Home' Teacher : April 2010 Contents 26 TEACHER APRIL 2010
with dyslexia, and eventually to devise
computer programs and procedures that
actually rewired their cerebral networks to
perform more like good readers. What an
amazing application of neuroscience! The
good news for adults is that neuroplasticity
continues throughout our lifetime.
Looking at the gifted brain
The gifted brain is different in several ways
from the brain of typical learners. Some
of these differences are due to genetic pre-
dispositions, but others may result from
environ mental influences. Different brain
regions are involved in processing logical
and creative tasks, implying that school
experiences can raise the intellectual level
and increase the creativity of all students.
The arts develop the brain
We now recognise more than ever how the
arts contribute to brain development. Con-
sider this: we've never discovered a culture
on this planet without music, art and dance.
Despite this, such arts are often thought of
as frills that are reduced or discontinued
when money gets tight. The arts develop the
critical skills students need to succeed in the
21st century: visual-spatial ability, attention
and concentration, and creativity -- yes, it
can be learned.
Body rhythms affect learning
Thanks to a better understanding of our
daily body rhythms, we know that teaching
and learning require more effort at certain
times of the day. These rhythms are dif-
ferent for preadolescents and adolescents.
Knowing about them makes teaching and
learning more successful.
Movement enhances learning and
The typical classroom setting where stu-
dents just 'sit and get' has been challenged
by research findings showing that the brain
is more active when learners are moving
around. Movement brings additional fuel-
carrying blood to the brain. It also allows
the brain to access more long-term memory
areas, which is an ancient survival strategy,
thereby helping students make greater con-
nections between new and past learnings.
Emotions affect learning
Teachers in primary schools are accustomed
to dealing with a student as a whole -- read
emotional -- package, but teachers at the
secondary level are trained to deliver con-
tent, and lots of it. They have little time to
deal with their students' emotional develop-
ment, often assuming that they should 'act
like adults.' Teachers need to understand
the biology of emotions, especially stress,
and recognise that students cannot focus on
the curriculum unless they feel physically
safe, which means there are no weapons
or violence or threat of violence, and emo -
tionally secure, which means they perceive
that teachers respect them and actually care
about their success.
The varying pace of brain
development explains the behaviour
of children and adolescents
Teachers are well aware of the unpredict-
able and often risky behaviour of pre-teens
and adolescents. Emotional outbursts and
physical aggression can be common for these
youngsters. We often blame these behaviours
on 'changing hormones.' A landmark longi-
tudinal study of brain growth using imaging
technology, though, revealed that the emo-
tional areas of the brain are fully developed
around the age of 10 to 12 years, but the
regions responsible for rational thought and
emotional control mature closer to 22 to 24
years of age. This finding doesn't excuse
child and adolescent misbehaviour, but it
does explain it, and suggests more appro-
priate interventions, beyond saying, 'You
should've known better.'
Sleep is important for retention
Researchers have found that during sleep
the brain is incredibly active, carrying out
processes that help the brain to learn, make
connections, remember and clear out clut-
ter. A brain that is deprived of sleep has
trouble capturing all sorts of memories.
Studies have shown that sleep-deprived stu-
dents are more likely to get poorer grades
than students who sleep longer, and are
more likely to get depressed. With suffi-
cient sleep, students have a better chance of
remembering all the good information and
skills they learned in school that day.
The need for meaning
In the typical classroom, sense and mean-
ing appear to be among the major criteria
the brain uses in deciding what to encode to
long-term memory. It's worth using strate -
gies that build links between the curricu-
lum and the lives of your students, especially
in this technology-driven global society.
Teachers need a very sound knowledge of
the curriculum and a very sound knowledge
of their students' lives.
For centuries, effective teachers discov-
ered through experience what strategies to
use and how to implement them, without
knowing why the strategies worked, or
didn't work, on various occasions. The find-
ings from studies in cognitive neuroscience
are providing the why. When teachers know
the why, they can be so much more master -
ful in applying their instructional strategies.
So as neuroscientists continue to discover
the inner workings of the brain, as cognitive
psychologists continue to look for explana-
tions of learning behaviour and as educators
continue to apply research to improve their
teaching, this new field will greatly improve
the quality and effectiveness of the educa-
tional experiences for our children.
David A. Sousa is an inte rn ational con -
sultant in educational neuroscience and
author of seven books on brain research
and strategies for improving learning.
His latest book is How the Brain Learns .
He will be speaking at the Classroom
Strategies that Work: Closing the achie ve -
ment gap -- Hawker Brownlow Educ ation
seventh annual thinking and learning con-
ference from 15 to 18 May in Melbourne.
LINKS: w ww.hbe.com. au or email
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