Michael Livingston’s Article on How Stress Inhibits Learning

Posted by on Feb 15, 2016 in Newsletter

Stress Inhibits Learning

by Michael Livingston

 

Stress inhibits learning. Science teaches us that stress hinders the brain’s ability to absorb and retain new information. Connections are not made. The neural pathways that lead to memory are not laid down. Learning suffers.

Today’s students are experiencing increased stress. According to a recent article in The New York Times, children are showing symptoms (ulcers, migraines) as shockingly early as 5 years of age. More than half of students surveyed showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression. More alarming, 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

For educators and parents, it is essential to understand the relationship between stress and learning, and to help students manage their stress so that they can learn. At The Sharon Academy (TSA), we have been working with and learning from Dr. Christian Jernstedt, a Dartmouth neuroscientist who studies the science of learning.

We learned that stress generated in the classroom can be managed, but that much stress comes from sources beyond our control. We — teachers and parents — must help students learn how to manage stress, so they can better learn.

Here are some of the issues, the way we address them at TSA, and ideas for parents to use at home.

Video games, social media, TV; all interfere with sleep patterns, can be used as an avoidance technique, and can be addictive. Adolescents are often incapable of setting boundaries for themselves.

1) Media consumption: Video games, social media, TV; all interfere with sleep patterns, can be used as an avoidance technique, and can be addictive. Adolescents are often incapable of setting boundaries for themselves.

• At TSA, we work to make students aware of the effects of the media. We teach mobile phone and social media etiquette and prioritize Internet use and screen time at the high school (tech for homework trumps tech for fun).

• We encourage parents to monitor media usage, and limit screen time, especially before sleep. We recommend turning off the router daily at a time parents deem appropriate.

2) Stress management: Techniques include mindfulness, regular physical activity, being outside, and adequate sleep. (According to the American Psychological Association, lack of sleep significantly interferes with memory consolidation, mood and concentration. At the same time, it leads to lack of motivation and an increase in stress symptoms.)

• At TSA, we teach mindfulness to staff, and offer it as an elective to our high school students. We also teach executive functioning as a part of the curriculum from 7th to 10th grade.

• Parents can support efforts for a minimum of eight hours of sleep (not always easy with adolescents — but worth the effort) and model good stress management techniques.

3) Adult role models: Students need interaction with adults who can understand what they are going through and can guide them.

• TSA has a system of mentorship that provides students with meaningful interactions with adults, helping them receive support with social/emotional concerns as well as academics.

• Parents can spend time with their students to learn more about their lives: what brings joy and what adds stress.

This is not, as the saying goes, rocket science. It is, however, neuroscience. Stress inhibits learning. We can all help.

To link to a reproduction of this article in VT Digger, please click here: http://vtdigger.org/2016/02/08/commentary-stress-affects-student-learning/

 

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