For Teachers

Bringing Brain-Based Learning Theories into the Classroom

By The Room 241 Team February 14, 2013

There is a lot that science does not understand about the learning process, and specifically, brain based learning theories. Every person born is able to learn at some level. Babies develop an understanding that crying gets them something, for example. They use it as a tool to garner attention and food. The phrase brain-based learning sounds redundant because every style of education involves the brain. While that is true, not all teaching incorporates brain functioning into the learning process. To understand the difference, you must know more about how brain-based teaching works.

Cognitivism and conditioning

Most educational formats focus on conditioning or memory stimulation. Put simply, a teacher creates a stimulus to either invoke a response or develop a memory. When a student sits and listens to a lecture, a memory becomes etched into the mind. Reading text and taking notes further enhances that memory. The more times a person hears or sees something, the deeper the memory becomes. This is the basis for cognitivism.

Conditioning invokes a specific physical response to stimuli. A student learns to drive a car through practice. They get into the car, insert the key and turn it. The reward is the car starts. When they do this enough times, it becomes a habit. The driver automatically knows by turning the key, the car will start.

However, promoters of brain-based learning believe that cognitivism and conditioning interfere with what the brain is trying to do naturally and make learning more difficult.

Brain-based learning in the classroom

Brain-based learning is considered a comprehensive approach to instruction. Brain-based education offers a biologically driven classroom structure that corresponds to the functions of the human brain at different developmental levels. The practice engages the entire body to enhance the learning process.

The basic theory behind brain-based learning is total body immersion in a topic. There are tips and tricks teachers use to help promote natural learning.

  • Teachers must make use of the classroom space to arouse all senses. For example, build a rainforest simulation in the classroom while studying the environment of Central America. By placing stuffed animals around the forest, children automatically associate certain species with this theme. Students can go on safari during a class to learn more about the rainforest.
  • Brain-based learning helps students relax in order to improve alertness. School is a challenging environment that often produces a stress response that can interfere with learning. Teaches play music, introduce soft scents and dim lighting to promote a stress free learning arena.
  • Stimulate social skills to improve the experience. People retain better understanding of a concept when they utilize their social skills. Set up work groups around the room for discussion. The seating should be comfortable with soft chairs and even couches. The bulletin boards and wall decorations in this area should reflect the topic for total immersion. If learning about the rainforest, place cardboard trees and vines on the walls. Play the sound of rain falling in the background to add to the lesson.
  • Make study challenging. The more complex and hands-on a teaching assignment is, the better the cognitive stimulation.
  • Teachers need to introduce art and music into lessons. Artistic endeavors trigger images in the brain that reinforce complex ideas. If teaching students about the light bulb, drawing the individual components and labeling them helps instill the basic design. The use of color adds to the images. One bulb with a cool filament drawn in blue next to a bulb with a red-hot filament tells a story.
  • Set up a learning folder for each child. Maintaining past work assignments provides tools for reflection. This is where kids store artwork, past tests and other elements of the learning process. They can look through the folders to self-assess their progress on a subject by comparing quizzes to see the improvement.

Brain-based education is about eliminating barriers and allowing the mind to work without distractions. Learning is not a foreign concept – it comes naturally. Studies show that a traditional lecture environment is less effective than immersion in a subject. The goal is to make the lesson memorable so the factual elements stick as well.

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