Paul Brownlow's Alternate Journal Review/Brain Lecture : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Sousa, David. How the Human Brain Learns. Metro ECSU & MASCD. Wayzata Central Middle School, MN. 29 Jan. 1999.

Submitted by:

Paul Brownlow

We are delivering a 1960s education to a 1990s brain. If, today, you were to have an operation by a surgeon that used 1960s technology and training, would you have that surgeon conduct your operation? These lines made up the opening of Dr. David Sousas lecture on how the human brain learns. Dr. Sousa explained how todays brain is different from the one fifteen years ago, gave some teaching practices that could be used in the classroom, and revealed that the teaching profession needs to shift its preparation paradigm from behavioral psychology to neuroscience.

Sousa said the biggest change with todays brain is the amount of stimuli it receives on average. He continued by saying that multimedia such as television, the computer, and video games have made the brain more accustomed to reacting to several stimuli at one time. It is tough to keep the students attention in school because there are too many outside competitors. These include stress, multimedia, and busy schedules that are a part of so many childrens lives.

Dr. Sousa identified some important changes that need to be implemented in school and classroom practices. Some examples he included were brain growth and development, memory, emotions in learning, sensory engagement, timing, and biological rhythms.

There are windows of opportunity for developing certain skills as the brain grows. As professionals, educators need to know when they take place. For example, music is best learned between the ages of 3-10 years. The language acquisition window opens and closes at about the same ages, yet we do not have children starting a foreign language until the 9th grade, which for most students is too late because they are already 14-15 years old.

Memory and recall are important devices that need to be manipulated in the learning process. According to Dr. Sousa, the best way to do this is to make learning relevant and related to previous material. He said there are too many instances where curriculum guides are so full that students are not set up for the chance to succeed. The only way that this can be made possible is to go in and take out all of the frivolous material that students will not recall anyway. Many times, material that is in the curriculum is out of date and of no use to the students in the classroom.

A major component that is being addressed more and more revolves around the emotional learning of students. Sousa said the brain is developed in a way that protects the survival of the species. When a message is sent to the brain, it must pass through the brain stem and amygdala before it is sent to the cortex, which is the learning area of the brain. If a student does not feel safe in the classroom, the content material message that is being transmitted will not go past the brain stem or amygdala because the brain is reacting to a threatening situation. Therefore positive classroom environments are crucial to every students learning process.

Since multimedia is changing the brains of todays students, educators are going to have to change the way they present their material. The days of lecture are history because the number of auditory learners has reduced while the number of kinesthetic and visual learners has increased. According to Sousa, a multisensory approach must be used to attract the attention of all students. Cooperative learning, movement, and discussion are all present in a successful classroom.

Timing is also key in retaining a students attention, which in turn increases the retention of material. Short lessons give students the stimuli they need while keeping their interest level high. The more interest a student shows in a topic, the better he will comprehend the material. Sousa gave examples of time management in the classroom that would increase student achievement.

The last instructional change that needed to be looked at involved school districts as a whole. Dr. Sousa demanded that it is time schools follow the circadian rhythms of children rather than the agrarian model for planning school days and years. He explained that children are not ready to learn until around nine oclock in the morning and that their down times differ from those of adults. He said that children are really ready to go during the late hours of the evening. This is not by choice but by biological means.

Finally, David Sousa discussed the paradigm shift that must take place at teacher-training schools. He insisted that the focus of education needs to shift from a behavior psychology model to a neuroscience model. He said more partnerships need to be made with neuroscientists and educators, so the modern brain can be educated in the best possible way.

I agree with Dr. Sousa completely. Educators need to be trained to deal with the brain of today. I often think I am doing my students a disservice because I am not adequately trained to teach their brain. Several new strategies need to be developed to keep the attention of our students in school. This is another area that could be strengthened at teacher-training institutions, so more teachers feel prepared as they enter the education profession.

The first change that needs to occur in order for our schools to improve requires a societal change. Students, today, have so many things going on and do not have time to make school a priority. Jobs, activities, multimedia devices, and school have made their lives so complex and busy. School is no longer the place where students want to be. Just a few years ago students wanted to be in school so they could be with friends, participate in school activities, and for the most part wanted to learn because the ideas being taught were interesting at the time.

I found the classroom practices segment of Dr. Sousas presentation very interesting and true. The window of opportunity for learning certain skills was a new idea for me. If music must be taught to children between the ages of 3 and 10, the music department in our school is behind. We do not do much with keyboards in the elementary grades, and students starting band are not starting until the 5th grade, which according to Sousa is too late. The same holds true for foreign languages. They are not usually started or explored until the 8th or 9th grade, which gives them little opportunity to maximize the learning benefit.

Students minds are constantly being overloaded with information. It is always a challenge for a teacher to decide what a student should know and what material is not necessary. Even though teachers do a great job filtering out unnecessary material, more basic concepts should be focused on to ensure students can make relevant connections, which is the only way the brain works. If the material is considered irrelevant by the brain, the material will not be considered important and will not be retained.

A point that I have tried to use more in my classroom is emotional learning. Before this year, I felt strong competition was the best environment to learn in. I have realized this is not true for my classroom and Dr. Sousa reaffirmed that point. It only makes sense that our body works to protect us from harm. If we do not feel safe, our brain and body must go into the protective mode to ensure our survival. This system of priority allows the opportunity to think when the environment is safe. I believe we sometimes forget about the evolution of our primitive ancestry.

The classroom has taken on a new function in society. Nowadays, educators are required to compete with many outside forces to engage students minds in school. A multisensory approach is necessary to maintain the interest level of students. It is sad that it has come to this, but this is the only way our message gets across to our students. There are many teaching aids available, but I feel that a teacher can do better by finding common interests with the lives of their students and the subject matter. This should make the classrooms in our buildings more active, which may take time for everyone to get used to.

It is very interesting to see how time controls our lives. Sousa noted that the school day and year are controlled by outside factors that do not have any positive impact on learning. For example, our school year is based on the agrarian model, which is great for farmers, but does no meaningful good for education. Time is the control and content becomes the variable, and according to Sousa that is the worst approach to giving todays brain the best education. I agreed with Sousa when he claimed that school schedules need to be rescheduled in order to provide the best learning environment for our students.

Dr. Sousas lecture on the brain was very insightful for me. I am interested in doing more reading so I can maximize the learning of my own students and children. He made very positive points about the influence the arts should have in education, and hopefully this will become more prevalent so administrators can see what they are doing when they cut out art programs. It will be interesting to see the changes in education over the next 10-15 years if teacher-training institutions change their present model. Will the new teacher be more effective? Will the revolution make the typical classroom more interactive, which has presently been considered an out of control classroom?

-- Anonymous, February 04, 1999


I immensely enjoyed reading your well written and informative article, Paul. Windows of opportunity need to be considered by 'state-of-the-art' school districts - we need to come out of the dark.

-- Anonymous, February 09, 1999

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