From GRIT to Emotions


Click here for the article on emotions and learning


The book, Emotions, Learning and the Brain, by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, suggests that in order to motivate students for academic learning, produce deep understanding, and ensure the transfer of educational experiences into real-world skills and careers, educators must find ways to leverage the emotional aspects of learning.

As in typical fashion, I have questions. How does one do that? How do teachers “leverage” emotions and what does that look like?  Is there a quick formula, or a handy three-step guide to keep on the teacher’s desk? Are there professional development modules available that someone no doubt has already created for purchase?

Pardon my sarcasm. It may be due to my upteen years of hearing and reading about impactful research that, if applied to classrooms, would change the education world as we know it, but then offers little to no practical value. By the way, we already knew about the connection between emotions and learning. Smart teachers have understood this for a very long time. So what’s up with this new promise to make things better for the learner?

A few quick  article bullet points in quotes and then my thoughts below:

  • …”we need to find ways to leverage the emotional aspects of learning in education.”
    • Leveraging the emotional aspect of learning in a school paradigm that honors conformity, coercion, and a disproportionate emphasis on the cognitive domain is an exercise in futility. 
  • …”meaningful learning is actually about helping students to connect their isolated algorithmic skills to abstract, intrinsically emotional, subjective and meaningful experiences.”
    •  It is the precise lack of interest and meaningful learning in the school that isolates students into a world of algorithmic skills in which they see little if any value.
  • “Though supporting students in building these connections is a very hard job, it appears to be essential for the development of truly useful, transferable, intrinsically motivated learning.”
    • It is a hard job because it is not natural and assumes that students are blank slates on which we have to write meaning and value for them. Useful, transferable or intrinsically motivated learning is determined by the student not those holding power over them in the form of grades and scores. As long as those elements are involved learning will never be purely intrinsic or motivational. 

Generally, students are motivated to learn anything that interests them. Find out what they are interested in first, and then plan lessons with that in mind. It is a great place to start.  Planning lessons with students themselves is even better, but school as we know it doesn’t usually allow for that kind of “out-of-the-box” approach.

Maybe some day, in a galaxy far, far away?


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