Posted by: bwoof | November 5, 2009

Brainstorm and brain biology

I read today’s Atkinson Foundation series on education and felt like it could have been about my own school. For a while I’ve been profoundly interested in the connection between emotional/mental wellness and one’s capacity for learning, but haven’t had a lot of scientific data to support the growing anecdotal evidence that piles up in my office day after day.

Good instruction is important and I’m more than pleased that at our school we are working hard to equip all of us educators to hone our craft and improve our teaching strategies. However…those with whom I work may know that I’m respectfully (I think), but honestly, questioning the value of all that improved instruction if it’s in a vaccum where we don’t also talk about the big elephant in the room…mental health, emotional wholeness, and social connectedness.

“We tend to think that emotions are over here and cognition is over there and if we can get rid of emotion, then we could really learn,”….

…they are not separate, but “radically interconnected.” Emotional thought is the platform for learning, memory, decision-making and creativity, neuroscientists have discovered.

One study showed that if a brain’s emotional centre is injured, the person suffers severe intellectual disability, unable to make even the smallest decisions.

This means emotion can be a barrier, or a conduit, to learning. If a child is anxious about her parents’ screaming match at breakfast, she’s not likely to learn today’s phonics lesson, for example. Or if a high school student is distracted because the pregnancy test she took last night came back positive, her brain is not laying down the neural networks it needs to grasp trigonometry.

Source: “Aligning teacher and student goals”, from the Nov 5th edition of the Atkinson series about neuroscience in education. A must read!

If it’s true that emotions are a basis for learning, how then should that affect what we do in education…in my school, for example?

I have limited answers, but know that my learning for this next year must focus on this area. It’s worth the investment. And, I know for a fact that it makes a difference…because yesterday I saw one teacher connect with one student in a very meaningful way and there’s a flicker of hope that’s growing.

Note: here is an overview of the series titled Brainstorm by Alanna Mitchell that I’m following this week in the Toronto Star



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