Oil and water. Milk and lemon. Toothpaste and orange juice. This is a list of things that don't mix well together. Another pair that we can add to that list is fear and learning.
When we are in a state of fear, there are stress hormones in our bloodstream. Researchers have shown that low and medium levels of the stress hormone, called cortisol, improve learning and enhance memory, whereas high levels of the stress hormone have a bad effect on learning and memory.
What that means is if you want to improve learning when things seem a bit stale in your class, you can create a bit of change like moving some chairs around or altering the environment slightly. The small change causes the brain to wonder, "What's up?" (Curiosity and fright are along a continuum.)
However, an environment full of fear and anxiety will not improve learning. And this is not just in the classroom. Stress at home reduces learning, too. No one can perform well on cognitive tasks when their brains are being bombarded with fight-or-flight chemistries. A calm environment with a bit of variety increases learning, but a tense environment does not.
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