The Influence of Social Factors on Learning

As devastating as Hurricane Sandy has been for New York City, one very small good thing (in a selfish sense) is that it has given me the time to finally write a post for this blog! I’ve got a number of interesting articles and research Evernoted that connect to our conceptual framework of schools as ecosystems I’ve been itching to delve into.

A recent article from Annie Murphy Paul in the NYTimes on “the powerful influence that social factors can have on intelligence” adds some strong support to one our premises of a school as an ecosystem: children’s achievement is heavily influenced by their environment.

She points out research demonstrating that cognition can be impacted by even a slight reinforcement of stereotypes or of negative self-perceptions. Furthermore, children’s performance on IQ tests can be impacted by recent violent events within their communities.

Any teacher who has worked with children living in environments of “toxic stress” witnesses the effect  on their academic and behavioral performance every single day. It’s literally written in their faces and body language. Incidentally, ASCD Express recently published a piece I wrote on how to work with students experiencing toxic stress using therapeutic conversational techniques. I hope teachers find this advice helpful.

Murphy Paul’s advice based on the social impact on intelligence is that “we should replace high-stakes, one-shot tests with the kind of unobtrusive and ongoing assessments that give teachers and parents a more accurate sense of children’s true abilities. We should also put in place techniques for reducing anxiety and building self-confidence that take advantage of our social natures. And we should ensure that the social climate at our children’s schools is one of warmth and trust, not competition and exclusion.”

Trenchant advice. It’s about time we began acknowledging the tremendous impact that the immediate environment has on children and more carefully constructed not only an environment of warmth, trust, and positive, nurturing relationships, but moreover construct physical environments carefully designed with a child’s well-being and comfort in mind.

One thought on “The Influence of Social Factors on Learning

  1. This is great advice. We need to consider all sorts of factors that aren't obviously “educational”, both in school and out. In my fantasy world, our schools of education would be replaced by schools of “Educational Public Health”; just as public health factors have far more impact on health outcomes than “medicine”, educational factors beyond the curriculum and the teacher have far more impact on educational outcomes. (


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