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Improve Learning Through Emotion

Improve Learning Through Emotion

Without doubt, education is an essential piece to our foundation as humans. It is what pushes us to improve, discover, advance, innovate, and create a successful, thriving life for ourselves and those around us.

As educators, we’re constantly trying to engage and exercise the minds of our students and promote academic and personal success. When we are faced with a disengaged, unmotivated student, the urgency to understand that student’s individual needs and turn his prospective around is vital.

One way to do this is through emotion.

In a recent New York Times article titled ‘To Help Students Learn, Engage the Emotions,’ Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist and associate professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California states that “emotion is essential to learning.”

Indeed, when students become emotionally engaged in material they find personal relevance to, they begin to engage, show enthusiasm, and thoroughly think about what they’re learning.1

As an all-boys boarding school, we’re acutely aware of how emotion influences learning and a young man’s commitment to his personal and academic advancement.

To elicit emotion in the classroom:

  • Students must feel valued and understood.
  • An emotional, relevant connection must be made to the material being taught – even hypothetical concepts and abstract ideas.
  • Educators must take the time to get to know each student on a personal level, including his or her passions, interests, goals, as well as reservations, dislikes, and current hindrances.

From there, learning will improve.

At Grand River Academy, we employ several strategies to make learning relevant and emotionally stimulating, such as:

  • Maintaining a fluid, boy-centric atmosphere. Rearranging desks, increasing the use of visual aids, and promoting tactile-kinesthetic learning all helps trigger emotional responses and increased interest.
  • Giving students a choice. When students are empowered to give input on a lecture, pick what they read, choose a topic for their project, or even co-teach a lesson, they’re more likely to be emotionally invested and committed to what they’re learning.
  • Relating lessons and materials to goals and dreams. Connecting with students on a personal level allows educators to reveal why and how subjects and lessons are relevant to a passion or job. In the previously mentioned New York Times article, Dr. Immordino-Yang gives a great example of how everything from biology to math, chemistry to geometry, and history to government relates to one student’s dream of becoming a dairy farmer.1 When a student understands how a concept is relevant to his interests and goals, learning develops deep meaning.
  • Stepping outside of the classroom. Whether it’s attending a sporting event, visiting a museum or monument, or exploring the great outdoors, emotions will fly when classroom objectives are delivered in a learning environment that’s conducive to the male brain.

Emotion has the power to rekindle a student’s drive and energy.

If you’re wondering how you can help your son reignite his love of learning, discover GRA’s transformational all-boys boarding school in Ohio.


1 Lahey, Jessica. The New York Times. “To Help Students Learn, Engage the Emotions.” Accessed May 9, 2016.

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