Newton, Douglas P. (2014) Thinking with Feeling London: Routledge

204 pages

Cost: £22.99

Douglas Newton combines scholarship and accessibility to produce a worthwhile addition to the literature on the relationship between thinking and feeling. He begins with a concise introduction to some of the issues in the interaction of cognition and emotion or, as he puts it, ‘sense and sensibility’. For more than two millennia, since Plato and through Descartes’ distinction between mind and body and emotion and reason, there has been a little room for the emotions in education. Newton argues that far from being unhappy bedfellows a coalition of emotion and reason is essential for productive thought.

The book is well organised and, following the introductory scene-setting, guides the reader through a series of chapters on how the emotions can be used to create positive learning environments. Newton presents a selection of frameworks for purposeful, productive thought, including deductive reasoning; causal understanding; creative thinking; wise thinking and critical thinking. These general categories of thought provide the subject of discussion in subsequent chapters. Newton poses the perennial question of why one lesson goes well one day but doesn’t even get off the ground on another day with another class. One reason for these differences is likely to be found in the differing relationships between emotions and mental processes; this, he suggests is something that teachers can plan for and manage. Chapter 3 provides an overview of some important aspects of moods and emotions, including memory, motivation, attention and communication and the simple proposition that “the emotional system can shape thought.” (p21). Emotions, it is suggested, can be recognised and regulated to foster productive thought.

Chapters 4 – 8 explore the frameworks in more detail and consider some ways in which the emotions can be harnessed to encourage thinking. Each chapter discusses the main elements of each framework and gives practical advice in the form of ‘forethought’, ‘action’ and ‘afterthought’ – planning, teaching and reflection – to create classes that enhance thinking and learning.

Newton tells us that the cold, logical reasoning of deductive thought is not as emotionless as we might we might think and that certain kinds of mood can promote productive thought. Whilst extreme moods, either elation or depression, are very likely to inhibit systematic reasoning, some milder moods, such as sadness, may enhance it. The emotions play an equally important role in the development of students’ understanding. Newton reminds us, echoing constructivism, that understanding cannot simply be given, it has to be constructed by individual learners. Whilst this might come easily to some, for others it can be intellectually, and emotionally, difficult, even a threat; it might, indeed, be considered ‘troublesome knowledge’. We are introduced to the notion of a ‘pedagogy for engagement’ and the possibility that negative emotions might lead to surface learning in which learners simply memorize information, whereas positive emotions might contribute to the development of deep learning and lasting understanding. Subsequent chapters on creative thought, critical thinking and practical wisdom use the same helpful formula to introduce readers to these concepts and suggest ways in which they can plan for and manage emotions to enhance learning.

Central to this text is Newton’s belief that whilst many lessons might involve happy accidents where things go well and the emotions and the intellect are in tune, good teachers will come to recognise the accidental and the serendipitous and make them intentional.

The book is not aimed at one particular audience but a wide range of education professionals, teacher trainers and trainee teachers will find something to challenge their ideas and stimulate their theories and practice of learning.

It could be argued that the basic principle of this book is simply ‘common sense; they might be right. Undoubtedly, we might find it difficult to develop productive thought when we have just fallen in love or we’re in a road-rage incident but this book takes us beyond common-sense understandings to serious consideration of the emotions in fostering thinking and learning.

Peter Scales, Senior Lecturer in Education (University of Derby)