Connect Joy to Neuroscience

In their zeal to raise test scores, too many policymakers wrongly assume that students who are laughing, interacting in groups, or being creative with art, music, or dance are not doing real academic work. The result is that some teachers feel pressure to preside over more sedate classrooms with students on the same page in the same book, sitting in straight rows, facing straight ahead.Judy Willis 

There’s a wonderful article in the Summer 2007 edition of Educational Leadership:

The Neuroscience of Joyful Education

Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too

It’s by Judy Willis who is both a neuroscientist and a middle school teacher.

In the article she comments on that commonly observed phenomenon of small children who start school bursting with enthusiasm as eager learners open to discovery, able to take risks and full of joy. However, she writes, “the current emphasis on standardized testing and rote learning” erodes and corrodes that joy.

Using the evidence of neuroscience Willis describes what happens when we break the connection between learning and joy and when we introduce discomfort, distance and dissonance into the learning process. That’s when frustration and anxiety replace the sense of accomplishment. Willis refers to neuroimaging studies and measurement of brain chemical transmitters to demonstrate that how children feel influences the transmission and storage of information.

It turns out that what good teachers have always known – that children who are happy and respected do better, try harder and take more risks with new material – is supported by the research into learning and the brain. Willis draws on extensive research to draw her conclusions. Hard science proves the negative effects of anxiety, discomfort and stress.

Exuberance and joy are not just for kindergarten. This article provides the hard science rationale for why we must connect joy to learning: It is the most effective and efficient way to promote learning and the acquisition and creation of new knowledge.

What do you think?

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