The Neuroscience of Joyful Education
Most children can't wait to start kindergarten and they approach the beginning of school with awe and anticipation. Kindergartners and first graders often talk passionately about what they learn and do in school. Unfortunately, the current emphasis on standardized testing and rote learning encroaches upon many students' joy. 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. The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage. Instead of taking pleasure from learning, students become bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. They ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once felt. Current brain-based research suggests that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students' lives, interests, and experiences. Many education theorists, writes Judy Willis in Educational Leadership magazine, have proposed that students retain what they learn when the learning is associated with strong positive emotion. Classrooms can be the safe haven where academic practices and classroom strategies provide students with emotional comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge. When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently.