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The Affective Side of Things

By Jessica Aggrey defines the word affective as “relating to, arising from, or influencing feelings or emotions.” Each one of our students will come to class with their own affective needs whether or not we choose to build class routines to support them. Language learners may feel anxiety about their ability to produce the language, other students may struggle with not feeling as if they belong in the class and have fears related to ability in college work, and others may be dealing with challenging home lives that distract them. In the article “Toward A Vision of Accelerated Curriculum and Pedagogy,” Katie Hern and Myra Snell state:

It’s important to recognize that the emotional side of learning – particularly feelings of fear and academic insecurity – can lead capable students to be unsuccessful, and that community college students are especially vulnerable in this area. Our work, then, is not just teaching math and English, but understanding the affective dynamics in our classrooms and having intentional practices to ensure they don’t derail students. (7)

As Hern and Snell point out, our job as teachers isn’t just to teach content but to also address students’ affective needs as well. As language instructors, I think this is something that we already have a lot of practice with. Icebreakers and collaborative activities are a part of our routines. Creating a positive classroom environment that lowers our students’ “affective filter” is part of our training.

Subsequently, I’m always on the lookout for more activities and ideas I can use to help my students succeed in this area.  Last month, I attended the second annual California Acceleration Conference in Sacramento. I went to one fascinating presentation on affective support and came away with some wonderful ideas I can’t take credit for. The presenters Rebecca Kaminsky from Irvine Valley College and Melissa Long from Porterville College have graciously agreed to let me summarize some of their ideas here. What follows are their ideas for classroom routines that support students’ affective needs and help promote student retention and success. 

Chitchat Time  

This is a classroom routine that gives you a chance to get some one-on-one time with each student throughout the semester. For this routine, you dedicate the last 5 minutes of class to chitchat time. Each class day, write 3-4 names on the board. These people will know that they’re up for that day’s chitchat time. Five minutes before the class ends, everyone else gets to leave except the people whose names are on the board.

Play a little music to help create some privacy and to make the mood positive. Then, check in one by one with each of the students. Ask them how it’s going and how they’re doing. If you’ve noticed them struggling or missing class or assignments, ask them about it. Let them know you notice and you care about them and their success.

The nice thing about this activity is that it’s a semester-long routine. There’s nothing negative about having your name on the board for chitchat time. It doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong or that you’re are in trouble. For the most part, you’ll cycle through the roster, but if you do notice someone is really struggling, you could move that person up on the list to get a chance to chat. You’ll get some targeted intervention time with that student all within the framework of a normal class routine.

Success Teams  

This routine combines a first-day icebreaker activity with a semester-long routine. On the first or second day of class, put students into groups and give them the task to survive some scenario such as a wilderness, tropical island, sinking ship, etc. Have them work together to come up with their plan for how they will survive. This part of the activity will generate a lot of discussion. I created a scenario around ending up on a foreign planet.

>>>Click Here to Access the Survival Scenario<<

Once this part of the activity is over, tell them that they were not only partners in surviving the scenario, but they will be partners in surviving the whole semester. They’ll be members of a success team. They will need to keep track of each other and help each other succeed. If someone is missing, let them know that you’ll be asking them where that person is. If one of them is struggling, they need to try and help/encourage that person. Also, occasionally carve out a small amount of class time to have students get into their success teams and check in to see how things are going. Check out this handout I created to help set up the success teams.

>>>Access Success Team Handout<<

Intrusive Intervention

This idea may not be for everyone, but if you want your students to know you notice them and are concerned about their success, this is a great option. The basic idea is that you don’t let students slip quietly by as they fail the class through missing assignments and poor attendance. Instead, you contact them and let them know that you notice and you’re worried about their success. Here are some ways you can do it.

  1. After your class gets going and students are working on an activity, take a few minutes to send a message to everyone who is absent letting them know you miss having them in class. You could send a message such as “Hey ______________, I noticed you didn’t come to class today. Your input and ideas are being missed. We hope to see you soon.” I think this is a great strategy because they get your message during class time letting them know you notice and you care. I use the app, so my messages will go to them as a text on their phones. You could also use email or your school’s LMS.
  2. If a student misses an important assignment, send them a quick note asking them what happened and inviting them to come talk to you during office hours.

Letter to Future Self

I was very excited when I heard about this activity and can’t wait to try it with my class next semester. Near the beginning of the term, have each student write a letter to their future self where they discuss their goals and what they hope “their future selves” have learned during the semester. Have the students turn in the letter on the LMS and also turn in a hard copy in a self-addressed stamped envelope. Keep these letters. If someone is really struggling in the class and it appears they may not make it without more effort, write them a little note, put it in the envelope, and mail the letter. A week or two before finals, take all of the remaining letters you have and pop in a note such as “You’re almost there. Good job!” and send all of the letters.

Office Hour Visiting Assignment

Another great idea is turning office hours into an assignment. This assignment will make sure that students know how to find your office and get more comfortable with seeking you out and getting help. The assignment is simple. Students are required to come to your office three times throughout the semester at designated times. Each time, they have to complete a specific task. The tasks Rebecca and Melissa discussed were:

  1. For the first visit, students simply need to come to find your office and come in and tell you a joke.
  2. At the next visit, each student has to come to your office and ask a question about the class.
  3. For the final meeting, they will come in to go over a draft of an assignment.

There are many ways that you can include support for students’ affective needs in your class. These great ideas shared by Rebecca and Melissa show us some useful models for creating activities and class routines that are simple yet powerful tools for promoting student retention and success.


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