George Lucas Educational Foundation

Is there a direct link between Emotions & Learning...???

Is there a direct link between Emotions & Learning...???

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Have we ever thought Why should helping students in the social and emotional realms of their lives enhance their academic learning? If we look back at our own school days and remember a teacher whose class we enjoyed , we almost certainly will bring to mind also a classroom environment where we enjoyed learning. From the perspective of neuroscience, that optimal learning environment reflects an internal brain state well attuned for learning. Most of us have assumed that the kind of academic learning that goes on in school has little or nothing to do with one’s emotions or social environment. Now neuroscience is telling us exactly the opposite. The emotional centers of the brain are intricately interwoven with the neurocortical areas involved in cognitive learning. When a child trying to learn is caught up in a distressing emotion, the centers for learning are temporarily hampered. The child’s attention becomes preoccupied with whatever may be the source of the trouble. Because attention is itself a limited capacity, the child has that much less ability to hear, understand, or remember what a teacher or a book is saying. In short, there is a direct link between emotions and learning.

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Nina Smith's picture
Nina Smith
Mentor, Teacher Trainer

... why otherwise would those students who are bored out of their mind (i.e. the majority of the students) score so low and learn so little?!

Every child has a deep inborn curiosity about the surrounding world. This is the driving force behind all real learning. We all are born with a need to experience life and make sense of what we see, hear and feel. And we use the information we gather from our everyday lives to construct our understanding about ourselves, the life, universe and everything.

Let's face it: there is an enormous power and capacity for learning lying inside every student. Every child born is equipped with tools for learning to make sense of the world around them. Just think what all is accomplished during the first 30 or 40 months after birth!

Through purposeful play children experience the thrill of genuine achievement and this makes early learning a memorable adventure and one they will wish to repeat. Depending on the feedback they receive about their explorations children will either continue to the direction they are headed, or venture into something else.

Of course the play and learning become much more complicated when children grow and add the social factors and internalized norms and values into learning. Sometimes those values are very much against genuine learning. But the original driving force, the need to make sense, still exists.

So, here is the task for us as educators: how to tap into that force, and make it work for us instead of against us.

Beth B's picture
Beth B
Academic Advisor, Certified School Counselor

I see very encouraging evidence of this while working in my counseling internship this year. I can make a meaningful contact with a student earning a D or F, follow up with them a week or two later, and see their grade go up. I don't really offer any academic advice but just listen. I can sense their relief when I simply validate whatever it is they are experiencing. I know there are A and B students who have other issues and could use a minute of my time as well; I wish I could check in with them all. And I also know that many of those D and F students need more help than a one-minute check-in and those poor grades may persist, but hopefully the more serious problems will be addressed. But I feel extremely productive in helping students perform at their best.

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