You’re not alone if you've ever looked at your son and wondered, "What’s going on inside his head?" or scolded your daughter for her actions, asking, "What were you thinking?!" Parents and educators worldwide have asked questions like these, and neuroscience researchers have uncovered some interesting answers about the human brain and how we learn.
Brain-Based Learning and Neuroeducation
According to Merriam-Webster, learning is "the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something." This makes sense. It's what we do, we teachers and Learning Coaches. Learning is what we're all about.
Neuroscience, on the other hand, is "the scientific study of nerves and especially of how nerves affect learning and behavior." The nerves, we know from studying science, are controlled by the command center we call a brain. When we join neuroscience and learning together, the connections have a direct impact on education. While neuroeducation may sound lofty, it simply means the interdisciplinary study of the mind, the brain, and its function, as well as individual education and learning.
Research into the brain's role in learning is not new. Psychophysiology and educational neuroscience are just two of the many scientific disciplines that conduct research into how the brain functions when learning. Books like Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind and Arts with the Brain in Mind were first published in the late 1990s, and they remain relevant today. Howard Gardner's discussions of multiple intelligences have influenced teachers since 1983. By applying and studying various learning modalities, researchers can guide teachers toward using the best brain-based learning(opens in a new tab) methods for introducing new material.
What does the brain do while learning?
A key word in brain research is neuroplasticity. Put simply, it means that the brain changes. Students can learn how to learn—and then they can apply this skill and learn even more. Even memories can change. Each time a student reviews material, the brain strengthens and clarifies it. Lifelong learning keeps the brain active, and keeping the brain active makes lifelong learning possible.
How does the learning brain work?
The brain is a complex organism affected by both nature and nurture. Environmental factors, social conditions, and rewards or positive support play important roles in effective learning.
Learning involves the entire being(opens in a new tab), both physical and emotional. A challenge excites and enhances growth; perception of threat, on the other hand, inhibits progress. Stretching your abilities by tackling a problem that requires high-level reasoning inspires and excites the ever-changing brain. Fear or discomfort does just the opposite, closing down the potential for learning.
Memory for facts is different from memory for processes. For example, mastery of multiplication facts can be bolstered through repetition and memorization. In addition to practice, absorbing a process such as long division requires a more global understanding of concepts, numbers, language, and visual-spatial application.
How can Learning Coaches apply neuroscience research?
Language development starts early and continues throughout a lifetime. Read aloud to young children; engage them in conversation to practice using language, both new and familiar. Keep reading together even after children start reading on their own.
While learning, stop periodically to analyze and review. Teachers sometimes apply a "10:2" structure: work for ten minutes, then take two minutes to focus on what’s been learned. If the material is more complex, shorten the time between review periods. Taking a break refreshes the mind, while the review reinforces the lesson. The total time spent on a lesson may be longer, but the learning will be strengthened.
Encourage connections to aid memory. Rhyming sounds, word structure, and predictable patterns support emerging reading skills. Associations between a fiction story and real life often strengthen comprehension of the story. Historical parallels can help students remember what happened and understand causes and effects of major events.