Learning to read is a higher brain function. Reading comprehension activates the cerebral cortex of a child’s brain. This part of the brain is important for complex cognitive tasks, but it’s also the part of the brain that’s the most sensitive to the harmful effects of stress.
Because stress impairs both learning and memory, teachers can improve reading comprehension and enhance classroom learning by reducing student stress through positive psychology.
The psychology of happiness and learning
While stress disrupts the brain’s learning processes, a positive mood has the opposite effect. Cultivating a positive emotional state helps to reduce the harmful effects of stress and even improves cognitive function. Author and psychology expert Shawn Achor, who has conducted extensive research on positive intelligence, cites several examples in his best-selling book The Happiness Advantage. For example, in intelligence tests, being in a positive mood increased exam takers’ intelligence and creativity.
The effects are complex, but the rationale is straightforward. Positive emotions trigger the release of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine), and these brain chemicals help activate the learning centers of the brain. As a teacher, this was incredibly eye-opening for me. Many educators focus on classroom tools and teaching techniques, but this research shows that one of the most powerful things you can do is prime your students’ brains with positivity.
Positive psychology starts with SMILES
There are dozens of empirical studies on mood and cognition. Without getting too deep into the proverbial weeds, you can use six basic positive psychology strategies in your classroom to better support stressed-out students and improve their reading comprehension and learning.
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