Emotions and Inquiry

Dianne Oberg reflects on her experiences co-authoring the document “Focus on Inquiry” in her paper for the World Library and Information Congress (August 2004). She highlights the key features which were added to the document as a result of the revision process. “Focus on Inquiry” is a revision of “Focus on Research” both of the documents were produced for the Ministry of Education in Alberta. When Dianne and her team set out to revise the “Focus on Research”, they were working to provide an instructional framework for the province which added instructional guidance for the affective dimension of research as well as the cognitive dimension.

The importance of the affective dimension in the research process fits with other work on human cognition. Human cognition is effected strongly by feelings. I first learned about the effect of feelings on memory. Events which are infused with strong feelings are more likely to be remembered over the long term. When I look back at my own schooling, I remember the school musical in which I did not get cast, the basketball team from which I was cut, helping my grade four teacher pack from our school after school was out in June, getting 10/10 on a really difficult and important chem lab and baking pavlova for our study on Australia. Each of these events are embedded in my long-term memory by virtue of the strong emotions which are attached to them – anger, disappointment, love, joy and excitement. Other events from school were affected by emotional events from within the rest of my life, the death of my grandfather and reading of Fahrenheit 459 in grade ten English are tied to the sights and smells and sounds of the grade ten classroom.  Just as memory and emotion are connected and our feelings and classroom experiences are connected so too are feelings and research connected processes.

“Focus on Inquiry” recognizes this key component of human cognition and student experience.  It is valuable for students of all ages to recognize that the emotions that are felt during the research process are common to all people.  It was particularly striking for me in my work developing my virtual seminar for this past week.  I was studying the planning aspect of inquiry and experiencing the difficulties which are presented in this part of inquiry.  “I can’t find anything!”  “There is no information on my topic!”  How many times as a teacher have I hear those words when students begin to research.  It was reassuring for me as an adult researcher to get back to the process set out in “Focus on Inquiry” and realize that there were things I could do to get through this planning stage and my feelings were normal.

When I look at my class this year, I am reminded constantly of their emotional states.  Some of them are hurting, some of them are excited, some of them are distant, some of them are needy, some of them are content.  Their emotional states affect how they interact with each other and how they approach school and inquiry.  Just as I can sit and recall the place, smells and events of my grade ten English class due to the death of my grandfather, so they might have family issues which affect their learning.  Creating a community of learners needs to somehow address these emotions both the ones which stem from the inquiry and the ones which are from within the students.  Teaching and learning are complex endeavours.   Some of this complexity is apparent in the “Focus on Inquiry”, a very welcome addition to my teaching toolbox.



Filed under curriculum, education, library

3 responses to “Emotions and Inquiry

  1. Susan, you do a great job of describing what it is we strive to do each day. “Creating a community of learners needs to somehow address these emotions both the ones which stem from the inquiry and the ones which are from within the students.” I hope that your year is going well and thanks for pointing out these papers. More reading!!

  2. One of my colleagues once said to me, “They won’t remember you as much for what you taught them as for how you made them feel.”

    So true.

  3. I think in some ways knowing it’s ‘how you made them feel’, makes the job both easier and more difficult. It does mean that we need to move beyond the content and into process and relationship.

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