Monday, November 7, 2011

Ten Things We Know From Brain Based Learning

Dear Friends,
     I recently signed up for a free handout from Eric Jensen’s website, .  The free handout is called, 10 Most Effective Tips for Using Brain Based Teaching and Learning, by Eric Jensen, copyright 2010.   The website and the handout offer simple straightforward information about Brain-Based teaching and learning strategies. 

     What I found most helpful about the handout, was that it offered a simple framework for understanding the vast amount of knowledge that informs this teaching science.  He offers information but also how to apply the strategies in the classroom in small, manageable ways.  The information about teaching applies to our work with children, adults, and those with memory or learning issues.  The strategies are applicable for teaching in the school classroom, the corporate training room, hospitals, day care centers, and more.

     I have summarized some of the information below from the handout.  The titles of each of the ten tips are mine, but the information belongs to Eric Jensen.  I hope that you will find this helpful in your work and in your teaching too.  It would be helpful to go to the website directly and sign up for the free handout as Jensen offers many valuable resources and citations of the most recent research.  Below are the ten tips that he offers for teaching and learning.

1.  We Must Move! – Brain based learning has affirmed for us that we must move!  We must infuse movement, recess, play, and physical education into our learning.  Moving, breathing well and having fun allow us to grow new neurons, integrate and retain information and strengthen our ability to focus too.  We know that exercise helps us to be more awake, have more energy, and release stress so that we are more available and present to learning.

2.  The Social Scene Matters – Eric Jensen writes, “Social conditions influence our brain in multiple ways we never knew before.” (Jensen, 2010).  This is true.  What we know is that when students feel accepted and affirmed in school, they are able to learn more and retain more too.  This concept pertains to friendships in and outside of school, family relationships, teacher relationships and more.  Students need to feel safe, loved, cared for, and free of stress in order to focus on learning.  This also lets us know that mentoring, buddy systems, and extra support, go a long way in helping students to feel successful.

3.  Neuroplasticity Rules – We know that the brain changes, adapts, and helps us learn in new ways.  Jensen reminds us that nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) matter as we train ourselves to develop our memory, processing, attention, and behavior.  It is important to trust the brain and the body’s ability to learn in new ways and to continually improve.  Jensen offers some helpful websites that strengthen memory and attentional skills.  These websites are helpful for learners of any age.  They include:

4.  Breathing Easy Helps Us Learn Easily – The research shows that stress gets in the way of our immune system, our friendships, and our learning too.  When students understand how to access relaxation skills and how to calm themselves down, they gain skills for life that enhance what they do in and outside of the classroom.  Students, like professional athletes, need to learn, practice and integrate skills like breathing, progressive relaxation, visualization, affirmations and more.  The key to being able to employ these strategies is to practice them often until them become automatic.

5.  Our Brains Are Differentiated, So Differentiated Learning Matters to Everyone – In schools we often hear the word “Differentiation.” This term refers to taking assignments and learning and differentiating them in the classroom to meet the needs of different learners.  Lessons can be differentiated by one of the multiple intelligences, interest, ability, learning styles, and more.  We often think that there are only a few students who benefit from differentiation while everyone else can learn in one particular way. 
      Jensen shares results of recent research that remind us that, “…almost 90% of human brains are atypical…”  This means that we all learn differently but have found strategies to adapt and compensate for learning in ways that might not come naturally for us.  This information is new and relevant as we learn how to differentiate for everyone.  I would like to add, that this is very challenging and work intensive for teachers.  Many teachers teach in this way and it requires more time, more patience, more creativity, and a dedication to new ways of teaching and learning.  Teachers should be applauded for reaching their students in new and nourishing ways!

6.  Smaller Bits of Information Are Better – We know that the brain learns better with smaller chunks of information.  When students are exposed to a huge quantity of information, or information that is complex, new, or irrelevant to their everyday life – it is harder to absorb.  The brain prefers small bits of information over a longer period of time with repetition in between.  The more complex the information, the smaller the amount of information there should be and the more it should be reviewed before being tested. 
      We often encourage students to study for several minutes every day instead of a few hours the night before.  The brain learns and retains more when given small amounts of information, several times over.  This also helps reduce stress as students won’t be procrastinating and staying up late too!

7.  The Arts Help with Smarts – Neuroscientists are studying the impact of the arts on the brain.  It is clear that arts such as visual and performing arts, music, drama and more, enhance not only learning but social and emotional intelligence, our sense of compassion and more.  Howard Gardner, Ph.D reminds us that when we strengthen any of our “intelligences” including those that involve the arts, we strengthen all of the other intelligences.  To learn more about Dr. Gardner’s work you can go here:

8.  Social/Emotional Learning Inside and Out Helps Us to Be Smarter – Howard Gardner, Ph.D. talks about Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Intelligences.  Maurice Elias, Ph.D., teaches us about Social and Emotional Learning and Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. talks about the concept of Emotional Intelligence.  All of these famous researchers in education highlight the importance of students being able to manage their own emotional states and to understand and work with the emotional states of others.  
     For some students, this information comes naturally and for others, it must be spelled out and practiced.  Some of the programs for schools include, “morning meetings,” guidance lessons, and in-the-moment teachings to help students understand social situations and how to engage in them effectively.  When students are confident and successful in their ability to understand their own emotions and engage socially, they are then able to focus on learning.  Their confidence in the social realm carries over to their confidence in learning.

9.  We All Can Improve – We have learned a great deal about how the brain can recover and be rehabilitated.  The information we have gained about traumatic brain injuries, learning disorders, strokes, and more, offer encouraging hope.  We have come to understand that the brain is capable of healing, growing, and learning in miraculous ways.  This helps us to know and celebrate that we all can improve and heal much more than was realized.  We can extend this hope to our students to affirm that they can learn in new ways and that they have an unlimited capacity to grow as a student.

10. Memory is Malleable – Jensen offers this information, “Every time you retrieve a memory, it goes into a volatile flex state in which it is temporarily easily reorganized.” (Jensen, 2010).  This lets us know that as students review information for tests and more, we need to make sure that they are reviewing properly and preparing with the proper information that will be tested.  It is important for students to review small bits of information, several times, but it must also be the correct information.

      Kimberly Borin
      Learning Specialist