Teacher, Meet Brain.

Teaching with the Brain in MindThat’s how it felt to read Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jenkins. While the bond between the brain and learning has been known for centuries, the two have been notably coy. It is only recent research which has started sharing and subsequently sparking the intimate side of this complex relationship. And like the rush of first love, it will blow your mind.

My measure of a great book on education is the degree to which it ends up highlighted. Barely a page of Jenkins’ book escaped my yellow swipe. Starting with Neuroscience 101, Jenkins addresses many of the major areas related to learning and highlights the research and implications it has for teaching. From birth and beyond, he looks at preparing the brain for school; the connections between movement, emotions, and one’s physical environment with learning; managing the social brain; and optimizing motivation, engagement, critical thinking, memory and recall. Clearly affecting a significant chunk of the school experience, Jenkins is devoting his career to having teachers ‘teach with the brain in mind’.

Some insights include:

  1. The brain changes and can even grow new neurons throughout life. Nature and nurture both clearly play a role in defining who we are, with growing evidence revealing that nurture can override some nature, even to the degree of changing the impact of our genes.
  2. Exercise offers much more than just physical health. If you desire a denser and better brain, make regular exercise a lifelong habit.
  3. Much of what distinguishes teenage behaviour is rooted in the enormous changes taking place in their brains. Teens even temporarily regress in a number of abilities, such as their ability to recognize emotions in others.
  4. While collaborative learning gets most professional press these days, brain research supports the integration of group activities with traditional learning tasks for optimal learning.
  5. Emotions play a central role in learning and can hinder as much as enhance the brain’s ability to remember. Teachers would benefit from mindfully leveraging them.
  6. Frequent opportunities for movement, and breaks where no new learning happens, are important for long-term storage of learning.

Teachers, indulge in the intimate details of the learner-brain relationship. Meddle even. This is one couple that needs you in the middle.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, May 2013.

If It Feels You’ve Gone Through the Looking Glass…

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”
-Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland

Into the looking glassParenting has these moments. Teaching has them too.

Our school musical this year was Wonderland!, a spin-off of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. As a child, I wouldn’t have noticed the dimension of the story that became evident the other night, when Alice stepped through the Looking Glass and everything turned backwards. To a child, this story is a feat of imagination, a delightful trek into a world that doesn’t exist.

As a parent and educator, it connected with something a little less fictional. It reminded me of the times where my children have come home and bemoaned things that didn’t make sense. It reminded me of times when students complain of an egregious injustice at recess, only to learn that what really happened was a little more complex and nuanced. And it reminded me of some discussions with concerned parents, who recounted what their child told them, and I had the opportunity to share some other relevant details that brought sense to a story in need.

Children aren’t cognitively and emotionally ready to fully understand their world. The perspectives and messages of others, body language, context and the implications of their own actions are often overlooked, not out of dishonesty but out of ordinary immaturity. Even adults struggle with this, and we are all vulnerable to using our imaginations, however unwittingly, to help explain a situation in a way that may please us, but is not a representation of all that really happened.

If your child comes home with a story that leaves you feeling as if you’ve gone through the Looking Glass, take heart. You needn’t go through the many adventures of Alice. Reach out to the adults who can add the facts needed to turn this backward world into one that makes sense. Doing so offers a delight that is preferable to the temporary treat of imagination. Even Alice came to realize it. “It was much pleasanter at home, when one wasn’t always growing larger or smaller.”

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, April 2013.