LD Emotional Influences


The second domain, emotional influences, can impede student success and is determined by the self-belief system we have discussed. Emotions have a huge effect on our students ability to learn. To fully understand emotional influences, we must first learn about our brains limbic system.

The limbic system:

  • Is primarily concerned with physical survival and emotional safety. It will employ the fight or flight physical response when necessary.
  • Closely links what we have learned with the emotional memory of that experience.
  • Has three major components: the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus.
    • The amygdala, the fear center of the brain, is continuously vigilant in its safety reading of the world around us.
    • The hypothalamus spills hormones into our system allowing us to feel emotions when we are under stress.
    • The hippocampus, as we have seen, serves as the switchboard allowing acess to the brains working memory and connects new information with prior knowledge

Our students, particularly those whose learning difference is brain-based, are more likely than others to have carried unresolved fear/anxiety from past unsuccessful learning situations. In their daily life and even in the workplace, they may have been able to keep these hidden by avoiding the very situations that would trigger these fears. In our classes, they are put into circumstances in which dealing with these fears are unavoidable if they are to move ahead.

Adult students with ADD, especially those who have difficulty with time and self-management, need only the slightest extra distraction to plunge them into an inner chaos. In this case, staying engaged in learning and remembering can be greatly compromised. We know from personal experience that trying to teach at a time when we are emotionally preoccupied can make it difficult to stay on task and listen to our students.

Our next video shows how the brains limbic system processes emotions that influence learning under two different situations: low stress unemotional circumstances, and high stress emotional circumstances.

Reflection 11: How does the limbic system operate during stressful/anxious experiences?
Reflection 12: In what ways have you observed emotions influencing and possibly interfering with your students' learning?

Emotional Memories

Emotional memories are powerful. When a high-stress emotional event occurs, emotional memories are stored along with the cognitive memory. During a similar future event, both memories are activated together.

For example, a student with a verbal processing difficulty might say: All it took was just once having worked hard to do a presentation in front of the class, and I couldnt get it out the right way so I sounded like a jerk. It was awful, and I felt so embarrassed. The teacher said it was good just to make me feel better. Now, just the thought of doing a presentation makes me choke right up. Id rather get an F than go through that again. We must acknowledge the crippling impact emotions can have on our students and help them create personal coping strategies that override their reactive behavior.

When a student has an emotionally based learning block, we first need to bring it out into the open so that we can build our students awareness of the root of the emotion before moving into the steps for change. Heres where we can coach our students with strategies they initiate rather than our prescribing. Our role is to facilitate their plan and regularly evaluate steps taken with them.

Another way to assist is by setting up small discussion groups when similar learning challenges are present to allow students a voice among peers who can truly empathize. Then, we as the educators can structure some explicit instruction that will equip them with the necessary knowledge basic to any change in behavior.

Reflection 13: How can we help students express their unresolved fear/anxiety issues in a safe, supportive, and productive environment?

Explicit Instruction

Another way to help with emotional influences on learning is to use an explicit model and step-by-step instruction to introduce new material. This supplies students with a system that acts as a template from start to finish that fits many kinds of academic work. In our classroom, we can guide this procedure so that students practice between classes repeats the method they already know. In this way we will give our students one of the most essential and empowering skills, the tools to start work on their own.

The following video provides an example of how to use an explicit model and step-by-step instruction for teaching essay writing.

Click the here to download this essay writing guide and instructions.

Reflection 14: Describe two things you can do in your classroom to help students deal with difficult emotional influences.

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Developed by Adult Basic Skills Professional Develoment (ABSPD), Reich College of Education, Appalachian State University
Funded by NC Community College System Basic Skills, Raleigh, NC - Copyright © 2011, ABSP