BLOG 9: REFLECTION

An academic semester, a dissertation and nine blogs later we come to my reflections on the module: the Science of Education.

Thank you for bearing with me throughout these weeks. At the beginning of this semester, it felt like we were “chucked in at the deep end” with this module. With no real guidance as to the topics we were to write about – apart from that it must look at the application of psychology in education – I felt like there was too much freedom and that my grades would suffer as a result. However, after the first two weeks of blogging and watching my peers present their findings on a Thursday, I realised the real benefits of this gem of a module.

Throughout this degree I have tended to learn only what the syllabus requires of me, or what will be tested on the exam (doing as little extra reading as possible). However, with there being no real learning objectives, I have found myself researching further into this topic and engaging more with the subject areas. I don’t feel like I must spend all my time learning what must be learned for the exam, as there is no exam; instead, I feel able to research around the topics and discover more about what interests me, rather than what the module says I should be interested in.

Regarding the bi-weekly talks, although hesitant at first, I now understand how beneficial they can be. They allow us to present information that has sparked our imaginations and grasped our attention. There was nothing worse than giving a POPPS talk on Statistics, as it held no interest to me whatsoever! But with this module, we are able to talk about what we feel is pertinent to the Science of Education, and no matter the opinions of others, whether they feel it is right or wrong, we have the freedom to do so. I also believe that in doing the talks we are much more ready for our oral presentations regarding our dissertations.

What I love about the blogs is that we can present an area of research each week and others will reply and add to your work. Rather than it being all about the grades, we can integrate ourselves into many different topics, learning as we go. One week we may study “Attention and its Effects on Learning”, but that same week we discover other research about “Depression and Learning” or “Mindfulness in the Classroom”. Without even realising we are taking in vast amounts of information that, had we been in a differently laid out module, we would never have come across.

Many students worried that Jesse Martin would do absolutely nothing in this module, however, in removing the spoon from our mouths, he has ensured that students have engaged thoroughly, for which I am very grateful. I was unsure at the start, when he explained how he was very much an autonomy-supportive teacher, however he has regained my confidence and surpassed my expectations as being a fantastic teacher. In allowing us freedom throughout the course, he has furthered my understanding of how teaching should be. I feel we have been given a chance to truly express our beliefs and opinions, that we are passionate about, in a rich environment.

BLOG 8: SYNTHESIS OF TOPIC

I hope you have all had a great Easter, despite the crazy weather! This is my synthesis blog – summarising previous blogs, how the topics have developed and forming my opinion regarding emotion in education. I will also discuss what you, as a reader, should take from my blog.

So, our first few blogs had no particular direction or structure (at least mine didn’t) and were meant to develop our thinking on a broad range of topics, so we could pick one and develop it. My initial two blogs discussed how creativity and individuality disappear within children when they begin school and how children should be allowed to make mistakes, in order to learn from them and create a deeper understanding of topic matter. I asked the question: “What is it about education that dulls individuals’ minds?”

My third blog looked at how class size reduction affects learning and I concluded that smaller class sizes showed a substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies. I also explored how one would define a ‘good’ teacher whilst establishing that experience and a caring personality are essential.

We all started to narrow down our topic choices for the fourth blog. For my overall topic I chose ‘the effect of emotions on learning’. I began my topic by looking into stress and its effect on taking examinations. Examinations bring about negative emotional states, which can be viewed as a response to the anticipation of the exam. However, exams also carry with them some positive emotions; hope and joy have been found to be at high levels before, and increase further during examinations. From research, I have come to believe that an individual’s mind-set greatly determines the outcome of an exam. I also think there are key variables affecting an individual’s success: preparation is paramount; learning information over time helps it to sink in and aids deeper understanding of the topic whilst reducing stress levels. Cramming the night before increases chronic stress over time and acute stress as you panic in realisation at the amount you have to learn! Recognising that exams carry negative connotations should jolt pupils into dealing with exam periods more effectively. Yet each year, thousands proceed down the same stressful route as before, whilst promising that next time, more effort to be organised and prepared is required.

Implications? Well, from a young age there could be weekly time-out lessons, in which all we have learned that week is summarised, addressing any questions or concerns we have, so that by examination time, we have condensed and digested the information, decreasing stress and negative emotions. Dare I say that exams could become fun? A chance to show what has been learned? Rather than a demon waiting to catch you out and drag results down to an F, or heaven forbid, a U?

Blog five: which sadly had the subject of depression (pun intended). I wanted to see how children manifest depression; how teachers and school psychologists might gauge the severity of such depression; and whether or not depressed children should qualify for a special education. Now, if you have read this blog, you will already know that depression isn’t just a single symptom of sadness; it can be categorised into affective, cognitive, motivational, physical and vegetative symptoms. In summary, children manifest depression similarly to adults. However you look at it, each symptom affects the pupil’s learning ability. Feeling sad and lacking the ability to experience pleasure, means that no matter how intriguing the subject, a child will not feel the same draw and want to learn. Negatively evaluating yourself causes a lack of self-belief and could cause a child to give up on his studies, as he can’t see how he will succeed. Difficulties in concentration also decrease performance, as the child is caught up with his depression and ‘stuck’ in his own head. Sociability also suffers, as he cannot face meeting up with friends or involving himself in games.

Tackling depression: Perhaps introducing a recurring amateur ‘therapy session’, allowing teachers to see how the children are behaving or when a child acts out-of-sorts, so they can intervene when appropriate.

At the end of this blog, I asked whether depressed children should qualify for special education programming, and discovered sadly, they do not. From comments and further research I now turned to two other possible roads towards combatting depression: drugs and mindfulness. Sarah maintained that using antidepressants such as fluoxetine could be effective in reducing depressive behaviours. However, research suggests that antidepressants may cause suicidal thinking in children. Can we justify taking the risk of exploiting a child to such dangerous thoughts, when they are already in a vulnerable state? A second option, highlighted by Jack, introduces Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) into the school curriculum. This approach has had success in treating both symptoms and relapse rates of depression in children, without the need for medication or special education. Mindfulness techniques are useful not only for the depressed, but for all.

And breathe out. I realise this is lengthy, but bear with me!

Blog the Sixth! I looked into student motivation and how it seems to be decreasing with each academic year. What is going on within the education system that is destroying the desire and drive to learn? Firstly, I addressed the structure and allocation of rewards, and found that if an exam isn’t in the foreseeable future, the benefits of keeping up with reading and module work will be suppressed by more immediate gratification (partying, video games, etc.). A way of dealing with this problem could be to drop that final exam, replacing it with smaller examinations spread out over the course. That way, students do not lose motivation if an exam is just around the corner.

Another issue facing pupils is that other priorities – romantic relationships, sports, and social activities – compete for attention with mundane academic work. In tackling this issue, schools could assign reasonable amounts of work, which is proportionate to the importance of the module. I believe that schools have a responsibility to keep students engaged with even the most monotonous and dreary subjects. They could design class activities or games to keep students entertained and motivated to learn, as we cannot hide from this problem.

And here we are! Blog seven! I explored the short and long-term consequences of bullying and exclusion, and how it affects victims, bullies and bystanders; and how schools might prevent bullying. Bullying is prominent in schools and the workplace worldwide and unfortunately, it seems to be in our human nature.

Relating back to my previous blog on depression, bullying can cause such negative emotions for the victim and the bully. Most of the time, people do not choose to be a bully; it is a by-product of witnessed physical or verbal abuse, which is translated into their own actions. Stopping such behaviour at an early age and prohibiting it, is essential for children to learn how to deal with disliked individuals in a more proactive manner. Even with the best will in the world, teachers themselves often experience and practice more attuned and skilled bullying with other adults and pupils alike. And so we come to an impasse. If adults are seen to indulge in bullying, how can we expect children to ignore this behaviour?

What have I learned?

Well, emotion covers a range of aspects affecting attention, performance, motivation, sociability, health, memory, learning, reasoning and sleep (to name but a few). Sometimes it can be beyond our control, but as we grow up we have to try to learn to manage our emotions, so external factors don’t affect our work: a bad argument with the wife cannot be taken into the office in the form of an irritable mood to be taken out on colleagues.

Regarding education: teachers need to learn how fluctuating emotions can affect a pupil’s work, so that they can do their best to be approachable and help children through difficult problems. Introducing weekly summary groups so that stress doesn’t build and some mindfulness-based techniques, to allow students to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced academic world, so they can tackle their work to the best of their ability. Stress is a natural part of life, but learning to deal with it effectively during examination periods – while challenging – enables more proactive thinking about the subject matter itself, rather than worrying about the exam and the subsequent grade. Although stress can be good to motivate us, too much can be harmful, so finding the balance is essential.

When our negative emotions take over, we can be faced with a period of depressed thinking and behaviour; too often people overlook this insidious nemesis plaguing children and adults as a hopelessness; an inability to cope. Throughout the education system we must equip children with strategies that teach them how to cope with over-powering emotions, so they don’t have to suffer in silence. Children must be shown that coming forward with problems won’t make them seem vulnerable or weak, but strong in their ability to admit when they need help. Communication is vital for prohibiting negative emotional states and for creating a safe environment, where children don’t feel too exposed to or defenceless, against bullying.

For you, the reader, I hope I have presented my findings in a manner that expresses both sides of the argument, so that you can form your own opinion without bias.

“He who asks a question is a fool for a minute. He who doesn’t is a fool forever.”