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What are some simple concepts teachers can use to increase their effectiveness and positively affect their children’s learning, as well as their brain health?

Featured ScientistChildren: Bill Jenkins, Ph.D., CSO and Founder of Scientific Learning

It seems almost a tautology to say, but it’s true and there’s research to prove it: learning is truly all about the brain. While neuroscience and education have long been accepted fields of academic study, the subject of “brain-based education” and the connections between brain function and educational practice has only been on the scene for about twenty years! But during this time, through examining the connections between biology, cognitive science, neuroscience and education, we now have a perspective that is allowing us amazing insights into the role of the brain in education and how that understanding can help increase the effectiveness of educational practices and environments.

Since the brain controls everything we do and everything we are, we can’t with any true confidence separate what we might consider non-academic features of school (e.g. how we group students in classrooms, what we feed them in the cafeteria, the color of the walls) from academic features (such as curricula or state assessments). In short, any misalignment between what’s going on in the school and how the brain learns, translates to a disconnect and decreased learning efficiency.

According to Eric P. Jensen’s article, “Fresh Look at Brain-based Education,” educators who can keep some simple, key concepts in mind can increase their effectiveness and positively affect their students’ learning as well as their brain health:

  • Keep those kids exercising and playing. It lowers stress levels and positively affects appetite and nutrition. Evidence suggests that exercise is strongly correlated with increased brain mass, better cognition and mood, and the growth of new neurons in the brain. High-stakes tests might be important, but don’t let them push recess and exercise into the penalty box.
  • Keep tabs on the social environment. Schools are socially intense places, and students constantly experience reward, acceptance, pain, pleasure, coherence, affinity and stress in their interactions both inside and outside the classroom. These sensations and emotions have been shown to greatly influence the brain.
  • Create success through varying the learning experience. Educators and schools can influence neuroplasticity - the ability of the brain to rewire and remap itself - through skill-building, reading, meditation, the arts, career and technical subject matter.
  • Cultivate what lies within. Every student brings different talents, challenges and abilities to school in their “genetic backpack.” Evidence suggests that gene expression - how traits are manifested - can be regulated by what we do at schools and that this can affect a student’s long-term development.
  • Good stuff in, good stuff out. Nutrition affects memory, attention, stress, and even intelligence. When we address nutrition as well as cognition, we have greatly increased our chances of positively affecting student achievement.
  • Create environments for learning. We humans respond to the world around us; evidence shows that environments alter our brains. While designing school spaces for optimal learning from the ground up is something to strive for, we can certainly leverage today’s research to make our existing schools into welcoming, stimulating environments.

Brain-based education says that we use evidence from all disciplines to enhance the brains of our students. If we as educators can make decisions based on these principles, we’re more likely to help our students achieve success, both in the short as well as the long term.

From the monthly BrainGain™ email series, by Bill Jenkins, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer
and Founder of Scientific Learning

To see the Brain Gain™ email series Archives, please click here.

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