Perspectives on Feeling: Language and Living
Language and Feeling
On Monday I once again introduced new words to help students communicate their feelings. This time, I am working with Intermediate ESOL Kindergarteners. More than my 2nd grade English Only students, these children’s language limitation is influenced by two aspects of their lives: English is their second language, and they have only been in the world for 5-7 years.
When I asked them about feelings, three adjectives came to the table: happy, sad and mad. Even after I introduced ‘angry’, they still called it mad.
Naming and Feeling
However, more than the language teacher, the idea that children – or adults, for that matter – resort to three single words when referring to their feelings bothers the Psychoanalyst in me. It makes me think of the enormous range of feelings that are being boxed into three categories and not being fully experienced. And it makes me think of an anecdote my mother tells me from when I was very young: I think it was my first day of school, and I told my mom I did not want to go. When asked why, I answered: “I have a stomachache”. “Duchinha, she said, what you are feeling is not stomachache. It is anxiety.” I was probably about 3 years old when ‘anxiety’ was introduced to me as a name for the stomachache I felt when something new and somewhat scary was about to take place.
For most students I work with, that stomachache remains a stomachache, and the child often stays home, not dealing with the anxiety and missing important learning experiences – both from school and from the possibilities that naming our feelings opens in our lives.
Not Seeing, Not Feeling?
During my Masters of Arts in Teaching at George Fox University, one of my instructors shared her experience with students from a population similar to the one I work with. Rather than shallow feeling recognition, however, her kindergarteners had a rather limited perception of their possibilities for entertainment. According to her, the question “What did you do this weekend” always yielded with the same “I went to the park.” No depth, no novelty, no emotional engagement or learning.
She began a study in her classroom using Cynthia Rylant’s “Night in the Country” to explore all the wealth of life that exists in the field around a home in the country, and the sounds that can be heard, which represent such life.
Learning and Feeling
After bringing children’s attention to how the author uses her senses, she urged her students to do the same. The result was a brilliant, sensitive compilation of experiences from her kindergarteners. I am positive that those children found a new perspective for their weekends on the park.
Hopefully, by the end of this week my students will understand a little better the differences among anxious, worried, angry and frustrated.