The presenter from Berry Street (recent Curriculum Day) reminded us that attending to the emotional side of learning is important to all learners, especially to those students who struggle in some way.
You may have watched the SBS Insight program (How do you turn a school around?) during this past week. It highlighted the positive practices introduced to a disadvantaged Sydney high school that greatly affected the students’ learning and self-confidence.
Research has proven that what children learn (or not) is heavily influenced by emotions. How we are feeling at a particular time affects how our brain receives and understands new information.
Emotions overrule your ability to think. For example, if you have had a bad experience when navigating to somewhere you have never been before, it will probably affect your attitude when driving to another location. One wrong turn could cause a downward spiral of panic that may stop you from thinking rationally. (Been there, done that!)
What teachers, parents and caregivers do and say impacts childrens’ learning and belief in themselves. One of the most damaging things parents and teachers can do is to react impatiently or harshly when children make mistakes. (We all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them. If we don’t take risks, we limit our opportunities.)
Children who struggle to learn tend to be the most sensitive, and react negatively or positively to parents’ and teachers’ nonverbal cues e.g. a frown or banging the book on the table (negative response) compared to a smile or a ‘high five’ (positive response). An adult may be saying ‘nice things’ but can still be conveying displeasure through expressions and gestures.
A child’s ability to think and problem-solve is heavily dependent on positive experiences with others. A caring and supportive environment (including the teacher / carer) is essential for the development of the complex thinking processes required to read and write. Positive emotions lead to ‘stronger memory’ and lead to ‘easier to learn’.
Students motivate themselves to try new things when they feel good about themselves. In Reading Recovery we are always looking for strengths that can be nurtured. We help / intervene to keep the experiences positive when the student is problem-solving. We create opportunities for the child to become successful.
Teachers who benefit students the most build trust with them, show a genuine interest, listen carefully, give purposeful feedback, provide support, and set high expectations. By doing this we tend to the emotional wellbeing of our students so that they are ready to learn.
Much of the information for this post is taken from a Reading Recovery professional development day I attended years ago lead by Carol Lyons. She is the author of an excellent book called Teaching Struggling Readers: How to Use Brain-Based Research to Maximize Learning (2003)