12 January, 2009


(Preparing the student’s mind for learning)

The following 21 brain-compatible teaching practices offer teachers specific strategies to maximize their students’ learning:

1. Immediately engage the attention of learners when they come into the classroom. The activities need to be of high interest and anchored in benchmarks or standard. They can be used to build readiness for a lesson about to be taught or review a previously taught concept. (The brain remembers best what comes first and next what comes last. Information lingers in the sensory memory only ¾ of a second. Then information is either forgotten or sent to short term memory. If the teacher does not engage the attention of the learner, something else will!)
2. Routinely post lesson outcomes, benchmarks, or standards in a specific place on the chalkboard so students can refer to these. An agenda for the day and homework assignments should also have a regular place on the board. (Advance organizers trigger attention and are linked to promoting memory.)
3. Use state standards to design curriculum and instruction and assess student work. (Research indicates that high performing, high poverty schools implemented this practice with notable results. Making the brain aware of performance targets increases attention.)
4. Involve students in active learning experiences that engage a variety of learning channels: auditory, visual, kinaesthetic. Seek ways to structure activities so that students may have an opportunity to use a variety of “intelligences” (visual-spatial, mathematical-logical, verbal-linguistic, musical, bodily kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.) (We remember only 10% to 20% of what we hear. Active involvement focuses attention and increase the probability that students will remember what they have “rehearsed.”)
5. Engage students in learning tasks, such as experiments or experiential activities that require them to actively construct meaning. (The brain actually forms new neural connections when it is actively engaged in meaning “meaning making” based on experiences.)
6. Chunk curriculum content appropriate to the developmental age of the learner. (The capacity of short-term memory appears to develop with developmental age. This understanding has major implications for the design and delivery of curriculum.)
7. Change activities for at least 4 or 5 times within the context of a lesson. For example, students may be first be actively engaged in a warm-up activity, report out, experience direct instruction , create a graphic organizer to summarize learning, stand, pair and share their work (with other students), and respond to a prompt in their learning journals. (The more “firsts” and “lasts” within a lesson, the more memorable its content.)
8. Provide opportunities for meaningful “rehearsal” or practice after initial content has been introduced. Periodically provide review activities to distribute rehearsal opportunities over time. (The more opportunities a student has to meaningfully rehearse, the greater the chance that information will move from short-term to long-term memory. Providing rehearsal opportunities using a variety of learning channels will maximize the probability that long-term retention will occur.)
9. Structure opportunities for movement during learning experiences. (Movement provides oxygen to the brain, increases attention, and in some cases, integrates communication between the right and left hemispheres.)
10. Seek opportunities to integrate the curriculum. For example, in the Dear America series, students read autobiographical accounts written by fictional characters based on actual historical events. So history comes alive in a language-arts context. (Subjects are not found in isolation in the real world. Long-term memory stores information in networks of association. The more “associations” or connections a student has with a particular fact or concept, the more easily that information can be recalled.)
11. Use humour related to content. For example, concepts may be taught using a cartoon lecture. (Humour increases retention up to 15 %!)
12. Engage students in a variety of tasks that require higher order thinking skills. (Analysis, synthesis, and evaluation tasks require students to access and use remembered information to foster new neural connections in the brain.)
13. Provide for a variety of flexible grouping contexts that engage students in working with different classmates. (Much learning occurs through social interaction. Students can receive instruction appropriate to their learning needs and pace in small group settings. As students master academic content, they simultaneously develop skills in working with, and appreciating, others. For many students, a small group setting reduces anxiety.)
14. Assign and grade relevant homework that extends rehearsal opportunities and reflects how content will ultimately be assessed. (Students learn more when they complete homework that is graded, commented upon, and discussed by their teachers.) Whenever possible, engage students in developing rubrics to assess their work. This increase their awareness of key attributes of quality work, and lends credibility and authenticity to the grading process.
15. Match instruction and assessment practices consistent with how standards and bench marks ultimately will be assessed and the setting in which assessment will occur. (Research on “state dependence” indicates that the content will be most easily recalled when it is assessed under the same conditions as when it was originally learned.)
16. Use authentic and assessment measures. Engage students in applying new and recent learning in a real world context. (The brain remembers based on what is embedded in a particular context. For example, to remember what one had for dinner last Saturday night, most people will have to first remember where they were.)
17. Provide opportunities for students to summarize their learning in written or verbal form and communicate them to others. (Summarizing strengthens neural connections. When students “rehearse” through reciprocal teaching, retention is enhanced 65% to 90 %!)
18. Monitor and invite students to monitor their own progress. (Self-monitoring and feedback can be a source for intrinsic motivation and may increase attention and focus.)
19. Select assignments that are challenging and interesting. Provide a support to help students achieve success in a psychologically safe environment. (The brain learns best in an atmosphere of “high challenge and low threat”.)
20. Create a learning environment where students perceive that they are:
• Safe from physical, verbal, or psychological harm;
• Free to experiment and take risks when learning;
• “connected” in their relationships with others –including the teachers and other students; and
• Valued members of the class.
(Emotions drive attention which drives learning and memory. If students feel safe and cared for, if teachers and others are responsive to their needs, their ability to focus and learn will be enhanced.)
21. Encourage parents to stimulate their children’s intellectual development and to provide a caring, responsive climate in the home. For instance, teachers can ask parents to help their child rehearse a report presentation to be given in a class, or discuss the results of a recent class science experiment. (Environment plays a key role in development and intelligence. Verbal interaction with children, for example, has a direct impact on language and vocabulary development. A caring responsive climate contributes to the development of a child’s sense of self-esteem.)