The process of learning can make us feel excited, tense, worried and joyous. In some cases, we can move back and forth in our emotional responses to learning and this is not unusual. At a recent staff meeting, we discussed the emotional aspects of learning. As Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, has commented, ‘We feel, we learn’. The way one person responds emotionally to a skill may well differ to the next person, but what is common is that learning involves a level of emotional engagement.
We can probably recall a time where we persevered, and worked hard and then achieved greater than we had anticipated. There was an emotional response throughout this process, as we invested ourselves in learning, perhaps one of relief and satisfaction, Likewise, there may be a time when we have been disappointed, where we did not demonstrate our knowledge or skill as well as we thought we could have.
These emotional responses are part of learning and it is worth talking about them, as by doing so we can put the response in the present in perspective of our learning on a longer time scale.
With assessments coming up, there may be the feeling of determination to demonstrate learning progress. There may also be the feeling of academic anxiety, where the feeling of being caught in emotions makes us feel trapped by our own expectations. There may also be the feeling of despondency, that the knowledge or skill is beyond reach and a sense of fatalism may creep in.
So how to manage the range of emotional responses to learning?
To be anxious or nervous prior to an assessment is not unusual, but it is not normally a permanent feeling, but one that is transient, at a point in time. Learning can be viewed as a roller coaster of emotions at times, going from the joy of achievement to the lows of despair that it is all too much. Sometimes articulating the frustration of a task, and all that is perceived wrong with it, can be a way to ‘let off emotional steam’ that may then allow a more composed rational approach to be possible.
When we find ourselves feeling down at the bottom of the Affective Domain, there are responses to this that may be of benefit. You have no doubt heard of the power of ‘yet’ a three letter word that can place the bottom of the roller coaster of emotions in perspective. ‘I can’t do this…yet’ or ‘I don’t understand this…yet’ is a way to communicate that certainly, at this moment the challenge is almost beyond reach. However, with some application and employing various strategies, such as breaking the task up into chunks, making a plan and seeking feedback, that moment will be a passing one, and that we can move from that state of despondency, to one where we climb back up to a place of accomplishment, to a sense of joy.
The power of the word ‘yet’ also ties into the work of Dr Carol Dweck on fixed and growth mindsets. Without the use of ‘yet’ we can remain stuck and fixed in our inability to learn, our inability to make progress. More information on growth mindsets and learning can be found via this link to the Mindset Works website.
Learning should provide a challenge, should challenge us to draw upon prior knowledge and learning strategies. It should also invoke in us a range of emotional responses. Our role is not to ignore this, but to acknowledge this is part of learning, and to provide perspective that learning will necessitate a range of feelings that we will move through as we make progress.
Head of Student Wellbeing