Educational Responses to Stress - Emotion and Arts

I mentioned a recent study about stress and poverty earlier today. In summary, there appears to be a link between allostatic load (a psychological and physiological measure of stress) and average performance with working memory tests.

So how could we respond to this?

Drake Bennett has a story at the Boston Globe about teaching emotional intelligence. Since Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence in 1995 there has been a growing chorus of educational researchers and reformers calling for emotional education. To me these seem like two things that were meant to come together. If stress is partly about managing emotion then learning how to do that better seems like it would be a very good thing.

The RULER curriculum is tailored to different age groups, but in general it involves dozens of sessions: workshops in which students discuss feelings they are having or interview each other about their emotions, role-playing exercises in which they act out different emotions or are presented with emotionally charged situations, then have to work through how to defuse them. There is an emphasis on learning a richer vocabulary to describe emotions, the idea being that students better able to express how they feel will be both more conscious of their feelings and less likely to be misunderstood by others. And there are Ekman-like courses in basic facial expression recognition - many kids, Brackett says, confuse surprise and fear.

One of the central tools of Brackett’s system is something he calls the “mood meter,” a 2-by-2 chart on which kids can plot their subjective state along with their energy level. Brackett argues that doing so allows kids to better understand what they’re feeling and even why. High energy and positive is excited, low energy and positive is relaxed; low energy and negative is sad or depressed, high energy and negative is agitated or angry. A more fine-grained, systematic understanding about what emotions are, Brackett argues, is a key step in learning how to anticipate and

control them.

Brackett and his colleagues have started a consulting firm on Emotionally Intelligent Schools

Over at Greater Good magazine Karin Evans has an article on Arts and Smarts. Is there a connection between intelligence and art education? The studies aren’t ironclad but they do seem suggestive of a positive connection between the two.

I particularly liked the following quote from a book called Studio Thinking.

Working in high school art classes, they found that arts programs teach a specific set of thinking skills rarely addressed elsewhere in the school curriculum—what they call “studio habits of mind.” One key habit was “learning to engage and persist,” meaning that the arts teach students how to learn from mistakes and press ahead, how to commit and follow through. “Students need to find problems of interest and work with them deeply over sustained periods of time,” write Hetland and Winner.


“Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education” (Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, Kimberly M. Sheridan)