Thursday, August 30, 2012

Brain-Friendly Learning

Emotions, feedback, and past experiences play a vital role in learning and memory. When memories evoke strong emotions within us, we tend to remember them in vivid detail. Our brains are designed to recall emotional memories much more than neutral ones. Emotions are stored in our more primitive limbic systems, which are activated more quickly than our prefrontal cortex, which is where higher reasoning and rational thought occurs. This is why an emotional memory can be recalled more quickly than bland information. This has probably evolved to help us survive. For instance, when our ancestors were chased by saber-toothed tigers in the more primitive, caveman days, remembering that tigers are dangerous was critical for future survival, provided that the caveman escaped the first tiger chase. Thus, the emotion of fear that the caveman felt upon being chased by the tiger was particularly helpful because the fear would help the caveman remember not to go near tigers again in the future. In addition, the more intense the emotion experienced, the more likely the person will never forget that experience ever again. Teachers can use emotions to their advantages to help students remember certain topics by linking them to students’ emotional responses. 

Providing a lot of detailed feedback for the students helps motivate them because their mistakes are corrected relatively quickly. For this strategy to be effective, it is best to give feedback as quickly as possible. All humans have an intrinsic motivation for doing tasks to the best of their ability. Teachers can tap into that intrinsic motivation by providing constructive feedback for the students. Teachers must be sure to use both positive feedback and specific, corrective feedback. If only corrections are suggested, the student tends to feel like he did a bad job and may not want to try for fear of failure in the future. Positive and specific reinforcement is critical.

Tapping into students’ backgrounds and past experiences is key in helping them learn new material and integrate into their brains in a meaningful and long-term manner. Our brains like to categorize new information. When we can relate new information to something we’ve learned in the past, it helps our brains organize that information, making it easier to remember it in the future. In addition, students may be more interested if the content relates to previous experiences since it’s likely to relate to their personal interests and hobbies.

TPE 8: Learning About Your Students

Sousa, D. A. (2009). Brain-friendly learn­­­ing for teachers. Educational Leadership, 66, Retrieved from 4 Identify Role for Learning & Motivation

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