Confidence Boosting in the Online Classroom
What is the affective filter?
The affective filter is a theory which shows that language cannot be processed or learned if a learner is blocking the learning process, even if they are not aware of this. A student can have a high affective filter or a low affective filter: the higher the filter, the more probable it is that their language learning will be impeded; the lower the filter, the more likely it is that language learning will take place or be much smoother.
How does it impact learning?
If the filter is high, then this means that the student may be under significant stress or has a lot on their mind. This could be a result of a combination of external and classroom-based factors. For example, some students may have taken a break from the classroom and may now find themselves in a situation where they need to speak in front of a group. They may not wish to be embarrassed in front of their peers. Another instance is if a student is distracted during the lesson by external factors, then their concentration will be much lower, and they may not feel as if they have the necessary knowledge to complete the task at hand.
How can we help students?
The situations described above can all hinder and obstruct language learning so let’s look at five areas where we can try to lower the affective filter and students’ stress levels.
- Error Correction and Feedback
Receiving feedback, especially if it is done ineffectively or inappropriately can cause high anxiety levels in students. For example, when I first started teaching, I remember taking a class where I gave too much praise which did not appear genuine, and students did not respond very well to this as a result. Thus, make sure you give feedback in a balanced way, especially if you notice a student is lacking in confidence. For every correction give one or two pieces of praise for example, “That was a great sentence and your pronunciation was very clear. Make sure to use the article here”. In addition, it is vital to be specific with your feedback and to give clear explanations. For example, “you said I tooked. You don’t need -ed as took is past.’’ Finally, pay attention to your tone of voice when giving feedback and ask yourself how you would feel receiving this type of feedback?
- Student Production
Forcing student output prematurely in the lesson or expecting too much at the start can knock a student’s confidence and increase their affective filter. During the introduction part of the lesson, we need to pay attention to which students are struggling, whether it is someone’s first lesson, or whether they have just moved up a level. They may not be feeling self-assured so let them know they can speak when they feel comfortable, I often did this in my lessons and students responded well. In addition, some teachers use elicitation as a strategy at the start of the class as this enables students to share and build on what they already know. Hesitant students can then follow when they feel more relaxed and comfortable adding their ideas.
- Instruction Giving
Students who don’t understand the instructions whether fully or partially are often prone to feeling embarrassed even though it is not their fault. Making your instructions clear and concise and asking a variety of instruction-checking questions can help to avoid this. I have taught lessons where students have misinterpreted the instructions at the start of the lesson, and it has paved the way for further misunderstandings later on in the lesson. A few instruction-checking questions can help gather immediate feedback on the clarity of your instructions so that you can make amendments and clarify (if needed) going forward. Finally, in addition to clear instructions, it is key to grade language to the correct level, even though you may have more confident students in the lesson, it is best to grade your language to the lower students’ level.
- Lesson and Task Expectations
As with the above point, students who don’t understand the lesson aims and how each step links to the next can also have a high affective filter. It can make it problematic for them to achieve the lesson goals and can make them feel frustrated and upset. Once a teacher came to me for advice because her students were constantly unsatisfied which made the teacher frustrated too. A way to overcome this is to briefly outline the expectations at the start of a lesson in written and verbal form. In addition, it often helps to model an activity or task before assigning it to the students to show them what you want them to do and how. Thirdly, a wrap-up activity at the end of the lesson helps students to recap and recognise the progress they have made.
- Interaction Patterns
This is an especially important point for larger classes, often containing a wide variety of student personalities and subs levels within one level. If students are paired or grouped incorrectly this can cause a significant amount of stress for some students. It is a good idea to first gauge where the students are at and to pair them according to ability and personalities. For example, if there is a student who needs more support then practising yourself with this student one-on-one can be effective in building their language and confidence – I used to do this in my lessons and I saw the difference it made to students. In addition to ability, with interaction patterns, it is important to also pay attention to additional factors like student background, culture and beliefs so that students are paired in a way that helps to increase their overall levels of confidence and maximise productivity in the classroom.
To summarise, the above are all key areas in which you as a teacher can encourage students and boost their overall confidence levels however even if things don’t go to plan straight away then take small steps, and focus on one element at a time and remember that being a teacher is as much about learning as it is about teaching.
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