I have been since the inception of the franchise in 1974 and their first game played August 1, 1976. This is a team that knows how to “Play the Game” as Perkins discusses in his book Making Learning Whole. I make the comparison between the football team and learning because each involves emotion, hard parts, attention, memory, and transfer. These are the topics we covered in the last two weeks.
Demetriou and Wilson (2008) say “From early on our emotional development is inextricably intertwined with our acquisition of knowledge. Psychological research has revealed similarities between human cognitive and emotional processes”. As teachers, and students, it’s important to recognize the impact emotion will have on our acceptance of the learning. In 1975, I had just moved to Washington (state). I knew very few people and didn’t even have a job waiting! But, like most people in the Evergreen State, I was caught up in the emotions of having a new team EXCITEMENT, FUN, RECOGNITION, and PRIDE were just a few of the emotions we all felt.
In a learning environment, we need the same emotions in order to have motivated and connected students. Perkins refers to how needs and affect come together to motivate learning.
These needs include:
1. Physiological – hunger, thirst, bodily comforts
2. Safety/security – out of danger, no threats
3. Belongingness/Love – acceptance & affection
4. Esteem – achievement, competency, and affiliation
5. Cognitive – to know, understand, and explore
6. Aesthetic – symmetry, order, and beauty
7. Self-actualization – potential, self-fulfillment (Huitt, 2001).
Some of those needs are emotional and they all can be reasons for attaining education. Wlodkowski (1999) points out the “engagement in learning is the visible outcome of motivation. Our emotions are a part of and significantly influence our motivation”. Dr. Luis Pessoa (2009) discusses how “cognition and emotion are effectively integrated in the brain”. Dr. Ruby Parker (2014) states “emotion colors every learning experience” and that “every lesson we are to produce must take into account both rational and emotional appeal, because both the cognitive and the emotional sections of the brain are in play whenever learning is involved”.
Emotions can also be affected by our motivations. For the team, extrinsic motivation is money, prestige, winning. For the student, it may be grades, a better job, money (notice how that has a part in almost everything). There are also intrinsic motivations. My all-time favorite player, Steve Largent became the “player who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks”. (Booth, 2008). Students are also motivated intrinsically by the joy of learning, dedication, integrity. Yes, it’s a theme.
Teaching English to non-native speakers will be a study in emotion. There are cultural differences to understand and address. While some cultures are more demonstrative about their emotions, others are not. As the instructor, it’s important to recognize the impact emotion will have on acceptance of the learning. We have all experienced teachers whose affect was charming, grumpy, or deadpan. Walking into a classroom and seeing the emotion, or lack of it, on a teacher’s face will affect how the student begins the lesson.
Oh, there were hard parts to starting a new football team. Some of the challenges faced by the new owners included finding the right coaches, getting good players, and building a stadium. Each of these was a singular concept, built of other – smaller concepts, which would come together for the whole. In learning, there are also hard parts. Students use both cognitive and metacognitive strategies to work on the hard parts. While they are consciously thinking about the subject, they are using cognitive strategies which can be general or specific. Like the Seahawks, they will have a plan. Stephen Luke (2006) says, “When it comes to teaching and learning, having a plan—or strategy— is definitely the way to go”.
In football, goals are achieved one yard at a time. In learning, instructors will assess students and set a baseline. From that point on, learning will be added in incremental bits. From Sheckley and Bell (2006):
Strategies for learning:
1. Begin with the Baseline of Prior Experience
2. Extend Learners’ Consciousness – Our job as instructors, then, is to expand the layers of their consciousness—remove areas of blindness—so their consciousness of adult learning has a
broader and richer texture. In doing so, we also help learners make connections between these new perspectives and their prior experiences. Without this connection, the new idea would
not have life.
3. Enrich Consciousness – real life problems
Thank goodness instructional designers have already developed a game plan for teaching English to adult learners. Luke (2006) tells us about Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD). Students are introduced to a range of learning strategies designed to develop literacy skills across an entire curriculum.
Key points include:
1. Develop and activate background knowledge (Class)
2. Discuss the strategy, including benefits and expectations (Class)
3. Model the strategy (Teacher)
4. Memorize the strategy (Student)
5. Support the strategy collaboratively (Teacher & Class)
6. Use the strategy by yourself, independently (Student)
And the fundamental features of SRSD include:
1. Explicit and extensive strategy instruction on writing, self-regulation, and content knowledge
2. Interactive learning and active collaboration
3. Individualized instructional support and feedback tailored to student needs and abilities
4. Self-paced learning, with proficiency demonstrations required in order to progress from one stage of instruction to the next
In addition to having a plan, I regularly refer to Dave’s ESL Café for ideas from other teachers.
Pay attention in class! We’ve all heard that at some point or told our own children the same thing. Can you imagine a football coach telling a room full of 250+ pound men to pay attention while he goes over a game plan? Sure. It has to happen or each player will hit the field without the game-winning strategy. Students must do the same. And our job, as instructors, is to make it possible. Recognizing, and appealing to different learning styles is one way. We want the players/students to be engaged. Let’s provide valuable feedback. Perkins talks about the importance of communicative feedback as opposed to the “hearts and minds theory”. Instead of glossing over what needs improvement in hopes the player/student will do better next time, let’s work on those areas that need improvement. Football teams run drills. Teachers also run drills and one purpose is for the students to have those skills in their memory. We will focus on learning grammar and vocabulary one piece at a time. We will build on existing knowledge. McGinty says “Applying conceptual understanding from one setting to the next requires students to utilize the brain’s capacity to build new neural networks”. This is also true for instructors. Although we recognize our preferred learning styles, we can encourage ourselves and our students to stretch and learn in other ways.
Fougnie (2008) says memory is the “mental workspace where important information is kept in a highly active state, available for a variety of other cognitive processes”. We’ve learned however, that when instructors create activities that are too complex, it hinders the students’ ability to hold onto working memory and access stored information. There is a limited capacity for how much can be held in working memory (Gazzaley, 2011). In football, the quarterback isn’t expected to memorize every play. He has a playbook (notes for a student), and coaching from the sideline. When something changes on the field, he has to be able to access the correct play. Students have a similar problem and often rely on the teachers in the same way as a coach. We will also use Active Learning methods. With Active Learning, the students are involved in the process and developing their problem solving and critical thinking skills. Memorization will play a key part in learning English. However, we want to make it easy by using visual aids, audio tracks, and practice. http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_doolittle_how_your_working_memory_makes_sense_of_the_world
Throw a pass! Transfer that knowledge! Paul Anderson mentions that will all the learning he did in his field, he began to truly understand the subject when he began to teach others. We all are in the process of transferring our bits and pieces of the puzzle into a picture that will make sense. Research shows “adult learners need their learning to be practical and applicable to their lives” (Rogers, 1961). This is especially true for English Language Learners (ELL’s). There is a reason they are learning a second, or higher, language. The learning must have relevance to real-life tasks, and should be organized around life/work situations rather than subject matter. Eventually, the ELL’s will begin to think in English rather than translate everything in their minds first. When that happens, the puzzle will be complete and the game worth playing.
Anderson, P. (2009). Metacognition: Learning about learning [Video File]. Retrieved from
Booth, T. (2008, December 19). Holmgren given Largent Award by players. KomoNews.com. Retrieved
Dave’s ESL Café. Retrieved from http://www.eslcafe.com/
Doolittle, P. (2013, June). How your working memory makes sense of the world. [Video File]. Retrieved from
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McGinty, J., Radin, J., & Kaminski, K. (2013). Brain-Friendly teaching supports learning transfer. New
Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, (137), 49-59. doi:10.1002/ace.20044
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Perkins, D. (2009). Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sheckley, B. G., & Bell, S. (2006). Experience, consciousness, and learning: Implications for instruction.
New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 110, 43-52.
Wlodkowski, R. J. (1999). Motivation and diversity: A framework for teaching. New Directions for Teaching & Learning(78), 7.
One thought on “Exploring “The Game” and Emotions – The “Hard Parts” – Attention, Memory and Transfer”
An amazing post, Laurel. Loved the analogies to the Seahawks and the comprehensive sourcing of strategies. I even got a quote in :). Looking forward to your final post!