If you know me, I love learning about the brain! Understanding and utilizing elements from neuroscience is a critical aspect of teaching. For instance, this gem from Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience, “Academic effort can be stimulated by tapping into the brain’s programming to focus attention and apply effort when pleasure is the anticipated expectation.” (McTighe & Willis, 2019) We know students are more successful if learning is enjoyable, but this information explains why and how. Gem #1, engage dopamine-reward response to increase motivation to learn.
The book, Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience by Jay McTighe and Judy Willis is filled with lots of gems. Some of my favorites are as follows:
“A more fundamental explanation for nonproductive student behaviors is rooted in the brain’s design, which focuses sensory intake, reacts to stress with survival responses, preserves its resources, and minimizes outputs of effort.” (McTighe & Willis, 2019)
We have all had “nonproductive” or disengaged students; if we can identify why they are nonproductive or disengaged, we can implement resources to decrease the behavior. This is one reason why studying the brain and mindsets is critical for educators and understanding trauma-informed teaching strategies and how stress impacts the brain.
The brain is a pattern-seeking organism! “Patterning refers to the brain’s meaningful categorization and organization of sensory data based on relationships or commonalities. The brain stores new information by linking it to patterns of related information already stored in neural circuits of existing memory.” (McTighe & Willis, 2019)
Jean Piget described these as cognitive frameworks or schemas in 1957. Providing learners with opportunities to organize and categorize information is a fantastic scaffolding strategy—for example, graphic organizers and meaning-making tools work great for this. I created a resource collection of note-making formats in my Teach Brilliantly Toolkit. I highly recommend downloading it. If you are an early childhood educator, I recommend downloading the Top 6 Ways to Support Healthy Development resource.
My absolute favorite gem is about creating long-term memory construction. The authors state, “Rote memorization produces isolated and somewhat feeble circuits unlinked to other networks. Such shallow memories only allow learners to “give back” what was taught, mirroring how it was introduced. This limits their [students] ability to transfer –to apply their learning to new situations beyond the original context in which it was learned.
The ability to transfer learning to new situations and settings is the goal of education and, ultimately, the goal of this book. As educators, we have a LOT of things to do and be aware of. That is why we should use neuroscience knowledge to work smarter, not harder. Being an effective educator takes more than a foundation knowledge of teaching. It requires ongoing learning and development.