Thinking about a MFL class, what is a learning environment that facilitates genuine acquisition? I’m going to give you a framework about how to create an inclusive learning environment in the classroom.
This article at glance:
- Our brains: where acquisition takes place
- What surrounds us
- Teacher’s role
- Beyond the teacher
- What happens when learners are involved in a LASS?
- How is the teacher supposed to address the stimuli?
- The role of emotions in the learning environment
Tip for you:
This article perfectly complete the guide 5 easy-to-implement strategies for getting your students to speak and engaged you can download here below. Whilst the post explains in a nutshell the neurological reason why language teachers should care about the learning environment, the guide provides you with practical tips and solutions you can implement in the classroom ☟
Our brains: where acquisition takes place
Let’s start from where acquisition takes place: our brains. Think about our brains as devices, such as a computer, with a built-in software called mind. In language acquisition, our brain/mind are called Language Acquisition Device (LAD). This is a device that observes, makes links, makes hypothesis, evaluates, assesses, compares, put pieces of information into use, drills and repeats, classifies.
What surrounds us
Now, in order to learn a language, my device needs to receive stimuli, information, input. Those input together with the way they get in touch with my device, the environment where my device meets them and the people involved, all this is called Language Acquisition Support System (LASS). The LASS sets the conditions that enable the LAD to work, to acquire.
Teacher’s role within the learning environment
The word support refers to the role of the teacher. It means the teacher is no longer the indisputable source of knowledge and the unique model for the students and his/her role is about addressing stimuli, information, input.
Beyond the teacher
The word system stands for a galaxy of material, resources, methods, approaches the teacher uses for teaching. The free guide I invited to download above gives you practical ideas about how to create an inclusive learning environment in the classroom.
So, what is a learning environment? This is what you learnt so far
A learning environment is where the teacher offers new input about the target language by offering a variety of material, resources, methods to get everybody onboard, through a student-centred approach.
What happens when learners are involved in a LASS?
The learners memorise faster and deeper and develop their language skills faster and in a way that takes them to be self-efficient and creative with the language. That is the LASS end game.
I’d like to go deeper into how teachers are supposed to address stimuli and the emotional aspect affecting the learning environment. Let’s dive in!
How is the teacher supposed to address the stimuli?
The answer is in the Input hypothesis by Stephen Krashen. Krashen says learners improve their language skills along a ‘natural order’ when they receive second language input that is one step beyond their current stage of linguistic competence. That input is therefore a Comprehensible Input. For example, if a learner is at a stage ‘i’, then acquisition takes place when the learner is exposed to Comprehensible Input that belongs to level ‘i + 1’.
In other words, when learners receive new input, their brains hook it and retain it only whether that input relates to a piece of knowledge they have got already: i +1. This means our brains acquire by following a natural order in the acquisition process when the new input relates to something we already know or we are familiar with.
For instance: if I know what the English word “good” means, my brain will naturally acquire an opposite term (i +1) such as “bad” or a similar term (i +1) such as “nice”. Another example: complete beginner level learners’ stage “i” is more or less about understanding body language and gestures; their “+1” will consist of the words they can understand only if linked to gestures and objects they can recognise.
The role of emotions in the learning environment
Furthermore, according to Krashen, the acquisition process is also affected by what he calls affective variables. The affective variables are: motivation, self-confidence, anxiety and personality traits. In order to have an impact on the acquisition process, teachers need to know how to motivate, boost learners’ self-confidence, remove any source of anxiety and keep the anxiety level as low as possible, make the most out of the learners’ personal traits (personality, attitude and interests).
The affective filter can slow down, stop or facilitates the acquisition process depending on how good a teacher is in coping with her students’ affective filters.
The purpose of implementing playful activities is not to create a pleasant atmosphere “because that is good”. The true purpose is to create an enjoyable learning environment in order to positively have an impact on the affective variables. Eventually, that brings to the best conditions where acquisition flows smoothly. This is really an important step towards how to create an inclusive learning environment in the classroom.
In order to acquire a language, our brains need to be involved in a learning environment where the teacher addresses new stimuli in a natural order (i+1). Also, the teacher uses a variety of material, resources, methods, approaches to get everybody onboard. Furthermore, the teacher takes all those steps keeping an eye on the students’ affective filter in order to immerge the students in a pleasant, emotional experience.
All those elements, altogether create an inclusive learning environment that facilitates acquisition.
Not sure about how to start implementing the framework you learnt about in this post?
Download the free guide 5 easy-to-implement strategies for getting your students to speak and engaged here below. The guide provides you with practical solutions you can implement in the classroom and it is based on the framework you learnt about in this article. Enjoy your free guide! ☟