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On Emotions, Reasoning and Learning
|A patient named Elliot was referred to Dr. Antonio Damasio after others were dumbfounded over his condition. Elliot had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. As the tumor grew in his brain, it put enormous pressure on both frontal lobes. The tumor (which was the size of a small orange) and some surrounding damaged tissues were removed. By the time Elliot reached Damasio, he had experienced a radical personality change. He went from a successful business person, with a happy and stable family life, to a person who could not hold a job and had to be in the custody of a sibling. Elliot was unable to live appropriately in a community because he now lacked social intelligence.
When Elliot returned from the hospital people did not recognize him. He could not follow a schedule, motivate himself enough to get dressed in the morning, and was incapable of making the most basic of decisions. For instance, he would spend an entire afternoon at work deciding whether to classify a group of data by date or place. He lost his job and entered risky business ventures and eventually ended up bankrupt. His marriage ended in divorce, to which he quickly married and divorced again. He became dependent on his social security disability check to survive. Damasio describes his observations,
"The machinery for his decision making was so flawed that he could no longer be an effective social being. In spite of being confronted with the disastrous results of his decisions, he did not learn from his mistakes. . . . In some respects Elliot was new Phineas Gage, fallen from social grace, unable to reason and decide in ways conducive to the maintenance and betterment of himself and his family, no longer capable of succeeding as an independent human being."
On "intelligence" and personality tests, Elliot seemed like a normal, well-adjusted person, but something was obviously not working. After observing Elliot tell his tragic story without feeling anything, Damasio started concentrating on Elliot's emotional well-being. Damasio began to take note that Elliot always seemed to be detached from his feelings. Everything Elliot did was on the same monotone level: "I never saw a tinge of emotion in my many hours of conversation with him: no sadness, no impatience, no frustration with my incessant and repetitious questioning". An experiment by Daniel Tranel showing Elliot disturbing pictures of injured people, natural disasters, and complete destruction of communities elicited no emotional reaction in Elliot. The most insightful part of this experience was Elliot's own realization that his feelings had changed. He noted that before the surgery he would have reacted differently, but now he felt nothing. Damasio explains how much this affects life,
"Try to imagine it. Try to imagine not feeling pleasure when you contemplate a painting you love or hear a favorite piece of music. Try to imagine yourself forever robbed of that possibility and yet aware of the intellectual contents of the visual or musical stimulus, and also aware that once it did give you pleasure. We might summarize Elliot's predicament as to know but not to feel."
This excerpt taken from "Emotions and Social Intelligence: Jane Braaten and Antonio Damasio" by Kaaren Williamsen, Gustavus Adolphus College, March 1995.
Have you ever wondered just why we have emotions? Indeed our emotions tell the world who we are, describe our essence as human beings, and are the medium through which we engage our outer world. But what are they actually for? The above described case of Elliot perhaps provides us with a scientific rational for our emotions. We, as Elliot once did, use our emotions to make rational decisions. Now that almost sounds contradictory, but it is true. Obviously, as we experience the world, we experience it, with our entire being. Our brain, if you will, recording millions of emotional snapshots as we go through life. And these emotional memories provide us an ever changing reference as to how we feel about events we encounter through the moments of our lives. We then carry these emotional learnings to each and every decision we are confronted with, and by combining fact with feeling, we decide. Elliot's inability to decide is related directly to his inability to feel emotion.
We have long approached learning with the idea that we are simply collecting facts and ideas and committing them to memory. This is only partially true. Actually as we learn, we mesh newly-acquired facts and ideas, with our past emotionally-charged experiences. Everything we learn and all that we commit to memory carries with it an emotional component and changes our perception of the world.
It is no mystery that we learn best when we are motivated to learn, indeed learning and emotion are inseparable. It has been demonstrated that high levels of positive emotion place us in the best position to learn. Conversely when we are under stressful conditions we learn poorly. It is essential that this new paradigm be carried into our classrooms.
"Where were you when the Twin Towers collapsed, or when the Challenger Space craft exploded? Can you remember receiving your high school diploma, your first kiss? Emotions have a profound impact on our memory and learning, and increasing usage of terms like "emotional intelligence" demonstrates a growing awareness of the important role that emotions play in one's successful negotiation throughout life. However, throughout history, emotions in the classroom have been strict taboo, and yet most teachers today would agree that students participate in class and learn best when they feel good about themselves and their lives. Nearly every aspect of our lives is influenced by the emotional state we experience at that moment - a response based on past experience, yet nobody understands precisely what is involved in the relationship between emotions and learning. We know a lot about the brain structures that underlie learning and memory, and those that regulate our emotions, but how do emotions actually influence learning? Can we enhance learning and memory by activating the brain circuits that stimulate positive emotions? How do we maintain positive emotions and ensure we block out negative ones? What is the best environment to nurture positive emotion? What are the cost benefits for schools? What are the physical influences on emotions, such as sleep, nutrition and exercise? And, whom do we focus on: peers, parents and teachers, or on children themselves?
|Jonathan Swift — "Reason is a very light rider, and easily shook off."
Ralph Waldo Emerson — "Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis."
Doris Lessing — "That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way."
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Learner versus Instructor Centered Program Design
|Let's face it, it is much easier to design training around the instructor versus around the learner. Have you ever been in a training program in which the instructor comes in, opens up a book, and starts reading? Actually many of you may have had this very experience in college. Professors are notorious for believing they have very little to do with the learning process and it is the student's responsibility to somehow salvage any crumbs and bits of knowledge they choose to drop during a remarkably poorly planned presentation. Learner centered means designing training and teaching around the learner, their needs, their learning preferences, their learning styles, and whatever it takes to help your collective learners physically and emotionally engage.
The argument for an instructor centered approach might go like this. If I am the instructor, the one with the knowledge, and my students are the ones needing the knowledge, my job is to relay what I know to them. Sounds simple, direct and honestly, does work to a degree, but only to a relatively small degree. We know that a lecture style approach will hold an audience's attention for approximately 15 minutes. After this our minds tend to wander and learning retention levels plummet. Conversely, if we design participative programming, retentive levels can remain high for the majority of participants throughout the entire training session. With a higher percentage of individuals, retaining information at higher retention levels, it only makes sense to use a learner centered approach.
When you're designing a training program think about your learners on a number of different fronts. Ask yourself (1.) if you are providing training that allows your participants to interact with you and with others during the training. (2.) If you are structuring an environment to allow participants to actively participate, touch, feel and in some way become physically involved with what is being taught, (3.) and most importantly, presenting information in a manner that will captivate and capture the attention of your learners. I agree that learners are also responsible for their own learning; this is a given. But as teachers and trainers a large part of the job is optimizing the learning environment, and to do this we need to focus on the learner.
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Bingo as Content Review
|Here is a strategy that employs a common game that nearly everyone knows how to play — BINGO! This can be used to review vocabulary or concepts that have recently been learned.
1. Create a set of 25 questions about the subject matter. The student should be able to answer with a term, word or brief explanation or description. The answers could be standard terminology, names of people, key terms from a chapter, etc.
2. Number the questions from 1-25 and then place the questions into five piles.
3. Label each pile with a letter….B-I-N-G-O
4. Create a set of Bingo cards so that there is one card for each student. These should look like the standard card, with 24 cells in a 5 x 5 table format. The middle cell is "FREE". Each cell will have a number on it representing one of the twenty five questions.
5. Play the game in class:
• Read a question with its associated number. The first student with that number-letter combination to call out, and can correctly provide the answer, gets to fill in the cell. They have to answer aloud in class. If the person who answers is incorrect however, someone else with the number should be given the chance to respond.
• Continue reading questions at random, and have students answer the questions until one student has five correct answers in row just as in Bingo—horizontally, vertically or diagonally from corner to corner
6. The student who first gets five in a row calls out "Bingo".
7. The game can continue until all of the questions have been answered however.
From Instructor Education Newsletter – April 2008 – Vol. 5 Issue 2
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|1. The biggest part of the brain is the cerebrum. The cerebrum makes up 85% of the brain's weight
2. The brain has four lobes, and each of these lobes have primary cortical regions (areas in which specific sensory information is first processed before moving to higher order areas). These include:
a. Occipital Lobe – Primary visual cortex
b. Temporal Lobe – Primary auditory cortex
c. Parietal Lobe – Primary somatasensory cortex (senses touch, pain, location of limbs. and temperature)
d. Frontal Lobe – Primary motor cortex
3. The cerebellum is a cauliflower-shaped brain structure located just above the brainstem, beneath the occipital lobes at the base of the skull. The cerebellum is at the back of the brain, below the cerebrum. It's a lot smaller than the cerebrum at only 1/8 of its size. But it's a very important part of the brain. It controls balance, movement, and fine motor coordination. Although the Cerebellum is only 1/8th the size of the cerebrum, it contains at least 50 billion of the brains total 100 billion neurons.
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