The Importance of Keeping a Teacher’s Learning Brain Alive – For the Students!By Jeny Rapheal
Of all learning principles, “use it or lose it” seems to be inexorably adamant. According to neuroscience, exercising of brain muscles is the sole way to strengthen neural pathways. The formation and maintenance of new synaptic connections and neural pathways in the brain ruthlessly adhere to the extent of practice and repetition individual goes through. If this is true, all those who have given up learning are likely to suffer ‘attrition’ in their area of expertise. And teaching too is not immune from it.
Hazards of being a teacher with inactive learning brain
While engaged in the act of teaching a teacher who is an ardent learner herself can easily modulate her perceptual faculties in order to feel the students in their learning mode. And this modulation of perceptual faculties which is a process of attuning with learning (student) brains is the prerogative of a teacher who has not detached herself from learning. What about a teacher who has not exercised her learning brain ever since she stepped into her profession?. She is doomed to forget subtle forces and principles guiding the very act of learning. Knowingly or unknowingly such teachers inject monotony in their teaching. Their forgetfulness about the very act of learning chases away any possibility for hitting a synergy between teaching and learning capacities (preferences) of children sitting in front of them. A teacher who has not learned anything for a long time creates an invisible schism between the student and herself. This schism gradually widens in an automatic fashion and teacher’s perceptual faculties start suffering from attrition. Ensuing insensitivity of the teacher towards learning difficulties of the student affects her ability to figure out why a particular student fails to come up to her expectations. Individual differences in learning among group of students in their learning abilities evade the conscious awareness of such teachers while engaged in the act of teaching.
Art of communicating with learning brains -a matter of synergy
In the parlance of neuroscience, learning is a process of integrating existing information in the brain to new information so as to form a coherent neural structural pattern. Each act of learning necessitates change in the neural structure. And this restructuring is a process which consumes energy and demands intentional effort from the part of learner. Students will not be ready to invest this energy and effort unless the act of learning is simple and pleasing. To activate student brain and align it with basic learning principles teachers have to go through those principles themselves intermittently. To convey principles operating behind a phenomenon like learning, teacher must make students experience those principles in the ambience of the class room. Articulating principles of learning in words and communicating them is different from making students experience them in the class room. Listing out best learning principles one by one for students will be like conveying the experience of swimming through lecturing. (Refer Top 20 principles from psychology for pre K–12 teaching and learning by American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education 2015). Intuitive faculties of a teacher who is a lifelong learner will be equipped with a sublime ability for transferring her own experiences of learning to the student group without much loss in the process of communication. A special synchronization between teacher’s brain and learner’s brain acts as a springboard to stimulate the brain regions (affective as well as cognitive) which are instrumental in intrinsic motivation. Such an ideal classroom elicits “engagement” from the learner. Students will actively participate in class room activities.
How’s of learning—does it matters?
Renowned haven for online learning —“Coursera” provides a course titled “learning how to learn”. Is “learning” itself something to be learned about?. Yes. Gone are days when there was considerable dearth for resources of knowledge. Now demand is for strategies or evidence based effective methods that will optimize learning. “How to learn” seems to matter more than “what to learn”. How to learn a particular subject matter or acquire mastery over a skill is the real concern for the present generation which is neck deep in resources for knowledge and virtually haunted by a host of instructors including classroom teacher, online teacher, tuition teacher etc . In this era of technology and digitalization, it is not the availability but assimilation of information which bothers them most. Research revelations in the human sciences psychology, neuroscience which keep on redefining optimal methods of learning has rendered “learning” into a science with innumerable possibilities for research and discovery. The twenty learning and teaching principles generated by a group of research authors and published by American Psychological Association (APA, 2015) is a testimony for it. “How to learn” is a discipline which helps each student to experiment with the process learning and identify right methods/strategies for learning that are in well agreement with his/her basic personal disposition. In order to assist the student in this, both the process and outcomes of learning must be equally nurtured by all teaching processes.
“How to learn” as the objective of teaching
If ability to reproduce the learned material is a proof of mastery, ability to apply learned matter in novel settings is a proof of flawless learning process student has undergone during mastery. In this sense the objective of teaching is two dimensional. While one host of objectives aim at effective transferring of knowledge the other is concerned about conveying the ways/modes of learning that suits best in assimilation, registering and recalling of the learned matter. The latter group of objectives is still to be articulated and yet to be found their way into the arena of class room teaching. Reason for this is lack of organized research attempts in the area of learning. In past, teaching was an act of assisting in the act of learning and learning was quite a personal matter and had little room for generalized principles. Too much personalizing of learning as something that take place in the private space of the learner has distanced act of teaching from probing into the process of learning. Teachers bothered only about learning outcomes but never about learning process. Assisting students in “learning how to learn” has to be integrated with classroom teaching for better outcomes.
For this, learning mindset is something a teacher has to sustain and help to sustain in their students. Only those who “learn how to learn” can carry in them a growth mindset. Ever vibrant growth mindset combined with empathetic communication boosts teacher’s sensitivity for the learner in the student. Such teachers’ perceptive skills will never fail to detect the glitches that come in the way of accomplishing preset learning objectives in their students. Teacher here is an active participator in the learning process. Teachers deprived of growth mindset are persons well versed in old, outdated methods of approaching newer challenges of their professional as well as personal life. In the long run such teachers lose their ability to influence their students.
Effective teacher—a dual personality
Scientific investigations in areas like psychology, neuroscience have elevated learning to a science capable of proclaiming its own enduring facts derived from empirical findings claiming effective optimization in learning. Learning which initially interested the behaviorist school of thought is now set on establishing its own separate niche among myriad branches of human science. According to the science of learning, a teacher who has quit learning is not a bit better than a book sitting untouched in the book shelf. It never caters to the needs of a learner who is always ready to experiment with all modes of learning except cramming.
Teaching is not a passport to exit learning. On the contrary, in this era of knowledge explosion, it is an entrance to both learning and experimenting with the art of “learning how to learn” and relating to the student group insights got from it. An effective teacher is a nice blend of two personalities, that of a teacher and a student. While teaching she teaches how to learn. While learning she learns how to teach. Her teaching and learning enriches each other. A charismatic aura surrounds the teacher who commits herself to lifelong learning and students can never resist her influence upon them.
Reference: American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK–12 teaching and learning. Retrieved from http:// www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf
About the author
Jeny Rapheal is a higher secondary school teacher working in Kerala, India. She has 16 years experience in teaching and has published 15 research papers in various national, international journals. At present she is doing research in adolescent psychology in Bharathiar University Coimbatore.