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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Consider the Affective Filter in Professional Development

Sometimes the fear of a computer (or of damaging a computer, or of simply looking stupid when using a computer) can sometimes be enough to ruin the experience of an educator in a technology professional development session. Tonight I was reminded of the affective filter concept...

I agree with you that collaboration should not be forced. Many times learners are placed in situations where they are not comfortable. The lack of comfort is not for the material being taught, but the social setting of the collaboration. It is vital to ensure that the needs of the learner are taken into consideration.

Craig,

You are right. When collaboration is forced, this can serve to raise the affective filter for the learner.

I found a reasonable definition of "affective filter" at this site.

""Affective Filter" is the term Stephen Krashen has used to refer to the complex of negative emotional and motivational factors that may interfere with the reception and processing of comprehensible input. Such factors include: anxiety, self-consciousness, boredom, annoyance, alienation, and so forth."

The site also includes several practical suggestions for instructors.

"We maintain low affective filters in the following ways:

  • We do not test students on the material they are working with. This eliminates a major source of anxiety. The only testing in the program is for placement purposes... whatever anxiety this generates is associated with the infrequent placement procedure, not with the daily classroom environment.
  • We do not require students to perform when they are not ready and willing to do so. Speaking is always voluntary and always welcome; hence, it is genuine speaking, in contrast to the embarrassed, strained output that passes for speaking in some methods. We never make our students feel awkward or self-conscious by putting them on the spot.
  • We use authentic materials -- feature movies, newspapers and magazines, popular fiction, etc. -- rather than ESL textbooks and the like. Boredom is less likely with these materials, since they are the kinds of things normal people enjoy in real life.
  • We do not use exercises, drills, or any kind of artificial task that has no ostensible or sensible purpose other than language practice. Instead, we maintain a flow of ordinary, meaningful language about people, places, things, ideas, stories, and so on. Such activities do not become annoying; they are universally accepted as normal, basic modes of human interaction.
  • Teachers function as partners and mentors (positive roles) but not as testers and judges (negative roles). All testing and placement is done at the program level, not by the individual teachers. This helps prevent feelings of alienation and hostility toward teachers.
  • Frequent placement testing... enables us to keep students in groups that reflect their current needs and abilities. Since all of the students in a class have similar skill profiles, they function well as a community. This helps maintain positive attitudes and good will among the class members."


  • These suggestions may also be valuable to our efforts in educational technology professional development.

    -Mark

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