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Affective Teaching: An Effective way to deal with Slow Learners in the ESL Classroom

Binu P.M.
Researcher in ELT
Bharathiar University
Dr. P. Bhaskaran Nair
Professor in English
Department of English
Hindustan University

Every classroom contains students with varied backgrounds, interests, attitudes, and learning styles. Some of these students carry to the classroom not just textbooks and other learning tools but also a lot of personal and learning problems. These basic differences in learners often cause variations in their academic achievements and classroom behavior. Hence, there would be always some students in every class who struggle to keep pace with the rest of the class. In most situations, such slow learners are not given enough support by their teachers.How can teachers accommodate all students with different backgrounds and interests in their classroom and help them thrive and grow, academically and personally? How can they deepen their knowledge and expand the professional practice to enrich the learning experience for all students? How can they address the needs and tackle the learning difficulties of slow learners? The learning and behavioral problems of slow learners should be handled on two levels, intellectually and emotionally. In other words, teachers must deal with them using their brains and hearts. With proper methods, techniques and strategies slow learners can be motivated to produce good work and develop a positive attitude towards classroom behavior and learning.

The learning problems of slow learners are uniform across the world. They belong to an identifiable group of children for whom only certain unique instructional methods are effective in the regular class. They may not benefit much from the usual teaching techniques employed in the class. The lessons, planned for the majority of students, often fail to meet the specific learning needs of the slow learners. As a result, they lose their academic motivation and are left to struggle to make any progress in their studies. Eventually, they are labeled “slow learners” by their teachers. These slow learners often find difficulties to learn at an average pace from the instructional resources and other learning materials that are designed for their level.
Slow learners: Definition
Slow learners are students with borderline intelligence and they often struggle to cope with the traditional academic demands of the regular classroom. According to Lowenstein (2003), “Slow learners are students with below average cognitive abilities who are not disabled, but who struggle to cope with the traditional academic demands of the regular classroom” (p. 1). Students who take longer time than their peers to understand a new concept and need extra support to do their schoolwork are sometimes referred as slow learners. Mercer, (1996) defines slow learners as children who are doing poorly in school, yet not eligible for special education Griffin (1978) defines slow learners as students who learn more slowly than their peers. At the same time, they do not have a disability requiring special education. Although slow learners may have special educational needs, they do not fit neatly into the special education system.
Characteristics of slow learners
They have great difficulty in learning abstract concepts that are presented without proper contexts. If the lesson being taught does not have direct relevance to their day to day activities or is at least linked to previously taught information, then the instruction become ineffective (Singh, V.P. 2004). They learn better when the material is presented concretely. However, they are not usually poor in their motor skills or performing other actions such as shopping, driving, or any other social or mechanical activities in their day to day life.
The most obvious trait of slow learners is that they are extremely poor in word analysis skills, using context clues and abstract thinking. Other common characteristics include poor coordination, poor memory, lack of concentration, poor communication, emotional instability, restlessness etc. They also dislike the direct method of instruction. Their attention span is short, so they cannot concentrate on one topic for long. They react slowly to learning tasks than the majority of students in the class. It is also difficult for them to figure out things themselves, if the task requires multiples steps or instructions.
Their self- esteem is low and they are prone to immature interpersonal relationships. They are more likely to have behavioural issues and social skills deficits. Slow learners also have great difficulty in transferring information or applying knowledge and skills to other situations. They do have the mechanisms or techniques to apply the already learnt skill to a new situation. A good number of students are unmotivated and gradually become slow learners due to lack of attention and support given by parents. When parents do not have enough time to discuss their children’s day today events in the classroom, monitor their food habits, sleeping schedule, extracurricular activities and other personal needs or difficulties, the child may feel neglected and lose interest in learning. Parental care and emotional support are crucial to the academic progress of their children.
Affective teaching
Although the concept of affective teaching is not a new issue in education, it is not widely utilized by teachers in the regular classroom. In modern education, due to corporate interventions, there has been a shift in focus from the inculcation of basic values in life, to the development of knowledge and skills required for the current market. It has also affected the ESL classrooms to a certain extent. The inclusion of certain modules in English language syllabus at tertiary level, such as Business English, Technical English etc. is the latest example of such dehumanizing influences in learning. A close inspection of some existing instructional practices shows the disturbing extent to which we are caught in the tentacles of mechanization (Llewellyn & Cahoon, 1965). Some institutions do not give any importance to the human denominator of learning; rather they try to equate men with machines. Educational institutions must be humanizing centres for learning and all learning activities must reflect an intrinsic valuing of the learner as an individual. Hence, the use of affective strategies in teaching is important to rediscover and maintain the dignity of the individual and to restructure the learning process from automation to humanization.
Affective teaching is the democratic process of interacting with students in a caring, conscious, and committed way. In other words, it is a way of teaching on two levels; intellectually and emotionally, using both brains and hearts. An affective strategy in language education is the integration of cognition, emotion, and language in the learning process. It serves to manage emotions, attitudes, and motivation to create a positive attitude towards learning. Developing and exploiting affective strategies helps to create a positive learning atmosphere in class. It can be done by encouraging learners to identify achievable aims and work towards autonomous learning, through personalizing activities and collaborative tasks. Teachers should use some relaxation techniques to lower the anxiety level and to create interest in learning. But today, most curricula overemphasize intellectual and cognitive tasks by pouring energies and resources for the sake of cultivating a crop of scientists and technicians. As a result, affective elements are not given any significance in the classroom leaving the slow learners and other marginally disabled students unattended.

Slow learners, who have low self esteem and no motivation, need an affective stimulation to foster interest in studies. By activating the affective domain, teachers can awaken their curiosity and interest in learning. In most classrooms, the majority of teacher’s efforts typically go into the cognitive aspects of teaching and learning and all the activities are designed for cognitive outcomes. When a purely cognitive approach is used in class, the low proficiency learners may face some affective roadblocks which are neither recognized nor solved. Therefore, there is significant value in realizing this potential to improve student learning by tapping into the affective domain. In the words of Smith and Ragan (1999), “ any cognitive or psychomotor objective has some affective component to it, if at no deeper level than a willingness to sufficiently interact with learning resources to achieve the learning” (p.250). According to Krathwohl et al (2002), the affective domain describes the learning objectives that emphasize a feeling tone, an emotion, or a degree of acceptance or rejection. Affective objectives vary from simple attention to selected phenomena to complex but internally consistent qualities of character and conscience. They describe the affective domain into the following five categories:

• Receiving is being aware of or sensitive to the existence of certain ideas, material, or phenomena and being willing to tolerate them. Examples are: to differentiate, to accept, to listen and to respond.

• Responding is committed in some small measure to the ideas, materials, or phenomena involved by actively responding to them. Examples are: to comply with, to follow, to commend, to volunteer, to spend leisure time in, and to acclaim.

• Valuing is willing to be perceived by others as valuing certain ideas, materials, or phenomena. Examples include: to increase measured proficiency in, to relinquish, to subsidize, to support, and to debate.

• Organization is to relate the value to those already held and bring it into a harmonious and internally consistent philosophy. Examples are: to discusss, to theorize, to formulate, to balance, and to examine.

• Characterization by value or value set is to act consistently in accordance with the values he or she has internalized. Examples include: to revise, to acquire, to be rated high in the value, to avoid, to resist, to manage, and to resolve.

An important aspect of affective teaching is respecting students. Teachers with traditional concepts might frown at the idea of respecting students. It means to value and accept their different socio cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs, listen to them, sincerely ask for their opinions and learning preferences, and truly value their previous knowledge. Teachers should allow students to express themselves in class and accept the fact that all are capable of learning. When the uniqueness and dignity of each student is recognized, it frees the growth forces within the individual for self fulfilling pursuits. It also raises the motivation level and creates in them a positive attitude towards learning. As Edwards and Porter (1972) argue, “a student’s attitude toward a given course or subject area can be a contributing factor to his achievement” (p.107). Thus, teachers should direct their focus on the individual development of students. When the learning has personal significance, they can see use for it and will try to search for new realms of knowledge.
The proponents of affective teaching argue that teachers should listen to their students to have a smooth interaction in class because affective education is concerned with the beliefs, feelings and attitudes of students. When they listen to students, they will be able to understand their expectations, anxieties and worries, dreams and passions, and learning preferences and difficulties. When students and teachers share their feelings and thoughts in an atmosphere of mutual trust, their behavior becomes spontaneous, authentic, and flexible. This will help teachers to understand their students better and make necessary changes in the planning of future lessons. Although the cognitive and affective domains interact significantly in instruction and learning, any behavior that has an emotional component lies within the affective domain (Martin & Briggs, 1986). So it is important to promote emotional literacy and self esteem to enable slow learners to open the line of communication with their teachers and peers.

Affective teaching requires an open and free communication with students to facilitate authentic interpersonal relationships. When teachers interact with students in an atmosphere of openness, the emotional base of students is honoured and accepted without any prejudice. A lot of students may have various problems that prevent them from focusing on their studies. So teachers need to have a concern towards such students and provide adequate guidance and support. Teachers must act like their mentors and their guidance should be open minded and friendly enough for students to approach them at any time without any hesitation. It is also important to promote a healthy interpersonal relationship among peers because social skills are necessary for a person to function well in life. When a student has a healthy relationship with peers, s/he develops a sense of belongingness that helps to eliminate social awkwardness and antagonistic behaviour towards other students. A positive peer relation helps students to respect other students’ ideas and interests and participate well in collaborative activities that facilitate good communication and language learning.
Affective elements can be expressed not only through words, but also through the tone of voice, volume, and body language. Teachers can use positive signs of patience, acceptance, partnership, and faith to create an impression in class that they are receptive to all students’ needs. Affective elements are necessary for effective student learning because language leaning is not just limited to the accumulation of factual information. In the words of Llewellyn and Cahoon (1965):
Learning is more encompassing; it includes not only factual content but the pupil’s positive feelings about what is learned. It seems, moreover, that the affective element, such as the learner’s delight with what he is doing; actually establish the basis for meaningful and autonomous learning. (p.471).
The emotional impact of teachers’ behaviour can influence learning because it helps to instill in students a love for the subject they teach. When the teacher provides warmth, acceptance and empathy, the learners feel free to regard their emotions and personal meanings as legitimate content in learning. But when language is used in an alienated way, without any emotional and personal significance, students lose their motivation to learn because it is dissociated from their lives. An easy way to make learning more affective is to foster curiosity in class. It makes learning more interesting and funny. Curiosity can be enhanced by introducing novelty and variety in instructional techniques.
Involving students in decision making or sharing power in the classroom is also a way of fostering affective teaching and learning. When the teacher makes decisions with the students about the content, assignments, deadlines, class tests, and future learning, they feel empowered and it makes the whole process more democratic. It helps in making their attitude towards their teacher and learning more positive. It dispels the wrong notion that a teacher is just an authoritarian, whose job is to make students do things, allow or prevent actions, and make judgments in class. On the other hand, they begin to feel that the teacher is a facilitator, who is receptive to their problems and who takes great interest in their learning.
Teachers need to be aware of the specific learning and personal problems that can cause a child to become an underachiever or a slow leaner. It is up to the teachers and parents to provide the help needed for slow learners to progress. As there are no special services available for slow learners, teachers need to take a leading role and keep the lines of communications open with parents to effectively meet the learning needs of such students. The ultimate aim of helping slow learners in not to get them perform at grade level, but to make them do at their level best.

Edwards, A.L., & Porter, B.C. (1972). Attitude measurement in the affective domain. A resource book for media specialists. (Pp.107-126) Washington, DC. Gryphon House.
Griffin, D. (1978). Slow learners: A break in the circle: A practical guide for teachers in secondary schools. Andover: Chapel River Press.
Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice, 41(4), 212-218.
Llewellyn, A., &Cahoon, D. (1965).Teaching for affective learning. Educational Leadership, 22(7), 469-472.
Lowenstein, D. (2003). Understanding and helping the slow learner.Retrieved 15 December 2014 from
Martin, B.L., & Briggs, L.J .(1986). The cognitive and affective domains: Integration for instruction and research. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Mercer, C. (1996). Learning disabilities definitions and criteria used by state education departments, Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 19, 217-232.
Singh, V. P. (2004). Education of the slow learners. New Delhi, India: Sarup.
Smith, P., & Ragan, T.J. (1999). Instructional Design. New York. John Wiley & Sons.

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