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The science of learning


Pearson Education, an international education organisation, recently posted a neat little article by Dr Judy Willis. Dr Willis is a neurologist and wrote Getting Inside Students’ Heads.

It applies to all types of learning, not just languages, and I especially like the snippet below. It’s one of the reasons why I believe it is so important that children have the opportunity to be engaged in interesting ways to help with their learning and that it is “two-way learning”, not “one-way teaching” 🙂  especially as we are Mandarin for Speakers of Other Languages (MSOL) learners – not sure if this is a real term but it makes sense to use it for us!

Neuroscience research about how we learn is advancing at increasing speed. Neuroimaging is opening windows allowing us to watch the brain process, recognise, remember, and transfer information at the level of synapses and neural circuits.

But the most valuable assets for improving education won’t be developed in a neuroimaging lab. Neuroscientists will not become classroom teachers and they are unable to translate lab analysis into classroom strategies. It will be educators with the foundational knowledge of the science of learning, who will evaluate the validity and potential educational correlations from neuroscience research and bring its benefits to their students….

…We know for instance, that when information enters the brain it is routed to one of two areas: (1) the pre-frontal cortex, what we might call the thinking brain, which can consciously process and reflect on information and (2) the lower, automatic brain, which we might call the reactive brain, which reacts to information instinctively rather than through thinking. When a student is anxious, sad, frustrated or bored, their brain filters conduct sensory information from the world into his reactive brain where the response is to either ignore it, fight against it as a negative experience, or avoid it (e.g. switch off and daydream). It is unlikely that information will be processed thoughtfully or remembered.

When one’s stress levels are down and interest is high, the most valuable information tends to pass into the thinking brain. When students are focussed and in positive or controlled emotional states, their executive functions can more successfully organise newly coded memories into long term knowledge. Every time they review or use that knowledge, activity along the connections between nerve cells increases. Repeated stimulations makes the network stronger – practice makes permanent.

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