Why the Pace of Change Is So Slow in Schools: Examining the Research | Alden Blodget | 8 Min Read

September 11, 2023

In 2000, I met neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, then a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education (she is now a professor at the University of Southern California). We were both interested in the role of emotion in learning. Mary Helen was studying two high-functioning boys each of whom had had half his brain removed in order to control epilepsy, one the right hemisphere, the other the left hemisphere. She wanted to understand how the boys used their emotional and cognitive strengths to compensate for these losses and develop skills that typically require both hemispheres. Since then, she has spent many years researching the relationship between emotional, cognitive, and neurological development.

My interest in emotion and learning began when I was a freshman in college and abandoned my intention to become a chemical engineer, fleeing to pursue a major in theater. I had been a “good” science student—good in the sense that I performed very well on tests because I could memorize anything. My grades were good (it didn’t matter whether I understood concepts, just that I could recall and regurgitate them) and I adored my science teacher, whose encouragement and courses I enjoyed for three years, so I “loved” science. Until I arrived in college. Until I sat taking tedious notes in the deadening lecture classes and stood in the seemingly endless lines to use the analytic balances in the labs. Until I realized that I couldn’t think like a scientist. Until I discovered that science really meant nothing to me, that I had no spur to prick the sides of my intent to major in chemistry.

In the theater, I found meaning and purpose. I also discovered that most of the required courses outside the theater department offered knowledge and skills that made me a better theater student. My deep emotional connection to theater stimulated me to think like an actor, a director, a set designer, and these frames of reference predisposed me to experience anthropology, psychology, history, and English classes as relevant and adaptable to my theater studies. (Eventually, I even discovered uses for my chemistry and physics classes.) I learned from experience that students’ engagement and learning depend on an emotional connection to their studies—a connection that leads to a sense of personal meaning and purpose. 

So, like some other teachers, I spent many years after entering the profession working to…

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Alden Blodget

Veteran teacher and administrator Alden S. "Denny" Blodget is the author of "Learning, Schooling and the Brain: New Research vs. Old Assumptions." He also helped create the Annenberg Foundation's Neuroscience & the Classroom. He is the editor for TeensParentsTeachers.org, a free online resource focusing on issues affecting young people and the adults who work with them.