12 Things Teachers Must Know About LearningBy Bill Page
In the midst of the worldwide psycho-neurological revolution, knowledge about the brain and learning is exploding. Teachers don’t need to wait until new brain-mind research reaches down to practical teaching, here are facts teachers can use—now.
When information is presented to students, it goes into the working memory of their brain, but the information quickly fades away unless something is done to trigger its move into the brain’s long-term memory, where it can be stored and recalled later. Multiple neurons in various regions of the brain need to fire simultaneously, repetitively, and strongly for information to be readily retrieved and used. Memory is a vital part of school learning. For this reason, the shift to student-centered learning is crucial. Activities such as rhyming and rhythm, physical movement, multi-modality input, hands-on lessons, discussion, participatory experiences, constructivism, emotional experiences, personal meaning, and relevance, must become an integral part of every teacher’s daily lessons. Following are established facts, understandings, and practices which teachers can use immediately to teach so students will learn and remember.
1. Learning is personal. Learning is a private individual experience that must be internalized and integrated by each individual. When teachers present to the class, each student must adapt and apply the lesson to his/her own existing knowledge. This is the reason for pairing, small groups, and interactive activities. Teachers can provide lessons that students must then personalize to make lessons individually meaningful. Every bit of knowledge that each student possesses must have meaning that relates to other meaningful knowledge s/he possesses. Each student has millions of bits of information available to him/her, but each can only focus on a little at a time and associate it with his/her existing information
3. Learning is constructed. Each learner builds and adds to understanding according to his or her own knowledge, thoughts, ideas, perceptions, experiences, understanding, values, predisposition and beliefs. If new information does not fit, connect, or relate to existing knowledge the brain will not accept it. .That is the reason why teachers involve kids and utilize their feedback. Each learner must use his or her own thinking to get it to fit. Students learn more answering their own questions of “why” than by having someone else give them reasons “why”.
4. Learning is meaningful. The why is more important than the what in learning.
New knowledge must connect to previously learned, relevant, meaningful experiences and knowledge. Learning relevant information is natural, effortless, and long-lasting. Lack of meaning is the reason for difficulty in studying for and passing tests. We do not learn isolated facts except by rote memorization. We can’t learn nonsense except by relating it to already stored learning using mnemonic or memory gimmicks.
5. Learning is interactive. Knowledge requires understanding. Understanding requires “doing something” with that knowledge. It requires using it; use it or lose it, is the motto. Interacting will almost certainly make it both meaningful and lasting for all students participating in the class interaction. Pairing and small group discussions are crucial to important learning in school. If it’s worth learning; it’s worth remembering.
6. Learning is emotional. It involves feelings, attitudes, and “the whole-child.” Emotions drive learning. We learn what we “feel strongly” about. And, we learn it in direct proportion to the strength of our feelings—especially our like and dislike feelings. This is why information about our hobbies and special interests are learned so quickly and easily. It is why a “baseball lover” can recite players’ names and records, past games, averages and statistics with minutia of endless trivia. Emotions are why we remember the boy or girl who sat behind us in the seventh grade, but can’t remember the name of someone we met yesterday. The moral: Get emotional in your teaching.
8. Learning is a social activity. We learn from the company we keep. What we value in learning depends on what those around us are learning. Teenagers walk, talk, dress like each other. They change their music, hair style, language, slang constantly to separate themselves from other groups; and they copy the behaviors of those in their own group, meticulously. Learning is very closely related to socialization with the subcultures to which kids relate or identify. Some common subcultures of schools are known as “egg-heads,” “nerds,” “geeks,” “preppies,” “rah-rahs” “jocks,” “jerks,” “thugs,” “dopers”, and “freaks”. Teachers see transfer students enter school and within minutes easily find and relate to students of his or her “type”.
9. Learning is predictable. Learning follows laws, patterns, and procedures. The laws apply to attention, remembering, retrieval, and forgetting. We already know what turns kids on; what gets their attention — what gets them excited, interested, and motivated; and what their reaction will be to certain activities. This is the reason that teachers have intuitively learned to utilize kids’ interest in holidays, sports, and extra curricular activities as motivation to learn. Teachers can learn to use their intuition and their own personal “action” research to make better connections with student interests—the most predictable precursor for natural learning.
10. Memory is largely an associative process. The brain works by linking things to other things. Memory relies on patterns, concepts, meaningfulness, relevance and associations. When we relate new information to that already in our long-range memory by such means as similes, metaphors, examples, it can become instantly memorable. For example, to relate parallel lines to the sides of a doorway, or edges of a sheet of paper; or to compare fractions to slicing of a pie has obvious associative value. Better yet, getting kids to find similes, metaphors, and examples is ideal.
11. Conceptual Learning is a spontaneous learning that we do naturally, effortlessly and unconsciously. Concepts have the association and meaningfulness that helps learning and memory occur naturally. Once kids see the concept, most everything else fits in automatically. Teachers who teach the concept early in a lesson, or let kids discover concepts for themselves, find that interest, memorization, and relevance come automatically. Civil war is a topic — conflict is a concept. Planets is a topic – systems is a concept. Equations is a topic – balance or equality is a concept–fractions is a topic—accurate measurement or representation of a part of a whole is the concept.
12. Learning that utilizes higher level thinking effortlessly goes into our long-term memory. By better understanding the importance of thinking in relation to learning, teachers can utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking levels. The taxonomy should also be taught to students so they can identify and apply higher levels of thinking for themselves. The taxonomy is usually shown in the following manner, in ascending order of difficulty.
1. Knowledge (remembering facts, lists, names)
2. Comprehension (understanding, getting meaning)
3. Application (solving, using, applying)
4. Analysis (deduction, logic, induction, reasoning)
5. Synthesis (creating, combining, originating, divergence)
6. Evaluation (judging, selecting, determining importance)
The easiest lessons to teach are the hardest to learn. One of the most difficult tasks for a student is memorization of facts–Level-One in the hierarchy of thinking levels. Unfortunately, one of the easiest lessons to teachers to present, organize, sequence, and evaluate is the hardest for kids to learn and remember. John Goodlad, in his three year research involving more than a 1000 teachers, says that 95% of teaching and testing in classes is done at Level-One thinking–easiest to teach, most difficult to learn. When facts are put in meaningful groups or concepts, they’re more easily learned.
Teachers, who better understand the way kids’ brains utilize their classroom experiences, can be even more effective in improving student achievement, can reach and teach all students, and can find more satisfaction in involving the kids in student-centered teaching and learning.
With joy in sharing,
Bill Page is the author of the book, At-Risk Students: Feeling Their Pain, Understanding Their Defensive Ploys. “Insights and strategies for kids who can’t, don’t, or won’t learn, try, follow procedures, cooperate, or behave.”
At-Risk Student: One whom teachers cannot motivate, interest, control, or teach via traditional techniques.
The term “At-Risk” refers to being at risk of failure, but it has come to mean “at-certain” of not being taught.
After four decades of teaching, I have discovered that at-risk students are not teaching problems, they are victims of a One-Size-Fits-All educational system that imposes predestined failure on them.
Feeling their Pain, Understanding Their Plight, Accepting Their Defensive Ploys,
Bill Page’s book, At-Risk Students; Feeling Their Pain is available through his web site www.billpageteacher.com, or through Amazon.com.
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