By Dr. Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.
The neuroscience of how the brain learns and what influences the most successful brain acquisition and application of learning should be included in all teacher education programs.
Teachers need to be prepared with foundational knowledge to understand, evaluate, and apply the neuroscience of learning. With this knowledge they will be able to recognize future implications from this rapidly expanding field of research to increase the effectiveness of their teaching and build and sustain students’ joy of learning.
Teacher education needs to prepare tomorrow’s teachers with the knowledge and tools to prepare their future students for the game-changing realities globalization. The new Common Core standards align well with the preparation for students need to be prepared with the thinking skills already sought by employers. These skillsets are those described in the neurology literature for almost 100 years, and they remain the brain networks that can be strengthened so all students can participate in the opportunities and challenges in higher education, vocations, a global society.
Neuroscience is on the vanguard of producing research of increased quality and applicability to education. Functional neuroimaging gives us insight into what circumstances and sensory input most successfully promote the brain’s acquisition of new knowledge. Among those insights is evidence of increased metabolic activity in identifiable networks neural networks when information is encoded into memory, when memories are retrieved, and when executive functions use is associated with increased neural circuit activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Correlations to neuroscience research have yielded strategies most consistent with brain’s information processing now “visible” with functional neuroimaging. For example, when information is presented in ways that emphasize relationships to existing stored memory, the brain’s own patterning system increases successful memory acquisition.
Teachers need to understand the why and not just the how of the most effective teaching strategies to have the motivation and positive expectations to best utilize these strategies. These topics include how the brain “pays attention”, encodes new input into working memory, uses neuroplasticity to construct long-term memory, is influenced by stress, and develops its neural networks of executive functions.
Especially critical is teacher awareness of the vast potentials of neuroplasticity that increases their opportunities to influence the development of their students’ brain networks of executive functions – their highest cognitive skillsets. Teachers with foundational understanding about the neuroscience and cognitive science of how the brain turns input into long-term memory and memory into transferable knowledge, will be the most prepared to guide all students to achieve their highest potentials.
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Image attribution flickr user jonathankosread