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10 Brain Tips To Teach and Learn

My nat­ural rhythms are in cycle with the school cal­en­dar. Jan­u­ary 1st takes a back seat to my new year, which gets ush­ered in with the month of Sep­tem­ber when there is crisp­ness in the air that grad­u­ally shakes off the slower, more relaxed pace of summer.Conveniently, my career in teach­ing meshes with my nat­ural cycli­cal year. And as this year draws to a close, I am re-energized by the pace of sum­mer, know­ing that any­thing may pop in to my mind as I engage in activ­i­ties not directly related to school. But before that hap­pens, I’d like to reflect on this past year, in par­tic­u­lar as it was my first year of blog­ging about the brain.

My inter­est in the brain stems from want­ing to bet­ter under­stand both how to make school more palat­able for stu­dents, and pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment more mean­ing­ful for fac­ulty. To that end, I began my Neu­rons Fir­ing blog in April, 2007, have been doing a lot of read­ing, and been attend­ing work­shops and con­fer­ences, includ­ing Learn­ing & the Brain.

If you agree that our brains are designed for learn­ing, then as edu­ca­tors it is incum­bent upon us to be look­ing for ways to max­i­mize the learn­ing process for each of our stu­dents, as well as for our­selves. Some of what fol­lows is sim­ply com­mon sense, but I’ve learned that all of it has a sci­en­tific basis in our brains.

1. Review and 2. Reflec­tion are two means for think­ing about what is being learned. Review can be done in the moments after a ques­tion is posed, a com­ment is made, a pas­sage is read, an activ­ity is done, or direc­tions are given, pro­vid­ing ample time to think about what has taken place, process the infor­ma­tion and respond accord­ingly. Review is also what should be done peri­od­i­cally over the course of the year, so that stu­dents have the oppor­tu­nity to revisit, relearn, clar­ify and con­sol­i­date their learn­ing to mem­ory. Mar­ilee Sprenger, based upon research by Jeb Schenck, notes that “spac­ing reviews through­out the learn­ing and increas­ing the time between them grad­u­ally allows long-term net­works to be strength­ened… the tim­ing between repeated reviews can sig­nif­i­cantly affect how much infor­ma­tion is retained.

Reflec­tion encom­passes not only a response to actual mate­r­ial but also think­ing about how one learns. It is 3. Metacog­ni­tion, and with each iter­a­tion you learn more about your­self as a learner. We empower our stu­dents and our­selves when we take the time for reflec­tion, because the more we under­stand about how we each learn, the bet­ter we can become at learn­ing. Accord­ing to Sprenger, “Metacog­ni­tion involves two phases. The first is knowl­edge about cog­ni­tion or think­ing about our think­ing. The sec­ond is mon­i­tor­ing and reg­u­lat­ing cog­ni­tive processes.

For me, blog­ging has been a con­tin­ual process of review and reflec­tion. In the course of over 170 posts to date, I con­tin­u­ally revisit top­ics, make con­nec­tions, and write about my own course of learn­ing. As teach­ers, ide­ally we should be review­ing and reflect­ing on lessons, course mate­ri­als, and inter­ac­tions with stu­dents, both as a means of improv­ing them as well as learn­ing from what worked or did not work.

4. Sleep is another way to con­sol­i­date learn­ing, which is one rea­son get­ting a full night of unin­ter­rupted sleep is impor­tant. Of course, doing so also helps us the next day to have more energy and patience, which then helps us with our atten­tion con­trol. In fact, cou­ple suf­fi­cient sleep with wak­ing up to a healthy break­fast, and you are pre­pared to tackle the day.

Proper 5. Nutri­tion keeps our sys­tems func­tion­ing closer to their peak by sta­bi­liz­ing var­i­ous lev­els of hor­mones and chem­i­cals. All of this holds equally true for stu­dents as well as teachers!

We all have our own life sto­ries, and being exposed to some­thing new tends to stick bet­ter if we have some­thing else to asso­ciate it with or if it is suf­fi­ciently unusual that it stands out on its own. Tak­ing advan­tage of stu­dent 6. Prior Knowl­edge prob­a­bly requires min­i­mal effort on the part of the teacher, but yields big returns by engag­ing stu­dent inter­est as stu­dents con­sider new infor­ma­tion as it per­tains to them and their expe­ri­ences. This, in turn, can 7. Engage Emo­tions, which is the largest hook into learn­ing. We all tend to remem­ber things that get our blood boil­ing for bet­ter or for worse. The parts of the brain engaged in emo­tions include the small yet mighty amyg­dala, the hip­pocam­pus and the hypothalamus.

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