In the past decade, scanning and imaging technology has allowed researchers to directly observe brain activity, leading to enormous advances in our understanding of cognition. Because of this ability to more directly observe neurological activity, teachers can now implement customized, brain-based learning strategies with a high level of confidence.
Advances in brain research have also helped dispel certain misperceptions about student performance. We are now less likely to attribute classroom underperformance to laziness or a lack of motivation when, in fact, a neurologically based learning difference is the culprit This means that educators are able to replace blaming labels with a practical understanding of an individual student’s learning differences.
Advances in brain-based learning
The following are some specific strategies that are validated by recent advances in brain-based learning:
Safety: High stress environments degrade cognitive function, so creating a classroom environment that is safe, structured, and predictable helps students learn.
Relational Instruction: Not only does a relational approach to teaching increase student’s sense of safety (see above) but it also improves cognitive engagement, multi-modal stimulation, and motivation; group learning with peers complements relational instruction.
Low Stimulus Environment: Reducing anxiety improves cognitive receptivity and processing; creating a low stimulus environment (removing all unnecessary stimuli) can reduce anxiety and improve learning. However, this does not mean lowering academic expectations.
Repetition: Repetition is a simple but powerful way to teach both academic material and social skills. Frequent reviews of classroom expectations, organizational tips, assignment parameters, schedule, and content create stronger neural pathways which, in turn, strengthen the student’s foundation for learning.
Experience: Experiential learning engages all of a student’s learning modalities (sight, sound, touch, social interaction) and allows the student to make personal decisions about how best to engage material.
Cuing: By cuing a student in real time to think about the whole process of learning, a teacher can foster meta-cognitive skills that help the student “learn how to learn.” Questions such as, “what do you need to do now,” “what’s the most important thing to do next,” and “how will you know when you’re done, what will it look like,?” help students become more mindful of higher order concerns.
Positive Reinforcement: Focusing on a student’s strengths and encouraging good efforts and successes goes a long way toward reducing anxiety and increasing motivation.
By using brain-based learning techniques, we are changing the way students respond in the classroom. Where before education was a “one-size-fits-all” approach, we can now help students find a learning style that is best for them and optimizes their experience.