From your experience, what are some of the affective factors that you encounter in your classrooms? How do they interfere in learning?How do lower the affective filter?
There are a number of reasons why one's affective filter may be raised at any given point. I have seen students who are simply shy and students who are from a more reserved cultural background, for example, struggle to participate in class, and I have seen students (adults) who may have difficulty expressing themselves because they are so concerned about speaking less eloquently in their L2 than their L1. It is hard to work for years to achieve a certain level--of knowledge, of education, of wit, of status or prestige in your job and community--and then go to language classes and practice basic language skills and participate in activities or tasks that are beneath your cognitive levels in other ways. How many times can you talk about the red table or ask about the weather before you get frustrated? These are just basic examples, but they are all true, particularly for beginners. It is hard to put yourself on a level with your peers in the language classroom, even harder when cultural beliefs are called into play.
Living in Korea, I got to see this first hand, where businessmen could be in class with college students. There was a level of respect that the younger students gave the older students, respect that (for the ESL teachers) would throw a wrench in the works at times. Most often, my students were willing participants in their own language learning experience. However, there was the occasional "situation," where perhaps a younger (and/or female) student would forgo speaking or responding in order to let the older (often male) student speak. In these cases, it was difficult to have the students each practice or speak. To all of the students' credit, they each opted to sign up for this class knowing there was a mixed group (age and gender), and they enjoyed and looked forward to the interaction with students of a social group they may rarely have an opportunity to spend time with outside of their own families. I also admired the younger students who felt it most respectful to offer up the floor to the other students, even if it inhibited their own opportunities to speak.
I addressed this in a couple of ways. I established the classroom as an informal environment, based on the target language and culture (which was U.S. culture in this particular case), but explained to them that everyone would have to speak and participate, and that I would ask each student to speak, either in turn or as the other students or I addressed them. This was a conversation class, after all. I approached the students with empathy and humor as much as possible, remembering their names from the first day and asking them about details they had mentioned earlier. I got them to share their opinions and stories as much as possible.
These student groups almost always had a stellar rapport with each other. After a while, the students warmed up to each other and began to participate more evenly, asking each other questions and talking about each other's lives and interests. Working within the structured curriculum I had, with students who were violently opposed to homework and who often had few or no chances to speak outside of the class, breaking through the affective filter early was vital to helping these students begin to use the language. In most classes, and with most of my lovely students, I learned to draw them out to begin interacting with each other. I also admitted to any mistakes I made in class or let them know that I had to go home or talk to another teacher to get answers or ideas for class. I hope this helped them see that, as Polo brought up in class, we are all lifelong language learners.
We have been discussing this issue in class. and I know there are many teachers and researchers who emphasize letting students go through their silent period or work quietly by themselves, but in this situation, they were paying for me to get them talking, so I quickly became the dancing bear and the empathizer. The students generally seemed to be waiting for someone to come help them tear down those walls so we could get the (English) party started.
It is different with K-12 ESL than overseas EFL, however. I think it is crucial with kids and adults living in the L2 culture to learn as much about their lives, their interests, and their unique cultures, so we can be delicate when delicacy is required and firm/lively/detailed/etc., when our students need us to be, and so we can incorporate something they know (from their own cultures) or like (soccer, music, seafood, whatever) into the lessons and into our conversations with these students. This should help them feel more at ease with the classes and with the L2.