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Book Review: "Feelings and Emotion-based Learning: A New Theory

The text of some 213 pages is offered in eight sections: Learning Theories and Relevance; Towards a Feelings Learning Theory; Mentoring Research Stories: Teachers’ Stories; Teaching Research: School Refusers’ Stories; Evaluation Research: Curriculum Approach Stories; Implications for Education; Feelings Research: Methods and Analysis; General Conclusion.

Jenny Hawkins hope in writing and sharing her text is that:

… ‘feelings’ collaborative research learning theory, in whatever practical guise it is adopted, may be formally recognised and developed further in the social professions. (p. xvi)

John Cromby in one of the Forewords helps the reader to make a clear distinction between feelings and emotion when he writes:

When people think of feeling, they often think solely of emotions. Although emotion science still lacks a universally agreed definition of emotion, there is a broader agreement over the kinds of feeling that emotions involve. Typically, emotion scientists study feelings such as happiness, anger, surprise, sadness, disgust and fear. Whilst emotions such as these are certainly important for teaching and learning, the influences of feeling are far wider. Alongside emotions, feelings relevant to learning include those of confidence, certainty, doubt, hesitancy, excitement, flow, boredom and impatience. These feelings— which do not typically appear in taxonomies of emotion—will be familiar to anyone who has ever learned or has ever taught. (vii)

Cromby also makes the important point that the book speaks to an incipient movement in psychology and educational studies to once again recognise feeling as a central and fundamental process within thinking, learning and teaching. (viii-ix) In the other Foreword Mick Waters contributes another important point that Jenny Hawkins makes a compelling case for considering seriously emotions and feelings in the practice of teaching to better influence the learning that takes place.

I feel that the greatest significance of this book is in its practical methods for researching feelings and emotions. I believe that all readers will share Hawkins’ insight that feelings such as enthusiasm, curiosity, determination, disappointment, triumph and satisfaction and the ability to overcome failure are definitely involved in learning. Hawkins also shows an awareness of limitations of quantitative research methods for enquiring into the influences of feelings in learning and also recognises the pressures:

…placed upon schools by policy makers in their desire to retain

power and the risk of people suppressing their inner humanity rather

than exploiting the power of feeling to harness opportunities for learning

and overcoming challenges. (p.6)

Hawkins provides a variety of ways to show that emotional research requires different methods of data collection, suited to different participants in differing situations. As Hawkins says, this expertise has to be learned ‘in action’ and needs time,caution, empathy and reflection to develop. Hawkins emphasises that we need to encourage fluid thinking where new and original connections can be made, and putting ideas together imaginatively, judging, discarding and accepting can be practised. Hawkins take care to emphasise that this is not to discount the building blocks of known facts in the core subjects, which we also need to learn. Hawkins also emphasises that long embedded emotional constructs take longer and may require complicated life events to trigger change or may never be resolved:

The provisional working assumption that a person’s ‘feelings are rational’ (in their own terms) can be a helpful and practical one. (p. 173)

As well as the educative value of the researchers’ stories in showing how to research feelings I found Hawkins’ researchers’ evaluations most illuminating in understanding the value of integrating evaluations within an action research enquiry into the educational influences of feelings in learning:

The work engaged them in whole body, active learning in which feelings were expressed and thinking developed. Physical skills involved body control, movement and spatial awareness. Pupils learned to control themselves within a managed environment which encouraged self-expression.

Hawkins highlights the importance of feelings in telling us what seems wrong within ourselves and others. They help us work out strategies to encourage and make improvements. The focus on making improvements is at the heart of many action research enquiries that are exploring the implications of asking, researching and answering questions of the kind, ‘How do I improve what I am doing?’

I think Waters’ point (foreword) bears repeating that a strength of the book is that it makes a compelling case for the study of feelings in learning, Hawkins stresses that it is more important to acknowledge them than we have thought. She says that we have been wrong when we thought we should ignore them or cover them up because our human body/brains use feelings to create our essential mental and physical life, behaviours and outlooks on the world (p.177). The book should be required reading for all educators in pre-service and continuing professional development programs.

Jack Whitehead, Professor of Education, University of Cumbria, UK

Whitehead, J. & McNiff, J. (2006) Action research : living theory. London: Sage

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