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.”

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6 thoughts on “BLOG 8: SYNTHESIS OF TOPIC

  1. I think what you seem to be pointing towards when discussing more regular tests would reduce stress and increase learning is the testing effect. The testing effect can reduce many of the problem you are discussing. Regular testing would get students used to a test environment, how to answer questions and also make a more familiar scenario, and thus potentially reducing stress in final tests. Regular testing, as we are all aware of works by increasing an individual’s thoughts, far beyond regular studying (McDermott & Anderson et al, 2007). Chan and McDermott (2007) stated that tests however must involve recall and not recognition. If teachers are frequently using the same tests with the same information, then high scores are likely due to recognition and not their own recall. This hinders students dramatically in final tests when it is unfamiliar. A variety of tests can also work to reducing stress and students become used to adapting and applying their knowledge.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09541440701326154
    http://ckchan.public.iastate.edu/ISU_Site_for_Chan/Publications_files/Chan%20%26%20McDermott%202007%20JEPLMC.pdf

    • You’re absolutely right, Niamh. Craik (1987) explored how young and old individuals performed on either recall and recognition tests, showing that older people’s recall skills are depleted as opposed to their recognition skills. However, recall was also associated with a greater resource “cost” – regarding memory – suggesting that the older you get, the more resources that are needed in order to recall a piece of information; your recognition, however, is not impaired. Perhaps schools could have a variety of frequent tests, starting with multiple choice and developing over the semester towards a weekly essay question, ensuring that an individual not only recognises information but also must recall information they have learnt, in order to put it into an essay.

  2. Hi

    I really liked reading your blog over the last few weeks. I thought you picked a really interesting area to focus on.

    It has been shown that mindfulness can have some really positive effects on those with depression. High levels of mindfulness have been shown to decrease certain characteristics that could lead to depression. These characteristics include avoidance, perfectionism, rumination and maladaptive self guides. Increased mindfulness allows students to realise what mode they are in and if they choose to they can release that mode. (Mark and Williams 2008).
    mindfulness can also help to increase self concept and self esteem which may help to decrease the depression (Shonert-Reichl & Lawlor 2010)

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10608-008-9204-z#page-1
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-010-0011-8#page-1

  3. Wow what a long read but I got there in the end 🙂 I really liked the topic you chose as it quite broad so you have been able to really branch out into different areas that are still related to emotions. You looked into student motivation and suggested that motivation decreases over time. I found a paper by Williams & Williams that came up with 5 key things for improving student motivation. These were; the student themselves working on intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation techniques, the teacher they have, the context of the work. If the work is dull the students will lose motivation, techniques need to done to make the context more exciting. The method/process, basically the way they learn and the environment they learn in can also affect a students motivation.

    http://www.aabri.comwww.aabri.com/manuscripts/11834.pdf

  4. Great read! I think that your topic on the effect of emotions on learning has brought about a lot of interesting thoughts on stress and exams. In life, stress impacts our social, psychological, and physiological environments simultaneously whilst impinging on our health and well-being. Lin and Ensel (1989) conducted a study that found four major impacts that stress can have on our health, the results show that:

    (1) previous physiological conditions contribute directly to present physical symptoms.
    (2) stress and resource components of the psychological environment directly affect present physical symptoms.
    (3) social resources buffer both social stressors and psychological stress.
    (4) psychological stress mediates the effects of prior social stressors and psychological resources.

    Therefore, it is evident that stress is an emotion in which affects our well-being significantly. Even more importantly, social resources play a key role with social and psychological stresses for physical well-being. I think that we should be incorporating mediation/mindfulness into our education system in order to reduce stress and negative effects that exams can have.

    References
    Lin, N., & Ensel, W. M. (1989). Life stress and health: Stressors and resources. American Sociological Review, 382-399.

  5. Recently, discussion between us has been surrounded by research on depression in schools and the application of mindfulness to combat it. Weinstein, Brown and Ryan (2008) investigated the effects of mindfulness on coping with stress, stress attribution and emotional well being in college students. They found much more adaptive stress processes in the mindfulness group when compared with controls; stress appraisals for meditators were more benign. Also, approach coping was used more often than avoidance, which led to significantly better emotional well-being. This studies implications are much the same as other comments I have posted; mindfulness is not valued highly enough nor effectively used within the education system.

    Weinstein, Brown & Ryan (2008). A multi-method examination of the effects of mindfulness on stress attribution, coping, and emotional well-being. Journal of Research in Personality 43 (2009) 374–385

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