Vol. 7. No. 2 A-2 September 2003
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The Effects of Affective Strategy Training in the ESL Classroom

Marian J. Rossiter
University of Alberta


This paper presents the findings of an intervention designed to examine the effects of affective strategy instruction on measures of second language proficiency and of self-efficacy. The participants in this study were 31 adult intermediate-level ESL learners registered in a full-time ESL program in a post-secondary institution in Canada. Two classes participated in this study; one received 12 hours of affective strategy training, and the second served as a comparison group. At Weeks 1, 5, 10, and 15, learners completed two sets of oral information-gap tasks: picture story narratives and object descriptions. Prior to each task, they provided scalar judgments of their ability to provide accurate descriptions. The data from the self-report questionnaires and from the transcripts of the audio-tapes were used to analyse students' perceptions of self-efficacy and their second language performance. The results are discussed with respect to the context in which the training was conducted.


Differential success in second or foreign language learning has been attributed to individual differences such as intelligence, aptitude, personality, motivation, and anxiety. The development of humanistic psychology, which sought to establish a holistic approach to learners, led to an increased focus on individuals' emotions and feelings. Maslow (1971), for instance, posited that cognitive and aesthetic goals leading to self-actualization could not be achieved unless human physiological needs, the need for safety and security, the need for belonging, and the need for self-esteem had been satisfied. Rogers (1969) argued that learning should be experiential and convergent with learner goals and that it should take place in a supportive environment. [-1-]

In second language learning, this affective approach manifested itself in methods such as Community Language Learning (Curran, 1972) and Suggestopedia (Lozanov, 1979). A strong proponent of humanism in language teaching, Stevick (1980) argued that " . . . [language learning] success depends less on materials, techniques and linguistic analyses, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom" (p. 4). In his affective filter hypothesis, Krashen (1982) posited the existence of an internal barrier that interfered with second language acquisition when learners were anxious or bored. Schumann (1997, 2001), informed by recent developments in cognition research (Damasio, 1994; LeDoux, 1996), proposed that the psychology and neurobiology of stimulus appraisal (based on novelty, pleasantness, goal/need significance, coping potential, and the self- and social image of the learner) determine the extent to which second language learning is achieved. These theories regarding the important role of affect in learning have resonated strongly with the intuitions of many second and foreign language teachers.

Over the past three decades, research in second language acquisition has confirmed hypotheses that language learning is indeed enhanced by attention to affect. Gardner and colleagues (Gardner, 1985; Gardner & Clément, 1990; Gardner & Lambert, 1972; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1993) conducted extensive investigations of individual differences in language learning success; other studies (Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986; Horwitz & Young, 1991; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1989, 1991b) examined the construct of language anxiety. Price (1991) interviewed learners who reported debilitating anxiety caused by instructors who criticized their pronunciation or focused on classroom performance rather than learning. Bailey's (1983) diary of her French classroom experience indicated that competitiveness and anxiety motivated her both to work harder on some occasions (facilitating anxiety) and to avoid class on others (debilitating anxiety). Young's (1990) research with language learners suggested that teachers who used humour and created a friendly, supportive, and relaxed classroom atmosphere that encouraged risk-taking were most helpful in alleviating foreign language anxiety and facilitating learning.

The majority of studies that explored the relationship between affect and second language performance were non-interventions (e.g., Brown, Cunha, Frota, & Ferreira, 2001; Gardner, 1985; Gardner, Moorcroft, & MacIntyre, 1987; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1989; Madsen, Brown, & Jones, 1991; Price, 1991; Young, 1991). Although several laboratory experiments were conducted in this area (e.g., Gardner, Day, & MacIntyre, 1992; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991a, 1994a, 1994b; Steinberg & Horwitz, 1986; Stevick, 1999), few experimental classroom studies focusing on affect have been documented. A series of interventions conducted by Moskowitz (1981, 1999) with high school second and foreign language students reported positive correlations between the use of humanistic exercises and students' attitudes towards language learning, their classmates, and themselves. Results of questionnaires administered to the teachers in this study also showed improved attitudes toward their classes and enhanced self-concept and self-awareness. Cohen, Weaver, and Li (1998) investigated the effects of a range of speaking strategies on three tasks performed by university foreign language students: a self-description, a story retelling, and a description of a favorite city. Some of the many strategies considered by teachers and students in the three experimental classes to be useful for the oral tasks were affective: deep breathing, positive self-talk, visualization exercises, relaxation techniques, taking one's emotional temperature, self-rewards, persistence, and risk-taking. Superior results in overall speaking performance shown by the experimental group on the city description task were attributed to the use of strategies, some of which were affective; the effect of the affective strategy component alone, however, could not be partialed out. As Chamot (2001) stated, there is a continuing need for more intervention studies to determine the effects of strategy training on language learning and proficiency. One of the issues that the present study will examine is the effect of affective strategy instruction on ESL learners' performance on oral tasks. [-2-]


Research has shown that performance can be facilitated by the enhancement of self-efficacy, "people's judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances" (Bandura, 1986, p. 391). Perceptions of self-efficacy influence motivation: they determine the goals individuals set, the effort they expend to achieve those goals, and their willingness to persist in the face of failure (Bandura, 1986). These, in turn, influence achievement (see, for example, Locke, 1996; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990; Schunk, 1984, 1991; Schunk & Gunn, 1985). Much research in the health domain (e.g., treatment of phobias; see Bandura, 1997) and in L1 educational contexts (Pajares, 1996; Schunk, 1995) has demonstrated the positive effects of strategy instruction on self-efficacy.

A related construct is self-efficacy for learning, by which "participants judge their capabilities for learning to solve types of problems, write types of paragraphs, or answer types of questions, rather than their certainty for being able to successfully perform those tasks" (Schunk, 1996, p. 8). Research from mainstream education contends that

[s]trategy instruction can foster self-efficacy for learning. The belief that one understands and can effectively apply a strategy that aids learning leads to a greater sense of control over learning outcomes, which promotes self-efficacy and motivation to apply the strategy. (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996, p. 179)

Self-efficacy is requisite for successful language learning. A growing body of literature developed by Clément and associates has established that a closely-related construct, linguistic self-confidence, is an important component of second/foreign language motivation (see, for example, Clément, Dörnyei, & Noels, 1994; Clément, Gardner, & Smythe, 1977; Clément & Kruidenier, 1985; Dörnyei & Clément, 2001; Gardner, Tremblay, & Masgoret, 1997; Noels & Clément, 1996). However, self-efficacy and self-confidence are not synonymous: as Dörnyei (2001) explained, "self-efficacy is always specific to a concrete task whereas self-confidence is usually used to refer to a generalized perception of one's coping potentials, relevant to a range of tasks and subject domains." (p. 56)

Limited experimental research on task-specific self-efficacy and L2 strategy instruction has been conducted to date. Two intervention studies (Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary, Carbonaro, & Robbins, 1993; Chamot, Robbins, & El-Dinary, 1993; for a summary, see Chamot, 1994) examined the effects of metacognitive, cognitive, and social strategy instruction received by learners of Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. Among other measures, students completed learning strategy questionnaires in which they reported their frequency of strategy use in performing specific L2 tasks, and self-efficacy questionnaires in which they rated their perceptions of their ability to complete those particular tasks. Positive relationships between the frequent use of learning strategies and perceptions of self-efficacy were found in most groups; affective strategies, however, were not included in the research design. An examination of the effects of affective strategy instruction on self-efficacy is included in this study. [-3-]

Enhancing Classroom Affect

An increasing number of materials have emerged over the years to enhance affect in second language classrooms. Oxford (1990, p. 163) delineated three types of affective strategies that can be used to regulate learner attitudes, motivation, and emotions. These include strategies for anxiety reduction (using progressive relaxation and deep breathing exercises, music, and laughter), for self-encouragement (making positive statements, taking risks wisely, and administering self-rewards), and for monitoring emotions (listening to the body, completing a checklist, writing a language learning diary, and discussing feelings with peers).

Numerous authors (e.g., Campbell & Ortiz, 1991; Crandall, 1999; Crookall & Oxford, 1991; Foss & Reitzel, 1991; Hooper Hansen, 1998; Medgyes, 2002; Oxford, 1990; Oxford et al., 1990; Phillips, 1998; Rinvolucri, 1999) have described activities for enhancing L2 learners' cognitive and affective experiences, such as discussion of the ideal language learner, cooperative learning activities, an 'agony column' (in which learners reply to letters expressing language learning difficulties), use of learner anxiety graphs, visualization, humour, cartoon story telling, and rhythmic breathing exercises. These fall on a continuum from more teacher-controlled to more student-controlled; although all can be taught and encouraged by the teacher, the teacher has more control over some than others. For example, the use of humour, music, visualization, and relaxation in the classroom would likely be initiated by the teacher, whereas self-talk, risk-taking, and monitoring are more student-regulated strategies.

This study was undertaken, using Oxford's (1990) taxonomy of affective strategies, to determine what effects, if any, affective strategy instruction (in relaxation, music, visualization, humour, positive self-talk, risk-taking, and monitoring emotions) might have on learner performance and self-efficacy in speaking tasks. A quasi-experimental non-equivalent comparison-group design was used, in which one group of adult ESL learners received 12 hours of affective strategy instruction and the second served as a comparison group. All participants interacted with an interlocutor to complete oral information-gap tasks (narrative description, object description) on three occasions, at five-week intervals. The following questions formed the basis for this research:

  1. Does affective strategy training lead to improved L2 performance (success, speech rate, message abandonment)?
  2. Does affective strategy training lead to a greater sense of task self-efficacy and self-efficacy for learning?



ESL Students

The participants (16 men, 15 women) were intermediate ESL learners assessed at Canadian Language Benchmark 7 (Pawlikowska-Smith, 2000) and registered in full-time ESL classes in a post-secondary institution. They ranged in age from 19 to 59 years (mean = 35 years), came from varied first language backgrounds, and had been in English-speaking Canada for an average of 4.3 years. Demographic details appear in Table 1. [-4-]

Table 1
Demographic factor Comparison group Affective strategy group
Number of participants 16 15
Sex 7 male, 9 female 9 male, 6 female
Age Mean = 35y
(range 19y - 59y)
Mean = 35y
(range 21y - 56y)
First languages 1113
Length of residence in Canada Mean = 5y
(range 5m - 27y)
Mean = 3.5y
(range 9m - 15y)
Level of education
  University 75
  High school 86
  < High school 14


The interlocutor who participated in the dyadic speaking tasks with the students over both terms was a trained ESL teacher and M.Ed. graduate student with ESL teaching experience and native speaker proficiency in English.


The teacher of the comparison group was a trained ESL instructor registered in a TESL Master's program who had taught ESL/EFL for 5 years. The treatment group was taught by a second instructor who had 13 years of ESL/EFL teaching experience, a B.A. in TESL, and a M.Ed. in Instructional Technology with a TESL focus. This teacher, unfortunately, was unable to teach for the entirety of the term due to pre-scheduled annual holidays. However, he completed the affective strategy instruction. The role of the substitute teacher, who joined the study after the immediate post-test, was limited: he was instructed simply to reinforce the use of the affective strategies already taught, based on material that I provided to him.

I used the Communicative Orientation of Language Teaching (COLT) Observation Scheme (Spada & Fröhlich, 1995) to observe the teachers of the comparison and treatment groups at the beginning of term and weekly thereafter. In all, I observed 12 hours of the comparison classes, 12 hours of the affective strategy condition with the principal instructor, and 9 hours of the affective strategy condition with the substitute teacher. The course content was consistent over both terms, as the teachers used the same core curriculum and textbooks, as well as a communicative approach to teaching.

I provided the teacher of the comparison group with an overview of the research project before her course began, but I did not identify the focus of the instruction to be presented in the following term, in order to discourage experimental treatment diffusion. I discussed the treatment in full with the teacher of the affective strategies group prior to the beginning of his course. I also provided him with some background reading (Dörnyei & Malderez, 1997; Oxford, 1990; Scarcella & Oxford, 1992), and answered questions. In addition to an explanation of the study and background reading, the substitute teacher who taught the last half of the affective strategies group received a summary and handouts of the affective strategy lessons that had been presented earlier in the term. He was given a weekly calendar listing the strategies to be reinforced in each of the weeks to follow. I suggested that he examine his lesson plans at the beginning of each week, decide which strategies would best complement which lesson, incorporate the strategy reinforcement, and note the date on which this was done. The instructor received all the necessary handouts for the group discussions and other activities to be completed in class. [-5-]

The comparison group instructor recorded 8 hours of general classroom instruction and provided me with a copy of all daily lesson plans for the regular curriculum; these provided a framework for the integration of affective strategies into the treatment group curriculum. In the affective strategy condition, the principal instructor audiotaped 10 hours of strategy and general class instruction; the substitute teacher taped 1 hour of strategy reinforcement. During the affective strategy training, the instructor provided details outlining the date and length of each lesson, the engagement of the students (on a 5-point scale ranging from very low to very high), difficulties encountered, and other comments. I kept in close contact with the instructor during this period by telephone and by electronic mail. The substitute teacher had the class complete all of the handouts provided for classroom activities; these were returned to me.

Strategy Instruction

The affective strategy instruction included consciousness-raising activities and training in relaxation (e.g., Moskowitz, 1978), visualization (e.g., Arnold, 1999), positive self-talk (e.g., Oxford, 1990), humour (e.g., Mr. Bean videos), risk-taking (Brown, 1989), and monitoring emotions (e.g., Oxford, 1990) (for an overview, see Table 2). The instructor received all lesson plans, overhead transparencies, and handouts in advance and discussed them with me. He integrated the lessons into the course. In order not to bias response to the lessons, I was not present during any of these classes.

Table 2
Strategy (Oxford, 1990) Sample activity
Lowering your anxiety Speaking strategies (Weaver & Cohen, 1997)
Relaxation exercises (Moskowitz, 1978)
Music, visualization (Arnold, 1999)
Humour: Video: The Best of Mr. Bean; summary of the movie Patch Adams; reading: "Laughter is good for you" (adapted from Feltman, 1992)
Encouraging yourself Speaking strategies (Weaver & Cohen, 1997)
Positive self-talk (adapted from Powell, 1997)
Discussing and taking risks (Brown, 1989)
Taking your emotional temperature Speaking strategies (Weaver & Cohen, 1997)
Feelings checklist (Oxford, 1990)
Language learning journal (Nunan, 1996)
SLL advice column (Crookall & Oxford, 1991)


Visualization was chosen as a focus for one lesson. In this introductory lesson, learners participated in a Think-Pair-Share activity, brainstorming situations in which visualization is used (e.g., sports psychology, health therapy). A discussion of the benefits of using and practising mental imagery followed (e.g., to enhance performance, to reduce stress). The students were guided through a practice visualization rehearsal in which they were asked to imagine a girl walking down a road, and then to imagine her appearance, her manner, and her journey (adapted from Arnold, 1999, p. 275). Debriefing followed. Next, with soft music playing in the background, learners participated in a longer exercise in which they were led through a relaxation exercise (Moskowitz, 1978, p. 179). Then they took a mental walk up a mountain to a meeting with a master teacher who inspired them with renewed confidence and insights on how to excel in learning English (Arnold, 1999, p. 278). Arnold (1999) maintains that this type of exercise can enhance self-esteem and self-efficacy: "In a relaxed state, the mind is receptive to a restructuring of one's self-image and the appraisal of one's abilities; [Neuro-Linguistic Programming] has shown that if you can imagine yourself doing something, you are more likely to be able to do it" (pp. 273-274). Visualization was incorporated into other lessons focusing on impromptu speeches, the reduction of exam anxiety, and the use of laughter.

Speaking Tasks

Learner descriptions of picture stories and objects were collected at pre-test, immediate post-test, and delayed post-test administrations. At each of these, two separate speaking tasks were administered: a picture narration task and an object description task. At the pre-test, the participants described one picture story; at the immediate post-test, a different story; and at the delayed post-test, two new stories. At each task administration, they also described three new objects. For each task, the learner and the interlocutor were seated at a table, facing each other and separated by a low barrier that permitted eye contact but prevented them from viewing each other's stimuli.

Picture Stories

The participants received oral and written instructions before each narrative administration. They were asked to describe to the listener the story illustrated in a set of eight pictures. I explained that the listener had the same pictures, in a different order. I asked the learners to describe the pictures as fully as possible so that the listener could put them in the correct order.

The first picture story presented (Rollet & Tremblay, 1975) shows a man and a woman who moved to the country, became overwhelmed by the physical demands of rural life, and eventually returned to a less difficult life in the city. The second (see Munro & Derwing, 1994) was the story of two unsuccessful hunters who went looking for deer in a forest. The third narrative (Munro & Derwing, 1998) depicted the misadventures of two travelers who mistakenly exchanged suitcases. The final picture story (Heyer, 1997) was about a lottery winner who recruited friends to recover his lost ticket. [-7-]

Real-World Objects

At each administration of the object description task, the participants were asked to examine and to describe their object as fully as possible to enable the listener, who had four other very similar objects (e.g., a variety of combs), to identify it (see Yule, 1997).

Self-Report Instruments

Self-Efficacy Scales

Learners examined each picture story carefully and then used a scale ranging from 0% to 100% to rate their self-efficacy for accurately completing each set of tasks (Pintrich & De Groot, 1990). After examining a sample object, they used a similar scale to estimate their ability to provide 1, 2, and 3 accurate descriptions in one minute (see Locke, Frederick, Lee, & Bobko, 1984). On both tasks, learners estimated their perception of self-efficacy for learning to perform the task well (see Schunk, 1996). Schunk (1996, p. 8) cites test-retest reliability coefficients ranging from r = .79 (mathematics; Schunk, Hanson, & Cox, 1987) to r = .92 (paragraph composition; Schunk & Swartz, 1993) for self-efficacy measures administered in educational contexts.

Usefulness of Strategy Instruction Scales

Following the immediate post-test, learners in the affective strategies condition assessed the value of the strategy instruction that they had received. On a 5-point scale (ranging from 1 = not at all to 5 = a lot), they indicated the degree to which affective strategy practice had been of use to them in classroom activities, in the experiment, and in real life situations.


This research was conducted in compliance with the ethical standards of both my university and the host institution. Data were collected from all 31 participants at Weeks 1, 5, and 10 of the study. Learners left their classroom one by one for a period of 30-40 minutes to complete the speaking tasks in a quiet room in the school. An unobtrusive omni-directional microphone was placed in front of the student, and a low barrier allowed only eye contact with the listener. The interlocutor's responses to the student were limited to such questions as "Can you tell me more?" or "Is it this one?" From my position at one end of the table, I gave instructions, operated the tape recorder, passed stimuli to the participant, and made notes of students' comments, non-verbal behavior, and words that might not have recorded clearly.

Data Analysis

I transcribed the data and calculated speech rate in words per minute (excluding fillers such as "um" or "er") for the narrative task. Success was calculated using baseline data collected from nine native speakers (see Derwing, 1989). Their renditions of the picture story were used to identify the most pivotal elements in each frame of the picture stories (see Tomlin, 1984). I awarded participants one point for each essential element of a narrative frame mentioned; in addition, they received five points for communicating their understanding of the overall intention or gist of the narrative. The success scores were then transformed to percentages. An external assessor and I double-coded the message abandonment strategies in all the narrative and object descriptions of 5 of the 31 participants in these two groups; that is, for 16% of the data reported here. Pearson correlations for inter-rater reliability were r = .837 on the narratives and r = .871 on the object descriptions. I derived a global task self-efficacy rating for each picture story by averaging the responses on each task scale (see Pintrich & De Groot, 1990); the scores from the two narratives at Time 3 were averaged to compute a single score for each variable for that administration. [-8-]

In the object description task, I counted the number of words (excluding fillers) to the point of successful identification by the interlocutor, or to the end of the description if the listener was unable to identify the object. Speech rates were calculated and instances of message abandonment were counted for each object. A success score (1 or 0) was awarded for each of the three new objects presented at a given administration, and an overall success score (%) was calculated for each set of objects. Task self-efficacy was calculated by averaging the judgments made on each task set, as in the narratives.


Teacher Evaluation of Student Response to Instruction

The 12 hours of affective strategy lessons that were taught by the teacher were generally well received by the students. The mean rating of learner involvement indicated by the instructor was 4.1 (mode = 5) on a 5-point scale. The students were reported to have been less engaged (mean = 2.3) in the relaxation and visualization exercises; in the first mental imagery lesson (described above), it was reported that the "students weren't interested in visualizing". Furthermore, following the introductory visualization rehearsal (a girl going for a walk) there were "lots of snickers, sexual imagery, joking", which had not been anticipated by either the researcher or the teacher. In a later lesson on coping with exam anxiety, learners were asked to visualize themselves thoroughly prepared for an exam and doing their very best (in contrast to what they had just seen in the video Mr. Bean Takes an Exam). The instructor noted that the "students enjoyed the video and the brainstorming, but they didn't like the visualizing". On another occasion, it was reported that "students [had] a hard time taking the relaxation music seriously"; one student rose, walked over to the tape recorder, and turned it off abruptly, exclaiming that he couldn't think with the music playing. These two particular aspects of the strategy training (visualization and relaxation) were judged to be the least effective overall and confirm Arnold's (1999) caution that " . . . when working with any affect-related area in the language class, it is wise to remember that nothing will be right for all the students all the time" (p. 276).

Usefulness of Affective Strategy Instruction

During the immediate post-test following the affective strategy instruction, participants were asked to evaluate how helpful they perceived the affective strategies to be in classroom activities, in the experimental tasks, and in real life, using a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (a lot). The mean score for usefulness of affective strategy instruction for classroom activities was 4.20 (mode = 5); for the experiment, the mean was 3.73 (mode = 3); and for real life purposes, it was 4.13 (mode = 5). [-9-]

Statistical Analyses

Analyses of variance (ANOVA) for repeated measures were conducted to test for between-group differences in success, speech rate, task self-efficacy, and self-efficacy for learning responses. As parametric procedures are not appropriate for frequency data (see Hatch & Lazaraton, 1991), between-group differences in the frequency of message abandonment were examined using Mann-Whitney U tests. In order to control for experiment-wise error, the alpha level for significance was adjusted to p < .01 in the parametric analyses. Results showed that there were no significant between-group differences on any of the dependent variables and no significant interactions on either the narrative or the object description task. Figures 1 through 10 show the mean group scores for each of the measures.

Figure 1 Narrative speech rate: Group means.

Figure 2 Narrative success: Group means.

Figure 3 Narrative self-efficacy: Group means.

Figure 4 Narrative self-efficacy for learning: Group means.

Figure 5 Object speech rate: Group means.

Figure 6 Object success: Group means.

Figure 7 Object self-efficacy: Group means.

Figure 8 Object self-efficacy for learning: Group means.

Figure 9 Narrative message abandonment: Group means.

Figure 10 Object message abandonment: Group means.

Discussion and Conclusion

Teacher Evaluation of Student Response to Instruction

The instructor noted no problems with the delivery of the majority of the affective strategy lessons. However, as noted above, some of the students evidently found it difficult to become fully engaged in the relaxation and visualization exercises. These were novel activities to many of the learners, and they may have felt varying degrees of discomfort in closing their eyes and trying to relax and to use their imagination freely in a formal ESL classroom. These particular activities would perhaps also not have appealed to learners from all cultures, or to those with limited attentional resources. The topics used in visualization must be very carefully chosen to motivate learners and to avoid triggering reactions that disrupt the lessons, but the effects of topics cannot always be foreseen. [-13-]

Usefulness of Affective Strategy Instruction, Time 2

The learners perceived the affective strategy instruction to be most beneficial in classroom activities and for real life purposes. The mean usefulness rating for the experimental tasks (narrative and object descriptions) was lower. It could be that by the second administration of the experimental tasks, learners felt more comfortable with the interlocutor, the researcher, and the context, and that their familiarity with the set procedures and the lack of time pressure lessened their need for affective strategies.

Statistical Analyses

The results of this study show that instruction in affective strategies (relaxation techniques, positive self-talk, the use of humour, risk-taking, and self-rewards) provided no significant between-group benefit for L2 performance (speech rate, success, message abandonment) or perceptions of self-efficacy (task self-efficacy, self-efficacy for learning) measured in the narrative task or in the object description task. It is possible that learners' appraisals of self-efficacy and self-efficacy for learning are relatively stable; unless they receive pertinent informational feedback to change these appraisals, their ratings are likely to remain relatively fixed.

The lack of significant between-group differences can, I believe, be attributed in large part to the particular nature of the ESL classes in this study. Most of the participants were relatively recent refugees to Canada and/or had been out of school for many years; furthermore, they spent 25 hours a week with the same teacher and the same peers. In order to create an effective learning environment, the teachers of both conditions strove to develop a sense of community, to establish a relaxed environment, and to encourage learners to achieve their linguistic goals. I reviewed one third of the lesson tapes provided by the comparison group teacher, as well as all of the instructor's lesson plans and the classroom observation notes I had made. The former showed affective factors that were part and parcel of her regular ESL classes: humour (joke of the day, entertaining videos, humourous quotes), music (weekly songs, gesture and music to reinforce vocabulary), encouragement, positive self-talk ("Stand up and pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself, 'You're doing a good job! Keep it up!'"), empathy, and the development of strong group cohesion (rotating group membership, coffee and cake sessions). These factors were also present in the strategy treatment class in the five weeks prior to instruction. Moreover, in both groups, the communicative nature of the courses and the incorporation of small group and pair activities encouraged cooperation and the development of a sense of community that doubtless contributed further to a positive learning setting. It is likely that the relaxed and encouraging atmosphere established in the two groups provided an optimal affective environment for learning. The new affective strategies (e.g., relaxation, risk-taking, self-rewards) that were introduced to the treatment group may have served to raise learners' consciousness and to reinforce the positive affective threshold that already existed in that class, but they do not appear to have offered significant additional benefits to learners in terms of second language speaking performance or self-efficacy. [-14-]

Perhaps if this study had been conducted with a comparison class taught by an adult ESL instructor with little or no concern for the social context and instructor-learner interactions, affective strategy training might have had significant effects on the speaking tasks. I believe, however, that I would have been hard pressed to find such an instructor in my community. Many ESL programs across Canada offer federally-funded Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes; one of the primary goals of these classes is to facilitate learners' integration into Canadian society. As a result, most programs aim to promote not only second language learning but also the social-emotional growth of their learners, and this is naturally carried over into other ESL classes being offered. This practice differs from the findings of a study by Brandl (1987), in which the majority of instructors indicated that they deliberately induced anxiety in order to intimidate students into performing. The attention to affect in the classes in this study, I believe, is representative of ESL classes in that institution, in the community at large, and throughout the country.

This research is limited by the use of intact classes, small sample sizes, and heterogeneous classes. However, this is the reality of the ESL field in many settings. Ultimately, the effects of affective strategy instruction must be of practical significance to daily second language classrooms. In this particular context, they were not.

As noted above, most of the research on affective strategies consists of theoretical or correlational studies based solely on learners' perceptions; very few interventions have been documented. Recommendations (e.g., Ellis & Sinclair, 1989; Oxford, 1990) that extensive strategy instruction be conducted in ESL classes need to be reconsidered; the results of this study suggest that teachers should not devote valuable time to the ongoing development of affective strategies. Rather, once strong group cohesion and a positive, supportive learning environment have been firmly established, instructors should focus on teaching meaningful language and content in response to learners' needs and interests. Classrooms that combine these elements offer both affective--and effective--learning experiences to second language learners.


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I gratefully acknowledge the funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada that supported this research. I thank the administration, teachers, and students who participated in this study, and Julia Ichikawa for her assistance throughout. I am indebted to Tracey Derwing, Leila Ranta, Ron Thomson, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. I am grateful also to Murray Munro and Marilyn Abbott for their assistance.

About the Author

Marian J. Rossiter, PhD, is Assistant Professor and TESL Coordinator in the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2G5.

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