Emotions and Learning

Pride of place

I often say to myself when I have a particularly difficult class, ‘as long as they don’t hate me.’ This is not in the mistaken belief that I somehow need their approval as a teacher for my lessons to be fulfilled. It is also not some self need, I don’t need to be liked. It is based on experience in the classroom alone. I have been lucky that maybe only a small number of students have disliked or hated what I do. All of which related to their personal journey. I work hard to not leave students upset, for when they are I lose them, all learning stops. The student that I chastise becomes more difficult, unable to maintain their self-control, caused through my immediate actions and their past experiences (of which I am not usually privy to and can only guess at).

I have never hated a student, not even the one who destroys each and every lesson. It is a strong emotion that doesn’t belong with any Human. Dare I say, it leads to the dark path! Humour, found through experience once again, can evaporate most angst in a student taking the sting out of situations leaving them with some self-esteem. I reflected on emotions no further, until a situation presented itself and I thought about pride. I found the following article that explained so much more and, in hindsight, explains so much about student learning.

Reinhard Pekrun, Emotions and Learning, Educational Practices Series – 24, International Academy of Education, 2014

There is more to teaching and emotions than hate and humour. And how do they work anyway? In this article they are separated into four emotional areas;

  • Achievement
  • Epistemic
  • Topic
  • Social

So far I have discussed working in the social emotional area. In my classrooms I have identified that I have also had some small influence with the Achievement and Epistemic emotions as well. This I have done by claiming to the students that the results of a particular test in itself is not important but the growth of the student over time, shown as an improvement in grades, is more important. Setting up cognitive confusion in a student’s mind and then giving them the skills to solve it tap into their epistemically emotions. A teacher can work out these emotional triggers by experiencing it through the practical application of the teaching art. But is there more to be had?

Don’t guess about their emotions, build up trustful relationships and simply ask them how they feel. Students vary and so do their emotions in similar situations so, even though it is convenient/easier to assume, each situation may need to be explored fully to understand the individual. Use this information to help them experience posemotions-and-learningitive emotions by exploring situations that invoke them. The more challenging the child the greater the effort to solve his/her deficiencies in emotions.

Positive emotional experience needs to be linked to the task of solving cognitive problems and the learning material in the lesson. Create situations where they can feel positive, their ability to solve problems and their self-confidence will improve. Focus students on what is under their control, their strengths and the ways they can improve themselves. Negative emotions need to be avoided as they can undermine learning and achievement. When they cannot be avoided, deal with them in a positive way.

What are your own emotions during a lesson? What are your students? Have you created situations where you have manipulated their emotions to best effect, eased their fear before/during/after a test? Made them feel proud about the work they have completed? We have all done it, now just do it with purpose.

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