What is the affective filter?
The “affective filter” is a term made popular by Stephen Krashen, a famous American researcher on second language acquisition, during the 1980s. It is an attempt to describe how a student’s attitudes or emotional variables can impact the success of learning a new language. The affective filter is a psychological filter that either helps or obstructs the process of learning a second language.
Imagine the affective filter as an invisible wall or fence that can be lowered or raised in a person’s mind. When a person experiences boredom, stress, anxiety, insufficient self-confidence, or lack of motivation, the affective filter rises and language learning is deterred. The invisible wall blocks any input or output of information from the learner’s brain. Conversely, with a lowered affective filter, the invisible wall allows the input of information to the brain promoting successful language learning. A low affective filter is evident when learners exhibit increased self-confidence, a desire to learn, and even the willingness to become risk-takers in their learning.
What does a high affective filter look like in the classroom?
Students who exhibit a high affective filter can demonstrate many signs. They tend to feel very self-conscious about their abilities in the new language. Many may experience stress when asked to speak, read, or write in class, and they may have very little faith in their ability to learn. Students report breaking out into a cold sweat, becoming nervous, anxious, and even surprised when incoherent speech comes out of their mouths since in their head they understand the concepts. Students with a high affective filter are reluctant to participate in class discussions because they are afraid of making mistakes and being judged by the teacher or other classmates. They would much rather collaborate with classmates in a small group setting, as that allows them to lean heavily on peers for support or avoid work altogether. Boredom is another way that a high affective filter may manifest in a student. Students who don’t comprehend what is happening in the classroom may stare into space with a slightly glazed look in their eyes. They are completely disengaged because they have no idea what is going on around them. These students believe that if they don’t draw attention to themselves and pretend to know what is going on or demonstrate disinterest, they will be left alone.
What can teachers do?
The goal of educators is to lower the affective filter so that students feel safe and comfortable, and are able to learn. Here are five things that can be done in the classroom to help lower the affective filter.
- Be a Warm Demander: Educators should begin by becoming a “warm demander.” A warm demander maintains high standards while still deeply caring for students. Warm demanders communicate that they believe deeply in a students’ ability to learn and succeed, and holds students accountable for that learning and success.
- Create Multiple Opportunities: In addition, teachers can lower the affective filter by creating multiple opportunities in every lesson for students to engage in activities in which they use language they have already mastered. When students use language they have previously learned successfully, it builds confidence and excitement for learning more. Experiencing success with language motivates students to learn more and take risks in the future.
- Avoid Overcorrection: Furthermore, as students begin taking risks with their language usage, avoid overcorrecting mistakes. For example, if Ana, a new English learner, states, “I riding in a car blue.” An appropriate teacher response would be, “That’s right, Ana. You ride in a blue car. Please, tell me more about the car.” Students crave validation and by providing input that reaffirms their attempt at tackling the English language, teachers can encourage students to continue their path of taking risks with their new language. Instead of pointing out every mistake in the statement, simply rephrase the statement and model it back grammatically correctly. The student will notice the subtle correction and keep it in mind for the future.
- Mistake-Embracing Classroom Culture: Teachers should utilize accurate modeling of the language in an appropriate, non-threatening way to address error correction. It sends the message that it’s acceptable to experiment with the language and make mistakes in the classroom without fear of embarrassment. It also creates a positive learning experience out of making mistakes. It is important to create a classroom culture that prohibits students from laughing or making fun of peers so all students feel more comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. However, teachers should also consider giving feedback one-on-one instead of in front of the whole class to students who are particularly self-conscious. You can do this by setting up norms for whole-class and collaborative interactions.
- FUN!: Finally, have fun with learning. If you make learning fun and engaging students automatically feel more at ease and their affective filter is lower. There are so many ways to engage students and make learning fun. Consider integrating games, student interactions, music, videos, and kinesthetic activities into lessons to keep students engaged.
If you would like to learn more about the affective filter check out the following resources:
Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition by Stephen Krashen