Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Emotions, Learning and the Brain

By: Sam Piha

We used to think that emotions were separate from learning. We now know that both engagement and learning are deeply emotional and that young people's emotions drive their learning. Thanks to research, we also know that young people's culture and personal experience are important to learning.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is a former classroom science teacher, who taught at a racially diverse school outside Boston. She is now a researcher at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute. She focuses on psychology, neuroscience and education, and is known internationally for her research on the critical role that emotion plays in learning. She recently published a new book entitled, Emotions, Learning and the Brain.

In partnership with LA’s BEST and THINK Together, we invited Dr. Immordino-Yang to share her thoughts at a Speaker’s Forum in Los Angeles (November 22, 2019) regarding her research and implications for learning in afterschool.

Speaker's Forum With Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

Below we share a few quotes from her and also some resources if people would like to learn more.

“People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but it doesn’t. Emotion steers our thinking; it’s the rudder that directs our mind and organizes what we do and think about.” (1
“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion.” (2)
"The ability to feel passionate about something is a skill. What we need to teach kids is that feeling passionate about something doesn't just fall into your lap. Rather, students can learn how to take interest in subjects that aren't immediately entertaining."(3)
“…understanding emotions is also (and perhaps even more critically) about the meaning that students are making — that is, the ways in which students and teachers are experiencing or feeling their emotional reactions and how their feelings steer their thoughts and behavior, consciously or not. Emotions are not add-ons that are distinct from cognitive skills. Instead emotions, such as interest, anxiety, frustration, excitement or a sense of awe in beholding beauty, become a dimension of the skill itself.” (4)
"When I was teaching, I was struck by the differences in the ways kids came to the science I was teaching, but I didn’t really have good tools for managing that diversity or capitalizing on that strength in the classroom. Our current work highlights the really fundamental ways that culture shapes how a person makes meaning of the things they’re learning. If I were teaching now, I would try to find more ways to let kids own their curriculum and own their learning. I would focus even more on the sorts of project-based, community-oriented activities that really engage kids from the starting point of their own self and their own communities. I see teaching now as a process of facilitating kids building new understandings of their worlds, less than as a process of imparting information. I would see myself as much as a learner as the teacher." (5)
Source: lovetoknow.com

"And currently our education system does not take into account and does not allow for, or encourage, a culturally diverse way of making sense of, understanding, and thinking about the world ... Urban kids are really in the thick of it – they need to build resilience and a strong acculturated sense of identity. So this kind of research is key to helping us improve education and to getting rid of the achievement gap. We simply must stop wasting the potential among urban kids, so many of whom are not educated in ways that connect to their real lives and strengths." (6)

ABOUT MARY HELEN IMMORDINO-YANG: She is a Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, and a former urban public junior high-school science teacher. She studies the psychological and neurobiological development of emotion and self-awareness, and connections to social, cognitive and moral development in educational settings. Her work has a special focus on adolescents from low-SES communities, and she involves youths from these communities as junior scientists in her work. Dr. Immordino-Yang has received numerous awards for her research and for her impact on education and society.

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