Open Forum

Addressing Anxiety

  • 1.  Addressing Anxiety

    Posted 01-28-2019 12:11

    Hello fellow teachers!

    I'm wondering if anyone else has seen an increase in student anxiety regarding performing in front of classmates. 


    I teach several introductory courses in both theatre and speech. I have always included acting as part of the class, usually in the form of students selecting and performing a monologue from a play, some scene work and of course speeches in public speaking. However, lately I have noticed an increasing amount of students who request some kind of alternative assignment or to perform in front of just me due to their anxiety. 


    With these students I usually try to have a conversation about anxiousness versus anxiety and give them the opportunity to "ease into" speaking in front of the larger group. However, this year/semester seems to be particularly bad. As an educator and a parent, I think it is important that students be able to sit with their anxiousness a little in order to know how to address it in the future. We do all kinds of relaxation exercises and getting to know you activities to lessen the stress but I still have students who seem to be unwilling to even try. This leaves me in a tough position because I feel like I have to give them a zero if the assignment is incomplete but I also understand where they are coming from.


    What strategies have you been using to address this issue? Is your administration supportive or do they ask you to allow the alternative assignment? What about IEPs and 504 plans? Should I push to have the student try it at least once? What do you think? Have you seen this increase? 


    Thanks for any feedback or ideas!



  • 2.  RE: Addressing Anxiety

    Posted 01-28-2019 16:00
    I haven't noticed an uptick in performance anxiety per say, but I do run into it from time to time in my English classes (speeches) and Drama classes. Of course getting up and speaking in front of a group is an important real-world skill. However, all of the standards and rubrics I've ever used for performances and/or speeches say nothing about requiring an audience. I can assess all of those skills without an audience being there, and sometimes that is where some students need to start. If their anxiety is so extreme, I make time for them to perform the speech/poem/monologue for me outside of class. They usually agree to this. I then will work our way up from there. Next time, have them bring 5 friends to watch it (counts as an audience) or, if they feel more comfortable, 5 strangers. Maybe get some other faculty, librarians, custodians or whoever to watch. Hopefully, they can work their way up to performing in front of the class. If not...Then solo it is. Not ideal, but workable for me.

    Christopher Hamilton
    Drama Teacher
    Kennewick WA

  • 3.  RE: Addressing Anxiety

    Posted 01-29-2019 09:15
    Improv games will solve all your problems. There are many great books and sites to give you games lists and ideas. I wouldn't have a student pick up a script before improving for at least a couple of class periods. 
    Mary Todd Kaercher

  • 4.  RE: Addressing Anxiety

    Posted 01-29-2019 07:30
    I have several students that deal with medically diagnosed anxiety and some on the autism spectrum. I have found one thing that helps is doing a lot of improv and group work in the first nine weeks. They start having fun with everyone, and they don't even realize they are performing. We are all on stage together making fools of ourselves and trying new things. Then we do group scene work. By the time we get to individual projects, they are pretty comfortable with each other and the anxiety goes down. I do give the individual performance option, but I try to lovingly push them toward performing in a group.
    I recently had a senior who left a group activity because of her anxiety. She and I talked afterward, and she thanked me for pushing her. She knows it's an area she needs to grow in, so she is willing to try a lot of things that I ask. I thanked her for trying so hard.
    I find that most students aren't faking it. Trust them to know themselves and when they need to take another route. Keep the goal of performing in front of others in front of them. They will get there. Another student that performed their children's story privately for me just did a beautiful monologue on stage in front of everyone. Growth is the goal!

    Joy Patton
    Theatre Teacher
    Franklin TN

  • 5.  RE: Addressing Anxiety

    Posted 01-30-2019 07:38
    If performance/presentation is a part of the class, then I agree that they need to do that, even if it means working up to it. Unless there is a legitimate anxiety issue, IEP or  504, then they have to perform, even if it's just for me the first time. If middle schoolers see others students being allowed NOT to perform, there will be a sudden epidemic anxiety, and students who refuse to perform in front of the class.

    Dianne Rowe
    Theatre Arts Teacher
    Junior Thespian Troupe 88177
    Berry Middle School
    Birmingham, AL

  • 6.  RE: Addressing Anxiety

    Posted 01-31-2019 01:25
    I usually have several students who have performance anxiety.  That's one reason why I start each Theatre I course with a week of getting-to-know-you games and beginning improvisation.

    They try to learn everyone's name within the first two days by introducing themselves by first name multiple times and some sort of prompt, such as where they were born, where they would like to visit for a week if given a big bag of money, their dream future profession, favorite food, etc.  We do partner introductions to the class, where they team up with someone they don't know and find out 3 interesting facts we haven't already learned, then introduce their partner to the class.

    We play a ball pattern game where each student has to know the name of the person they throw to in case the person isn't watching when they need to throw the ball to them.

    We do Fruit Basket to get used to each other kinesthetically.

    Gradually we move into games such as Join Me, where a student mimed an activity and students in the circle join the person when they figure out what the person is doing, and other no-elimination beginning improv games.

    Because students with anxiety are frequently terrified to create dialogue, I use brief open scenes to get them all talking in pairs simultaneously.

    Later in the semester, they do peer critiques before each memorized monologue, forcing them to have 3 other students hold book and give line calls, and requiring them to do the same for their peers, before I see the pieces.  I am always touched by the encouraging comments that students write to each other on the half sheet forms they have to complete for a participation grade.  They also hold book for each other when they perform a memorized piece for a grade.

    I don't allow applause.  They do jazz hands in support before and after each student performs.

    I have discovered that taking the time to form that net of community in the first week of the course, then fostering it throughout the course, means that very, very few students fail.  They don't want to let their fellow classmates down.

    C. J. Breland
    Asheville High School
    Asheville NC

  • 7.  RE: Addressing Anxiety

    Posted 01-31-2019 22:03
    My advice is actually quite opposite others here.  After teaching for more than 20 years, i have found that improvisation causes severe anxiety for the incredibly shy students. They enjoy watchjng it, but feel tremendous pressure when asked to do it.

    My solution has been baby steps:
    1. Its a performance class, so students are told (& its in the syllabus) thst they will be performing in front of and with each. If they want an "alternative assignment " then they need to take a non-performance class.
    2. Explain WHY public speaking and performance skils are so important for success in all walks of life.
    3.  First assignments are short (one class hour) and focus on a single skill with material they are already famiiar with & does not have to memorized. For example, i use nursery rhymes to teach vocal intonation and variety. Grade is participstion only. Just get up there, read your nursery rhyme without sing song pattern & not monotone & get an A. I do dozens of small activites like this and each time i c ok mpliment the student on something that was good. "Good job projecting" "I love your energy" "You are sopretty when you smile"  it builds their confidence slowly.
    4. Then we build to group assignments like readers theatre & ensemble before we tackle improvisation, duo scenes & monoogues.
    5. Take away as many "unknowns" as possible, focus on one thing at a time & praise & encourage.  Confidence wil grow!

    Jeana Whitaker
    Theatre Director
    Mesa AZ