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.