Emotional Differentiation for Learning

I’m on the road early this year and I’ve come down to the wilds of Somerset for the night. It’s not very wild, in truth, as you will see from my photos, entitled, “Table for 1”. I have been immersed in preparing for tomorrow for a long time and I love the thinking-workout it has given my brain. Tomorrow, however, I will share what has been locked away in my head for the past few months, ready to be lain bare for public/peer scrutiny.

It makes me think about what we really ask students to do when we say, “…and at the end of today’s lesson, you’ll be presenting your work to the whole class.” because it’s so much more than just sharing your work. It’s putting yourself on the line, inviting others to question, critique and risking outright dismissal of what you have invested which is, if you really care about it, of part of yourself. And now here I am, about to do the same thing and it makes me reflect upon the ways in which we prepare our very often fragile learners for this incredibly vulnerable position that peer-scrutiny puts them in, particularly at this time of year, with the rush of new relationships being established as we open our doors to the new academic year. 

I’ll be talking a lot about emotional resilience tomorrow and I am finding that the older I get, the more I seem to consider this when I talk about what makes an effective learner and how we can draw out the talents and abilities of our students. The importance of teaching to the emotional ‘age’ of learners first and foremost seems to be most critical. The emotions are the biggest keys to effective learning, ahead of the intellectual and chronological age of learners. Every time I work with educators to develop their own learning, I hear the baggage that they still have connected to certain subjects and activities, “I can’t do maths” or “I’m not creative”. 

Much of my thinking has been informed by the time I spend with my cricket club. Every Friday evening all the way through the summer, a swarm of under 9 girls and boys appear to consume the entire pitch under the watchful eyes of the tallest man in the world, Graham, our coach. Admittedly, his height is exacerbated by the cumulative stature of his charges, but, still, he is REALLY tall. More striking than this, however, is the care with which he encourages, cajoles and coaches the future cricketers of our club and it is this that is testament to his expertise as a teacher and a coach. They are all under 9 in chronological age, but his adept differentiation comes when he applies his teaching methods to the diversity of their emotional ages and resilience. To some, when they miss the ball, he shares a joke, knowing they will respond in kind. To others, their mishap is greeted with earnest words of encouragement (helped with a soft Bathonian drawl). For others, he instigates the harsh rules of the competition provoking their determined and scrunched-up faces to stare back at him, resolved to try again and get those elusive runs.

It is exactly the same differentiated approach that he employs with his other budding group of cricket stars…yes, that’ll be us, the womens team.

Our squad’s average chronological age is around 42 (oldest is 54 & youngest is 25) but we present him with a far more mixed ability proposition when it comes to our emotional resilience in this very alien situation. On Graham’s watch, however, we are met with the same differentiated provision, (and if I ever manage to upload the podcast, you’ll be able to hear from the players themselves about this!). It is this personalised approach of our very own gentle giant that encourages us to return to training twice a week, all learning and laughing together, in a safe-to-fail environment. Progress is unavoidable, (as is occasional injury, but this is always the fault of our depressingly obvious and conscious incompetence).

In the most effective practice, this is exactly what I observe and hear about as I meet educators from around the country. People who are skilled in the art of establishing just such an emotionally differentiated learning environment, creating their very own ‘tall learning man environment’ in schools and colleges. It is here that learning is differentiated along these lines of emotional resilience and where the positive emotional tags are created and learning really is memorable. 

2 thoughts on “Emotional Differentiation for Learning

  1. How very true. Reflection is key to the educator. Outting yourself in your student’s shoes is something we all need to remember to do, and do regularly. Good luck tomorrow.

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