Applying Brain Research to Teaching


This is James, the Head of Teacher Training, explaining a few ways that brain research directly relates to how you can effectively teach your students.


James: Hi! So, today I wanted to share some insights about how to apply brain research to learning which is really interesting for me because it kind of gives us a lot of reasons why we do things. A basic concept is that information travels through the brain from neuron to neuron along neural pathways. The goal is to create really strong pathways to information and lots of pathways or multiple pathways to that information. We can create strong pathways by lots of repetition, also by connecting information to emotions, to really strong visuals because that really helps us strengthen those pathways, and creating multiple pathways is this idea of lots of practice activities but lots of different types of practices activities so that you’re not just going along the same pathway, but going along different—lots of different ways. It kind of leads into the concept of ‘use it or lose it’ because if you don’t access those pathways they kind of get reabsorbed into the brain which this concept of if you don’t use the language you forget about it…you forget it.

Of course we need to be aware that pathways are different for different individuals and, you know, these pathways can be considered ‘wiring’ , so we talk about people being wired differently that’s people have different pathways to information. So, another little concept is ‘fire till you wire’. Like don’t assume that your students have the similar wiring and similar pathways for information that you do. Just keep trying different ways until you access their way of thinking and accessing that information.

Another important thing to realize is that new pathways don’t just start in isolation; they have to be connected to existing knowledge. So, you have an existing pathway and then you build a new pathway from that. That’s why it’s so important to activate students’ schema…to refer back to existing knowledge and build on that. So learning involves making these connections to what you already know.

Another really important thing to consider is that there is a part of your brain called the amygdala and it assesses incoming information or input in terms of rewards, survival and pleasure. And so if, if it’s assessing those things are negative, like if the student…if you’re bored or frightened or worried or sad then it will actually block a pathway. So that’s, you know, what we want is input to become intake, but if the amygdala is blocking information then input doesn’t become intake. So, it’s really important to consider that emotions and cognition are intertwined.

So, my little concepts for today are ‘use it or lose it’, ‘fire till you wire’, you need input to become intake by positive emotions lowering the affective filter, and learning involves making connections to what you already know.


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