I listened to Chapter 3 of Brain Rules by John Medina on my walk this morning. I ordered the book, but it hasn't come, so I am just doing this with audio while I walk the dog. This means I have to store the info learned in my head without taking notes and reflect when I get home. I find that looking at the website BrainRules.net helps to jog my memory.
This chapter started off with another brain biology lesson. Brain research really fascinates me. I am amazed at how many new things they discover each year. The big idea of the chapter is that we are all wired differently. The reason for this is that our brains are constantly rewiring and building new connections with every experience that we have. No two brains are alike, because none of us have the exact same experiences. Medina uses the metaphor of our ground transportation system. We all have some things in common, this would be like the Interstate Highways, but as the roads get smaller, we become more unique. I also found it interesting that our brain has 2 big growth spurts. One when we are toddlers and then one as teenagers. But it is important to note that these times of development are not set in stone. Development happens at different times and rates for everyone.
These two ideas have great relevance in education. First of all, since we are all wired differently, we all learn in different ways. This is not new learning. We all are familiar with Gardner's Theories of Multiple Intelligences. Medina believes that Gardner is correct, but goes further to say that there are as many different learning styles as there are people on the planet. We each learn differently. He suggest that smaller class sizes would be one way to address this issue of diversity of learners. I think that helping learners identify the learning strategies and styles that work for them is also really important. Students need to be taught using several modalities. Students should have opportunities to choose learning projects that best meet their needs. This, of course, should be done with teacher guidance. Having students share their thinking and strategies for learning out loud can help them understand how they learn best.
Understanding that students are developmentally ready for different types of learning at different times can also have a powerful effect on student learning. Many students who struggle in school struggle due to gaps in their education due to the fact that the learning was introduced at a time not appropriate for that child. I really believe this. In my teaching career, I have worked at each grade level from Pre-K to 6th grade. On the pre-k end, I have had parents trying to push their kids to read before they were developmentally ready. These children learned that reading was word and sound calling and ended up having trouble with reading comprehension and other skills as they progressed through school. As a Pre-K teacher, I also had students who were very ready to read and it would have been a disservice for me to hold them back. I think many of the holes that students have in their learning come not just from missing out on information, but having information at the wrong time for them developmentally.
Both of these ideas are easy to agree with as a teacher with experience at any grade level. But knowing how to best meet the needs of our diverse learners in a society that insist that all children must develop and learn using the same strategies and on the same time line is much more of a challenge. I think that an informed, empathetic teacher who looks at each student for the unique person they are is very important in meeting the needs of all learners. I also think that helping students understand their own brain and how they learn is also a very powerful piece of this learning puzzle.
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