Emotions and remembering

Posted on December 2, 2019

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Yes, I’m doing the usual “back from break… where was I?”

This   is an abstractshared by Daniel Willingham on Twitter today, indicating that negative words as  stimuli had a bad effect on remembering; neutral ones didn’t.   I didn’t dig out the study (is it basically harder to remember negative things?)… but I peeked at some of the abstracts in the reference and found another fascinating tidbit.    Negative affect impairs associative memory but not item memory.  This one packs a wallop.   “Negative affect”  was created with the threat of a shock…  possibly a similar affective situation to many the math class.   Not only were folks less likely to remember things associated with an individual item… they were *more* likely to remember the item.

Does that sound like math class to me?   Where they’re anxious and feeling “threat of a shock” — that unpleasant jolt of wrongness?

Next time I’m feeling weary of the “oh, they have to feel good about things to learn!” stuff I need to remember this.   I’m still going to push back on “they need to explore, not memorize!”   because that’s accepting failure for the students who also need to practice to remember.

Had first-timer today who was doing well in stuff but … graphing points.  The answer was 2, after all.   How did you get that in the right place?   I talked about this being a totally different way of thinking about numbers — that we were looking at a map, and we needed 2 directions to get to the right address. “113” wouldn’t do it.   We needed “113 Northway.”

Classic example, though, of where “a little support” in class wouldn’t cut it.   The idea made sense but it took half an hour of practice thinking and working in two dimensions to keep from falling back to “but the answer is 2.”   I shared our subscription info for modumath  and we watched those first minutes of lesson 11 and … those guys are good 🙂 That handout got put in a prominent place in the notebook. The “the Mustangs went 10 yards on the first two plays” example, starting with “the second play they got 2 yards” … what did they get the first time… okay, what if you didn’t know… okay, you could even have negative numbers…

Of course, an important part of this was this student had been succeeding, and expected to be able to figure this out and succeed.   I wasn’t working with “this stuff never makes sense.”   This student was surprised by those “shocks” of the wrong answer… but trusted that there was a way to eliminate their source.   The “oh, I’ll just go back and do it the old way” is a whole lot less likely to happen.   Here’s to BLAZING NEW BRAIN PATHS.

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