Why Emotions Are Integral to Learning

Excerpted from Emotions, Learning, and the Brain, (c) 2016 by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang. Used with the permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Co.
By Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
Teachers intuitively know that neither their nor their students’ learning is steady and constant, the same day in and day out and moment to moment, consistent from topic to topic. Rather, we all have good and bad days; moments of excitement, engagement, and inspiration and moments of disappointment, disengagement, and frustration; afternoons just before vacation and mornings just after; some skills and topics that we find interesting and some that we don’t. These differences influence how children learn and how teachers teach; they even affect what students know at a given time. In short, learning is dynamic, social, and context dependent because emotions are, and emotions form a critical piece of how, what, when, and why people think, remember, and learn.
The fundamental role of emotions in learning first became apparent to me during my first professional position after college, as a junior high school science teacher in a highly diverse, urban public school near Boston. The community I lived and worked in had many first-generation Americans, 81 languages total spoken in our school of 1,800, and many students living in underprivileged circumstances. Although I was teaching integrated science, a technical academic subject, I was intrigued that my students’ questions and& …