[Teaching Unpacked] Trauma-Informed Experiential Learning

At the very heart of education is its transformative role. That is, education should address more than the intellectual needs of learners. It should be a transformative process – one that leads learners to see the value of what they have learned first-hand. 

Only after this has been achieved can learners become people of agency and empathy. 

Trauma-informed experiential learning is one of the ways to achieve this goal. Trauma-informed experiential learning takes abstract concepts and makes them actionable for students. 

Not only does this learning and teaching methodology lead to better learning outcomes but, informed by the effects of traumatic experiences, it provides learners with emotional safety in a learning environment. 

Designing Real-World Lessons Without Eliciting Trauma

Trauma is a universal experience. We have all undergone it to some extent. The effects of trauma vary from one student to another. But, as educators, we ought to assume that these effects will be lasting. 

Knowing that trauma exists and can occur in students is something we need to consider. Traumatic experiences can lead to ineffective learning. This can also lead to empathy towards undesirable examples. 

Thus, we must design our lessons in a way that provides emotional safety. For this, we need to mitigate a phenomenon known as curriculum violence.

Curriculum Violence

Curriculum violence can have lasting effects on a learner. It occurs when means of psychological, emotional, and intellectual harm are within the educational system or curriculum. 

The signs of curriculum violence are subtle. To an extent, it’s legitimized as a means to teach. All over the United States, lessons about the dark parts of history are still taught through re-enactment and polarization. As a result, learners become emotionally affected by identifying with certain personas. 

It does not stop there. Curriculum violence also occurs when students are trained to hold polarizing opinions about certain events. 

Teaching Tips To Teach Real-World Lessons Without Curriculum Violence

It’s our job as educators to fill out lesson plans with the right kind of activities and lessons – those that aim at agency and understanding. 

Here are two teaching tips that can aid our teacher prep: 

Design Activities for the Understanding of an Abstract Concept

Ultimately, much of what we teach is abstract. It is our job to bring such abstract concepts down to the level of action and understanding. 

One way to do this is to plan lessons around, not events, but general ideas. For example, for a topic like the Cold War, it may be helpful to plan around the idea of nuclear deterrence. 

Do Away With Simulations Whenever Possible

Simulations and reenactments can be helpful. But, in most cases, they can lead learners to identify with certain personas. These personas may be associated with trauma and distress. An example of such a persona would be an enslaved individual. 

Through self-identification, a learner can experience the traumatic emotions of a slave. 

To Effectively Teach Real-World Lessons, Teach With Care

As educators, we need to determine the psychological and emotional capacities of our learners. We need to do this at every step of their learning process. 

Our lesson plans must do away with practices that can create psychological and emotional distress in our learners. 

If we can do this, our students will be in the right headspace to appreciate the lessons we teach them.