Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn,” Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, told a crowd of educators at a conference last June. “They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?
It got me to thinking about how librarians could contribute to helping students succeed by developing their emotional intelligence. This seems like a tall order for any teacher, and it’s going to a particularly difficult one for librarians, who only get a certain amount of time with students. But there do seem to be ways.
We know, for example, that searching for information is a high anxiety area for many students (click on the image below to enlarge your Kuhlthau refresher course).
This is something I definitely try to consider when working with students in any capacity. The way I try to approach this is always to be empathetic to students, and try to consider what the research experience is like for them, no matter how small the context. I remember during a formal part of the interview for my current job, I was asked how I approach situations at the reference desk where a student comes up to you annoyed because he can’t find a book in the stacks that’s supposed to be there, and “Why do you have to organize these things by call numbers, anyway?!” My response was something like … I try to put myself in the student’s shoes and think … well, honestly, why would a freshman know how to read a LC call number and use it to find a book in an academic library? I’m a librarian, and, you know what? The only time I really entered the library in college was to go to the coffee shop housed within the library entrance. I think I learned to read a call number when I was a graduate student in philosophy. And even then, by “learned to read a call number,” I mean something like, “These things seem to be organized by letters … and philosophy is in the … B’s.” By trying to think of what it’s like to be this person in this moment – this young, confused, and frustrated person – I can actually contribute something to their learning, instead of getting annoyed with them, and even somewhat squash their anxiety, just by being honest. I think during my interview I said that I’d just be honest with the student; “I know, it’s really tricky how this stuff is organized, right? I’ve been confused plenty of times myself, before I figured out how to do this stuff.” That leads the way to an actual opportunity to teach the student something. It’s easier to do when I realize that searching is stressful for students, just like it was stressful the first time I had to, say, find a Gov Doc. Why would any of this be simple if you don’t already know how to do it? Does this develop student’s emotional intelligence? Well … probably not. But it does take into account, within an educational context, the fact that, emotionally speaking, there’s something that it’s like to be them. Mindfulness of that fact is a pretty good start.
Another thing, maybe, that I think we can work on teaching students is persistence, by teaching students that searching is, actually, an iterative, multi-step process. It ain’t as simple as typing “When is Drake coming to Sacramento?” into Google and getting an immediate response (November!!!). And, on top of that, there’s no “magic-bullet” source that’s going to solve all of your research needs. If we explain to our students, explicitly, that searching is a process, and model the various steps of that process for them, I think that, maybe, students can come to have some of their search anxiety reduced, by having their expectations subtly changed. Yeah, searching is hard work, and it can be frustrating, but you can do it. And it’s a lot less frustrating when you know from the outset that it’s not going to be super simple. But a little bit of good information literacy instruction can go a long way toward decrease student frustration with research. According to recent studies,
So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.
This was startling news. “Everybody said, Oh, it’s how kids achieve academically that will predict their adult employment, and health, and everything else,” recalls Mark Greenberg, a Penn State University psychologist. “And then it turned out that for both employment and health outcomes, academic achievement actually predicted less than these other factors.”
We’ve touched on the growth mindset before; and this seems to be another instance of its importance. I suppose I’ve long thought that our goal as educators goes far beyond merely transmitting content to our students, and articles like this, that show how to incorporate what it means to be a person into learning, can serve as a guide for how we build relationships with students in the classroom.
My thoughts on this stuff are pretty tentative. What do our legions of readers think?