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What is Brain-Based Learning? Part 3 Strategies 7 - 10

Written by Eric Jensen

Brain-Based Education is the purposeful engagement of strategies that apply to how our brain works in the context of education.

Brain-based education is actually a “no-brainer.” Here’s a simple, but essential premise: the brain is intimately involved in, and connected with, everything educators and students do at school. Any disconnect is a recipe for frustration and potentially disaster. Brain-based education is best understood in three words: engagement, strategies and principles. You must engage your learners and do it with strategies that are based on real science. Below are Strategies 4 through 6.

Principle to Strategy Number Seven

The role of the arts in schools continues to be under great scrutiny. But five neuroscience departments at five universities (Oregon, Harvard, Michigan, Dartmouth and Stanford) have recently completed projects studying the impact of arts on the brain. The results suggest that arts are far better than earlier believed. They show that certain arts boost attention, working memory, and visual spatial skills. Other arts such as dance, theater and drama boost social skills, empathy, timing, patience, verbal memory and other transferable life skills.

Practical school application: Make arts mandatory and give students the choice of several, and support with expert teachers and the time to excel at it. Right now, evidence suggests that you get the most value from 30 to 60 minutes a day, three to five days a week. Arts support the development of the brain’s academic operating systems in ways that provide many transferable life skills.

Principle to Strategy Number Eight

Humans have the remarkable capacity to display many emotions, but only six of them are “hard wired,” or built in at birth. This is profound because it tells us that unless children get these emotional states taught to them early (ages 0-3), when they enter school, they’ll be emotionally narrow. Kids rarely ever get the emotional skills built in to be ready for school. This leads to more discipline problems and weakened cognitive skills in school. This means we’ll have kids at school who do not understand appropriate emotional responses (e.g. cooperation, trust, shame and humility) unless we teach them at school. Many kids are not getting these taught at home. You class should offer quick, daily skill-building with blended-in-daily practice.

Otherwise students will misbehave, not understand directions, fail to be respectful to teachers and show no empathy when others are in pain. There are more early childhood kids in day care (60-80 percent) today compared with two generations ago (10-12 percent). This is also profound because out of the possible hundreds of emotional states, only a few are good for learning (e.g. anticipation, curiosity, suspicion, confusion). Most states are, in fact, bad for learning.

Practical school application: This suggests two things. One, we must teach appropriate emotional states as life skills (e.g. honor, patience, forgiveness and empathy) and, second, it’s important to read and manage the other emotional states in the classroom. In good states, students learn well and behave better. Insist that teachers build social skills into every lesson. Ask that they use the social structures that are advocated in cooperative learning programs every day. The better the social skills, the better the academics. Many good programs are in books, workshops and online. Why put effort into this area? Kids who learn patience, attention, empathy and cooperation will be better students.

Principle to Strategy Number Nine

There have been stunning strides in rehabilitation of brain-based disorders, including Asperger’s, learning delays, dyslexia and autism. The discovery that aggressive behavioral therapies, new drugs and revolutionary stem cell implantation can be used to influence, regulate and repair brain-based disorders has been amazing. Innovations suggest that special education students may be able to improve far more than we earlier thought.

Practical school application: Make sure all teachers (not just special ed) learn the latest in dealing with special education learning delay recovery. Most kids can be brought back into regular ed classes, but not with inclusion-only strategies. It takes consistent hour-a-day skill-building or the student won’t change. Learn the right skills and go to it 3-5 days a week.

Principle to Strategy Number Ten

The recent brain/mind discovery that even memories are not fixed but, instead, are quite malleable is powerful. Every time you retrieve a memory, it goes into a volatile, flex state in which it is temporarily reorganized. This is highly relevant for teachers and administrators who are responsible for student learning and classroom testing. Every time students review, they might change their memory (and often do). Yet, without review, they are less likely to recall their learning. It suggests that teachers use several strategies to continually strengthen memory over time instead of assuming that once learned, the memory is preserved.

Practical school application: First, teachers should review the content halfway between the original learning and the test. If content is taught Monday and tested on Friday, then review should be on Wednesday. Second, teachers should mediate the review process with students through structured reviews such as written quizzes or group work that ensures quality control. Otherwise the material is more likely to get confused and test scores drop.

Brain-Based Education Insider

This is a new paradigm which establishes connections between brain function and educational practice. A field has emerged known as “brain-based” education and it has now been well over 20 years since this “connect the dots” approach began. In a nutshell, brain-based education says, “Everything we do uses our brain; let’s learn more about it and apply that knowledge.”

If your question was, “Are the approaches and strategies based on solid research from brain-related disciplines or are they based on myths, a well-meaning mentor teacher or from ‘junk science?’”, now you know the answer. We would expect an educator to be able to support the use of a particular classroom strategy with a scientific reasoning or studies.

Each educator ought to be professional enough to say, “Here’s why I do what I do.” I would ask: Is the person actually engaged in using what they know, or simply having knowledge about it, but not actually using it? Are they using strategies based on the science of how our brain works? Brain-based education is about the professionalism of knowing why one strategy is used over another. The science is based on what we know about how our brain works.