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Teachers have known from common sense and experience that many factors affect how students learn. Over the past 20 years neuroscience has been able to provide evidence that suggests there are neurologic processes that inﬂuence how students learn and why one student learns differently than another. Evidence that is being presented by neuroscience research has many implications for educational systems and teachers. With the challenges presented by educational reform and diversity in the classroom developing lesson plans and creating a classroom environment conducive to learning can be overwhelming. Educational reform than links current teaching practices with research from neurological and cognitive sciences may be of beneﬁt to students with diverse needs. Classroom management practices that create an environment where a student feels safe from rejection or ridicule and is treated with respect by peers and teachers, where a student can reﬂect on prior knowledge; with lesson plans that draw upon a studentʼs interests and experience and link that interest and experience to meaningful real-life situations can signiﬁcantly enhance learning of new content. (Hardiman, 2001, pp. 52-55)(Foley, n.d., pp. 225-239) Five critical variables in the brain learning process have been identified: neural history, context, acquisition, elaboration, and encoding. (Jensen & Eric, 1998, pp. 41-45) Numerous principles of brain based learning have been developed from these. Six of these principles will be discussed. Importance of meaningful learning It has been said that we learn best when lesson content is needed to accomplish a task or goal. Lesson plans need to include activities that require the student to make decisions, investigate ideas, involves motor activities, or solve problems related to reallife situations. These types of activities have been shown to activate higher order thinking. They have also been shown to produce chemicals in the brains of students with learning disabilities which indicates less effort in learning. An example activity would be to assign a problem requiring the students to calculate how much paint would be needed when given the dimensions of a room and its windows and doors.(Hardiman, 2001, pp. 52-55)(Marzano, 2009, pp. 86-87)(Curtis & Diane, 2003) Knowledge background Research indicates that prior learning and experience have a major affect on learning. Learning is most efficient when it is linked with prior knowledge and experience. There are many strategies that can be used to assess student’s prior knowledge. With these assessments lesson plans can be developed or modified to activate the student’s prior knowledge and engage their interests. (Hardiman, 2001, pp. 52-55) Prior knowledge is part of a student’s neural history. A student’s neural history also includes character, environment, peers, and experiences. All are affected by nature and nurture. Research supports that the learning environment should be one that encourages students to reflect on their own prior learning and experiences. (Jensen & Eric, 1998, pp. 41-45) (Christen, 1991) Alverez used case based instruction to help students draw upon their
prior knowledge through the use of thematic organizers and hierarchical concept mapping. (Alvarez & Marino, n.d.) Activating prior knowledge Much research has been done on prior knowledge and activating this knowledge. It has been shown that comprehension of content material can be increased if prior knowledge is activated and new content built upon that prior knowledge. (Christen, 1991) The teacher must be able to assess the level of prior knowledge, provide appropriate interventions when necessary prior knowledge is not present, and provide a stable and familiar environment for students. (Christen, 1991) Several methods can be used to activate prior knowledge. The title of the introduction or presentation of new material can be a stimulus. Providing a review of the particular concepts that will be needed can also activate prior knowledge. With the diversity in classrooms today the teacher needs to use caution and not assume everyone will understand a title or certain review concepts. An example would be the title “Green Tomatoes.” Not all students may know that green has more meanings other than the name of a color (i.e beginner, novice). (Yu-hui et al, 2010) Levels of processing Brain based research has been able to identify levels of neural processing during learning and has identified factors that affect learning. Emotions and stress are significant factors. When a student is stressed chemicals are excreted that affect neural processing. They block pathways and keep processing in the brains emotion center and don’t allow access to the frontal lobes. During these times the student is not ready to learn. Research has also identified that learning not only takes place centrally but peripherally as well. Factors not associated with content or classroom environment can have an impact on learning. Things such as problems or activities outside of class will influence the level of processing and thus learning comprehension. If a student’s interests have not been engaged the student may not engage in the lesson content and become bored thus affecting comprehension. Research has also determined that the learning process continues while a student sleeps. During REM sleep the student’s mind sorts and organizes information from the previous days activities, prioritizes it as meaningful or not. Information that is meaningful is added to neural networks and information that is not meaningful is discarded. (Jensen & Eric, 1998, pp. 41-45) Development of neural connections Neuroscience has shown that new content creates neural connections. Existing connections are extended, modified, or reinforced if the content is related to prior knowledge.(Jensen & Eric, 1998, pp. 41-45)(Christen, 1991)(Weiss & Ruth Palombo, 2000, pp. 20-24) Feedback is an important reinforcer of neural connection development and needs to be done frequently and timely. (Hardiman, 2001, pp. 52-55) Relevance Student’s have a relatively short attention span. It is said that a teacher should only expect to demand a student’s attention based on their age. For a high school student that would be about 15 minutes. In order to keep a student’s attention the content must
be relevant. It has also been shown that material that is relevant to the discussion, a student’s interests, or to real-life situations can activate prior knowledge. (Hardiman, 2001, pp. 52-55)(Christen, 1991)(Curtis & Diane, 2003)(Jensen & Eric, 1998, pp. 41-45) Brain based research and the learning principles derived from it give teachers the opportunity to provide learning experiences that meet the needs of today’s diverse students. To employ these principles the teacher needs to give prior learning and experience significant consideration when developing lesson plans. The teacher must first assess prior learning and knowledge. The assessment can be accomplished by discussion of content concepts or questioning strategies. Lesson plans need to be developed with flexibility and contingencies to provided knowledge that is not present. The lesson plan needs to activate the student’s prior knowledge and interests and should be divided into short segments to accommodate attention span. Activities need to be included that involve motor activities and discussion of the activities to enhance learning. The lesson plan should allow time for students to reflect on prior knowledge and to process new content. This can be done by peer to peer discussion, journal writing, and whole class discussions. Materials and activities for the lesson need to be meaningful and relevant. Feedback needs to be given to every student and needs to be given frequently and in a timely manner to enhance the development of neural connections and networks which takes learning from simple memorization to understanding. The lesson plan needs to include homework that is relevant to the content to enhance retention of the material. In addition to having a well organized and flexible lesson plan the teacher must create a classroom environment that is safe, comfortable, and familiar for the students. This is a holistic approach to teaching and learning. By employing principle of neurologic and cognitive sciences the teacher can provide students with a meaningful and interesting learning experience that can be taken beyond the classroom and into real-life situations. References Alvarez, Marino (1990). Knowledge Activation and Schema Construction. Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, 1990, Boston, MA. Christen, Willian L. and Murphy, Thomas J. (1991). Increasing Comprehension by Activating Prior Knowledge [Website]. ERIC Digests, Retrieved November 1, 2010, from http://www.vtaide.com/ping/ERIC/Prior-Knowledge Curtis, Diane (2003). Brain Based Research Prompts Innovative Teaching Techniques in the Classroom. The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Hardiman, Mariale M. (2001). Connecting Brain Research with Dimensions of Learning. Educational Leadership, November52-55. Jensen, Eric (1998). How Julie's Brain Learns. Educational Leadership, November41-45.
Marzano, Robert J. (2009). Helping Students Process Information. Educational Leadership, 86-87. Weiss, Ruth Palombo (2000). Brain-Based Learning. Training and Development, 20-24. Yu-hui, Liu; Li-rong, Zhu; Yue, Nian (2010). Application of Schema Theory in Teaching College English Reading [Research Paper]. Canadian Social Science, 6(1), Retrieved November 1, 2010, from http://www.cscanada.net
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