Emotion At The Helm



Current research in affective neuroscience indicates the
crucial role of emotions in learning. Learn more about Dr.
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s research and the role Imaginative
Education can play in centralizing emotion in the learning

You know that feeling when you read something and it completely
resonates with you?  You might find yourself smiling or
head-nodding or you might experience an odd surge of good
feeling? Well this happened to me when I discovered Dr.
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
’s research. Sitting alone at my
computer in an overly crowded coffee shop, I literally banged
my hand down on the table. Yes! I felt like I had
hit the (pedagogical) jackpot.

The quote:

“…giving candy to make children want to come to math class
will not make students feel the joy of mathematical thinking.
Instead, understanding emotions is also (and perhaps even
more critically) about the meaning that students are making —
that is, the ways in which students and teachers are
experiencing or feeling their emotional reactions and how
their feelings steer their thoughts and behavior, consciously
or not. Emotions are not add-ons that are distinct from
cognitive skills. Instead emotions, such as interest,
anxiety, frustration, excitement or a sense of awe in
beholding beauty, become a dimension of the skill itself.”

(Source: Dr. Immordino-Yang quoted in Education
Week: Emotions
Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find Scholar sees
passion as mind’s ‘rudder’ By Sarah D. Sparks

Dr. Immordino-Yang is a Science teacher turned Associate
Professor of Education, Psychology, and Neuroscience at the
University of Southern California. Her book entitled
Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the
Educational Implications of Affective
 (2015; Norton & Company) is
fascinating–each chapter adds support to my understanding of
why we need emotionally-engaging pedagogy. In this post I
highlight her work with the dual aim of convincing you to use
the “F”-word more often in education (“Feeling”) and enticing
you to look more closely at Imaginative
as a pedagogy to enable you do so. Imaginative
Education connects emotional engagement with knowledge. Read











Features Of Dr. Immordino-Yang’s Research

“People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but
it doesn’t. Emotion steers our thinking; it’s the rudder that
directs our mind and organizes what we need to
do.” (ibid.)

In line with recent brain research, Dr. Immordino-Yang’s work
disproves old beliefs that emotions interfere with our ability
to think and reason. It simply is not true. In fact, she
argues, the reverse is true: “It is literally neurobiologically
impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make
meaningful decisions without emotion.” (ibid). Dr.
Immordino-Yang describes how emotional engagement is
crucial in all subject areas and for all ages of students:

“Even in academic subjects that are traditionally considered
unemotional, like physics, engineering or math, deep
understanding depends on making emotional connections between
concepts. For example, one study using an fMRI scanner found
that when mathematicians see equations that they judge to be
“beautiful” and elegantly formulated instead of “ugly” and
awkwardly formulated, they activate the same sensory,
emotional brain region that activates during experiences of
perceptual beauty, such as when admiring a painting (Zeki et
al., 2014).” (ibid.)

In her book Dr. Immordino-Yang points to some pedagogical
implications of her research. She suggests that it is necessary
to leverage emotions in all learning contexts to maximize

“…for school-based learning to have a hope of motivating
students, of producing deep understanding, or of transferring
into real-world skills — all hallmarks of meaningful
learning, and all essential to producing informed, skilled,
ethical and reflective adults — we need to find ways to
leverage the emotional aspects of learning in
education.” (ibid.)

So there you have it, more brain science research proves
the role of emotion in all thinking.  I believe
Imaginative Education can provide a solid theoretical and
practical framework for the kind of pedagogy that Dr.
Immordino-Yang calls for.



Imaginative Education:  Why It Works

If you’ve been following my posts, you know I’m on a
mission to give emotion and imagination the pedagogical
credit they deserve. I want educators to acknowledge the roles

emotion and imagination play
in all learning
—whether preK or post-secondary,
emotions direct learning. Dr. Immordino-Yang’s research
provides a powerful rationale for pedagogy that
centralizes the emotional and imaginative lives of students;
this is Imaginative
The cognitive tools outlined in Imaginative
Education are the tools all educators can use to make what they
are teaching emotionally meaningful.

Click here to view a
TedX talk in which Mary Helen Immordino-Yang points to the
emotional core of all learning. (Pause—view it!)

Imaginative Education:  You Felt It & You Can Do It

Dr. Immordino’s TEdX talk is engaging. She evokes her
viewers’ emotions by using particular cognitive tools—e.g.

vivid mental imagery
humanization of meaning
. These are a few of the kinds of cognitive
that you can use to add emotional meaning to
content in your classroom. By using these tools she makes the
content of her talk more memorable; she gives us to tools to
think with. I was particularly captivated by the brain images
showing the actual impact a cognitive tool (in this case
the story of the “Woman in Sudan”) has on the brain.
Imaginative educators! Notice the blood flow into the brain
when our emotions are engaged. 

Resources: Click
to access a Tools of Imagination
Series—for educators of all ages, we can employ tools to evoke

Take this home: Our emotions shape what we learn and how we use
what we learn. Our biology and our sociology are inseparable.
At the end of the day, our embodied minds work closely with our

Dr. Immordino-Yang urges teachers to make the content of what
they are teaching more emotionally meaningful to students—this
does not mean bribing them with candy to come to
class. Rather, the trick is to tie up emotion with content
itself. We need to use tools that will help students
to think and to remember. Imaginative Education offers those

A few other posts on imagination and education

How Our Imaginative Lives Change:  Implications For
Teaching And Learning

Why Imaginative Educators Tell Stories

Stimulate Wonder:  Make Curriculum Strange

Tags: creativity, dr. mary helen
, education,
emotion, gillian judson, imagination, imaginative education,

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