When I was growing up, our school education was simple. The teacher stood at the front of the class and spoke and the students listened. If any student was having trouble learning in school, they received extra classes. They could be remedial lessons, tuition, or anything that repeated the instruction to help them grasp the concepts of the material taught in school. There wasn’t a lot of thought given to the way we learn or how we learn best. The teacher taught and the students learned – it was as simple as that.
Education in the 21st century has changed. We have learned so much more about the brain:
- There are differences in the brain between the various stages of development from early childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
- These differences in the brain can affect our children’s learning.
- There is evidence showing what methods are working and what aren’t.
So what is neuroscience saying about the brain, learning, and what we should be doing in school? There is a terrific article from Edweek that highlights all of this which I highly recommend reading in its entirety. These are the salient points:
What we SHOULD do in school:
- We should focus on learning activities that involve goal-setting, planning, working memory (which are essentially executive functions), metacognition (which involves reflecting on their learning), and opportunities to make responsible choices.
- Students need real-life learning experiences, such as apprenticeships, internships, service learning, community-based learning, small peer-learning groups, entrepreneur-based programs, and student-directed project-based learning.
- Stress management skills (because the adolescent brain is most susceptible to stress), such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and aerobic activity; exercise breaks during class; a strong physical education curriculum; and a broadly based extracurricular sports program for all students.
What we should NOT do in school:
- Teach largely through lectures and textbooks because this method does not engage the adolescent emotional brain which is important for learning.
- Publicly post grades and test results because it shames and humiliates students in front of their peers (because teenagers value peer opinion very highly).
- Lock students into a set academic program aimed at driving them towards specific college/university programs because it robs them of the chance to decide what interests them most.
- Removing or cutting back on physical education and recess opportunities in order to increase time devoted towards academic studies.
What is your school doing?
So what is your school doing? Are they making changes or are they still stuck in the 20th century style of education?
- Metacognition – getting better at learning by understanding how we think.
- Executive functions help children succeed.
- Mindfulness enhances performance in school.
- Why children need working memory.
- Stress management for children.