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Tips for Using Brain-based Research to Strengthen Teaching & Learning

Recent developments in brain research have led to many implications for strengthening teaching and learning. While the study of the way our brain learns is incredibly fascinating, the purpose of this document is to translate some of that information into tips that can be used in our classrooms. According to author Eric Jensen, there are six broad categories of recommendations.

1. Enrich Learning Environments

Learning is improved in enriched environments and diminished in impoverished environments. Enriched environments are established through:

  • appropriate challenge. As you introduce new content, increase the difficulty over time, vary the resources, and provide novelty in your instructional strategies.
  • timely feedback. In order for feedback to enrich the learning environment, it must be specific and learner controlled whenever possible. Toward this end, there are several possibilities, such as having posted criteria for performance, using a written checklist, checking against personal goals, etc.

2. Get and Maintain Attention

Every moment, there is a myriad of stimuli to which an individual could attend. In order to get and maintain attention to the learning environment, it is important to:

  • switch gears with a strong contrast from what you were just doing. For example: if you were having students engage in quiet, reflective work, switch to a group activity with lots of movement.
  • provide students time to process the material you've just covered. Brain research indicates that you can either have the students' attention or you can enable them to make meaning, but not both at the same time.

3. Stimulate Emotions

Emotions are important in learning situations because they drive attention, establish personal meaning and have their own memory pathways. Introduce emotions in your classroom by:

  • creating a safe environment to express emotions
  • helping to create positive emotional states through classroom success, friendships, celebrations, music, fun, acknowledgments, etc.
  • using debates or dialogs to address controversies
  • engaging students in a personal way through journals, discussion, sharing, personal stories, etc.

4. Motivation and Rewards

Teachers everywhere talk about their students' motivation or (seemingly) lack thereof! Research strongly suggests that intrinsic motivation stems from having compelling goals, positive beliefs and emotions about your abilities, and striving to relate new learning to former learning. Intrinsic motivation is more likely to emerge when you:

  • eliminate threats by establishing ground rules, describe expectations, etc.
  • promote positive self-images and self-confidence in students. You might encourage the use of affirmations, acknowledge students' successes, teamwork, etc.
  • provide feedback. Again, this is accomplished in many ways, including developing rubrics and sharing them with students, engaging in peer editing/review, etc.

5. Make Meaning

To make meaning, the brain needs relevance, emotion, context, and patterns. Further, the greater the number of different links and associations, the more dendrite pathways are formed. To help the brain make meaning:

  • link new learning to "old mental hooks" through the use of examples, stories, etc.
  • use cooperative/collaborative learning strategies

To assist the brain in developing patterns:

  • use hands-on, experiential, and relevant activities
  • ask "how" questions, because they draw out the patterns as the student relates the steps in the process

6. Engage Memory and Recall

A primary way to trigger recall is by association, which includes the corresponding sights, smells, sounds, places, and emotions. To promote memory and recall:

  • chunk/group ideas versus covering material in a "piecemeal" way
  • conduct oral/written reviews often
  • intersperse coverage of material with intervals for reflection
  • arrange the information in a structured and meaningful way
  • cover the whole, then the parts

References

Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the Brain in Mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 1998. Print.

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