Using brainbased teaching strategies to optimize learning – some helpful hints
©Leslie O. Wilson – E-mail
Specifically what are some of the things we can do to utilize some of the principles of educational neuroscience? Here are some suggestions for optimizing learning through awareness of:
1. Classroom climate – If you want your students to think, make the learning environment and instructional processes SAFE! The neocortex is the largest portion of the human brain, while some thinking occurs in the limbic region, the majority of complex thought, and memory storage occurs in the neocortex. Through scientific testing we now know that the neocortex doesn’t function properly when humans are stressed or afraid. Create a classroom environment that is safe – one where it is safe to make mistakes and take academic risks, and certainly one were students are safe from bullies.
2. Stress reduction – Stress is also an enemy of efficient thinking. Make sure students know how to reduce stress – teach stress reduction and relaxation exercises and try to make your classroom stress free.
3. Metacognition – Allow students opportunities to examine their own metacognitive structures. In other words, create a classroom where students are allowed to think and explore their own thinking and learning patterns, – how they think and learn best. Teach them about the brain and its functions and about different study skills and retention methods. Allow students the opportunities to develop and create their own learning and study techniques.
4. Environments – Allow students the opportunity to optimize their learning by creating different learning environments for different types of activities. Learn to use different types of lighting, music, or aromas, or silence to create different or enriched learning environments. Music can stimulate or relax listeners and can induce compatible brain wave patterns that enhance learning and retention. The effects of aromas on learning responses are just being investigated and documented. Learn how these environmental elements can aid learning. Also share things like this simple study skill. If a student had tests close together in time, it is best to study different materials in different spaces or in different ways, even if it is as simple as changing sitting positions. That way when he or she attempts to recall material, they can remember that materials were studied in a different place or in a different sitting position.
5. Chunking information – Learn to pace and chunk material so that it fits the cognitive structure of your audience. The average retention chunk that can be held by the human brain is seven bites of information. This can vary from human to human by + or – two, 5-9 bites. Organize material being presented so that students have opportunities to encode information in different ways and channel it into the long-term memory.
6. Individual differences – Be willing to make allowances for individual differences. Learn about learning disabilities, modalities, learning styles, and multiple intelligences. Use a variety of techniques based on these concepts and create instructional bridges from one intelligence into another or from one learning style into another. And be sure to provide instructional delivery so that it meets different learner modalities – auditory, visual, and kinesthetic/tactile. Try to vary and combine these so that you are using all three methods frequently.
7. Accessing prior knowledge – Whenever possible, make what you teach relevant to the lives of your students. Show them how they can use the information or skills you are teaching. We learn and retain material, processes, and information that we perceive as useful, relevant, or of personal worth or that is tethered to other memories.
8. Right & left hemisphere activities – While we are whole brain creatures, our brain hemispheres have different functions. Use activities that engage and use both hemispheres of the brain. Vary thought processes so that you are using both convergent and divergent thought processes, the rational and linear, combined with intuitive and creative thought processes.
9. Varying experiences – Provide experiences that require reflection, experiential learning, and concrete experience and/or application. Create bridges to abstract thought using common experiences, experiential learning, personal reflection, metaphors, similes and analogies. Even when cognitively capable of abstract thought, processes, or connections many learners must have concrete or experiential entry into abstractions in order not to become frustrated. (This is true for many adult learners as well.) Have students practice techniques where they explain things to others using metaphors, similes and analogies, or where they seek common connections through personal experiences. This helps to facilitate communication skills as well as creating bridges for understanding.
10. Group work minimizes risk – At individual levels, competition frequently kills originality and creativity. Foster risk-taking behaviors when you want students to come up with original answers and products. Make it safe to fail, revise and try again. Please remember that competition at group levels is much less threatening.
11. Down time – Be willing to give students appropriate time in which to be creative and reflective. Creative thought cannot be turned on and off like a switch. It requires time to dream about and develop ideas. Be willing to give students the gift of time.
12. Movement makes the abstract concrete – Allow students opportunities to physically encode information. This means having students move, talk, walk, handle, sing, rhyme, dance, tap out, write, dramatize and so forth, so that they are creating many different pathways to their memories.
13. Pair-share pattern-making – Allow students opportunities to construct and discover patterns by themselves. Give them opportunities to share discovered patterns with others.
14. Reflection – Provide an environment where students find it safe enough to make mistakes. Some of life’s most valuable lessons come making and attempting to rectify mistakes. Encourage students to reflect on their mistakes and learn from them.
15. Teaching & learning styles – Vary your teaching techniques – mixing and combining cognitive, affective, and physical activities and learning modalities – (auditory, visual and kinesthetic (haptic, digital, tactile) and multimodal preferences).
16. Memory- enhancing activities – If you want students to remember something, make it memorable. (music, movement, drama, costumes, hats, art work, mind maps, advanced organizers.)
17. Retention increases through use – Retention is increased when there are opportunities for students to rehearse learned material, through active discussion, and by teaching and/or tutoring others.