Thursday, February 19, 2009

Emotions & The Classroom

A new university study explores whether or not students comprehend the affects of positive and negative feelings on school performance. What's interesting is that students appear to understand the relationship between negative (sad, bad) feelings and poor performance, but the relationship between positive feelings and positive performance is less clear. Do Children Understand How Feelings Affect School Performance?
They found that children of all ages understood that negative emotional and physical states would lead to poorer school performance. The fact that young children knew that negative emotions could cause poor school performance was especially surprising, since parents and teachers often focus on the physical side of getting ready for school (hence the advice to get lots of rest or eat a good breakfast), and rarely talk about the emotional side (for example, advising children to try not to feel sad). The researchers also found that children understood that levels of interest, effort, and classroom noise would affect performance.
When it came to positive feelings, however, only 7-year-olds recognized, as adults do, that positive feelings could improve school performance. For the younger children, seeing the tie between positive emotions and school performance was difficult; it was easier for them to grasp how positive physical feelings would lead to doing well in school.
The older children also had a better understanding of why emotions and physical states affect school performance. In explaining their judgments, they described how such feelings influence concentration, attention, the brain, and other aspects of thinking.
"Changes in emotional and physiological states are an inevitable part of children's everyday experience in the school setting," according to Jennifer Amsterlaw, research scientist at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, who led the study. "If children know how and why these experiences affect them, they will be better able to prepare for and control their ultimate impact on school performance."
The classroom is not a neutral space. We can't say that we can only focus on what happens within the classroom. If negative feelings affect performance, we must address feelings in the classroom too. "Try not to feel sad" is not enough. Perhaps it begins with addressing feelings and what they are caused by. Next, it's allowing students to discuss and understand that they can interpret situations in different ways. It is okay to feel and to feel negative feelings. Still, we can choose to let our feelings affect our performance or not.

One interesting piece on the subject is The Philosophy of the Limit and Emotions in the Classroom by Debra Shogan, University of Alberta.
In their paper, "Caring for the Emotions: Toward a More Balanced Schooling," Clive Beck and Clare Madott Kosnick emphasize the connection between a "rich emotionality" and well-being. They argue that this rich emotionality depends upon the creation of classrooms and schools which are "genuine communities" in which students and teachers are able to experience emotional living. Genuine communities are ones in which conversation is encouraged, there is opportunity for open celebration of what makes students happy or joyful, and in which there is tenderness and hence security. Each, say Beck and Madott Kosnick, contributes to friendship and mutuality. Beck and Madott Kosnick do not detail how conversation, celebration, and security might be accomplished, referring instead to Nel Noddings's The Challenge to Care in Schools and to Jane Roland Martin's The Schoolhome. Beck and Madott Kosnick's concern is to highlight what they believe to be the effects of emotionality in the classroom as well as conditions which will make emotionality possible.

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