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10 Things Every Teacher Needs to Know About Emotions and Learning

Posted on Sunday August 12, 2012 by Staff Writers

By this point, it ought to be common sense that one’s emotions certainly hold influence over academic and professional performances. Savvy teachers and bosses, however, know that the reality exists as far more nuanced than one blanket statement implies. As such, they should probably read up on the subject, particularly as it pertains to common and not-so-common mental health and neurological conditions.

  1. Emotions impacting learning exist on a spectrum:

    One of the more popular studies regarding interplay between education and emotion, from MIT, reminds teachers that the feelings impacting learning do not exist as one solid, nebulous mass. Rather, they sit on five different spectrums, each of which factor into their overall performance. Anxiety-Confidence, Boredom-Fascination, Frustration-Euphoria, Dispirited-Encouraged, and Terror-Enchantment all hold sway in their own unique ways, and savvy teachers would do well to recognize their respective roles in shaping the process.

  2. Memory triggers responses:

    There’s a physiology behind why emotions influence learning acumen and styles, involving communication between the limbic system where they first grow and the brain stem and cortex, which process stimuli and control learning. In turn, this triggers memories relevant to the material at hand. Positive ones typically open the mind up more to soaking up material, while their negative counterparts close it up and render it difficult to retain important information. Math anxiety stands as one of the most common manifestations of this phenomenon, with damaging thoughts and emotions piling up and precluding forward movement.

  3. Emotions ARE learning:

    Especially in younger kids, processing, understanding, and managing emotions in and of themselves stands as its very own learning experience. Because of this, educators should understand how they infuse themselves into the more academic lessons found in the classroom. Social and Emotional Learning curricula, developed by Penn State’s Mark Greenberg, have started seeping into school districts as a means of producing more well-rounded students capable of thinking and feeling healthily. These strategies acknowledge emotional intelligence as equally pertinent to a child’s development as ABCs, 1-2-3s, and DO RE MIs.

  4. Why, yes, those on the autism spectrum DO experience emotions:

    Any teacher with a student on the autism spectrum likely knows of the dangerous stereotype painting such individuals as incapable of feeling emotions. In reality, many ASD kids and adults grapple against expressing them or fully grasping certain stimuli, but they absolutely do not follow time’s arrow as hollow automatons. Because this unfortunate myth still persists throughout society and academia alike, however, it’s imperative that everyone understands the realities behind the oft-stigmatized conditions and tailor their teaching accordingly.

  5. University of Cambridge developed the world’s first encyclopedia of emotions:

    When working with students on the autism spectrum, the Mind Reader DVD-ROM might prove a valuable resource when it comes to assisting them with better recognizing emotions. Some — though by no means all — ASD individuals struggle when it comes to identifying facial expressions and verbal cues indicative of the feelings of others, and that’s where Cambridge’s compilation steps in to help. In the video, actors portray all the intricacies of 412 of the most common emotions, training viewers to point them out in real-life situations.

  6. Emotional disturbances are medical conditions:

    And, depending on the level of severity and disruption, can sometimes fall under the heading of learning disability. They stem from several different sources (sometimes mental illness, sometimes issues at home) and externalize themselves in various ways, with the most common involving behavior issues, depressive symptoms, and/or problems with retaining information not hailing from other factors. Kids continuing to display the symptoms of emotional disturbance might actually live with one rather than requiring disciplinary action after disciplinary action — a trip to the school counselor might prove far more beneficial and sustainable.

  7. More creative people experience more positive emotions:

    University of Toronto researchers discovered evidence that the stereotype about negative emotions fueling creative pursuits better than their chirpier opposites might actually ring false. Positivity might actually nurture innovative, abstract thinking and pursuits, because it lacks the same level of mental distraction stapled onto doom and gloom and despair. Creating a loving, healthy environment for students might very well improve their grades, performances, and eager minds.

  8. More positive students are more productive:

    Similarly, a classroom with minimal anxiety and negativity also encourages greater productivity as well as creativity. University of Western Ontario noted a correlation between cognitive flexibility in two cortices and a heightened mood, both of which improved subjects’ performances significantly. Once again, science proves why faculty and staff alike must put forth the effort to make sure their schools exist as safe spaces that actually make students want to show up for class — or at least dread it as little as possible.

  9. Trauma can be one-time or chronic:

    Seeing as how negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, and the like hamper performance, productivity, attention, and retention, all education professionals should also exert the effort to identify the symptoms (a complete list is available on the link) related to trauma and their frequency. Depending on the situation and the individual, they settle in either as temporary setbacks or a permanent issue requiring serious addressing inside and outside the classroom. Work with students suffering beneath trauma’s crushing jackboot rather than penalizing them for distraction and emotion-related poor performances.

  10. Mood disorders impact 14% of American adolescents, aged 13 to 18:

    Severe mood disorders affect 4.7%, and this includes bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and dysthymic disorder. At the age 8 to 15 level, only 3.7% of students experience these conditions. Females between 12 and 15 stand as the most vulnerable demographic, with 4.9% and 4.8%, respectively, meeting the diagnostic criteria.