Affect is to do with emotions and moods and influences the way children think, feel and learn. Creating a positive affective atmosphere in the classroom is essential for developing cooperative social relationships among children and can be instrumental in sustaining motivation and improving academic performance. If children feel insecure and anxious in the classroom, they may experience ‘learning blocks’ and a sense of failure which can all too easily become a fixed and repeated pattern throughout the primary years.
In classes with a positive affective atmosphere, children have a sense of belonging and feel valued and cared about as individuals. They look forward to lessons with a sense of anticipation and enjoyment, and are more emotionally open to realising their full learning potential. This in turn helps to raise children’s self-esteem and allows them to blossom, both as people and as language learners, in a context of mutual respect and support. As has been said (and is quoted by Verónica de Andrés*): ‘Children don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care’. In other words, the value we place on affect in our classes underpins how effective our teaching and children’s learning can be.
So what can we do to give attention to affect in our classes? Here are some ideas:
- Treat children in the same way that you like to be treated e.g. remember names, be polite, respect personal space, show patience when explaining things, show understanding when a child is having difficulty or an ‘off day’.
- Find ways to show that you value work children produce through e.g. using praise appropriately and constructively, responding to the content (not just language), making and regularly changing classroom noticeboard displays, encouraging children to show, share and take pride in the work they produce with the whole class.
- Find time for regular personalised moments with each child – not always easy in large classes, although there are often opportunities when children are working quietly as well as before and after lessons begin.
- Build up a profile of the personal interests of children as you find out about them and ask about and/or refer to these whenever appropriate.
- Value diversity through recognising and accepting that different children contribute and participate in different ways.
- Make children feel special e.g. by keeping a class birthday calendar and celebrating birthdays, showing and sharing work they’ve done with the whole class.
- Make children feel responsible e.g. by appointing them in turn to be special monitors for such things as giving out materials, writing the date on the board, collecting homework.
- Give children plenty of opportunities to say what they think and feel, and refrain from being judgmental. This can either be as an integral part of activities e.g. responding to a story, or the main focus e.g. writing a group poem I feel happy / sad / angry / when …
- Encourage children to behave positively towards each other e.g. by getting them to clap and/or give positive comments after individuals, pairs or groups perform in front of the whole class.
- Use stories and picture books which encourage children to develop empathy and think about issues such as inclusion and friendship e.g. Do you want to be my friend? by Eric Carle, Something Else by Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.
It would be great to hear about some of the things you do to give attention to affect in your classes.
* ‘Self-esteem in the classroom or the metamorphosis of butterflies’, Verónica de Andrés, in Affect in Language Learning, ed. Jane Arnold, CUP 1999