Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Whole Brain Teaching Wednesday! Emotions, Memory & Learning

“I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger and stronger it becomes”
― Vladimir Nabokov

     Think back to your time in the classroom as a student.... do you remember what you learned on that specific Tuesday of Grade 10, what your teacher wore in June, all the steps in a logarithmic equation or how many assignments you completed during a certain week, probably not. Most likely, you'll remember the highs, how you scored a 98% on that one exam you spent hours studying for or winning the volleyball championship, and the lows, like how you were so embarrassed when your teacher spoke down to you in front of the class. In fact, "studies... have demonstrated that memory is better for emotionally arousing stimuli than for emotionally neutral stimuli" (Ely et al, 1999).

sad student, emotional memories, how emotions affect memoryFor me, my most vivid memory of high school is having my Grade 11 math teacher write my name on the board, for the whole class to see, to indicate that I had failed our midterm exam. I can remember every question of that exam like it was right in front of me. Why? Because I spent the remaining 40 minutes of that class staring down at it because I was too embarrassed and ashamed to look up. Erik Jensen summarizes in the opening two pages of his book that, "The emotional memories stick around. If, during childhood, a student felt embarrassed or humiliated by a teacher in front of the class, the incident might have left an emotional scar." This type of emotion, however, is NOT the type of emotion we want our students to experience in our classroom. When my students look back I would like them to remember my class because of a strong positive emotion coming from:
- The fun way we approached content
- Building strong relationships with classmates
- Completing meaningful projects
- Receiving support to succeed

     Chris Biffle introduces Whole Brain Teaching as, "... highly structured, educational tomfoolery. Whole Brain Teaching classrooms are full of task-focused laughter," where, "Humour and games are used..." Whole Brain Teaching classrooms are full of opportunities to engage our student's emotions in a POSITIVE manner and, thus, provide additional opportunities for our student's to build stronger memories of the material they are being introduced to. The following is a list, created by Eric Jensen (pg. 179), of four ways in which emotions can affect learning and how I believe WBT fits into these parameters.


1 ) Emotions build long term memory
"The more intensely that you engage the emotions, the longer you’ll recall what you have learned." While traditional teaching methods do not necessarily invoke an emotional response, WBT methods are specifically designed to function around engaging our student's emotions. This can be the general silliness that can accompany our many voice and tone changes, the supportive atmosphere created by the "10-Finger Woo" and "It's Cool", the excitement generated by "the Scoreboard" and/or the involvement of participating in many of WBT's daily "Gestures".

2 ) Emotions serve a funtion
"It meets the needs, partially, of those learners who are kinesthetic, internal-feeling type learners." I've talked several times about how WBT is an amazing tool to help differentiate our classrooms as it meets the many multiple intelligences that we will see in our classrooms. Our students are not only hearing and seeing the material (linguistic & spatial intelligence) but they also get to interpret the material though the movement of the gesture (bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence). Furthermore, emotional responses provide an outlet for those students who connect with the intrapersonal intelligence aspect of Gardner's model.

3 ) Emotions foster love
"It helps instill a love of learning. The only way {you} will develop a real deep love and passion for a topic is to access emotions within the process of learning about it." I NEVER want my students to look back at my classroom and have memories like my experience(s) in math class. By engaging our student's emotions in a positive manner we can help our student's enjoy school and learn to enjoy learning.

4 ) Emotions can be fun
"It’s much more fun to learn when emotions are being engaged. It gets the blood flowing and makes it memorable.” WBT classrooms are fun! Compared to many classrooms who center on traditional teaching methods, WBT classrooms incorporate movement, include students as teachers, build anticipation and excitement and are so structured that silliness contributes to on-task behaviour. Like Coach B says its, "... highly structured, educational tomfoolery."

     Think of your classroom, do your teaching methods evoke an emotional response amongst your students? If it does, is it a positive one? Two weeks, two years, twenty years from now our students will not remember what we wore, exactly what we said or what their assignment was but they will remember how we made them feel. In the same manner that my math teacher's negative emotion allowed me to remember that horrific math exam, our positive emotions can assist our student's in remembering the content we are teaching.

Medallions: Posts (15), Webcast (1), Instant Bonus (4), Conference (1), Artistic Blog (1), Blog followers (134)

Background Research
Amygdala Activity Related to Enhanced Memory for Pleasant and Aversive Stimuli
Ely, Grafton, Hamann, & Kilts
Nature Neuroscience, Vol. 2 (1999), pp. 289-293.
How do Emotions Affect Learning: Emotional Memory
Judy Fishel
Breakthrough Learning (2012)

How Emotions Affect Learning
Robert Slywester
Educational Leadership (October 1994)

Organization of Concepts Relevant to Emotions and Their Regulation during Test Taking
Paul A. Schutz, Heather A. Davis and Paula J. Schwanenflugel
The Journal of Experimental Education , Vol. 70, No. 4 (Summer, 2002), pp. 316-342

Super Teaching: Over 1000 Practical Strategies
Erik Jensen
USA: 2009 Corwin Press 

The Handbook of Emotion & Memory: Research & Theory
Sven-Ake Christianson
USA: 1992 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Working Memory, Motivation, and Teacher-Initiated Learning
David W. Brooks and Duane F. Shell
Journal of Science Education and Technology , Vol. 15, No. 1 (Mar., 2006), pp. 17-30


  1. wow, what a great post :) its true, emotions definitely keep a memory close. your going ot make a great teacher :)

  2. I totally agree. Do you remember when teachers used to grade tests by having everyone grade eachother's, and then you get the test back, and when the teacher calls your name you have to say the grade so she can write it down? I had so much trouble in school and I was always so embarrassed to have to say my low score aloud. :(

    1. Yes, I totally do! It's awful! These are exactly the type of emotional responses we need to avoid.


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