Photo by John Powszedny 2015
“We may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think”
 J.B. Taylor 2009 “My Stroke of Insight” p. 17 (quoted from Merriam & Bierma 2014 p. 170)
What have you learned from reflecting on this particular quote? What has caught your attention?
J.B. Taylor, a neuroscientist, had a stroke. She was rendered physically unable to walk, talk, read or write. During her 8 years in rehabilitative therapy, she was the subject of her own study on how the brain functions and repairs itself.
Her quote, on a scientific level, sums up the fact how the brain has evolved, and how we, as humans, react to stimuli.
- Reptilian (most primitive, reacts instinctively i.e. feed-mate-fight-flight)
- Limbic System (Paleomammilian, covers reptilian, takes in sensory data and sends to Neo-Cortex)
- Neo-Cortex (covers Limbic System, distinct to primates, all learning occurs here, “the mind”)
What did you realize about teaching as a result of this quote?
Photo by John Powszedny 2015
The Limbic System controls the basic value system of the brain, which enhances or suppresses short term memory (Merriam & Bierema – 2014, p. 169)
As sensory data is processed by the Limbic System before being sent via synapses to the Neo-Cortex, the emotional content of experience is processed before meaning is processed. In other words, when learning something, it is sensed emotionally before it can have meaning applied.
Humans are subject to overwhelming amounts of memory, and we react to the world with our senses and emotions. What is remembered is subject to our feelings, and the emotional state of the learner at the time of learning has a major effect on how the learning is processed.
When teaching, the educator must be able to set a positive learning environment (see the forum I administrated on Positive Learning Environments here). This helps create positive emotions, and (hopefully) enhances learning.
Positive learning environments include elements of:
- Classroom management (rules and guidelines set a fair standard)
- Respect (know student’s names, treat all fairly)
- Clear communication (no sarcasm or misuse of questioning)
- Comfort (seating, lighting, etc.)
What was your “Aha!” moment when you read this quote? In what ways did this quote change your mind about being an adult educator? What was one key insight that you now have as a result of this quote?
My favorite chapter in Merriam and Bierema’s book “Adult Learning” was Chapter 9, “The Brain and Cognitive Functioning.” This chapter discusses the hard science of neurology and how the brain actually works. I found Taylor’s story fascinating: how she suffered a stroke, went through therapy, and had the “inside story” of how the brain is resilient and can “adapt to change and recover function” (Taylor 2009 p. xv)
The quote really summed up the science: your emotional state is your reactive state to stimuli. If someone is in a bad mood, they are difficult to reason with. Now it makes more sense to me; how anxious people do more poorly on exams. Their emotional state is interfering with their limbic system to neo-cortex synapse communications and hence do more poorly on their exam.
This quote did not change my mind about being an adult educator. If it did, I wouldn’t be writing this paper right now, I would be looking for a different career! It did, however, provide insight into the intertwined reality of science, psychology and teaching. I have a lot to learn.
One key insight that I now have as a result of this quote is that my personal emotional state when teaching can be a big part of the learning of the students. If the lesson starts off with a personal negative emotional state then the learning will not be optimal. A positive attitude is a key part of classroom management.
How has this quote, and the insight that you have gained from reflecting upon it, influenced your notion of teaching or how you will teach in the future?
The insight I have gained from this quote has inspired me to look for the most beneficial things I can do to help reach the students.
- Be attentive to my personal emotions and how they affect the learning.
- Be vigilant in providing the most positive learning environment for all the students. Many wise people have said “Enthusiasm is contagious.”
- Learn about psychology and neuroscience. The Triune Brain science is interesting.
And one last thought; teaching isn’t rocket science or brain surgery, but it’s close.