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January 2011

This month ideas about Happiness & Learning

Article: Happiness & Learning
New Resources
Additional Resources
Wise Words

This Month's Article:

Happiness and Learning

Happiness and Learning An Article exploring the connection between learning, happiness, memory and emotion. Looks at international rankings for happiness and academic achievement.

This is a Free Sample Resource

Categories: Article, Teaching & Learning, Other Subject, Educators

Tags: Happiness Emotional Intelligence

The Happiest Place on Earth

In 2006, Adrian G. White of Leicester University (UK), ranked Denmark top of his 'Satisfaction with Life Index' with a score of 273.4. Burundi came last, scraping a mere 100. White combined features of happiness into an innovative human measure and discovered that health, wealth and access to education most affected the final number. In the same year Finland topped the PISA charts: an international comparison of achievement in Reading, Mathematics and Science. In the same subjects Denmark came 16th, 12th and 18th. But Fins are deemed only the 6th happiest people on the planet. So what, if any, are the connections between happiness and learning, and where does the UK rank on both?

Well-being, Satisfaction and Happiness

White's Satisfaction Index and associated map illuminates 'subjective well-being' i.e.: how happy people think they are. In a more extensive assessment The New Economics Foundation combines life expectancy, ecological footprint and life satisfaction to give us the Happy Planet Index (HPI). HPI challenges us to think globally and to consider how the pursuit of our own happiness might diminish that of others. In a third measure (HDI - The Human Development Index) life expectancy, access to knowledge and standard of living define a country's well-being. HDI data goes back to 1990 and since then only four countries have ever ranked No.1: Iceland, Norway, Canada and Japan. Whichever type of measure we use - global rankings or subjective experience - happiness and well-being are clearly a combination of significant factors and not simply the results of a pay rise and couple of pints (welcome though they both may be).

What is Happiness?

Is happiness a 'state of internal pleasure' or a set of beliefs, actions and aspirations? Or both? Can we make ourselves happy? Should we? and if so how do we do it? Philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and economists try to answer these questions while politicians and marketing managers eagerly apply the answers. As educators need to examine the nature of happiness and consider the connections between positive emotions and effective learning.

Emotions and Happiness

The amygdalae are two almond-shaped areas set deep within the human brain. Placed symmetrically either side of the center they play a fundamental role in emotion and memory. They provide a shortcut to action in response to threats and danger by side-stepping rational thought (the cortex). They also help form and store memories in response to both positive and negative stimuli. In 2003 neuroscientist Anthony Damasio discovered that some emotions improve recall whilst others suppress it. And way back in 1981 psychologist Gordon Bower found that when we are in a happy mood we recall pleasant events more easily. There is clearly a connection between learning and emotion, but does emotion improve learning?

Fear for Learning

In 1995 I learned sail with the Navy: small boats; Portsmouth dockyard. It was an uncomfortable experience because the instructors taught through fear. A few months after the course finished I took a boat out on Lake Windermere in conditions beyond my experience. I was frightened and at one point the boat started to flip. Automatically and ;unconsciously something happened. My hands moved, my body shifted and the boat stayed afloat. In the pub later I reflected that maybe my fear had triggered the learning: the context and the emotion of 'the classroom' had activated my response on the water.

Events that are emotionally charged get our attention and lay themselves down in memory. Maybe a certain amount of fear or stress is good: it wakes us up and engages our minds. But prolonged stress at school will not help learning. If a child is always on the look out for threat and danger his amygdalae are unlikely to be paying too much attention to the subtle emotions evoked by adjectives in a Literacy lesson.

Well-being & Politics

In UNICEF's 2007 report, 'An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries', the UK ranked 21st out of 25 European states. It claimed that 44% of UK pupils had been in a fight in the preceding 12 months (7th highest) and that only 43% of under-18s found their peers kind and helpful. The Daily Mail announced the 'Betrayal of a Generation' and the then Labour government launched The Children's Plan. Education secretary Ed Balls said at the time that he wanted to make the UK, "The best place in the world to grow up".

Well-being prevails on educational and political battlegrounds. UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently instructed the Office of National Statistics to develop 'measures of progress' for quality of life. A worthy act but one whose timing has been questioned: would he have done the same in a more stable economic environment? And traditionally dour union leaders dismissed his proposal as woolly and ironic, coming from a government about to make deep financial cuts into areas strongly linked with well-being.

The Happy Classroom

Happiness, well-being and learning are obviously linked in some way. Should we smile at our classes while we deliver the weekly spelling test? Will a 5-minute standup routine before GCSE Philosophy and Ethics raise exam scores? And what if schools were ranked like countries for happiness - on the HSI - Happy School Index?

Research and day-to-day experience lead us to several conclusions which can guide our professional decisions:

  • Learning is more memorable when it has emotional significance
  • Well-being is a natural human aspiration - we automatically want to make things better for ourselves
  • Happiness means different things to different people
  • Happiness, well-being and learning should be discussed by all educators

And finally, the UK

HDI (2010), 26th; Satisfaction with Life (2006), 41st; HPI (2009) 74th, PISA (2009) 25th. Go figure.

New Resources:

VIPA Thinking provides a simple template for creating debates, discussion and arguments. 4 prompts help students to think through ideas and opinions and to draw their own conclusions.

VIPA Thinking

VIPA Thinking A Thinking Skills Tool that provides a simple structure for quickly thinking through opinions, ideas, concepts and evidence.

Categories: Thinking Tool, Thinking Frames, Thinking Skills, Any Subject, Secondary, Tertiary

Tags: Critical Thinking
Free Standard Member Resource: Login or Join for Free to access this resource and others.

Increase your happiness. A way to set meaningful goals to increase happiness using research from the New Economics Foundation.

Well-Being Planner

Well-Being Planner A simple Resource to support greater personal well-being. Inspired by New Economics Foundation research.

Categories: Other Resources, Professional Development, PSHE, Secondary, Tertiary, Educators

Tags: Happiness Emotional Intelligence Well-Being Mindset
Teacher Premium Resource: Login or Upgrade to Teacher Premium to access this resource.

This month: the seventh installment of 190 Ways to Start a Lesson.
Starters 141-158 use past and future to prompt thinking about learning.
Next time, February 2011, 159-181 involve taking a risk at the start of lessons.
(May 14: The Ebook is no longer available in parts)

190 Ways To Start A Lesson

190 Ways To Start A Lesson An EBook featuring over 190 diverse ways to begin a lesson. Arranged into 10 sections you'll find a host of simple methods for engaging pupils with their thinking and learning.

Categories: Book & EBook, Teaching & Learning, Curriculum, Any Subject, Educators

Tags: Lesson Starters
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Additional Resources:

Updated Smart Thinking Skills Tools:

Updated tool from August 2005. Create new and unexpected ideas in any subject.

The Anythink Machine

The Anythink Machine A very popular Thinking Skills Tool allowing children huge scope to make up new ideas, experiment, and generally play around with their world.

Categories: Thinking Tool, Creative Thinking, Creativity, Any Subject, Early Years, Infant, Junior

Tags: Creative Thinking
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By Edward Monkton

Happiness <br>By Edward Monkton Gentle, subtle understated visual humour about happiness.

Available from Amazon

Opens in a New Window
Categories: Suggested Books

Tags: Humour Emotional Intelligence

Emotion: A Very Short Introduction
by Dylan Evans

Emotion: A Very Short Introduction<br>by Dylan Evans An Amazon bestselling introduction to emotions and how to feel/understand them.

Available from Amazon

Opens in a New Window
Categories: Suggested Books, Psychology

Tags: Emotional Intelligence

Wise Words:

"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."
Dalai Lama

Next month we have a Guide to the Website