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Spooky Learning

Tis the season, for me at least, of haunted houses and scary movies. I like to engage in what psychologists have recently termed recreational fear. This is the fun of being scared. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Sarah Rose Cavanagh applies this research to the classroom. She argues that there are four pedagogical lessons we can learn from haunted houses.

  1. We never go into haunted houses alone. In times of anxiety and threat we tend to find safety in others. The same holds for the anxiety produced in learning environments. Creating collaboration opportunities with classmates and communal class environments can enhance learning.
  2. Pleasurable arousal happens when we are scared, but not too scared. Cavanagh calls this “pleasurable disquietude,” and it's the appropriately uncomfortable spaces in our classrooms and disciplines that allow students to progress to the next level in their learning.
  3. Fear and motivation have physiological similarities. As instructors we can harness student anxiety to move them forward and deepen their learning.
  4. Finally, we grow stronger by facing our fears. Students must confront challenges in the classroom in order to grow. So instructors need to provide appropriate challenges for them.

Cavanagh provides some nice examples of what this might look like in our classrooms. Teach well, and enjoy spooky season!

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