Skip to main content

The Spark of Learning

Who here feels a bit drained when it comes to how this year or semester is progressing? My hand is raised! Often when I feel this way, I find that attending a workshop, conference, or even reading a book and discussing with colleagues, reignites my excitement for education and all things learning. This fall our reading group continues (for those counting, this is the 6th book we have read, having started in Spring of 2019)!
Hand coming out of water holding a sparkler ignited.

We selected the book by Sarah Rose Cavanagh called, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. This book was calling to us because with the return to in-person learning and consideration of various digital modalities, we felt there was a need for conversations around questions such as:
  • What have we learned this past year about our students?
  • How can we engage and find connections with our students, after all that we have been through?
  • What have we learned this past year about our teaching methods? What can be kept, and what should remain in the past?
Cover of the book The Spark of Learning by Sarah Rose Cavanagh

While this book was written in 2016, it resonates more with us now than ever before. The author argues that if you want to capture the attention of your students, who are likely distracted by many other thoughts during class time, then you should “consider the emotional impact of your teaching style and course design.” We know that within a course exists not just learning materials and exams, but people. People who are trying and striving. People who are learning, and people who are teaching. The author explains how understanding the role that emotions play in our everyday lives, can be applied to capturing the attention of students.

What do you remember?

Think back to a time when you were a student, and in class. Perhaps there are few memories, but the one that floated to the surface most likely had an emotion tied to it. For me, it was when I was in an undergraduate course (200+ students!) and the teacher played music as we started class. There was a slideshow of images that went along with the music. The information that was being conveyed at the time was how much of an impact we (future teachers) would have on our students. It brought about the emotions of excitement, caring, and hope. This was during the start of every class and really got our attention focused on that moment and space. Another memory was also around music (hmm, is there something about music and emotion?) and was in the eighth grade. My history teacher taught us about the Vietnam war by showing video clips and playing music from the time period. It was impactful, and I recall it to this day.

In The Spark of Learning, the author shares insights for how emotions trigger attention and memory, which are two areas that teachers strive to support their students. With all that is happening in our lives, it is easy for students to get distracted during class time, or for online courses, focused-time management. 

Join the conversation

We invite you to join us to learn more about how neuroscience can be applied to education, and in particular how motivation, emotion, social factors, and learning are found to have more in common than educational research suggests. Two more discussions are planned for Friday afternoons from 1 pm to 2 pm this semester: October 22 and November 19th. We will be meeting on Zoom and in LSC L1-54. Email with any questions! Mark your calendar, and carve out one hour on your Friday afternoon, to discuss The Spark of Learning!

Post author:
Sarah Prosory is an Instructional Designer within the School of Life Sciences, Teaching Innovation Center at Arizona State University. She has worked in higher education for over 11 years, supporting faculty in law, engineering, and biological sciences. Her experience includes assisting faculty with in-person, blended, and hybrid courses, as well as making the leap to fully online courses. She provides training to faculty and teaching assistants on how to use educational technologies, and shares best practices in course design to improve the student experience.


Popular Posts

TeachT@lk Webinar: Engaging Discussions

"Asking Great Questions" Workshop

Evolving Exams: Adapt Your Assessments for the Time of COVID