Part 1: Emotions Are At Core of Powerful Learning

Teaching With the HEART In Mind, by educator Lorea Martinez, is an accessible and highly-readable entry-point to Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Martinez combines science with strategy, outlining the important role emotions play in learning and then providing guidance for teachers + educators who would like to embed principles of SEL into their academic content.

In this series, I will summarize the five chapters of the book, highlighting key takeaways.

Chapter 1 focuses on the role emotions play in powerful learning.

But first, What is SEL?

Social Emotional Learning is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions. (See more at CASEL)

Educators (and caregivers) deeply understand the importance of helping students cultivate these capacities. But there have not been many practical guides to help busy teachers easily integrate SEL into existing lesson plans. With this book, Martinez is attempting to provide just that.

What Role do Emotions Play in Learning?

Emotions and cognition are tied together by the same neural processes. So thinking and feeling are deeply intertwined. But what does that mean for learning?

  • Emotions drive attention. Students (like adults) learn more deeply when they care about the topic.  
  • Students cannot learn when they are stressed. Whether stress is coming from the classroom environment or adverse experiences at home, it severely compromises the student's ability to pay attention and retain information.
  • Students attach emotions to content they are learning. If a student are experiences joy + curiosity while learning about biology, they can attach those feelings to biology. And if they are feeling shame when learning math, they can attach that shame to the subject of math itself.

What are  strategies for incorporating emotions into learning?

  • Provide Voice + Choice: Give students choice in what they do (within reason)
  • Make it Relevant: Connect the learning topics to students lives + experiences
  • Challenge Students: Make the learning challenging in a way that creates opportunities for failure and incorporates open-ended questions
  • Vary the Type of Task: Create opportunities for different kind of tasks (performance vs achievement) in a way that helps all learners feel successful and build confidence.
  • Emotional Vibe Checks: Build in check-ins to help students understand how they're feeling and help the teacher understand how students are feeling