, can help each other when one of us
encounters a problem”).
As we can see, many students observed the emotional and cognitive gains in terms
of cooperation with others, helping each other, discussing things and learning about
other people’s viewpoints. Those less enthusiastic seemed to have concentrated on the
drawbacks of organising group work and working with people who are not always
doing their share of the work as they should (“We have very good contact, however
A. Strzałka
sometimes it’s difficult to meet together”, “I work with friends but I prefer individual
tasks”, “Yes, but not all students are highly motivated and this is a problem”).
5 Conclusions
While the study offers no proof that the students will continue to learn about
Intercultural Communication throughout their life, it may prove, however, that
offering the possibility of developing one’s strengths, such as curiosity (being able
to look for a topic, material, answers to self-posed questions), zest (doing something
with enthusiasm, e.g., using social strategies when talking to people from other
cultures) and teamwork (sharing the workload, inspiring and helping others) results
in more engagement and offers a wide range of opportunities for learning with
Apart from the undeniable fact that intercultural communication is, for many
students of language, interesting in itself (“It’s an interesting subject, it broadens the
horizon”), it is important to stress that the students, who chose project work as a
learning and assessment tool, made a lot of positive observations referring to both
the emotional and the intellectual side of the process of learning it in this particular
way. Thus, we can conclude that university students are able both to enjoy a
student-centred intervention and to critically evaluate it in terms of gains and
In terms of character strengths development, the students found interesting both
the subject matter, Intercultural Communication, and the way of earning credits—
searching for information, interviewing people from their own and other cultures,
presenting the results of their work in class, so thier curiosity was increased.
Excitement was observed in connection with talking to people from other cultural
backgrounds. Just like travelling abroad is exciting to many of us, doing ethnographic research was found to be exciting and encouraged the students to travel and
make foreign friends in the future (zest). The students found pleasure in collaborating with others, sharing the work to be done, planning, discussing and putting
together the results of their work, which shows that teamwork was successfully
Finally, it is important to stress the role of positive affect in teaching at the
academic level. The students who gained their credits by means of project work
were happy with the idea of this form of assessment, enthusiastic about their work
and less stressed than in normal exam conditions. Their intrinsic motivation and
enjoyment of the intercultural aspects of communication in English should allow
for willingly learning on their own in the future.
Thus, despite the original doubts, the university seems to be a very good place for
introducing enjoyable learning tasks, team work and student-centred tools for
assessment. Positive psychology can be successfully introduced into teacher training,
so that hopefully, prospective teachers, knowing the taste of zest, interest and team
spirit, take these strengths further into their teaching of English in all types of schools.
Can Earning Academic Credits be Enjoyable? Positive Psychology …
Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevendon:
Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. (2008). From foreign language education to education to intercultural citizenship:
Essays and reflections. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters.
Chirkov, V. I. (2009). A cross-cultural analysis of autonomy in education: A self-determination
theory perspective. Theory and Research in Education, 7, 53–262.
Huber-Kriegler, M., Lazar, I., & Strange, J. (2003). Mirrors and windows: An intercultural
communication textbook. Strasbourg: European Centre for Modern Languages.
Laursen, E. K. (2005). The power of grit, perseverance, and tenacity. Reclaiming Children and
Youth, 23(4). Retrieved from http://www.reclaimingjournal.com
MacIntyre, P., & Mercer, S. (2014). Introducing positive psychology to SLA. Studies in Second
Language Learning and Teaching, 4(2), 153–172. Retrieved from http://www.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and
classification. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Smith, R. C. (2003). Pedagogy for autonomy as (becoming-) appropriate methodology.
In D. Palfreyman & R. C. Smith (Eds.), Learner autonomy across cultures: Language
education perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Strzałka, A. (2009). Developing teachers’ intercultural awareness: Paths and meanders.
In M. Misztal & M, Trawinski (Eds.), Current issues in English studies (pp. 35–43).
Kraków: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego.
Strzałka, A. (2011). Rozbudzanie wrażliwości interkulturowej – autonomia studenta i nauczyciela
dla autonomii ucznia. Języki Obce w Szkole, 2(2011), 10–12.
OECD. (2005). Formative assessment: Improving learning in secondary classrooms. Retrieved
form: http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/35661078.pdf
Helping Low Achievers to Succeed
in Tertiary Education: Explicit Teaching
of Academic Literacy as a Way to Positive
Educational Experiences
Jan Zalewski
Abstract Since tertiary schools in Poland have started admitting all low-achieving
students who are willing to continue their education, there is an urgent need to help
the low-achievers, who have become a majority in many classes, to stay and succeed in college. Academic teachers are facing the challenge of how to adapt their
teaching to suit the needs of these students. The paper looks for a way to teach an
introductory linguistics course to students of English whose academic skills are
insufficient for tertiary study, but the discussion is relevant to teaching all introductory academic courses. It addresses the issue of how to integrate content
instruction with explicit teaching of academic literacy skills indispensible for college success so that low-achieving students who have been traditionally excluded
from tertiary education can be successfully included in academic classes.
Keywords Inclusive education College success
tion Teaching introductory academic courses
! Content and literacy instruc-
1 Introduction
Following the tenets of positive psychology, educational institutions should enable
the development, well-being, and success of their students. Some scholars have
argued however that the educational system is not at all intended to bring about
more equitable chances of success for all students. Rose (2006, p. 6), for example,
calls the stratification of students into low, mid, and high achievers “an extraordinary achievement” of the educational system rather than just “a natural course of
events,” and claims that educational and ultimately social inequalities are rigidly
maintained through this unfair stratification of students because, with the exception
J. Zalewski (&)
Institute of English, Opole University, Plac Kopernika 11,
45-040 Opole, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_18
J. Zalewski
of the early years of elementary school, students are not explicitly taught literacy
skills, and teachers are not trained to do it.
Academic literacy is fundamental to success in college and only those tertiary
students who have developed adequate academic literacy skills can have positive
educational experiences. Lately, tertiary schools in Poland have started admitting all
low-achieving students who are willing to continue their education. It may be a
positive development that such students stay longer in school; however, traditional
tertiary-level instruction is not designed to enable success for such students.
Traditional academic teaching rests largely on lecturing and assigned readings, that
is, on the assumption that the students have acquired sufficient literacy and learning
skills. Academic teachers in Poland are therefore facing a new challenge, namely,
the need to adapt their teaching to suit the needs of the low-achieving students, who
are no longer an expendable minority in many schools. The present paper addresses
the issue of how to integrate content instruction with explicit teaching of academic
literacy skills indispensible for college success so that low-achieving students who
have been traditionally excluded from tertiary education can be successfully
included in our academic classes.
Ten years ago, in the fall of 2005, I started teaching an introductory linguistics
course to Polish students of English in a three-year state college. I had 232 first-year
students in my class. Less than 100 of them completed the course. Those students
who were not academically prepared and did not have enough determination to
succeed had to drop out. As a result of the demographic changes in our country over
the last decade, the number of students taking my course this semester (spring
2015) has shrunk to only seventeen. In the current situation, academic teachers have
a vested interest in seeing to it that the fewer students who are admitted do not drop
out but are retained and graduated. There is an urgent need to help the
low-achievers, who have become a majority in many classes, to stay and succeed in
college. The problem is how to do it.
The present paper is the result of my search for a more successful way to teach
an introductory linguistics course with the underachieving students in mind.
However, my discussion is by all means relevant to teaching introductory academic
courses in general. The problem that more and more college teachers in Poland are
currently facing is very fundamental and concerns the largely inadequate academic
skills of so many of our students. We are dealing with more and more students
whose literacy skills are insufficient for tertiary study. In view of the fact that
institutional support for such students in the form of learning and writing centers is
still virtually nonexistent in Polish tertiary education (cf. www.writingcenters.eu),
the only way we can currently deal with this problem in our classrooms is by
finding a way to manage teaching course content simultaneously with giving our
students explicit help in how to read academic texts, how to learn from reading, and
how to write based on the reading done for the class. By aiming to integrate content
teaching with explicit literacy instruction, we should be able to increase the chances
for our low-achieving students to be successful in college, that is, to be retained and
graduated. The issue I address in this paper is not only how the integration of
literacy instruction into content teaching can be actually done in the classroom but,
Helping Low Achievers to Succeed in Tertiary Education …
more fundamentally, how this integration is at all possible. The latter is a theoretical
question that will be discussed here with reference to Vygotsky’s (1978, 1986)
concept of mediation.
2 The Exclusion of the Low Achiever
As some educational theorists argue, the educational system is not at all intended
for all students to succeed in it. Bernstein (1990, p. 98), for example, claims that
“schools position pupils differentially (…) legitimizing the few, invalidating the
many”. It is characteristic of all educational systems that they stratify their students
into high, mid, and low achievers. Rose (2006, p. 6) argues that this ubiquitous
stratification of students is not at all “a natural course of events” but “an extraordinary achievement” of the educational system. As he points out, the system
“maintain[s] educational inequalities so rigidly and consistently (…) [in spite of]
the thousands of hours of opportunities for overcoming it in year after year of
schooling” (2006, p. 6). He explains that such student stratification roughly corresponds to the social groups of professionals, vocational groups, and manual
workers, with schooling affording these groups different kinds of knowledge
dependent on their acquisition of relevant literacy skills. The modern educational
system has evolved together with the evolution of written modes of meaning linked
to the development of social administration, modern science, and technology. It is
the function of formal education to select and provide apprenticeship for future
professionals in those fields (see Rose, 2007).
According to Rose (2006), there is one simple means by which the education
system achieves this unfair stratification of students, namely, with the exception of
the first years of schooling, students are not explicitly taught reading skills and
teachers are not trained to do it. It is only in the early years of elementary school
that teachers are expected to explicitly develop their students’ basic reading skills so
that they can become independent readers. From then on, students can develop and
expand their reading skills, acquiring them tacitly by engaging (or not) in the
learning activities required of them at each next level of schooling. Rose (2006)
proposes the following reading development sequence:
Stage 1 Before formal education begins: Children, depending on their social
background, either learn or fail to learn to engage in reading as a
communicative activity through parent-child reading in the home.
Stage 2 In early primary school: Children learn independent reading.
Stage 3 In later primary school: Learning to learn from reading begins.
Stage 4 In secondary school: Reading becomes the primary mode of learning.
Successful students process large quantities of texts and develop the tacit
ability to recognize and use the language patterns of written academic
J. Zalewski
Stage 5 In tertiary school: Students are expected to be ready to engage in academic study by independently reading and writing academic texts.
In this educational sequence (stages 1 through 5), continued success in developing reading skills at each stage of school is dependent on adequate preparation in
the preceding stage. Child-parent reading in the home can thus be seen as the
foundation for later literacy development in school. As Rose (2007) argues,
child-parent reading in pre-school years instills in the child the concept of a book as
an interactant, a concept completely alien to a child who has been exposed only to
spoken modes of making meaning.
Since only basic literacy skills are explicitly taught in school, the development of
more advanced literacy skills is what Rose (2007) calls the hidden curriculum of the
modern education system. As already stated, starting in secondary school, students
are expected to process large quantities of texts and in this way to implicitly acquire
the language of privileged written discourses in specific subject-domains. Thus,
only the successful students (with adequate preparation which starts in the child’s
home and continues through all the stages of schooling) acquire the sophisticated
skills in reading and learning from reading needed for university study. As Rose
(2006) explains, “leaving these skills for tacit acquisition (…) ensures that success
remains limited to small minority, and that the majority who are not as well prepared for independent tacit acquisition are directed to vocational and manual
occupations” (p. 6). Individual development of academic literacy is the key to
continued educational success. Only those tertiary students who have developed
adequate academic literacy skills can have positive educational experiences. Rose
(2006) argues that traditional literacy pedagogy has survived only because it
achieves the hidden purpose of excluding most students from higher education.
This kind of literacy instruction has served the needs of the now outdated stratified
economic order of industrial society. An educational system that does not and
cannot give a fair chance of success to more students by giving them access to
further education through adequate literacy instruction does not serve the needs of
the new information society and its economy which is less and less based on
material goods and more on knowledge, with information becoming a key economic resource for creating wealth (cf. Castells, 2010). This new knowledge
economy calls for a better educated and flexible work force. Literacy as the ability
to create, manipulate, transform, and distribute information is the means to partake
in the information society.
If we lower our admission standards in order to include low-achieving secondary
school graduates in tertiary education but at the same time we do not change our
teaching to help those students develop their literacy and learning skills, we will
compromise the value of higher education as a key to a better and more fulfilling
life. This value of higher education, as I argue hereafter, lies essentially in developing students’ self-regulative thinking processes, which amount to greater control
over their own learning. Explicit literacy instruction is not just the answer to our
current problem with low-achievers: it can prepare all our students for the challenges of the new information society.
Helping Low Achievers to Succeed in Tertiary Education …
3 Including the Low Achiever
Access to academic discourse and the ability to learn from it are acquired through
extensive experience (practice) in reading and discussing academic texts. As noted
above, Rose (2007) explains that such experience starts in secondary school for
only some students because more advanced literacy skills are not taught explicitly
but belong in the hidden curriculum of the modern education system. Thus, only
high achievers, that is, students who regularly attend, participate, and prepare for
classes can implicitly develop such skills over an extended period of time. As
already noted, a problem arises when secondary school low achievers, who lack
extensive reading experience and so have not developed sufficient academic literacy
skills, are freely admitted into tertiary schools. In Poland, such students are indeed
becoming a majority in many first-year college classrooms. What they need is
intensive remedial instruction in their first year of study in college to accelerate their
literacy development so that they can take advantage of their chance at getting a
college/university education. Thus, successful inclusion of these students must
mean focusing on and intensifying their literacy development in the context of
teaching academic content. To give low-achieving entrants a chance to succeed in
college, we need to make explicit literacy instruction a regular part of our academic
teaching. Since intensive remedial literacy instruction may currently be needed for
most first-year students (at least in some schools, which I can say based on my
teaching experience), it means that introductory academic courses in particular
should combine subject teaching with explicit literacy instruction.
The claim that our students’ academic success depends on their academic literacy skills is true for several reasons. First, we expect our students to be able to
read complex academic texts with a high level of understanding. Second, by
reading and discussing academic texts, we expect them to implicitly acquire the
conventions of academic language and, by that very fact, to be introduced to the
academic conventions for meaning making—as developing their academic language amounts to developing their resources for meaning (Halliday, 1993). Third,
we expect our students to be able to produce academic writing because, even
though term papers are not a regular requirement for college and university courses
in Poland, our evaluation of what our students have learned is ultimately based on
what they write for us, in the sense that there is a written thesis requirement for all
academic degrees in Poland. Our traditional teaching of academic courses reflects
the basic expectation of adequate literacy skills in our students, that is, sufficient
meaning making potential in the form of first of all their listening and reading
comprehension skills. As academic teachers, we lecture and assign readings,
assuming our students can read on their own with enough understanding to allow
classroom discussion and analysis that is supposed to develop their meaning
making skills in both speaking and writing.
The assumption that our students possess sufficient academic literacy skills
underlies our teaching of all academic courses. Introductory courses are no
exception to this rule as instructors in such courses extensively rely on lecturing and
J. Zalewski
assigning readings. A traditional academic classroom has a teacher lecturing in
front of a student audience. Teaching an academic course traditionally means
conveying conceptual content that needs to be acquired by the students, based on
the assumption that the requisite literacy and learning skills are already present in
the students. Introductory academic courses offer a highly abstract body of conceptual and factual knowledge for acquisition by the students. On the teacher’s part,
transmission of such academic knowledge requires expertise in not only lecturing
but in other advanced literate practices such as academic reading and writing, all of
which are complex cognitive skills. Over a couple of decades now, it has often been
emphasized that participation in relevant practices is required for acquisition of
specific skills and knowledge. As for example Kozulin and Presseisen (1995, p. 68)
assert, “an essential feature of human cognition is that it is based on the internalized
forms of what originally appeared as social interactions”. Since academic lecturing,
reading, and writing are interdependent academic practices and skills, students’
participation in lectures can be made more effective if it is intensified by reading
and writing activities. A point I will elaborate later on is that for the low-achieving
entrants, participation in academic lectures can be more successful when it is
combined with other supportive practices such as reading-and-writing classroom
activities in which the students take an active part.
The widening access to tertiary education which we have been witnessing in our
country since the fall of communism has been a process observable worldwide for
several decades. Thus, the attendant problems we are now facing in Polish tertiary
education are similar to those that, for example, American college and university
teachers started to face in the 1970s following the introduction of open admissions
at U.S. universities (see, e.g., Shaughnessy, 1977) or Australian teachers have faced
in trying to increase school retention rates for Aboriginal students (see, e.g., Rose,
Lui-Chivizhe, McKnight, & Smith, 2003). One general outcome of this widening
participation in tertiary education is the increasing social, cultural, and linguistic
diversity in the classrooms. This increasing diversity manifests itself in what
teachers perceive as inadequate literacy skills of a growing number of students.
Such students pose a challenge that teachers generally are not prepared to deal with
(cf. Rose, 2006). The truth is that in a mono-cultural classroom, culture remains
largely invisible as does the politically-charged issue that the major goal of teaching
is transmission of culture. Thus, the choice between normative versus transformative approaches to literacy instruction has been brought to our attention (Lillis &
Scott, 2007). In this situation, the rise in popularity of Vygotsky’s sociocultural
theory of learning should not come as a surprise (see Kozulin, 2003). Current
solutions to the problem of students’ inadequate literacy skills, which do not see the
problem as merely cognitive but as social in its origin, started to be proposed in the
1980s in the context of cognitive research on learning. In the above paragraph,
when talking about academic teaching as aimed at knowledge acquisition which
requires participation, I purposefully used the two different learning metaphors: the
more traditional (cognitive) acquisition metaphor and the more recent (social)
participation metaphor (Sfard, 1998). The participation metaphor for learning
became prominent in the 1980s and is a sign of the turn to a social view of learning.
Helping Low Achievers to Succeed in Tertiary Education …
In view of the fact that the inclusion of the low achiever translates into the need
for a focus on explicit literacy teaching in teaching academic classes, in the
remainder of this paper I proceed to explain first of all how the integration of
literacy teaching and subject teaching is possible at all, and then how it can be done
in an introductory academic course.
4 Cognitive Apprenticeship, or “Teaching Inside Out”
It is commonly stated that school is strong on conveying large bodies of conceptual
and factual knowledge, but weak on offering help with developing expert practices.
In this context, educational psychologists have talked of the need to “marry concepts to procedures” (Bruer, 1993, p. 95). A seminal proposal in this regard was
made under the name of cognitive apprenticeship by Collins, Brown, and Newman
(1987). They argued that “skills and knowledge taught in schools have become
abstracted from their uses in the world,” which makes an essential difference
between formal schooling and traditional apprenticeship because the latter “embeds
the learning of skills and knowledge in the social and functional context of their
use” (Collins et al., 1987, p. 1). Cognitive apprenticeship aims to adapt traditional
apprenticeship as guided practice of physical skills (i.e., craft learned through
modeling, observation, coaching, scaffolding, and successive approximation of
target practice) to the teaching and learning of mental processes used in carrying out
complex cognitive tasks. In cognitive apprenticeship then, the focus is on teaching
cognitive and metacognitive skills and processes by making them available on the
interpersonal plane, that is, by “teaching inside out” (see Collins, 1991). The aim of
such teaching is to get the thinking process of both the teacher and the students out
in a verbalized form so it can be observed by all participants.
Following the approach employed in traditional apprenticeship to teach physical
skills, cognitive apprenticeship is based on the claim that the best way to teach
complex cognitive skills is to have the learner participate in the target task, initially
in the role of observer, then under conditions of guided practice where control over
key aspects of the task is gradually transferred to the apprentice. Accordingly, what
is needed in teaching and learning discipline-specific literacy practices is a pedagogy that first of all renders key aspects of such practices visible to students. The
problem is that reading and writing “involve not simply physical activities, but
recognizing and using meanings,” as Rose et al. (2003, p. 42) point out. An early
literacy pedagogy reflecting the principles of cognitive apprenticeship was proposed
by Palincsar and Brown (1984, 1988). It is known as reciprocal teaching as the
teacher and students take turns playing the role of teacher. In this method of
teaching the hidden and implicit process of reading comprehension, what is normally carried out internally is externalized to give students a chance to observe the
cognitive processes of meaning-making involved in reading and to start practicing
the processes with help from others. Thus, the teacher first models strategic aspects
of the reading process such as asking questions based on the reading, summarizing
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the reading, clarifying problematic concepts in the passage. When students start
practicing the process, the teacher offers extensive support to enable them to perform parts of the task. As their competence grows, the teacher fades.
Importantly, the method of reciprocal teaching provides for alternation between
expert and novice performances, or between novices performing at different competence levels. This alternation “sensitizes students to the details of expert performance as the basis for incremental adjustments in their own performance,” as
Collins et al. (1987, p. 4) emphasize. More generally, learners’ reflection on the
observed differences in performance fosters their metacognitive skills. Cognitive
research demonstrated that literate expertise depends on the integration of cognitive
and metacognitive processes in reading (see, e.g., Armbruster, Echols, & Brown,
1983; Brown, Campione, & Day, 1980) and writing (see, e.g., Flower & Hayes,
1981; Scadamalia & Bereiter, 1987). Cognitive apprenticeship needs to pay special
attention to metacognitive, that is, self-regulative processes because the relationship
between process and product in cognitive apprenticeship is not as transparent as in
learning physical skills where a visibly/physically defective product is more likely
to lead to the learner’s self-correction. In cognitive apprenticeship, self-regulation is
taught through the externalization of the performer-critic dialogue, which is to be
gradually internalized by the learner. This externalization is commonly accomplished through peer group activities.
Many of the cognitive apprenticeship teaching practices proposed by cognitivists
found additional support in Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of learning, which is an
issue to be dealt with in the following section.
5 The Theoretical Learning Proposal
Vygotsky’s (1978, 1986) sociocultural learning theory focuses on how humans learn
by means of psychological tools, which are signs of all kinds and so are also called
semiotic tools. His theory is thus particularly relevant to the problem of integrating
teaching academic content with explicit literacy instruction, literacy being an aware
use of signs to make meanings and so referring particularly to written rather than
spoken language. Vygotsky sees human learning as mediated rather than direct.
Direct learning means direct interaction between learner and environmental. For
humans, the nature of the interaction is changed by the presence of, first,
external/material tools, second, internal/psychological tools and, third, more competent others, as three different kinds of agents mediating between the learner and the
environment (see Kozulin, 2003). Because of the presence of these mediating agents,
for Vygotsky, “the learning process was not a solitary exploration… of the environment; rather, it was a process of appropriation (…) of the methods of action [italics
added] existent in a given culture,” as Kozulin and Presseisen (1995, p. 67) explain.
Vygotsky (1981, 1999) claims that the so-called higher mental processes are
specific to humans because they are mediated by mental tools which are all types of
Helping Low Achievers to Succeed in Tertiary Education …
signs (so semiotic tools) used by humans, the primary such tool being human
language. Karpov and Haywood (1998) make a distinction between two types of
mediation present in Vygotsky’s theory: metacognitive and cognitive.
Metacognitive mediation facilitates the acquisition of mental processes commonly
referred to as self-regulative. According to Vygotsky, such processes originate in
interpersonal communication when a more competent other uses semiotic tools to
regulate a learner’s behavior. Such semiotic tools are later internalized and used for
self-regulation. Cognitive mediation is based on Vygotsky’s (1986) doctrine of
scientific and spontaneous concepts. Spontaneous concepts are the result of implicit
and inductive learning from everyday personal experience, and as such are typically
unsystematic and inaccurate, if not plain wrong. The learning of scientific concepts
begins in school, which is when systematic cognitive mediation begins (cf. Karpov,
2003). Scientific concepts are “cognitive tools that are necessary for solving
subject-domain problems,” as Karpov and Haywood (1998, p. 28) explain.
Since mediation is the main mechanism of human learning, instruction should
incorporate both cognitive and metacognitive mediation (Karpov & Haywood,
1998). One major principle underlying innovative trends in instruction of the last
decades, which is directly relevant to metacognitive mediation, is the claim that
teaching should be organized as collaborative student activity under peer control
(e.g., Brown & Campione, 1994). This instructional principle is in full agreement
with Vygotsky’s claim that regulating the behavior of others is an important
intermediate stage in the transition from being regulated by others to becoming
self-regulated. Mutual regulation has its natural place in peer collaboration but not
in teacher-student interaction. As Forman and Cazden (1995, p. 344) pointedly
observe, “children never give directions to teachers”.
Another key principle underlying innovative trends in instruction is the idea of
guided discovery (Brown & Campione, 1994). This principle of organizing students’ learning as teacher guided discovery stands in clear opposition to Vygotsky’s
views on the cognitive mediation process which starts in school and is carried out
by means of scientific concepts. In sharp contrast to the idea of guided discovery,
Vygotsky (1986) claims that scientific knowledge should be taught read-made and
not discovered by students because students’ empirical discoveries will result in
spontaneous, inductive knowledge which may be wrong. He argues that students
must not be expected to develop an understanding of the world by trying to
rediscover what their culture has already discovered. Bruner (1966, p. 101) seems
to concur with this view when he says that “culture (…) is not discovered; it is
passed on or forgotten”. Accordingly, as Schmittau (1993, p. 34) argues, students
“should not be cast in the role of a research scientist [without the training it takes to
become one] under the pretext of ‘inventing’ already existing knowledge”.
Vygotsky (1986) insists that scientific concepts should be taught directly in the
form of verbal definitions, admitting that “the difficulty with scientific concepts lies
in (…) [this] verbalism” (p. 148). However, a ready-made verbal definition is just
the starting point of the formation of a scientific concept. Vygotsky (1986, p. 159)
explains that scientific concepts only start to be learned “when the child learns the
term or word meaning denoting the new concept”. Instruction should aim to support
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this developmental process by grounding concept formation in mastering relevant
problem-solving procedures (methods of acting) that involve using the concept
while working on tasks. Learning in the Vygotskian view is a mediated process
which has the essential cultural component in that it is a process by which learners
appropriate some socially-sanctioned methods of acting which then shape their
experience of the world. In the academic culture, the methods of acting are
encapsulated in scientific concepts. Scientific concepts are thus the products of
specific ways of disciplinary acting and thinking. Such concepts are highly explicit
as opposed to the spontaneous concepts deriving from everyday experience, which
is because they are the products of highly literate ways of acting and thinking by
means of semiotic tools.
Vygotsky’s (1986) doctrine of spontaneous and scientific concepts has been
developed by Neo-Vygotskians into the distinction between two learning processes
called empirical learning and theoretical learning (Davydov, 1990). Empirical
learning, which is based on inductive generalizations, results in the formation of
spontaneous and most often faulty concepts. Theoretical learning is deductive and
based on instruction offering ready-made definitions of scientific concepts followed
by socially-sanctioned methods of action that utilize the concepts (see Karpov,
1995, 2013; Karpov & Bransford, 1995). Thus, theoretical learning focuses on
developing scientific concepts (declarative conceptual knowledge) through teaching
specific procedures that are to be internalized in the course of using them, which
means mastery of procedural knowledge.
6 The Solution: Theoretical Learning in a Community
of Learners
From the Vygotskian point of view, the problem with traditional instruction is that
classroom teaching focuses on rote memorization of factual knowledge at the purely
verbal level—the problem that Vygotsky (1986, p. 148) called verbalism. The
answer to the problem is the theoretical learning approach which focuses on linking
the learning of scientific concepts to procedures (methods of action) involving their
use (Karpov, 2013). Karpov and Haywood (1998, p. 31) explain the idea of theoretical learning as “students’ acquisition of methods of scientific analysis”. I
would suggest that by methods of scientific analysis we should not mean research
methods such as are taught in advanced university courses and later developed
through years of research experience. Methods of scientific analysis must be
understood in the more general sense of methods of action existent in an academic
culture. An introductory academic course does not focus on research methods in the
discipline but must focus on the most rudimentary methods of academic action. In
the first place, students must learn the basic tools of the trade, that is, the key
scientific concepts of the discipline, which become the cognitive mediators of their
more advanced learning. The acquisition of the basic tools, that is, the key scientific
Helping Low Achievers to Succeed in Tertiary Education …
concepts, must be linked then to the acquisition of the basic methods of action in
academic culture—which are the literate activities of reading and writing.
Vygotskian theory of learning gives us a solid foundation for combining teaching
academic content in an introductory academic course with explicit teaching of
literacy skills.
Using the apprenticeship metaphor, we can define the purpose of an introductory
academic course as providing students with the basic tools of the trade (scientific
concepts) and some basic methods of action involving their use (reading, discussion, and writing activities in which the students make their first attempts at using
the tools). Their understanding of the tools will continue to evolve for as long as
they continue to use the tools, refining their methods of action. As for the
community-of-learners idea, it is important that apprentices can observe not only
their master but also other apprentices performing at varying degrees of skill. From
the Vygotskian point of view, this situation gives learners an opportunity to regulate
others (an important step in achieving self-regulation) and so it should be
encouraged in the classroom.
In an introductory academic course, we start teaching scientific knowledge by
presenting students with ready-made verbal definitions. Following Vygotskian
principles of instruction, we should not expect our students to rediscover or reinvent
this knowledge. To become discoverers, they first need to become independent
learners and an independent learner, as Kozulin (1995, p. 121) points out, is “a
result, rather than a premise of the learning process”. The acquisition of scientific
knowledge is indeed a lengthy process of apprenticeship. By modeling the essential
features of such basic academic methods of action as the activities of reading and
writing, we can help our students master some key procedures for regulating these
target activities so that they can become independent learners who have a chance to
succeed in college.
In my introductory linguistics course, I use two major types of activities:
paragraph-by-paragraph reading followed by a collaborative writing activity which
focuses on summarizing the reading. The only preparation required for the class is
that each student must bring his/her own copy of the assigned text. The text is first
introduced in class, with focus on content. If there is such a need, individual
paragraphs may be additionally introduced. Then, students are given time to go
over each paragraph and ask for help with language-related problems. Next, students take turns reading the paragraph aloud sentence by sentence. Since the task is
reading-to-learn, we need to render observable the key activities regulating reading
comprehension, such as the questioning, summarizing, and clarifying procedures
mentioned in Sect. 4. With more difficult texts, questioning in the form of asking
students to identify the major point of a paragraph may not work. Then, the teacher
needs to paraphrase a key point and ask the students to identify the relevant sentence in the paragraph, to underline it, and to take notes by writing down some key
words from the teacher’s explanation (cf. Rose et al., 2003). Once the main points
are thus identified, underlined, and appended with comments, the teacher summarizes the paragraph offering possible additional clarifications. After a section of
the text is read and discussed in this paragraph by paragraph manner, collaborative
J. Zalewski
writing follows where more of the responsibility for the task is turned over to the
students. They take turns at the board, writing the summary sentence by sentence,
being regulated mainly by their peers. In this step-by-step manner students are
introduced to the basic academic activities of reading, discussing, and writing in a
specific academic discipline, using its basic concepts.
7 Conclusion
Students’ success in college is dependent on a few key factors and ultimately on all
aspects of their life in college. Two obviously core conditions necessary for college
success, which Habley, Bloom, and Robbins (2012) put at the top of their list based
on their study of the literature, are that students must possess a sufficiently
developed ability to learn as well as a number of adequately developed personal
characteristics which contribute to persistence, with self-regulation being one of
those characteristics. Ability to learn and to self-regulate one’s activity are directly
linked to literacy skills as the foundation of positive educational experiences. It is
obvious that students will succeed only if they learn. It seems much less obvious,
however, that students’ ability to learn is rooted in the literacy skills of reading and
writing, which in college students have thus far been taken for granted, with their
learning ability being thus viewed as unproblematic. The article has focused on the
need for explicit teaching of literacy skills (with self-regulation as their crucial
component) to the growing number of low-achieving students in our academic
classrooms in order to help them learn academic content. Help in the form of
explicit literacy instruction is indispensible to ensure their positive educational
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Self-regulatory Efficacy and Foreign
Language Attainment
Ewa Piechurska-Kuciel
Abstract The foreign language learning process is lengthy and full of obstacles,
while the most significant learning effects are quite delayed in time, and difficult to
notice on a day-to-day basis. For this reason perseverance in self-controlling efforts
may be of crucial importance to language success. It allows for a steady linguistic
and cultural development of the student, allowing him to enjoy diverse, even
contradictory opinions, leading to ultimate language success. The results of the
research carried out with Polish secondary grammar school students (N = 621)
demonstrate that only in reference to self-assessment of FL skills students with high
levels of self-regulated efficacy significantly differ from their low level peers. The
reasons for this finding can be attributed to the importance of personal goals and
grade achievement, as well as to the student’s perception of control.
Keywords Self-regulation
Self-regulated efficacy
language Final grades Self-perceived levels of foreign language skills
1 Introduction
“Believing that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish is one of the most
important ingredients—perhaps the most important ingredient—in the recipe for
success” (Maddux, 2002). For this reason self-regulation and self-efficacy are
considered two key cognitive and motivational variables in educational attainment
(Schunk & Zimmerman, 2007), while the study of self-reflection is considered “one
of the most exciting developments in second or foreign language (L2) learning”
(Oxford, 2011, p. 7). While self-regulation is responsible for the ability to influence
E. Piechurska-Kuciel (&)
Opole University, Opole, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
E. Piechurska-Kuciel
Katowicka 19/2, 45-061 Opole, Poland
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_19
E. Piechurska-Kuciel
one’s own motivation, cognitive, emotional and affective processes, self-efficacy
encompasses one’s beliefs in exercising these powers in various spheres of life
(Bandura, 1998). Thanks to self-efficacy beliefs people are able to regulate not only
their motivation, but also thought, affect, and behaviour (ibid.). Optimistic
self-belief in one’s competence or chances of successfully accomplishing a task
places an emphasis on the self as a source of value, which is a significant focus for
positive psychology (Carr, 2013).
The aim of this paper is to shed light on the relationship between the
self-regulatory efficacy of Polish learners of English, and their foreign language
(FL) success, operationalized as self-assessed FL skills (speaking, listening, writing, and reading), together with their final grades in English. The paper opens with a
discussion of the relevant terminology—self-regulation, self-efficacy, and
self-regulated efficacy—followed by a presentation of the empirical study and its
results. A discussion of the results and their implications for FL classroom practices
concludes the article.
2 Self-regulation
The concept of self-regulation originates from Bandura’s (1986) cognitive-social
theory. The underlying assumption of this theory is that each human being maintains
a balance in three categories of personal, environmental, and behavioral variables.
Self-regulation is usually understood as “thoughts, feelings and actions that are
planned and cyclic” (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 14). Basically speaking, from the social
cognitive perspective, self-regulation is the ability to employ intentional and purposive action, governed by internal and external influences (Bandura, 1991).
According to the three-phase self-regulation model proposed by Zimmermann
(Zimmerman, 1998a), three major components (or phases) exist: self-observation,
judgement, and self-response. The first one (also called the forethought phase) takes
place before actual performance, and involves the ability to self-observe: paying
attention to one’s own behavior, its conditions, and the effects it produces. Thanks to
self-observation, it is possible to set realistic goals and evaluate progress towards
them. Apart from that, it also allows for self-diagnosis, which in turn leads to
corrective changes in one’s behavior. The second component of self-regulation,
judgement (the performance control phase), is based on personal standards drawn
from social modelling (established at the previous phase). Its main function is the
evaluation of one’s own performance in relation to others’ attainments and own
goals. Such comparisons are a source of information about progress and can produce
motivational effects on future performance (Schunk, 1995). At this phase apart from
social comparisons, feedback, and the use of learning strategies are implemented.
Finally, during the self-reflection phase, which takes place after performance,
self-response provides motives for one’s own future actions, such as tangible outcomes or “self-evaluative reactions” (Bandura, 1991, p. 256). Self-response also
induces affective responses to behavior. Evaluative reactions involve beliefs about
Self-regulatory Efficacy and Foreign Language Attainment
progress. The belief that progress is made is accompanied by the anticipated
satisfaction of attaining a goal, leading to enhancement of self-efficacy and the
sustaining of motivation (Schunk, 1995). “These three areas of self-regulation
operate cyclically wherein mastery of a task depends on beliefs in one’s capabilities
and expectations of success” (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011, p. 197). It follows that
mastering any task requires having faith in oneself and expecting success, together
with careful planning, controlled performance, and self-reflection.
In the educational environment self-regulation can be viewed as students’
capability to direct their own learning in school, as well as beyond it (Boekaerts &
Corno, 2005). Students become self-regulated by setting their own goals, choosing
and using strategies, controlling performance, and continually reflecting on their
learning outcomes over a long period of time (Zimmerman, 2008). Self-regulation
operates cyclically through three essential learning areas: the cognitive, motivational, and metacognitive (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011). The first is mostly
connected with learning strategies, the second with self-efficacy and task value, the
third with self-monitoring and self-reflection. Students who are able to self-regulate
their learning are capable of actively engaging in a process of meaning formation;
they modify their thoughts, feelings, and actions as needed to support their learning
and motivation (Boekaerts & Cascallar, 2006). Such students have the ability to
make use of standards to direct their learning, and to set their own goals and
sub-goals. Their achievement effects are mediated by the self-regulatory activities
that they engage into reach learning and performance goals. Self-regulation of
learning requires setting goals by learners themselves, selecting suitable learning
strategies, sustaining motivation, as well as monitoring and evaluating academic
The basic self-regulation skills include planning, time management, setting goals,
self-motivation, attention control, effort and persistence in completing difficult tasks,
flexible use of learning strategies, appropriate help seeking, and self-monitoring
one’s performance (Zumbrunn, Tadlock, & Roberts, 2011). Self-regulated learners
distinguish themselves as skilled, self-efficacious, and self-directed. They are able
choose, organize, and create environments that are optimal for learning (Kolovelonis
& Goudas, 2013). In other words, such students perceive themselves as agents of
their own behavior, managing their problem solving and learning autonomously
(Oppezzo & Schwartz, 2013). They believe that learning is a future-oriented
(proactive) process (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1997), focusing on improving their quality
of life. They are self-motivated, and use strategies to achieve desired academic
results (Zimmerman & Pons, 1986).
Obviously, self-regulation is considered extremely important for academic
success (Järvelä & Järvenoja, 2011), aided by the development of critical reflection
(Jenson, 2011). The ability to self-regulate is connected with better conduct in the
classroom, more hours spent on homework and studying, and fewer hours on
watching TV (Duckworth & Carlson, 2013). More importantly, it paves the way for
the development of reflective and responsible professionalism of contemplative
practitioners (Sluijsmans, Dochy, & Moerkerke, 1998). However, there are other
E. Piechurska-Kuciel
benefits connected with self-regulation extending way beyond the educational and
professional spheres. Some of them are impulsivity control and self-discipline
(Ferrari, Stevens, Legler, & Jason, 2012), making self-regulation an important
precursor to well-being (Brandtstädter & Greve, 1994) because setbacks and failures are seen as opportunities to learn that help develop new strategies toward
achieving goals (Crocker, Brook, Niiya, & Villacorta, 2006). Hence, self-regulation
skills are key components in the lives of not only successful students, but also
professional writers, athletes, and musicians (Zimmerman, 1998b).
3 Self-efficacy and Self-regulatory Efficacy
In order to understand the concept of self-regulatory efficacy first the idea of
self-efficacy needs to be analyzed. In social cognitive theory the individual is
viewed as the proactive, self-reflective, self-organizing, and self-regulative agent of
psychosocial development (Bandura, 2001). The central mechanism of the
self-system of personal agency is constituted of self-efficacy beliefs, seen as
“people’s judgements of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action
required to attain designated types of performances” (Bandura, 1986, p. 391).
Hence, self-efficacy beliefs are mostly concerned with perceptions of what can be
done with the skills one possesses.
The self-system regulates one’s behaviors through the information coming from
four sources: previous (mastery) experiences, watching others, feedback enacted
and received externally, and somatic and emotional states. Mastery experiences are
a primary source of information. Together with the interpretation of one’s actions,
they lead to the development of capability beliefs. When one’s performance is
assessed positively, a high sense of self-efficacy is formed. On the other hand, when
the effects of one’s actions are unsatisfactory, a low sense of self-efficacy occurs.
Another source of self-efficacy beliefs are vicarious experiences, which involve
observing others similar to oneself (observational learning or modelling). On the
basis of observations people can increase their knowledge and skills through “behavioral mimicry”, but also by means of transmitting rules for their prospective
actions (Bandura, 2001, p. 25). Another source of self-efficacy beliefs are social
persuasions, understood as verbal or nonverbal information received from others.
They nurture one’s beliefs in their capabilities and increase the chances of success
when they are positive. On the other hand, negative persuasions lead to a termination of efforts. Apart from receiving feedback, people are also affected by the
messages they send themselves (Usher & Pajares, 2006). Their wellbeing is
improved by boosting and strengthening messages, while negative ones may
self-handicap, thus reducing the likelihood of future achievement. The last source of
self-efficacy beliefs is information from somatic and emotional states. Positive
affective states induce more feelings of competence, while negative states or
emotions lower self-efficacy beliefs, as “people read their tension, anxiety, and
Self-regulatory Efficacy and Foreign Language Attainment
depression as signs of personal deficiency” (Bandura, 2004, p. 623). Self-efficacy
is conceptualized as a forethought process, because it has a proactive impact
on performance and then on the self-evaluative processes following it
(Zimmerman, 2000). It takes place throughout the whole cyclical feedback loop
(forethought—performance control—self-reflection—subsequent forethought processes) (Zimmerman & Cleary, 2006). Nevertheless, aside from directly influencing
self-regulation processes, self-efficacy may also be manipulated by these processes,
as self-regulation is able to produce changes in one’s self-perceptions.
As the research shows, an optimistic sense of personal efficacy is tightly connected with the individual’s accomplishments and, most of all, positive wellbeing
(Bandura, 1998). A strong sense of self-efficacy requires persistence in completing
a difficult task in spite of obstacles. In such a situation feelings of personal
accomplishment are enhanced, which may lead to the conviction that failure can be
associated either with deficient knowledge or inadequate effort (Burney, 2008). But
most importantly, in self-efficacious individuals success is associated with personal
effort. Along these lines, low self-efficacy is usually connected with low personal
aspirations, weak commitment to goals, stress and depression vulnerability, as well
as with avoidance of difficult tasks, perceived as personal threats (Bandura, 1997).
Self-efficacy plays a central role in self-regulation of motivation (Bandura,
2001), because self-regulation strongly depends on self-efficacy beliefs. “Perceived
self-efficacy influences the level of goal challenge people set for themselves, the
amount of effort they mobilize, and their persistence in the face of difficulties”
(Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992, p. 665). Strong beliefs lead to
effective self-regulation, even when obstacles seem to mount, because a strong
belief in one’s self-regulative capability to accomplish goals is at the heart of a firm
sense of personal agency. In the learning environment students also experience this
self-efficacy—self-regulation relationship in the following manner (Schunk, 1996):
when entering a learning situation they have different levels of self-efficacy for
learning (forethought). In the next phase (performance control) they engage in the
task, using their self-regulatory strategies depending on three sources: their
knowledge of strategies, beliefs that they are effective, and their efficacy for using
them in a competent manner. In the last phase (self-reflection), they assess the
learning progress. When it can be observed, self-efficacy and motivation are sustained, leading to learning enhancement. On the other hand, when little or no
progress is perceived, self-efficacy is diminished. However, this may not necessarily
be the case if students believe they know how to do better (they may work harder,
seek help, and use more effective strategies (Schunk & Ertmer, 1999).
As self-regulation is “the ability to regulate cognition, motivation, affect, and
behavior” (Klassen, 2004, p. 19), self-regulatory efficacy denotes beliefs that
one possesses the self-regulatory strategies needed in a variety of domains,
including academic success (Usher & Pajares, 2006). Confident students are
capable of employing the metacognitive skills needed to apply strategies and
control resources necessary to successfully perform a task. They believe themselves
capable of monitoring their own progress. Students with high self-regulatory efficacy tend to display similar beliefs in their academic capabilities, because the
E. Piechurska-Kuciel
sources informing self-regulatory efficacy are theoretically supportive of the sources
informing academic self-efficacy (Pajares, 2002). In other words, self-regulatory
efficacy contributes to academic achievement directly, because perseverance in
self-controlling efforts leads to success in resisting social pressures and temptations
to behave in ways that undermine academic achievement.
Research on the role of self-efficacy in the foreign language learning process is
still scarce (not to mention self-regulated efficacy, which is practically
non-existent). Nevertheless, to a large extent what little research there is confirms
findings from other academic areas. Self-efficacy has been proven to be a strong
predictor of performance in English as a foreign language (EFL) (Anyadubalu,
2010; Nasrollahi & Barjasteh, 2013; Tilfarlioğlu & Cinkara, 2009). It plays an
important role in the development of FL skills, such as writing (Erkan & Saban,
2011), reading (Ghonsooly & Elahi, 2010), and listening (Rahimi & Abedini,
2009). Ultimately then, while global self-efficacy beliefs about future FL success
are positively correlated with self-assessment scores (Coronado-Aliegro, 2008),
there are no conclusive studies on the relationship between language anxiety and
self-efficacy (e.g., Çubukçu, 2008; Csizér & Piniel, 2013). Nevertheless, the pivotal
role of self-regulation in foreign language learning has been established in Oxford’s
study (2011) on language learning strategies viewed as effective self-regulated
learning strategies in the Strategic Self-Regulation (S2R) Model of language
learning. The value of effective foreign language learning strategies as characteristic
of self-regulated learners (self-regulatory efficacy) has also been confirmed by
Ziegler (2014).
For the purpose of this paper it is hypothesized that ineffective beliefs in
self-regulation seriously hamper one’s perception of FL abilities. The foreign language learning process is lengthy and full of obstacles, while the most significant
learning effects are quite delayed in time, and difficult to notice on a day-to-day
basis. For this reason believing in one’s abilities to deal with them may be of crucial
importance to language success. An additional problem inherent in this specific
linguistic expedition is connected with the serious threat foreign language learning
can be to one’s language ego, which has already been established in reference to
one’s mother tongue. Learning not only subject matter, but also characteristics of a
different culture, developing the social aspects of language learning motivation and
other prominent variables, like language aptitude, self-determination, personality,
and anxiety (MacIntyre, Clement, & Noels, 2007) present a very risky interplay of
powerful linguistic and nonlinguistic outcomes. They are likely to produce an
internal clash of different opinions and ideas, in effect destabilizing the learner’s
worldview and beliefs in his or her abilities. In such threatening circumstances
optimistic beliefs in one’s self-regulatory capabilities seem of key importance. They
allow for the steady linguistic and cultural development of the student, allowing
him to enjoy diverse, even contradictory opinions, leading to ultimate language
success. Along these lines, it can be proposed that students who skillfully monitor
and take charge of their own learning have a tendency to assess their FL abilities at
a significantly higher level in comparison to their peers who unable to effectively
Self-regulatory Efficacy and Foreign Language Attainment
self-regulate their thoughts and emotions. In this paper the following, broader,
hypothesis is proposed:
Students with high levels of self-regulated efficacy obtain higher FL attainment in comparison to their peers with low levels of self-regulated efficacy.
4 Method
Below is a description of the study carried out for this paper: its participants,
instruments, and the procedure used in the research.
The study cohort was composed of 621 students from 23 randomly selected classes
of the six secondary grammar schools in Opole, southwest Poland. There were 396
girls and 225 boys whose mean age was 16.50 (range: 14.5–18). They were in their
first grade of their schools, with three to six hours a week of English instruction.
Their level of English proficiency was lower to upper intermediate, depending on
the class they attended. The average length of the English language experience was
almost nine years. Most of them (91 %) had been learning English for five to
15 years. Aside from English, they also studied French or German as the other
compulsory foreign language, with two lessons a week.
On the basis of the Self-Regulatory Efficacy scale (Bandura, Caprara, Barbaranelli,
Gerbino, & Pastorelli, 2003), the participants were divided into quartiles. The lower
one (LSRE) comprised 198 students who declared a low level of self-regulatory
efficacy (68 boys and 130 girls), while the upper one (HSRE) included 191 participants with a high level self-regulatory efficacy (62 boys and 129 girls).
In the study the instrument applied was a questionnaire. First of all, it included the
Self-Regulatory Efficacy scale (Bandura et al., 2003), consisting of five items
measuring one’s capability to resist peer pressure to engage in high-risk activities
that can get one into trouble, with sample items, like: “How well can you deal with
situations where others are annoying you or hurting your feelings?” and “How well
can you work in a group?” The participants indicated their answers in a 5-point
response format ranging from 1 (perceived incapability) to 5 (complete selfassurance in one’s capability). The minimum number of points on the scale was 5,
while the maximum was 15. The scale’s reliability in the study was measured in
terms of Cronbach’s alpha at the level of 0.78.
E. Piechurska-Kuciel
There were also two other types of assessment tools: external (final grades), and
internal (self-assessment of the foreign language skills). As far as grades are
concerned, the participants declared the final grades they received in the first grade
of secondary grammar school, and the first semester of the second grade. They also
included the grade they expected to receive at the end of the school year. These
grades were assessed on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (unsatisfactory) to 6 (excellent), and later aggregated (α = 0.87).
The last measurement used in the study was a scale calculating self-perceived
levels of FL skills (speaking, listening, writing, and reading). It consisted of an
aggregated value of independent assessments of the FL skills (speaking, listening,
writing, and reading) on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (unsatisfactory) to 6 (excellent). Its reliability was α = 0.86.
In each class, the students were asked to fill in the questionnaire. The time designated for the activity was 15–45 min, depending on the participants’ needs. They
were asked to give sincere answers without taking excessive time to think. In the
questionnaire a short statement preceded each part introducing a new set of items.
The research design was correlational, measuring the relationship between
variables, or, more specifically, the differential, which means that it compared two
groups (LSRE and HSRE) on the basis of the preexisting (independent) variable:
self-regulated efficacy beliefs. The dependent variables in this research were:
self-assessment of FL skills and final grades.
The data were computed by means of the statistical program STATISTICA.
Standard descriptive statistics were used to report means and standard deviation for
baseline characteristics (p ≤ 0.05). Then Student’s t-test for independent samples
was used in order to determine if the two sets of data were significantly different
from each other. This way the LSRE and HSRE groups could be compared on their
self-assessment of FL skills and final grades.
5 Results and Discussion
First the participants’ mean results and SD were calculated. In the LSRE group it was
found that these students, apparently, declared significantly lower self-assessment of
their FL skills with t = −2.13, p = 0.03 (see Table 1 for the summary of findings).
However, Student’s t-test revealed that there were no statistically significant differences in the case of final grades, with t = 0.59 and p = 0.57.
The results are presented in a graph (Fig. 1). The aim of this study was to verify
the hypothesis that students with high levels of self-regulated efficacy obtain higher
FL attainment in comparison to their peers with low levels of self-regulated
Self-regulatory Efficacy and Foreign Language Attainment
Table 1 Means, SD and between group comparisons of students with low (LSRE) and high
self-regulated efficacy (HSRE)
(N = 198)
(N = 191)
Self-assessment of FL skills
Final grades
Fig. 1 Means of self-assessed FL skills and final grades in students with low (LSRE) and high
levels of self-regulatory efficacy (HSRE)
efficacy. However, it was not possible to corroborate this fully. The results
demonstrate that only in reference to self-assessment of FL skills do these two
groups differ in a statistically significant manner, while there are no differences
identified in relation to final grades.
These apparently contradictory findings can be explained by a variety of factors.
First of all, as the self-assessment results demonstrate, self-regulated learners
believe in their capability to master different subjects, regulate their own general
motivation and learning activities, and most helpfully, have efficacy beliefs. Their
higher rates lead to the conclusion that their faith in their own abilities in general
facilitates their foreign language learning process. Although self-regulatory efficacy
refers directly to general functioning, covering such behaviors as antisocial actions,
substance abuse or giving into peer pressure, and all other hazardous and transgressive activities, its impact on academic success cannot be questioned. Its links
with perceived self-efficacy for academic achievement proves its importance for
personal goals and grade achievement (Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons,
1992). Apparently, attainment of high levels of academic achievement (foreign
E. Piechurska-Kuciel
language, among others) requires self-regulation linked with basic talent or language aptitude and quality instruction (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 2005).
Likewise, it may be stipulated that self-regulated efficacy may be of key
importance in the foreign language acquisition process. Although it seems to be so
different from studying other school subjects, beliefs in one’s capabilities to manage
such an uncommon learning situation may give the self-regulated student the
perception of control. Foreign language acquisition requires a long-term investment
on the part of the learner, so behaviors violating learner involvement are likely to
produce negative outcomes. Self-regulated learners have an ability to engage in
activities developing their competencies, they also have the capability to communicate their opinions and aspirations to significant others, and are strong enough to
oppose peer pressure aimed at engaging them in dangerous or disruptive behavior.
This constitutes a strong argument for the role of self-regulatory efficacy in the
specific context of learning a foreign language. It can be understood, then, that a
language learner who believes in their own strengths moves through circles of
self-regulation. At the forethought phase, when they prepare to undertake a language task in the classroom or outside it, they self-observe and reach for the most
efficient resources at hand to deal with the undertaking. They may look for clues or
others’ help in comprehending the task, choose the most effective metacognitive
learning strategies (they formulate immediate goals, ask questions to understand as
much as possible, and constantly improve their strategic repertoire). They also
accommodate their behavior to suit the situation, trying to develop their language
skills. At the performance control phase processes occurring during actual performance, which require attention and action, occur. The behavior of self-regulated
language learners may involve actual skill performance (e.g., working in a group or
dyad when developing speaking in the most effective way), guided by personal
standards. Now it is time for them to assess their linguistic and non-linguistic
performance in relation to that of the teacher and classmates or other influential role
models. Aside from that, the learner receives feedback from others and judges the
progress and prepares for future linguistic tasks. Concurrently, decisions about
proximal and distal goals referring to foreign language learning are made, prompted
by various sources of knowledge—other people, one’s own aspirations, affective
states, etc. At the final stage of self-regulation, the student evaluates outcomes, and
weighs the costs and benefits of their efforts. These may be quite tangible, like
rewards from parents (monetary support, gifts), but also immaterial, like affection
from parents, good grades, and the approval of the teacher, as well as the respect
and appreciation of fellow students. Self-evaluative reactions also play an important
role in strengthening the self-reflective student’s efficacy. The student is able to
develop more understanding and reliance on their successful strategies, and personal capabilities, with which they face dangers embedded in the learning situation.
They are able to have a clearer picture of their language progress, which helps them
stay on course and enter new learning situations with a greater ease and
self-reliance. Their self-regulatory efficacy allows them to resist various temptations
that might draw their attention away from the linguistic goals they have selected for
Self-regulatory Efficacy and Foreign Language Attainment
themselves. Obviously, the foreign language learning process is full of setbacks,
even for self-reflective learners who have a strong belief in their capabilities. In
some cases their most trusted strategies may not work as well as they expected,
producing a learning failure instead of a success. However, they will try to pursue
their learning goals in spite of any temporary setbacks, knowing that they are
short-lived and will not bring about grim consequences.
Unfortunately, the situation is different for students with low levels of
self-regulated efficacy. Even when successful at learning a foreign language, they
may be seriously prone to succumb to peer pressure or may have problems working
in a group, showing signs of antisocial behavior. Such behaviors may seriously
threaten their linguistic development, because foreign language proficiency is
mainly connected with social skills—speaking and listening—that require interaction. For this reason even occasional avoidance of school duties may in the long run
bring about serious learning problems, especially because such learners may have
difficulty formulating clear learning goals. However, what is most disconcerting is
their inability to rely on their own strength to influence and change the learning
situation. They may have a tendency to feel dependent on the teacher or peers to
succeed in the process of language learning. Moreover, in the face of failure they
will blame others or the circumstances instead of analyzing their own repertoire of
skills and strategies that turned out to be so ineffective. Setting themselves unrealistic goals and not believing in their abilities to regulate thought, affect and
behaviour, may prematurely terminate their learning efforts and redirect their
attention and action elsewhere. On the other hand, this study shows that the final
grades of students with low levels of self-regulatory efficacy do not differ from their
peers’ with high levels of self-regulatory efficacy. This may lead to the conclusion
that even those who do not have faith in their abilities may be successful in the
process of foreign language learning. Obviously, it may be expected that they work
really hard, though they do not believe in their skills. For this reason their learning
process is far from enjoyable, but more tedious and unpredictable, because they
cannot understand that their present language skills are not coincidental, but are the
result of past effort.
Finally, it is worth shedding more light on the discrepancy between the participants’ self-assessment and final grades. Obviously, self-regulation allows for
higher measures of confidence in competence, but only in the case of selfassessment of foreign language skills (internal measures). External assessment of
competence (aggregated final grades) does not seem to differentiate between students with high and low levels of self-regulatory efficacy. Assuming that final
grades may be viewed as a more objective estimation of the students’ competence,
it may seem that self-regulated students may be over-competent in their
self-evaluation of foreign language skills. It may be proposed that that their beliefs
in their linguistic competence allow them to enhance their self-image and
self-value. On the other hand, even this is a very optimistic observation, because the
research participants have only started their secondary grammar school education,
and great amounts of confidence and optimism will be of huge importance on their
E. Piechurska-Kuciel
long road to proficiency. It may also be speculated that in most studies on the
relationship between self-assessment and external measures, such as final grades, a
positive correlation is found (Sundström, 2005). Still, students may misjudge their
abilities due to knowledge of the domain being tested (here: knowledge of the
English language) or the difficulty of the domain, to mention a few. This leads to
the conclusion that students with high levels of self-regulated efficacy may indeed
be at the same level of language competence, but their positive attitude to the
subject matter and learning environment may inflate their self-assessment, leading
to a well-balanced attitude to the foreign language learning process.
6 Implications and Recommendations for the EFL
The findings of the present study underline the importance of self-regulation in the
foreign language learning context. It appears that students who self-regulate their
general functioning set realistic goals and implement effective learning strategies
and study habits have a greater chance of enjoying the benefits of the foreign
language learning process. Their self-monitoring skills allow them to prepare well
for future requirements. That is why through teaching students to develop
self-regulatory skills, it is possible to empower them with functions that may
guarantee their prosperous transition into adulthood and future careers. First of all,
it is necessary to instil a positive sense of self-efficacy through a set of workshops
devoted to effective planning and time management. At the beginning of a language
course the students must also be informed about the specificity of the language
learning process, so that they can set realistic short- and long-term goals and
strategically plan their learning. Another important factor that must be taken into
consideration is that students must be aware of the fact that some language tasks
may be difficult, so they need to invest a lot of effort in order to be successful. The
intervention that should be part of every language course is connected with an
explicit training of language learning strategies of all kinds, both direct and indirect.
As well, students need to be taught appropriate help seeking and self-monitoring,
which can be attained by a careful development of the self-assessment process.
Finally, this study has some limitations that need to be addressed. First of all, the
only external measure of students’ progress is the aggregated value of final grades,
which may not be unbiased. For this reason it would be worthwhile to include other,
more objective measurements of the students’ foreign language competence, so that
an unbiased view of their foreign language skills could be obtained. Another
drawback is connected with the cross-sectional character of the study. It would be a
good idea to take note of the development of the participants linguistic abilities
longitudinally in order to measure it more reliably, and to observe the long-term
effects of their self-regulatory efficacy on their growing foreign language
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Translation Competitions in Educational
Contexts: A Positive Psychology
Piotr Szymczak
Abstract A central experience in human interactions, competition has a long
history in education. It has been valued for bringing out the best in learners and
criticized for the harms it may inflict on unsuccessful and successful participants
alike. This paper looks at data from two formal translation competitions held at the
Institute of English Studies (University of Warsaw) to report on the reactions and
motivations of the participants. The data is examined from the perspective of the
PERMA model of wellbeing as proposed by Seligman (2011). Insights from positive psychology inform recommendations on how we can design better competitions in educational contexts by ensuring transparent assessment procedures,
increased success rates, and proper guidance to participants through tips and
Keywords Positive psychology
education Translator training
! Education ! Competitions ! Competitions in
1 Introduction
Competition, whether arising spontaneously or introduced by design, has a long
history and can be seen as an inseparable part of educational systems. It was highly
prized in the classical cultures of Europe, rooted as they were in the agonicity of
oral cultures: just as successful athletic contestants in ancient Greece were given
hero status, early Greek rhetorical and philosophical education was similarly
designed as a battle of wits, encouraging competitive instincts. Romans similarly
valued competition (aemulatio) as a tool for promoting positive examples,
increased effort and improved performance. Alit aemulatio ingenia: et nunc invidia,
P. Szymczak (&)
Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw, ul. Hoża 69, 00-681 Warsaw, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_20
P. Szymczak
nunc admiratio imitationem ascendit (“Emulation [i.e., competing with others]
quickens our Endeavours: sometimes we are spurred on by Envy, sometimes by a
generous opinion of the Excellence of a Work”, a Roman historian noted
approvingly) (Paterculus, 1721, p. 33).
Competition made its way into modern educational systems as an essential
aspect of learning. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century schools pupils were
explicitly ranked within their form (class) according to ability and academic performance, a practice which has left traces in the Polish language, where a straight-A
student is still called a prymus, derived from the Latin primus or “the first”. The
same principle survives in the curved grading systems used in many universities
today, where grades do not reflect absolute values but rather an individual student’s
performance relative to the scores of the remaining group members (converted to
grades or expressed in percentile terms). Curved grading can be seen as a method
for preventing grade inflation (when used as a tool of internal assessment, as is the
case in many universities and instructors) or a policy tool used for diagnosing
underperforming institutions, but at the same time it makes competition an intrinsic
part of educational assessment.
Given the near-universal incidence of competition in educational contexts it is
important to examine the effects of competition on students’ wellbeing with a view
to improving the format. This article looks at one aspect of this problem, namely
formal competitions in a tertiary educational context. The competitions in question
were organized at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw, and were
followed up with a questionnaire inviting the participants to reflect on various
aspect of the experience. For its conceptual framework the article relies on the
PERMA model of wellbeing proposed by Martin P. Seligman as a tool for operationalizing the various aspects of individual flourishing. The PERMA model, and
positive psychology more generally, has found application in educational context
from its very beginning (see Chap. 5 in Seligman, 2011). It has recently come to be
applied in a systematic fashion in the field of second language acquisition (see
Mercer & MacIntyre, 2014), a survey article summarizing the key tenets of positive
psychology, and situating its contributions within the broader historical context of
SLA studies).
2 Dataset and Study Methodology
The two competitions in this study were formally organized and held at the Institute
of English Studies (University of Warsaw). The first competition, called “Book to
World”, was a literary translation competition held in December 2013 to recruit a
group of student translators who would be invited to join a genuine book translation
project (a translation of the complete short stories by Oscar Wilde into Polish, due
out in e-book and paperback formats in 2016). This competition (abbreviated here
to the “LTC” or the Literary Translation Competition) involved translating a short
sample of Wilde’s work (500 words). It was open to all students at the Institute of
Translation Competitions in Educational Contexts …
English Studies and to external entrants (by arrangement), and advertised with wall
posters and online on the Institute website and Facebook fan page.
The second competition, “Tłumacze na start” was the preliminary stage in a
larger business translation competition organized in October 2014 by Skrivanek
Sp. z o.o., the Warsaw branch of an international translation agency. The Institute
of English Studies in Warsaw was a partner institution responsible for organizing
the first stage of the competition for our students locally, and the competition was
only open to students at the Institute of English Studies. In this competition, the
entry involved translating a short Business English sample provided by Skrivanek
for translation into Polish.
For each competition, an assessment procedure was designed and rigorously
followed to ensure unbiased selection criteria to eliminate possible assessment bias.
The entries were coded to ensure anonymity, and they were judged on two metrics,
translation accuracy and stylistic quality. A total of 37 students entered their
translations for consideration in the Literary Translation Competition (LTC), 11 of
whom were selected for the translation project (success rate: 29.7 %). In the
Business Translation Competition (BTC), 17 students entered and three were
selected to go on to the final nationwide stage (success rate: 17.6 %). Two of the
three ultimately became winners (placed first and third in the nationwide stage).
Participants in those two competitions were invited to take part in an anonymous
survey using the Google Forms platform to offer feedback on their impressions of
the competition procedures. The survey consisted of 12 questions rating different
aspects of the experience on a standard Likert-style scale (1–5). An open question
was provided at the end for unscripted recommendations on improvements. The
invitations were sent as separate messages and personalized to achieve a higher
response rate, an approach which yielded a response rate of 82.5 % (47 out of 57
participants completed the survey), considerably exceeding the typical rates
achieved in either standard research questionnaires (cf. Cook, Heath, & Thompson,
2000, p. 826) or “course experience” feedback forms used in educational environments (cf. Nulty, 2008, p. 306). The response rate for the BTC was 94.1 % (16
out of 17), and the response rate for the LTC was 78.3 % (29 out of 37).
Given the size of the sample, the findings cannot be meaningfully analyzed in
terms of variables or reliably extrapolated to larger populations, however the high
response rate means that the study offers a representative snapshot of the participants’ opinions, and provides a good starting point for further research.
The responses to the questionnaire produced a picture that was interesting and
often surprising. In some cases, the respondents reacted to the competition experience in ways that were unsettlingly different from how mature translators would
approach the same situation. Those differences are transparently a matter of young
age and inexperience (the study subjects were all students enrolled in the Institute of
English Studies BA and MA programs, so they were predominantly in the 20–25
age bracket), however they suggest that certain modifications and safeguards are
required to make sure that competitions are a positive and productive experience.
P. Szymczak
3 Competitions in Education: The Harms
Despite the all-pervasive presence of competition in educational context since the
beginnings of formal education (or rather precisely because of it), the classical way
of looking at competition as a way of bringing the best out of people came to be
forcefully challenged in the late twentieth century. Most notably, the challenge
came from the American author Alfie Kohn, who emerged in the 1980s as a vocal
opponent of any form of competition in education.
Because failure as well as success is implicit in competitions, Kohn regarded
competition as intrinsically negative. He argued that a competitive mindset shoehorns people into perceiving others as obstacles to success rather than partners and
allies, and cites research showing that competitive arrangements in education, far
from being conducive to improved performance, either make no difference at all or
are positively harmful. He concluded that “[t]he best amount of competition for our
children is none at all” (Kohn, 1987).
Alfie Kohn’s radical critique of the current American educational system
attracted interest as well as criticism. His critics conceded the validity of many of
his points, and acknowledged his role in spurring a rethinking of the fundamentals
of teaching in a system stifled by standardization, but they also criticized Kohn’s
extreme positions (“Kohn has made a virtual industry out of finding interesting and
provocative insights in the psychological literature and following them off the edge
of a cliff” (Willingham, 2009) or pointed out the blind spots in his evidence and
arguments (Petrilli, 2012).
Such criticisms notwithstanding, Kohn’s critique of the educational system
remains valid, especially in the broader sense that a focus on competition, though it
might prompt individuals to work harder, can still be counterproductive by
undercutting the benefits of collaboration and ruining schools as natural critical
learning environments (a term proposed by Ken Bain in a different context in his
excellent study of high-performing college teachers (Bain, 2004), i.e., environments
where students focus on personal growth, and success is defined in terms of
meaningful, productive and socially useful projects. Bain notes that although some
people react well to competition and are motivated to work harder by mentally
framing their efforts as a “quest for gold”, such people are usually unlikely to
genuinely care for the material in question. Instead, they become “strategic learners”, who learn material for the test and then forget it to make room for a new
challenge (Bain, 2004, loc. 439–41).
We might add another criticism to this list, namely the inherently random nature
of success and failure in formal competitions. Like Graham Greene, who famously
entered a New Statesman competition requesting parodies of his work in 1965 and
only won a honorable mention for his own work submitted under a pseudonym
(Hill & Wise, 2012, p. 166), students taking part in competitions face much
uncertainty without necessarily realizing it. In the experience of this author, who
Translation Competitions in Educational Contexts …
personally organized and judged the two competitions, competitions pose a unique
challenge to fair and objective appraisal as mood or personal opinion can influence
the appraisal at an unconscious level (Kahneman, 2011). Accordingly, steps were
taken to remove possible bias from tiredness and ego depletion (see Chap. 3 of
Kahneman, 2011, see also Danziger, Levav, & Avnaim-Pesso, 2011), as well as the
consequences of the halo effect (see Chap. 7 of Kahneman, 2011).
In this instance, all competition entries were carefully anonymized to remove
grading bias caused by the halo effect, and a standardized appraisal procedure was
used based on the number and severity of translation errors. Nonetheless, given the
similar quality of performance from many of the participants, the difference
between winning and losing was often a matter of a single minor and easily
remediable mistake too many. Combined with the fact that success or failure in a
well-attended competition is influenced by factors completely beyond the participants’ control (such as tiredness, honest mistakes or idiosyncratic stylistic preferences on the part of the judges), the outcome of a competition, while not exactly
random, can be disconcertingly haphazard.
This is particularly unfortunate given that nearly all of the participants seemed to
treat competitions as a test of skill. The among the possible motives for entering a
competition as explored in the post-competition questionnaires (with questions asking
the participants to rate their motivations in terms of new experience, networking
opportunities, test of skill, meaningful project or professional advancement), the idea
to test one’s skills and get a “reality check” was by far the most important motivation
for the participants. 93 % of the respondents reported that the reason they took part
was to put their skills to a test and see what they are worth as translators. Given that
virtually all of the participants were either still in training or were, at best, novices with
limited professional experience, this is a dangerous misconception that needs to be
addressed in any well-designed competition format (Table 1).
Table 1 Participant motivation
… put your
skills to a test
… gain a new 1
… establish
new contacts
… do
… boost your 6
“In terms of your motivation to
(3) Neither
unimportant nor very
(5) Very
take part, how important was it for you to…”
P. Szymczak
4 Competitions: The Positives
On the other hand, Kohn’s horror of exposing children to failure is arguably itself a
culturally induced blind spot which may short-change learners by depriving them of
the positives of success and, equally importantly, failure. Although our educational
systems tend to treat failure as a clear negative, attitudes towards failure in education
deserve to be reprogrammed so we can treat failure for what it is, an important piece of
feedback on one’s educational efforts. A recent highly acclaimed and bestselling book
on effective thinking (Burger & Starbird, 2012) argues persuasively that developing a
positive and open-minded attitude to failure is a necessary factor in building a creativ