Recognizing Quality Brain-Based Learning Programs and Lessons
As educators, we’re often asked by parents to weigh in on whether or not a program they are considering for their child, outside of the classroom, would be beneficial. Between the number of programs and products available and the changing views in education, it’s often challenging to know how to respond. For the same reasons, choosing the right programs to include as part of classroom instruction is also difficult, even before considerations of time and budget enter into the mix.
So what are some things to keep in mind when considering a brain-based program or lesson? We know that basing instruction on how the brain learns or the science of learning and the fact that our brains are constantly reorganizing themselves has tremendous potential. But not all brain-based programs or lessons are created equal. There are some essential components that are important not only in promoting, but achieving successful outcomes.
For starters, repetition is key. Studies have shown that the repetition or frequency of information, in short intervals, aids in retention. This is true, not just for that upcoming test, but overall. A common approach in many online cognitive programs is to weave repetition into a game format.
Another option is to revisit a subject daily for a period of weeks, providing new opportunities for students to make connections between the material and their everyday experiences or previous knowledge. For example, having brief discussions each day on using decimals outside the classroom. Or challenging students to tally the different media or contexts in which they see decimals at home can further students’ interest, understanding, and recall of the main concepts.
Intensity is also important. Experiences need to be meaningful in order to motivate and involve each learner. You can achieve this goal by adding movement to an activity, relating it to a popular book, movie, or show your children may enjoy, or providing real life examples of people and professions impacted by the topic studied.
Nonfiction magazines are typically popular in the classroom because they cover topics that interest young learners, engaging and informing them. Information in short articles or captioned pictures, rather than lengthy text, it is often more appealing. The longer an article is, the greater the risk students will lose interest before reaching the most engaging details.
Responsiveness and Adaptability
As with all learning, the ability to adapt is key to brain-based instruction. As teachers, we constantly modify instruction based on student responses. We review information individuals find challenging and find different ways to approach material when initial attempts are unsuccessful.
We also move on from material students have demonstrated a clear understanding of and target instruction based on their needs. This is important when considering cognitive computer programs or activities as well. Each should steadily adjust based on student responses or input in order to ensure mastery of designated objectives. A “one-size fits all” approach does not work. There are far too many learning styles, special needs, and experiences that impact how every lesson or intervention is received.
Timely motivation is another requirement for an effective brain based program or solution. Teachers learn very quickly that immediate feedback and praise can make all the difference for learners of all ages. Suggestions for improvement and prompting questions can also be motivating when presented in a positive manner.
Praising a student (on his or her work) or suggesting edits on an assignment that is a week old does not have the same impact as a prompt response. Whether it’s earning bonus points or beating a high score on a computer game, reading a thoughtful note from a teacher/parent, or hearing cheerful applause from classmates after participating in an activity, a little encouragement can go a long way towards inspiring and engaging students.
Worth the Wait
It is important to remember that, while these components help support student success, results do not appear overnight. It can take weeks or longer before the effects of these strategies become apparent. Often, they will vary among learners.
But establishing a positive learning environment where frequency, intensity, adaptivity, and timely motivation are key parts of most activities can help achieve lasting outcomes. The joy of witnessing our children succeed over a period of time is immeasurable.
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