A matter of feeling

It is relatively easy to get an answer to the question, “How are you today?” Teachers often start their classes with this question expecting the most obvious answer, all the time – “Fine, thank you! And you?” However, being a psychology graduate, I tend to view humans beyond their obvious utterance of words and bodily-facial expressions. Hence, I always accompany the question, “How are you today?” with another, in my opinion, more important question, “How do you feel?” For me, this question yields the kind of information that I need as an instructional designer, who deliberately creates positive environments that facilitate effective learning experiences.

It’s not easy

My observation of how students respond to the question, “How do you feel?” have led me to discovering two things about them:
1.  Most of the time, they find it very difficult to answer the question
2.  Even if they did, the answer does not reveal their feelings. Some of the common answers students give while attempting to respond to this question are like, “Fine!” “Okay,” “Tired,” “Not bad,” etc. (somehow they are not aware of and/or are unable to appropriately use adjectives that describe their feelings).
All of these responses do not really answer the question. Over and over again, I find that students face difficulty responding to this simple question. Why is this so?

Exploring the phenomenon

Although the sense of belonging (to love and be loved by others) is one of our fundamental needs, society have often discouraged the free expression of feelings. This phenomenon is seen across cultures and gender – in both western and eastern societies, and in both men and women (although there may be slight difference in the level of expression encouraged and allowed in different groups).

The industrial-knowledge (transition) society expects individuals to be emotionally sturdy. The new world order requires that we conceal deep-seated feelings. There is no reward in revealing emotions. It is important to do so as a competitive edge over others who are constantly competing for the same resources. Children learn early in life to be “emotionless” and are rewarded for the same. Parents and teachers do not spend time exploring children’s feelings. They simply don’t talk about them enough.

Hence, when suddenly asked, “How do you feel?” students find it very difficult to explore their own subjective-inner experiences and express them freely.

Does it matter?

Is there a valid reason to be pre-occupied with getting an answer for the question, “How do you feel?” from students in the classroom? Yes there is! In fact, it is imperative that we teach students how to answer the question. An example would help us to understand the reason more clearly.

When I was admitted in the hospital to be treated for food poisoning, the doctor on duty kept asking me “How do you feel (physically) now?” Although doctors have concrete ways of finding out how a patient’s body is doing, he or she does not undermine the importance of collecting a richer form of data to augment the existing medical report(s). They look at medical reports in the context of self-reported subjective-experiences of patients. In fact doctors rely on how patients say they feel (physically) to proceed with their final diagnosis and prognosis. This helps them to reduce the possibilities of making erroneous judgment about a particular medical condition.

Teachers who collect additional data about students’ feelings would be in a better position to design effective instructional environments that are highly conducive for learning. However, to make this a possibility, they will first need to encourage their students to engage in free expression of feelings. They could do this by asking, “How do you feel today?”

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