What Do We Know? Neuroscientists have recently described the intricate interactions between the emotional and cognitive brain systems. Research has shown that the brain's limbic system, located just above the brain stem at the base of the brain, is responsible for our emotional responses. Neuroscientists tell us that information that comes to the brain is processed first in this emotional center before being processed in the cognitive or “thinking” center, located in the frontal lobe of the cerebrum. If information processing is short-circuited to the emotional center before the thinking center, long-term memory and deep learning is significantly impaired. Therefore, the effects of stress and threat on learning have clear implications for educators.
What's the Impact on Learning? While we may be unable to control all the factors of stress in the lives of our students, the adept teacher can minimize threat-causing practices within the classroom. At the same time, the teacher should maximize strategies that promote positive emotion. Research has shown that while threats impede learning, positive emotional experiences, during which the brain produces certain chemicals or neurotransmitters, can contribute to long-term memory.
What Can Teachers Do? In the Brain-Targeted Teaching Model, teachers are encouraged to deliberately plan for positive emotional connections within the framework of a specific unit of study, referred to as a learning unit. Such connections include specific activities that will connect the students emotionally to the content. The infusion of the visual and performing arts is an effective way to tap into children's emotional response systems to enhance learning and should be included within the activities of every learning unit.