Well-Being and the Effect on Student Learning

Today was the first day of Wintersession. For those of you that do not know what Wintersession is, you're missing out!

(My school begins before the normal fall first day for most other elementary schools in the district, so to make up for it we have more "breaks" throughout the year. During these breaks, the school offers optional classes for students. We call this time "Intersession" - or a more festive version of the word, such as Wintersession!)

First, a little background. I was a psych major in college. Not by choice, as education has always been my intended field, but because I could not major in education. I was interested, secondly, in child development and psychology. Hence my major. During my last semester I took two upper level elective psychology courses, Abnormal Child Psychology and Science of Well-Being. Both were taught by the same professor, who happens to also run studies about social anxiety and the effects on well-being. This professor will be very critical, I am hoping, to my future research.

I am interested in social anxiety in children/students, within many avenues of their school-life, including environmental effects on standardized testing. A little wild in direction (as in unfocused), but as I proceed I'm sure I will create a more focused and guided research question.
I feel I have an advantage as an intern. Some of the time I am really able to just observe, I mean really observe, what's going on in a classroom. It is during this time that I tend to notice the students' behaviors rather than the teachers techniques. I spent four years learning about these behaviors. The twitching, the blinking, the nail biting, the aggression, the lying, the avoiding.... these are all behaviors that I have studied along the way. So when I see these types of behaviors, my mind becomes a sort of filing cabinet. I flip through, frantically looking for the possible diagnosis. I am not interested in the label, I am more interested in remembering the part of how to reach them and help them overcome the roadblock, so to speak, breaking down the behavior and helping them as a learner.

Back to Wintersession.

I was thinking today, as I overheard excited voices, singing, and laughing, about the social anxiety level of the school today versus a normal school day. The students are in new classrooms for the next 2 weeks. They have new classmates. They switch classes mid day. They chose the classes (in some cases), and they are classes that promote learning in a FUN (gasp!) way! Mission Math, Fresh and Healthy (snacks), Cooking (Fractions/Math), Arts and Crafts Around the World... and so on.... these are the great classes the students are offered during this time. The same students that are here for the rest of the "normal" school year are now offered an opportunity to come to school, pick their own classes, and really focus on exploratory learning experiences. No tests, no quizzes... but instead they get a few weeks with new teachers who are EXCITED to be teaching something that they actually chose to teach.

So, how does this relate to my research thoughts? Well, if well-being is increased by perception of happiness, and less stress... then the students should be increasing their personal well-being in the next few weeks. How, I ask, does this task at increasing well-being increase the success and well-being of the student throughout the year? Does the student have a better outlook on school and the environment having been given this opportunity? Having these three intersessions throughout the year - how much do they affect the student in this positive manner? And for that matter, if the well-being is increased, then shouldn't the test scores go up? Hmm.... so many questions.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy seeing the students smile, laugh, learn, and create... in a class that isn't offered to more than 75% of the students in our school system.

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