Implications of Brain Research

Through this school year, we have investigated the idea of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to literally change.  Brain research tells us that it is possible to change learning, mindset and even intelligence.  It is when we use and process information in the prefrontal cortex—learning happens and encodes to long term memory!  We have learned how stress inhibits learning and self-confidence.  Judy Willis, Edutopia 2012, shared that when studying neuroimaging scan of students in states of boredom, frustration and sustained stress within the classroom the brain increases the metabolic state and blocks processing in the prefrontal cortex.  Knowing these facts makes you a powerful change agent for students.

Building on these ideas, an article from Education World on October 26, 2016, there are twelve principles or ideas that can help us make small changes in our instruction. Educators can change ways we plan and execute lessons to make a HUGE impact. Here are my five favorite to share.

  1. The brain is a parallel processor. This means that thoughts, experiences and emotions are being processed simultaneously within the brain.  This matters because it is a reminder that environment and social/emotional needs must be considered and met to ensure optimal learning. We cannot control the students’ environment but we can make sure our school and classrooms are safe and inviting.
  2. Learning engages the entire body and physiology. Increasing active movement will increase engagement and neural activity.  Increase student to student interaction to increase listening and speaking while reading and writing which will boost sensory input. Engaging students in movement, gestures, games, etc. will increase their neural input and increase the brain’s ability to put the information in long term memory.
  3. The brain is constantly searching for meaning and is instinctive. Begin your lessons with a question, problem or scenario that requires students to figure something out or discover.  Even using photographs to spark intrigue will increase the brain’s innate search for meaning and to seek answers.  When the brain is seeking meaning—engagement is present.
  4. The brain searches for patterns. Repetition is crucial because it helps students organize and put things in order.  In addition, explicitly teaching a concept and then having students discover or apply information repetitively will help them develop a pattern of thinking.  When you hear the term layering it refers to teaching a concept and then providing the concept in a different way which causes the brain to first seek meaning and then organize this information by the previous pattern learned. This causes students to access information from memory and reuse it in a different way which is problem solving at the highest level.
  5. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat. We must challenge our students with complex text and content but remember that scaffolding them and supporting them will keep the threats limited and engagement guaranteed.  (Keep the carrot dangling in front of them)

Wonder, graphics, student interaction, and movement all help increase student engagement and increase the ability to process information.  Using what we know about the brain helps us plan lessons to optimally produce student learning.  Remember explicit instructions and modeling help to lay the foundation of learning. Providing students a chance to interact and talk helps to make the concepts make sense.  The use of graphics, movement and games will increase the brain’s ability to remember and retrieve the information.  Increasing the challenge or layering new ideas upon patterns of learning helps students develop connections and deepen learning so that it is processed to long term memory and becomes automatic.

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