How Emotions Influence Learning
It may seem obvious that our emotions can influence learning. Just think about trying to learn in a class that you deeply dislike or from a teacher with whom you struggle. It makes it a challenge to retain what you learn or even find the material interesting in the first place.
Professor and researcher Mary Helen Immordino-Yang has studied the relationship between learning and emotions and wrote a book on the subject called Emotions, Learning and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience.
One of the most important findings in her research is that we only think deeply about things we care about. In her book, she explains that "...emotions, such as interest, anxiety, frustration, excitement, or a sense of awe in beholding beauty, become a dimension of the skill [being learned]. This is one reason anxiety can be so debilitating to students' performance, that interest can precipitate a lifetime commitment to studying a topic, that kids have such trouble applying themselves when they don't know why they would ever use a skill outside of class."
One way I try to incorporate this knowledge into my work with students is to find out enough about them to understand their interests. Then I will bring a reading piece about a subject they enjoy, or ask them to write about something they feel passionate about. I have seen reluctant readers and writers make big shifts when they are able to engage with the subject through something they care about.
Hopefully more teachers and schools will begin to incorporate these ideas and build lessons and curricula that provide opportunities for students to make emotional connections to what they are learning.