Thursday, 22 April 2010

Book Review: 'Seeds of Confidence' - Veronica de Andres, Jane Arnold - Helbling

Seeds of Confidence
Self-esteem activities for the EFL classroom

by Veronica de Andres & Jane Arnold
Helbling Languages 2009
ISBN 9783852722009
From the introduction:
"Seeds of Confidence presents current thinking on a very important aspect of the affective domain - self-esteem - and provides teachers with motivating, creative activities for use in the classroom to develop both language skills and learner confidence. As has been said, confidence leads to competence.



Having recently reviewed another title in Helbling's 'Resourceful Teacher' series, I'm tempted to just say: 'if you liked Teaching Chunks of Language, you'll love Seeds of Confidence' and have done with it. But let's have a closer look and see if this new addition to the decidedly humanistic-flavoured series of teacher resource books merits another positive review.

Starting from the admirable stance that the more confident a learner feels, the more likely he is to succeed in his language learning and performance, Seeds of Confidence offers a slew of simple yet engaging activities which allow teachers to bring a touch of real human warmth to their language classroom.

Maybe I'm romanticising a little. After all, most communicative teachers these days try to make their learning environments pleasant and positive places to be. What Seeds of Confidence does is present a series of mini-lessons, lasting anywhere between five and fifty minutes, assembled to address specifically identified areas of self-esteem - or indeed lack of it - which may contribute to a language learner's success... or lack of it.

What's fascinating about this sort of book, and this was the case with our recently reviewed Teaching Chunks of Language and Provoking Thought titles, is that we get a privileged glimpse into a parallel universe of academia which impacts on our own rather more practical world of teaching. Once again, there is an absorbing introduction to the topic of self-esteem which describes the fundamental components of the issue around which the book is structured: security, identity, belonging, purpose and competence. A chapter's worth of motivating exercises are proposed under each of these headings, including full instructions, many illustrations and plenty of diagrams and tables to be used in class.

The CD-ROM which comes with the book has all the necessary worksheets and some accompanying music and simple videos to use with some of the units. Download a sample unit (pdf) here.

I don't think the authors would claim that all of their activities are ground-breaking; I recognise many firm favourites in there such as throwing a ball around to animate question and answer sessions, or learning people's names by associating something funny or interesting starting with the same letter - 'I'm Sab and I was born in Scotland...' - I do it at the start of every teacher training course ( well, almost every one). But what they have done is pulled together these disparate classics and placed them in a valuable and valid context for the teacher who is interested in this type of approach to exploit, or at least try out.

Again, the mini-introductions to the chapters give more detailed information about each of these fascinating areas, followed by a large number of practical suggestions for 'building a sense of belonging', 'building a sense of competence', 'building a sense of security', and so on, in the classroom. These include, respectively:

  • Create a notice board with photos of each student to help them be identified. Play bingo with students' names, or play other games which encourage students to call each other by name.

  • Create different ways to celebrate success and achievement of goals. Encourage students to discuss ways to celebrate; they could take turns to participate in a Celebration Council.

  • If new students come to your classroom, encourage other students to go over the classroom rules with them and explain the justification for having the rules.
Now, much as I'd love to start talking about the ideas behind the banner heading of 'self-esteem in the classsroom', that's not my brief and I suggest you get hold of a copy of Seeds of Confidence (perhaps by taking part in our competition on this page) if you want to know more! However, I do want to discuss in a little more detail how relevant these ideas, and more concretely these activities, are to the average English teacher, if there is such a thing.

Strangely enough, I'm being distracted from this review by the second of the leaders' debates in the UK this evening. What I'm seeing is that half the time they are arguing with each other, and the other half of the time they are agreeing. What they're arguing about is the way of doing things. What they are agreeing on is the final desired result. They all want a strong economy, more jobs, international security, and so on. What they disagree on is how to obtain those things.

And we can draw a parallel here. I think all teachers want their students to succeed. What they often differ on is what classroom activities and approaches will achieve that. The humanistic, affective, self-esteem supporting classroom approach put forward by books like Seeds of Confidence and series like 'The Resourceful Teacher' books from Helbling is one which many people both admire and agree with in principle but often find difficulty putting into practice. Many factors are responsible for the awkwardness some teachers experience in implementing slightly unorthodox new approaches, including pressure to produce exam success to make their school's statistics look good, resistance to moving away from what is historically considered to be a 'serious' language lesson, and so on.

We are living in interesting teaching times, and have been for quite a few years now. We have a growing and admirable body of teaching resources which place the learner firmly centre stage and I for one welcome this wave and hope it continues, as will be clear from many of the reviews published on this blog. However, we can't change a well established, highly academically-minded approach overnight, nor perhaps should we.

Instead, it's up to us as caring communicative teachers to pick and choose our materials carefully and creatively. Thankfully, most English teachers today work in institutions or situations where they have at least some degree of autonomy and ability to inject interesting and why not unusual activities into their lessons to freshen up an imposed curriculum and to spice up their lessons. Books like Seeds of Confidence are great places to find those activities and ideas.



Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching (ELT) Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Seeds of Confidence'
Created & written by Sab Will
© Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
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Sab Will said...

Welcome to our 'Seeds of Confidence' competition. To enter just leave a short comment on any aspect of this review. Five winners will be picked at random from all 'commenters' and announced on this blog in a few days time. Good luck!

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Hi Sab, it's Linsey from November 09's course at Tournan!

As a very new teacher I have slowly been building up my library of EFL books but haven't come across this one before. I think any activity in the EFL classroom that gives the student a little more confidence when using English has got to be a good thing. I've seen how much of a difference confidence and a sense of competence can make when learning a language, first hand when I was learning French, and later on through my EFL students. I really try hard to inspire confidence in my students, although admittedly have never really given much thought to 'building a sense of belonging' (however I teach mostly one to one students so perhaps it's a little bit different).

Anyway thanks for the sample unit, it looks like it has potential...I think I might try it out with some of my students this week to get them talking! :-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Sab,

This sounds like a very interesting book indeed, on a subject that not everyone is taking as seriously as they should. You say the exercises are not 'ground-breaking' stuff, and though I can't judge on that as I lack teaching experience, the idea of self-esteem being important for fully exploiting human potential is surely not revolutionary: Maslow's hierarchy of needs puts it in fourth place just after physiological, security and social needs (of which belonging is one).

Self-esteem is something we teachers can do something about, and I would say, should do something about, as this affects not just our students' learning abilities but goes way beyond our classroom well into their daily lives. Worth integrating in any teacher training course if you ask me (or any managerial course for that sake).

Thanks for this review, seems this is a place worth coming back to,


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a very interesting book with original activities. I liked the sample activity provided above, I would definitely like to use some more activities like that to spice up my lessons!


Tiffany said...

I love that Seeds of Confidence stresses the importance of considering our students' emotional comfort as well as their intellectual development. Something like a lack of confidence can be a severe intellectual impairment, even crippling for some students. This idea really deserves teachers' attention even though confidence doesn't really seem to have anything to do with gray matter. I love the idea that we are teaching the whole person, and that we should work to create an environment in which our students feel comfortable, confident, and motivated. Thanks for the great informative review. It looks like a good read!

Helen Herman said...

This sounds like a great book and if i dont win a copy then I will jolly well go down to the book shop myself, leaf through a copy and see of i agree with the reviewer. Good luck me xx Helen

KatyB said...

Hey Sab, thanks for sending me this review. Looks like a really interesting point of reference - I totally agree that self esteem is vital to a learner's progress in the classroom, although I lack teaching experience myself and can only draw on memories of being a language student at school. I'm glad that that the teaching sector is getting more in tune with the important emotional experience of learners, as it will not only have a positive effect on the academic success of the students, but will make for a much more enjoyable classroom experience too, both for teachers and students.
Looking forward to reading more!

Anonymous said...

This was an engaging review. I would have loved a textbook like teaching prior ESL classes in the States.

The sample unit you provide in the review appeared like a quick and fun activity to boost students self esteem.

I need one in French! Because I will be the first to admit that learning ANY language can crush one's spirits if they are consumed with shyness.

Best regards,

Lesli Anne Rarick

Anonymous said...

Another interesting looking book and anything that improves self-confidence in the classroom has got to be good for all those involved. Moz

Anonymous said...

I could do with a few seeds of confidence when (attempting) to learn other languages. Let's just hope whoever teaches me next is familiar with this book... or their native language's equivalent :)


Jessica said...

I think it is essential to address self confidence when learning a foreign language. Not being able to communicate fluently can be scary, disheartening, and frustrating. Maintaining student confidence can be great for retaining student motivation as well!

Anonymous said...

This looks like a great read. I feel that it is highly important to feel confident when learning any new language. All language teachers should read this book!


Sab said...

Thanks to all for your comments. I'm about to close the competition and draw the winners!

The winners will be informed here in the comments and on the blog itself shortly. Good luck.

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