In an earlier post, I discussed the concept of emotion and offered a few suggestions to build self-awareness and self-management in your students. After reading the blog, did you start identifying your different emotional responses during the day? Did you find yourself paying more attention to how your emotions predispose you to act? Understanding how emotions work is key to build our awareness! Today, we’ll explore how emotions affect learning.
Students bring to the classroom emotions from life outside of school; they might be dealing with an ongoing stressful situation at home, like a divorce or a parent losing their job, or maybe something more momentary, like an argument with a sibling. If students didn’t have a chance to manage their emotions before getting to school, they will need your support to cool off and re-focus before they can move on with their day.
In addition, students also experience emotions that originate in the classroom and that are especially relevant for students’ learning (Pekrun, 2014):
- Achievement emotions relate to success and failure resulting from classroom activities. Students might feel hope and pride can they have been successful, but they can also feel anxiety, shame or fear of failure. Taking tests, for example, is an achievement activity that tends to create high levels of anxiety and stress in our students. These emotions will influence how students approach the task and how well they perform. Remember our discussion on growth mindset?
- Topic emotions pertain to the topics/subjects presented in class. Students might feel excited about a new art class, disgusted with certain lab experiments or saddened by the fate of a character in a novel.
- Social emotions relate to teachers and classmates, as students (and teachers) work together and interact in the classroom. Compassion, envy, sympathy, anger or social anxiety can be present at different times during the day with any and all of our students.
As a teacher, it might be difficult to respond to your students’ emotions at all times, while you manage the classroom and attend to academic content. However, there are things you can do to incorporate students’ emotions when you are planning and also during class.
- Offer a variety of tasks and activities, so students can feel successful during your class/period, and combine both achievement and performance tasks. Building self-confidence in your students by providing opportunities for success and accomplishment is key to promote a joy for learning and to avoid achievement anxiety.
- Provide contents that are meaningful to students and, when possible, allow students to define their own learning. You can make tasks more meaningful by connecting content to students’ current interest or relating them to their career goals. When possible, give students autonomy to select tasks or topics for learning. Both of these strategies promote students’ engagement and offer opportunities to practice social and emotional competencies.
- Build regular check-ins with students (both at the beginning and during the day/class). This can take the form of a classroom meeting, but could also be a silent activity where students quickly show you how they are feeling. Check out this example. You can also use check-in time to ask for feedback about lessons, classroom routines or particular projects students are developing.
Students bring emotions from life outside of school that influence their disposition to learning. In the classroom, students experience emotions based on the activities, topics and social interactions that are presented to them. Offering a variety of tasks and activities for students to feel successful, providing engaging content and allowing for students’ autonomy in learning are a few examples of strategies teachers can use to incorporate students’ emotions in their planning. And don’t forget to have regular check-ins with your students to continue building awareness!