Nothing to Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democratic President who guided America through the Great Depression and World War II while fighting a debilitating battle with polio, famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

FDR’s words, spoken during his inaugural address in 1933, are just as true today. They are sound advice for the leader of a Fortune 500 company, for the leader of a classroom, or for that matter anyone seeking to create a “success climate”. Abundant research points to the following reality:

A culture and climate that reduces fear is a culture and climate conducive to success.

The importance of the absence of fear is one of the consistent findings in brain research as pertains to education, but also to the workplace, and in families and other institutions. Fear is engendered when either our physical safety is in danger or our psychological needs are not being met.

A.H. Maslow said that when people’s needs are “gratified,” then they do not feel anxiety-ridden, insecure, unsafe, alone, ostracized, rootless, isolated, unlovable, rejected, unwanted, despised, looked down upon, or unworthy; nor do they have crippling feelings of inferiority or worthlessness.

Avoiding the Affective Filter

Dr. Judy Willis, a neuroscientist and classroom teacher, speaks of the “affective filter”, an emotional state of stress in students during which they are not responsive to processing, learning, and storing new information.

The concept of an affective filter and the need to avoid it in education is well established in both cognitive psychology and in current research on how the brain learns. When the amygdala in the temporal lobe senses threat, it becomes over-activated. When this happens, new information cannot gain access to the brain’s memory circuits. Learning is blocked.

Promoting Relaxed Production in Language Learning

The affective filter can seriously hinder language production in a second language. When the affective filter is high, individuals may experience stress, anxiety, and lack of self-confidence that may inhibit success in acquiring a second language.

On the other hand, a low affective filter facilitates risk-taking behavior in regards to practicing and learning a second language. For language acquisition to occur, students’ affective filters should be kept as low as possible, allowing students to relax and produce the language when they are ready (Stephen Krashen, 1982).

So how can teachers promote a culture that lowers the affective filter?  One way is to use programs that allow kids to have fun and stay engaged. It’s worth noting that programs that are fun and engaging for kids are in no way any less academic; actually quite the opposite is true. So let’s aim to reduce fear in the classroom and expect greater success as a result.

GrapeSEED lowers the affective filter using a fun and engaging environment where students are not penalized for not producing language before they are ready. It’s a “brain-changer” that educators are calling a “game-changer”.