Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Lesson go Down

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The hypotheses in Krashen’s Monitor Model have endured and we still talk about them. They made an impact on EFL teaching and, in spite of the criticism arisen, the benefits of their application could be observed in the practice of many teachers. Probably The Affective Filter, together with the Input Hypothesis, is the most considered.

The Affective Hypothesis (Krashen, 1987) holds that receiving comprehensible input does not guarantee acquisition because of barriers that may impede the process of absorbing the input provided. Stephen Krashen considered that self-confidence, motivation, as well as anxiety, are crucial in the second language acquisition process since they may accelerate or block the learners’ progress. In sum, the affective filter may go low or high. If it is high, providing input will prove useless since only part of it will be acquired. To make the filter become low, there should be a relaxed and pleasant learning environment in the classroom.

Even though most intellectuals believe that affective factors do play a meaningful role in second language acquisition, some pose questions on this hypothesis as well. Regarding the Affective Filter Hypothesis, the one that stands out is that children lack the affective filter that most adult second language learners have, which explains, according to Krashen, why adult learners rarely become completely proficient in the language learned. That statement fails because children also experience variations in motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety during the learning process. Furthermore, there are many adults that have acquired a native-like proficiency level (Brown, 2007). Thus, there are still unanswered questions concerning this problem.

Despite this lack of precision, Krashen´s hypotheses influence language teaching. In fact, this feature has driven more researchers in second language acquisition to discover the mystery of second language acquisition. For instance, there are many studies related to emotions and memory which suggest that memory is enhanced by emotional stimuli ensuring that important information is more likely available on future occasions. (LaBar,2006). Positive emotional stimuli would help lower the filter and consequently set a good environment to make self-confidence and motivation grow as well as reduce anxiety.

What has been working so far? How have we been breaking the block?

It is not unknown by teachers that a good environment helps to create a good lesson. Experience has shown us that students are more likely to participate when, for instance, they do not feel menaced of being embarrassed should they make a mistake. This is the result of avoiding overcorrection and using a non-threatening way to address error correction. Self-confidence is also constructed when we use strategies such as scaffolding, which we use to break up the learning into chunks and provide a tool, or structure, with each chunk. In the online context, we are giving students time to process the information and prepare their answers or ideas. For instance, we have them copy them on the chatbox, the board, or any other tool (jam board, Google slides, sketchboard, etc) after a reasonable thinking time.

What about motivation?

The more motivated the person is, the better the process will be.

Humans are target-oriented. If students have clear targets, they feel more in control of their learning process. They would know when they have reached the objective and their feeling of achievement will feed their motivation. If they haven´t reached it, with the teacher´s help, they will redirect their route. That happens every time we share via e-mail or in the chatbox, the objectives of the lesson. It also happens when we keep a record of their achievement in Padlet, Kaizena, or any other tool. Students need feedback and feel they are paid attention. This virtual context gives us the chance to give feedback in a more private setting as well.

What about anxiety?

Strong anxiety will block input and language acquisition.

Probably what causes the most anxiety is the fact of making mistakes; students do not want to feel embarrassed as stated above. The online setting allows us to step into the chatrooms to make non-threatening error corrections. In a smaller group, any mistake is less evident since it is not corrected in front of the whole class. Besides, we may have the chance to have them practise more in a smaller group which may reduce the anxiety. In any case, whether in the chat rooms or in front of everybody, make sure to send the message that it’s acceptable to experiment with the language and make mistakes without fear of embarrassment. Creating a class culture prohibiting students from laughing or making fun of peers has been a good practice to promote respect as well as to reduce apprehension. The online setting is not an exception.

Our goal is to create the best learning environment and provide one in which students feel safe and comfortable, which will definitely lower the affective filter. Although some critics feel that Krashen´s hypotheses are unsatisfactory, I feel that in our daily teaching we can sense that in our classes they contribute to a better learning environment. Unless we wanted to start research to find the exact explanation of why this works, we should continue trying new ways to make our students feel willing to get involved in our lessons. Their willingness to pay attention starts when something exerts attraction and I do believe that only happens when our lessons are engaging. Likeable lessons also contribute to lower the affective filter, so we should try all the resources available. Nowadays in virtual contexts, we can try many tools and, for example, add some fun integrating games, music, videos, and so on.

What else can you do to make your students feel more confident?

What else can you do to liven up your students online?

References:

Brown, H. D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching (5th ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Krashen, S. D. (1987). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Prentice-Hall International.

LaBar, K., Cabeza, R. (2006). Cognitive neuroscience of emotional memory. Nat Rev Neurosci 7, 54–64 . https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn1825

 

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