Fact One: Students learn in their own time
Human intelligence does not meet certain criteria at a certain age. Students can and will show a huge spectrum of cognitive abilities at the same age. Just because a student is a certain age, does not mean he/she should be expected to perform certain tasks that are deemed “age-appropriate”. We should be looking at each individual student for readiness, not at a standard or bracket (Degen, 2014).
Fact Two: The brain has a short attention span
“Students don’t learn if they are stressed-out, despondent, or otherwise distracted (Degan, 2014).” As teachers, we have to work to get our students into something called “flow” where they are so into what they are learning, that they get absorbed by it. It is in the state of “flow” that our students learn the most, and are able to maintain greater attention over time. Creativity and spontaneous curiosity lead the brain into a state of high retention and arousal. This allows a student to actively participate in challenging activities and higher cognitive tasks with great joy. Flow is the space between anxiety and boredom (Degan, 2014).
After a mere 10 minutes, the brain looses focus. In order to maintain focus, you must actively engage students in a task that engrosses their emotions. Using 10-minute segments of information followed by emotional education allows students to continue learning for longer periods of time without checking out (Degan, 2014).
Fact Three: Students need to experience things in order to learn
Students need a rich and stimulating learning environment in order to be successful knowledge seekers and absorbers. Since students learn through experiencing things, it is our job to provide an environment in which this can occur. When students are given authentic opportunities to experience their own learning, they can reach “flow”. Chances to make sense of the world through experiences are invaluable to students. Not only is this best-practice, but it is essential for the absorption of deeper and more meaningful knowledge (Degan, 2014).
Fact Four: Students who experience chronic stress need special support
Chronic stress sends a person into a constant state of fight or flight. The individual is then extremely reactive, and reverts to poor decision-making skills and blocks out new learning (Degan, 2014). Stress is associated with health issues, school failure and delinquency in school (Creedon, 2011). When students are overwhelmed with the life they live in, it is up to us to help them cope. When cortisol levels are elevated by stressful situations, our brain struggles to differentiate between memorable items and trivial ones. This makes the accusation of new knowledge difficult. Endorphin release helps to counter the effects of stress on the brain. Through the use of music and arts in the classroom, teachers can help to counteract the effects of chronic stress (Creedon, 2011). Music and art education have been shown to “reduce stress, enhance readiness for learning, and enhance the emotional well-being of students (Creedon, 2011).”
Fact Five: Aerobic activity enhances performance
Early on in life, your brain in very sensitive to changes that occur when you are practicing and acquiring new skills. Trying to learn new skills later on in life is difficult, because complex motor skills are needed early on in order to develop procedural memory. Through continuous practice of a new motor skill, your brain structure truly changes. Studies have shown that a small amount of aerobic exercise prior to learning a new skill actually enhances your brains ability to absorb. Not only is exercise important when learning new motor skills, but also when learning new cognitive skills (Sousa, 2017, pg.
Fact Six: Mindset Matters
A person’s history has a profound effect on their cognitive abilities. We all possess something called out “self –concept”. A self-concept is how we view ourselves in the world we live in. This can either be positive or negative (and even in between) depending on our history. If a person is constantly being told negative things about their sense of self, and given negative feedback it leads to a negative sense of self. When a person is constantly reminded about all the things they are mastering, and given positive feedback, it leads to a positive self-concept. The type of feedback that teachers have given and continue to give has a dramatic effect on their students. When a student has developed a positive sense of self, they have a growth mindset and learn more readily. These students believe that learning and cognitive ability is not innate. Students with a fixed mindset think that there is no use in trying anymore, because they just aren’t smart enough and never will be. These students see it as you either got it or you don’t. The way your brain develops cognitively is highly reliant upon your sense of self (Sousa, 2017, pg. 75).
Fact Seven: Not everyone learns in the same way
As we grow as teachers we realize that not all students learn the same way. Students have differing opinions about what their ideal learning environment consists of and how they like to engage with and acquire new knowledge. “Evidence suggests that using multisensory activities that promote student engagement during a learning episode improves student learning and retention (Sousa, 2017 pg. 79).” If we use multi-sensory approached, all learners can be engaged. The theory is that certain genetic factors contribute to faster processing by specific neural networks. This leads to a sensory preference (Sousa, 2017 pg. 79).
Fact Eight: Standardized testing hurts learning
High-stakes testing is just that, high stakes. When teachers see a need to get students to pass an assessment, they begin to teach to the test. This inhibits the transfer of new knowledge by blocking deep learning. In order for our brains to move information from our working memory into our transfer knowledge, we must have meaningful learning that crosses subject matters and allows students to see the importance of the content in their futures. When skills are taught in isolation, they are non-transferable. Students stagnate within a single area, and cant use their new knowledge to enhance other areas of understanding (Sousa, 2017 pg. 185).
Fact Nine: Frontal Lobes Develop Over Time
Located at the front of your brain towards your forehead and behind the prefrontal cortex, lies your frontal lobe. This area of your brain develops slowly over time. It controls many things, including emotions. Since this part of your brain develops slowly, you can expect that young children have underdeveloped frontal lobes. This means that they are unlikely to have full control over their emotions. Full development of the frontal lobe does not happen until early adulthood. Problem solving, working memory and risk-management are also located in the frontal lobe. These skills are also acquired and developed over time until adulthood (EQ, 2006).
Fact Ten: Similarities can lead to retrieval problems
When teaching a new concept there is an overwhelming desire to connect to prior concepts. This is a great strategy, except when the concepts that are being noted, are too similar. The brain has a hard time telling the difference between items that are very analogous. This causes a retrieval problem. When new knowledge is mixed with similar preexisting knowledge, it is retrieved incorrectly. In order to avoid this confusion, it is best to teach about the key differences FIRST. The teacher should also be the one modeling the more complex examples to the students directly (Sousa, 2017 pg. 191).
How can Brain Knowledge Help Make me a Better Teacher?
Teaching is a complex art. New knowledge is always coming out, and it can be hard to know just what to do. There is one undeniable truth; the presence of brain related research is growing. With the growth of this fascinating knowledge, comes a new frontier for education. But how should we use our new knowledge to teach our students in the best way possible? The answer is simple, read about how the brain functions, and you will realize how easy it is to discern good and bad practices.
The brain of a child is completely unlike that of an adult. Although there are many similarities, they are still developing. From one day to the next, every child is developing at his/her own rate that has to do with genetics and environment. The age in which a child can cognitively be prepared for certain tasks is not something that is set in stone, neither is social emotional learning. Things such as past experiences and trauma can have massive impacts on a child’s ability to learn and stabilize. If a child has a lot of negative experiences, they can develop a low sense of self. This makes learning difficult. One thing that can help maximize learning is the use of music and art education. This helps the release of good hormones inside the brain that help to counteract negative effects. You can also boost a child’s sense of self by giving positive feedback, and boosting self-esteem. Teaching mindfulness can also be extremely helpful in developing a positive sense of self, leading to a more flexible growth mindset.
The brain also benefits from smaller bits of information being delivered at a time. Since our brains really have a short attention span for committing to new information, we must do our best to change the way we teach. By providing 10-minute lessons and brain breaks in between that engage the body, emotions and senses, we can allow new materials to permeate into long term transfer knowledge. Aerobic exercises and social/emotional learning open up the brain to absorb new learning, and allow students to relax into mindfulness state where learning can occur.
Educators also need to make sure they engage all learners by using multisensory methods to deliver content. Movement mixed with a sensory stimulating activity can reach all learners. Some students are genetically predisposition to learn better one way than another. By offering multi sensory instruction, you can address the needs of everyone you teach.
Through the use of brain research all educators can ensure that they are meeting the needs of their students. Brain research really is the cutting edge way we should be professionally developing ourselves to be better educators for every student. By applying my new knowledge, I will reach out to students through movement, a positive feedback model, growth mindset, multisensory education and small bits of non-similar information being delivered at once (Creedon, 2011), (Degen, 2014), (EQ, 2006) and (Sousa, 2017).
Creedon, D. W. (2011). Fight the stress of urban education with the ARTS: the arts not only build our brains, they insulate them from our stressful urban environments. Phi Delta Kappan, (6), 34. Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.251955187&site=eds-live&scope=site
Degen, R. J. (2014). Brain-Based Learning: The Neurological Findings About the Human Brain that Every Teacher should Know to be Effective. Amity Global Business Review, 9, 15–23. Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=94991546&site=eds-live&scope=site
EQ and the emotional curriculum. (2006). New York, N.Y. : Films Media Group, . Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01182a&AN=gcu.249876&site=eds-live&scope=site
Sousa, D. A. (2017). How the brain learns (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a Sage Publishing Company.