Use recent findings in brain research to outline lesson plans that promote an environment for all students to learn.
While teaching according to pedagogies of the past often focused on one-lesson-fits-all approaches, educators are recognizing the value in applying methods that are inclusive of all students and their needs. As more educators continue to promote Carol Dweck’s growth mindset and exercises in experiential learning within the classroom, the more valuable the learning experience will become for children. Working with more engaging lesson plans in an environment that feels safe to all learners is ideal, but achieving these goals is only one part of the equation. Teachers must understand the reasons these approaches serve more students through higher-quality education. To utilize these methods to their full potential, educators must explore brain research when attempting to understand the needs of their students.
Reach Out for Brain Research
Teachers should embrace brain research that could facilitate reaching children and dispel the need for rigid pedagogy that thwarts progress rather than promoting comprehensive learning. In her American Psychological Association (APA) feature “Research in Brain Functioning and Learning: The Importance of Matching Instruction to a Child’s Maturity Level,” Margaret Semrud-Clikeman, PhD, LP, ABPdN compares the gradual growth of the brain to pubescent maturation of the human body.
“Just because you have a classroom full of students who are about the same age doesn’t mean they are equally ready to learn a particular topic, concept, skill, or idea. It is important for teachers and parents to understand that maturation of the brain influences learning readiness. For teachers, this is especially important when designing lessons and selecting which strategies to use.”
After explaining how teaching beyond a child’s maturity could increase difficult behavior, Semrud-Clikeman offers advice regarding how to properly address these issues. She also outlines how brain development from the fetal stage to middle school years influences learning. While the pre-school years focus on fine motor and visual skills, and elementary education increases a student’s ability to build upon previously learned lessons, Semrud-Clikeman cites brain research that finds middle school students will experience the intersection of “…auditory, visual, and tactile functioning.”
For teachers of middle and high school students, Semrud-Clikeman recommends emphasis on inferential thinking and metacognition. By engaging students in activities through methods such as constructivism, design, and station-based learning, teachers present more educational options for students of all stages to build upon their foundations. Methods such as these will also allow educators to learn more about their students’ individual needs.
Be Mindful of the Mindset
In her book “Mathematical Mindsets: Unleasing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching,” Stanford University professor Jo Boaler emphasizes that negative feelings toward math exist due to the prevalent belief that only those students with an innate ability to conquer the mathematics monster will flourish. Warning against the tendency of teachers to simply tell students “It’s okay, math isn’t for everyone,” Boaler references a study that examined the drivers of London’s black cabs, who must pass an exam known as The Knowledge, which covers more than 25,000 of the city’s streets and 20,000 points of interest. The brain research found that only through cultivating the mind to retain this information would drivers pass the exam. Citing the adult brain’s ability to transform over time and grow through exercise, Boaler believes a child’s mind can also “regrow,” which would support the idea that math can be for everyone, not only the lucky few.
“The new findings that brains can grow, adapt, and change shocked the scientific world and spawned new studies of the brain and learning, making use of ever-developing new technologies and brain scanning equipment…Such results should prompt educators to abandon the traditional fixed ideas of the brain and learning that currently fill schools – ideas that children are smart or dumb, quick or slow.”
While experts might cite different brain research findings, or recommend different courses of action to accommodate the specific needs of individual students, they do agree that it is possible to reach every child in a classroom. Through examining brain research to support instruction and lesson plans, teachers can create a learning environment that benefits all students.