Let Learning In! – Creating Environment

It’s April. You’re tired.  Your students are tired.  They are pushing the line.  You feel like they should know where the line is have no patience for their pushing. It can be like pulling teeth to get them to turn in work!

What is happening?

Or maybe you’ve had scenarios similar to these:

Have you ever quietly redirected a student, and he shoots back with a totally inappropriate anger response?

Does it seem like it takes your students an eternity to get their resources and supplies and get started on a task?

Do you see your students disengage halfway through class?

Have you ever talked to a student about missing work in another teacher’s class, and hear the response, “She doesn’t like me.  I’m not talking to her.”

What causes these responses?

Stephen Krashen proposed the Affective Filter Hypothesis in 1982, and while it hasn’t gone without criticism, it is a great concept to keep in mind, especially as we work with English Learners (and Long-term English Learners) and students of poverty.  The hypothesis states that factors such as stress, boredom, failure, and dislike of a person or content cause the affective filter to rise, therefore lowering language acquisition and learning.  When the student feels motivated, comfortable and successful, the affective filter lowers, opening the door for language acquisition and learning.  See the chart below:


High Affective Filter Low Affective Filter
·       Students experience stress

·       Students feel anxious and self-conscious

·       The lack of self-confidence might inhibit success in acquiring the second language

·       Students are reluctant to participate and seek out opportunities to collaborate

·       If modifications are not being made, the students will experience boredom and disinterest


·       Students become risk-takers as they manipulate language

·       Students feel safe in making mistakes without judgement and constant corrections

·       Students feel empowered to interact with their peers and seek out models of language

·       Students feel safe in answering questions and sharing their thinking with peers and the teacher


Chart adapted from https://www.collaborativeclassroom.org/blog/lowering-the-affective-filter-for-english-language-learners-facilitates-successful-language-acquisition/

As you can see, when the affective filter is low, the environment is conducive for higher level thinking and real learning.

So how do we lower the affective filter.  First, I want to emphasize the idea that as teachers, our “job” is not just to teach, it is to facilitate learning, and while we sometimes do this through teaching, we also do this by questioning, building relationships, planning engaging tasks, facilitating conversations, teaching problem-solving skills, and encouraging student voice.  So if what we are doing in our class raises the affective filter of students, we need to figure out how to lower it!

There are many practical ways to lower the affective filter (and we will discuss them in upcoming blogs), but I want to start with a creating a positive environment.

Obviously, we all want and strive for our classrooms to be a positive environment, but is it? Here are some thoughts:

Create a positive environment:

  • Greet students with a smile, handshake or high five, and positive comment as they walk in the room. Many of their affective filters are up due to a previous class, or an event that even happened before they got to school or in the hallway.  Creating a positive vibe, and letting them know that you are genuinely glad they are in your class, goes a long way for lowering the affective filter.
  • Make positive contact home. For many struggling students, behavior problems are par for the course (which makes total sense if you look at how the brain works). With these students, the only phone calls home they get are for teachers to elicit the help of the parent in correcting behavior.  While I’m not opposed to this (in fact, I encourage it), this can send a message, primarily, ‘I can’t handle your student and I need help’ – which can be translated to ‘I don’t like your kid.”  This message gets receive loud and clear  by the parents and the student.

I use my own child as an example of this.  I received an email the other day that simply said, “Can you please talk to Tate about talking during tests?  I had to correct him twice.”  Now, what message does this send to me?  “Your kid is driving me crazy and can’t get it together…” Except that I know that his teacher LOVES him, and has told me many times how awesome he thinks my kid is.  Because he has so many positive interactions with me about Tate, when I received this email, the message I received was, “Let’s work together on this,” and there was absolutely no negative thoughts that went through my mind about my son’s teacher.  I was also completely willing to talk to my kid.  {This was not the case with a teacher he had a few years ago when he was in kindergarten.  He got in trouble almost every day moving to carpet time.  I got to the point where I was almost rolling my eyes I was so tired about hearing about Tate came to carpet with too much energy.} Complimenting someone’s child is the best compliment you can give most parents, and it lowers the parents’ affective filter, as well as the student’s.

  • If your student is not in your classroom, check on them. Are they home sick? Make a quick phone call.  Are they in In-School Suspension (or a variation of this punishment), go check on them.  You are lowering their affective filter for when they do return to your class.
  • Praise and affirm often. A big piece of lowering the affective filter is the student’s comfort level with asking and answering questions.  Praising the learning, effort, and risk-taking, as opposed to just “right” and “wrong”, creates the positive climate needed for students to take the risk that processing, learning and building language requires. Here are some strategies for ongoing affirmations:
    • Checkmarks on their work for staying focused and staying on task
    • Specific praise for thinking – “I love the thought process you are using.”  “I really like the way you used problem-solving skills there.”  “Great job debating that topic respectfully.  I appreciate you both sharing your thoughts on that!”
    • Feedback on journal prompts
    • Specific praise on grades – “You brought this grade up 20 points!  I like the way you used your strategies! That really helped!”
    • Class points to earn a reward for students showing effort, problem solving, helping another student problem solve, or sharing their thoughts.

This blog comes from a chapter of the book I’m currently writing, and I could talk about these topics for HOURS because they are so crucial to our students’ success.  Here’s the takeaway:

  1. Do each of your students KNOW that you want them in your class?
  2. Do you create an environment that you would want your student learning in?
  3. Do you raise or lower the affective filter of your struggling students?
  4. Could you be intentional about creating that positive environment for EACH student?

The awesome thing about being an educator is that YOU have the power bring learning (and a smile) to each of your students…even the ones who struggle the most.

To chat more about this, or for info on coaching or training, CLICK HERE!

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