Lowering the anxiety filter

If you are minimally into social media like Facebook or Instagram and love posting pictures, you have probably made good use of the range of filters available on these platforms. They usually work wonders for our original, run of the mill photos, getting us tons of likes and comments from friends and followers.
The anxiety filter, on the other hand, doesn't bring us any brownie points or make our day. Pyschologist Jennifer Hartstein defines the anxiety filter as the thing that colors how we see the world, usually in a way that's negative or stressful. How we see ourselves and the world around us shapes how we face difficulty or how we succeed at whatever we do. 
Learning another language is a gold mine of opportunities for the anxiety filter to work its spell. It can make the talkative student stutter, leave the quiet student speechless and set off a panic attack in the leaner who is already insecure about speaking in their own language.  
Speaking in another language represents going down an unfamiliar road, which in turn brings a wave of uncertainty and despair, giving way to the demons of fear whispering to the learner - you lose. 
The English language teacher's job goes beyond presenting grammar and vocabulary forms; fostering a safe learning environment probably plays a more pivotal role than imparting knowledge about language offering tips on how to speak. A safe learning environment means a place where we can settle down and be ourselves; where fear has no free pass; where we feel found and not alone; a place called home. 

How do we do that as teachers? 
1. Making the experience our students' not ours alone
Through trial and error, present topics and propose tasks that students connect with. This requires constant updating; what works today with one group might not click with them tomorrow. 
2. Leave room for student-generated content
Prioritize students' ideas and examples related to the topic over the ones you might have spent a lot of time preparing
3. Plan brain break moments
Use a quick video, image or anecdote/joke to lighten the Cognitive load, especially after presenting new AND complex language (concepts and forms). Students with high anxiety levels feel even more overwhelmed when faced with the challenge of mastering something unfamiliar to them. Set a five minute relaxer that is highly energizing, like a bingo, a personality quiz or a viral video to keep them going. 
4. Share our learning experiences
We all have some great anecdote of an embarrassing situation we faced while learning English and how, in the end, we got out of it. Letting students in what we have been through as learners builds a sense of trust and comraderie (or that famous RAPPORT) that gets them willing to take your advice or to follow that tip you may offer them from time to time. 

To sum up, students need to know they ARE not alone.  Like Phillip Phillips promises, make the learning space their home. 


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