Processes for learners’ affective needs

Does the educational experience take due account of learner views, feelings and characteristics?

We all, at any age, value our dignity and appreciate it when our individuality is recognised. And we also, as part of our personal development, have to learn to appreciate the needs of others. Goleman (1996) called this ‘emotional intelligence’ – an idea which combines social empathy and skills with personal awareness, motivation and capacity to manage one’s own feelings. Schools have always worked hard to support such development though curricular provision such as PSHE, drama and the arts.

Feelings about learning itself will directly affect outcomes. Pupils are expert at detecting teacher mood, respect and interest, and research demonstrates the importance of providing a consistent, positive classroom climate. Confidence to tackle new learning challenges is significantly helped by interesting curricula, engaging activities and meaningful feedback. Pitching such learning experiences appropriately is crucial too, with anxiety arising if they are too challenging, and boredom if deemed too easy, repetitive or irrelevant. Such feelings are felt individually but are almost always strongly influenced by peer culture. John Holt’s classic book, How Children Fail (1964), argued that underperformance is linked to such fear of failure.

Curriculum

Relevance: is the curriculum presented in ways which are meaningful to learners and so that it can excite their imagination?

School inspectors got this right some time ago. HMI wrote: ‘The curriculum should be seen by pupils to meet their present and prospective needs. What is taught and learned should be: worth learning in that it improves pupils' grasp of the subject matter and enhances their enjoyment and mastery of it; increases their understanding of themselves and the world in which they are growing up; raises their confidence and competence in controlling events and coping with widening expectations; and progressively equips them with the knowledge and skills needed in adult working life’ (HMI, 1985, p 45).

Quarter of a century later, we have even more diverse and rapidly changing societies. Inequality and under-performance remain intractable for many, so the challenge for schools to offer relevant curricula is very considerable. This is one reason why national frameworks should provide for local adaption, and why teachers’ knowledge of the learners and communities they serve is irreplaceable.

Pedagogy

Engagement: do the teaching strategies, classroom organisation and consultation enable learners to actively participate in and enjoy their learning?

TLRP research on pupil consultation (eg: Rudduck and McIntyre, 2007) and learner identities (eg: Pollard and Filer, 2007) showed that, if pupils feel that they matter in school and are respected, then they feel more positive about themselves as learners. They can understand and manage their own progress better, and feel more included. The underlying driver here is termed ‘agency’ – the opportunity for self-directed action and fulfilment.

Young people become more engaged if their perspectives, concerns and experiences are taken seriously. The projects found that pupil contributions were invariably practical and constructive – and were thus also beneficial to teachers. Such feedback supported more open, collaborative and communicative relationships and thus had the potential to transform pedagogic strategies and enhance learning outcomes.

Assessment

Authenticity: do learners recognise routine processes of assessment and feedback as being of personal value?

Traditional assessments measure what a student can recall or do in the formal context of testing. By comparison, authentic assessment puts the emphasis on the meaningful application in real-life situations (Wiggins, 1989). Rather than being required to simply demonstrate performance for an artificial purpose, the learner has the opportunity to apply their growing knowledge and capability to genuine activity. The task, and feedback on it, is thus more personally meaningful. Authentic assessment is likely to affirm those who have the deeper levels of skill and understanding which are needed for application.

Overcoming the artificiality of school so that new knowledge can be grounded in the ‘real world’ is not easy. Project work is a long-standing strategy and the internet and new technologies now provide wonderful resources. There are many contemporary initiatives to promote ‘real-world learning’, primarily because transfer of school learning in, for instance, Maths and Science, consistently proves to be difficult.