How brain-based learning makes a difference

Brain-based learning is the result of recent advances in modern neuroscience. A mere twenty years ago, scientists just had begun to explore the regions of the brain.

Now new techniques in brain-mapping have revealed an intricate look into the structure of sensory perception and locomotor functions, providing practitioners in fields like psychology and education increased understanding of how the brain works.

In short, educators who understand how the brain learns are best poised to boost cognitive development in their students. Effective teachers use brain-based learning in their instruction.

As it turns out, brain-based learning requires that teachers guide students in developing metacognitive skills, help them practice independence and autonomy, and recognize the need for social interaction in learning.

Brain-based learning is metacognition

Metacognition means thinking about how we think.

One of the first ways to develop metacognitive skills in the classroom is to teach students how the brain works. Explain the function of neurons, dendrites, and axons. When students understand that making connections increases their brain capacity, the children are often more motivated to learn and more successful when remembering.

Brain-based learning develops neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change and grow. Students who understand their responsibility for brain growth might reflect on questions like, “What is the main idea of today’s lesson?,” or “Are the notes I’m making going to be effective, and if not, what do I need?”

Students with strong metacognitive skills spend time thinking about how they learn, not just what they learn.

A need for independence and autonomy

The metacognitive process in brain-based learning produces greater independence and autonomy in learning than traditional instruction.

Not all students, however, become self-motivated learners. Many students spend thousands of hours in classrooms before high school graduation, but they remember little content and fewer strategies unless they have been taught to become independent learners. Memorization as a learning technique is far less effective than creating understanding.

Instead, students should develop strategies for the following:

  • Plan for and manage available time
  • Identify realistic learning goals and visualize them
  • Collaborate with other students
  • Be accountable for learning goals by telling others
  • Ask reflective questions
  • Self-evaluate their work

Students rarely develop these independent skills on their own. Educators who incorporate brain-based learning strategies find themselves teaching the process of learning in addition to the acquisition and application of content.

The child’s social brain

Brain-based learning doesn’t happen in isolation.

Researcher Patricia Kuhl has identified the social brain as a powerful tool for learning. Just as babies learn better from another human, children also learn better from each other.

Studies have shown that regardless of how precise machine learning may be, no amount of information can replace the added effect of social interaction. This social interaction is the exchange of facial expressions and gestures. The social context makes the difference. It engages the brain in learning.

Teachers who routinely incorporate social interaction in the classroom are helping students become more motivated and more successful. Social interaction strategies can be as simple as the following:

  • Working in pairs or small groups
  • Rearranging the classroom in circles or Us
  • Allow for flexible movement within the classroom

When educators purposefully integrate brain-based learning in their classrooms, students benefit by becoming motivated life-long learners.

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