Tag Archives: emotion

Learning to be Confused

Confusion learning

I have had students say to me directly, “I’m confused” and, I wonder to myself, if this is a good thing or have I not done my job correctly. I spend several hours planning a topic, its ins and outs, the intricacies that should make it work, all the detail. I often say to myself as I am programming, students will learn despite themselves. I don’t pride myself or live for the aha moments, but what I wouldn’t do for a well sequenced set of lessons delivered with artful timing creating a classful of learned students. All they have to do is participate.

So, I ask myself, why would a student be confused? Maybe my sequence of lessons and activities are not quite right and they need adjusting (note to self: next year…). Perhaps a student has differing learning needs. They could also be at a different part of the learning spectrum and not quite ready for what they have participated in (differentiate the lesson). I believe all of these are true and each different solution is rooted in knowing your class and where each individual student is up to. Also, there are also larger forces at play such as their emotions and their ability to resist learning. All playing a part in their confusion, I’m sure, but I feel there is something divergent in this behaviour. It’s as if an affective state of confusion can have positive effects on learning as long as students are able to resolve their confusion https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Sequences-of-Frustration-and-Confusion-and-Liu-Pataranutaporn/4be9f881dc661d0fc141384c70bdaba28f24a5bd

Maybe a state of confusion leads to learning, as Steve Kolowich reasoned in his article http://www.chronicle.com/article/Confuse-Students-to-Help-Them/148385. I should have been aware of this aspect of learning as I often tease my students by returning their question with a question. Have you ever done this? Do you do this just to annoy them or do you also believe that it makes them think? There is also the adage that “the only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.” Also, from Albert Einstein, “the important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Read more of his quotes about learning at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins145949.html and http://amorebeautifulquestion.com/einstein-questioning/. Is this curiosity and subsequently their questioning a byproduct of an attempt to solve their confusion? Should I be happy, would you be happy, if your students were confused? Should we be creating controlled confusion in an attempt to foster learning?

Let me put it another way. If, as the teacher, I am the font of all knowledge then I am indirectly in control of my students’ learning. They can only rote learn what I present to them or rise to the heights that I present. Only the curious will learn any more. If I want more from my students I have to tap into this curiosity, fostered by whatever fancy stuff I can produce in the classroom. And, in a modern world, my fancy stuff has difficulty competing.

Inquiry learning is my attempt to control confusion and foster curiosity. The initial stages of a topic focus on skill acquisition where specific differentiation occurs according to each student’s needs. The learning is specific and cycles through past knowledge and builds on it, following a constructivist approach to learning (5 E’s). Assessment usually involves quizzes or formal tests. This stage is usually the most lengthy and teacher directed, student work tends to be either right or wrong. Lessons follow a regular format that would not be out of place in any traditional classroom. The second stage is where they have to apply their learning to different situations. Here they go from solid ground into uncertainty. They are forced to reorganize their thoughts. They may retreat from this process with statements like, I don’t get it; I must be dumb because I don’t understand what to do. Poor student choices may also re-emerge such as off task behaviour. Confusion forces them to reorganize their thoughts in the hope that they will reach a greater clarity during and after this process. To finish a topic I have my students undertake a project or presentation that they have to create. These states of confusion and reorganization of a student’s understanding is backed up by John Murray: Confusion a necessary state in learning https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/teaching-talk/confusion-necessary-state-learning and Rhett Allain has a nice analogy where, to reach the mountain peak of understanding, you have to go through the swamp of confusion. https://www.wired.com/2010/02/learning-goes-through-the-land-of-confusion/



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.

22nd Century Learner

Future of education
We are social creatures and students, in particular, need socialization to become the adults that run the country in the future that we need. How many interactions do you generate/integrate into your everyday lessons? One can describe teachers as engineers of the mind, social engineers. How should this be done, what should it look like? Teachers have this responsibility but, not in the role that you may imagine. Visualise yourself in front of your class, chances are you see your best class. Did you pick your best class by accident? I think not. You make connections with it and you would do lots for this class and the students in it and they know it.
How do we socialize students? Not as a sociologist would (few if any teachers have the training to be effective in this role). We do it by utilizing the pedagogy that we all posses, the things we do every day! We do this by utilizing a persons system 1 and system 2. System 1 takes advantage of immediate responses to environmental conditions, it’s crude but quick. Media and commercialization control this as an art form. We as teachers need to tap into this, not because it is good but because this is what students bring with them. This is the game changer, two for one, half price for a limited time. If we don’t then education will be seen as irrelevant (visualise the class that causes you the most problem). Then we instruct them in deep thinking with system 2.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not complete. Fear, anger, hate compete with all the rest to take education away from students. System 1 is activated by these, which in turn stops system 2 from working. Whatever the reason that fear, anger, hate was generated they will continue to be just consumers not thinkers? This is how we are the social engineers. We cannot afford to let these emotions into our class. There is a crisis looming and we need a paradime shift in our methods. Always smile (it’s free and it is extra).

Education is in desperate need of a paradime shift in thinking. We must utilize the same processes that both the media and commerilsation use. We must limit fear, anger, hate as this limits thinking. Using techniques and methodology that we are practicing everyday we can achieve this. How, by using a persons system 1 thinking and access to their system 2 pathways.