Jill Katrin's Workshop Review - Spring Grade Contract

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Jill Katrins Workshop Review - Spring Grade Contract

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

Current findings about brain research was the focus of Dr. Sousas presentation. In recent years, advancements in neuroscience have produced a wealth of detailed information about the human brain. Dr. Sousa discussed how the student brain of today is quite different from the one of fifteen years ago. He also discussed the dramatic impact of the developing brain due to the rapidly changing, multimedia-based culture and stresses from an ever-increasing pace of living. He explained how children have become accustomed to more time spent viewing television and interacting with electronic media than time spent with their parents. For many students school is seen as a dull, non-engaging environment. New information about the brain and learning can help educatiors understand and deal more successfully with todays students.

Dr. Sousa discussed how teachers will make better decisions about teaching when they have a thorough understanding of how the brain develops, learns, and organizes itself. He suggested using programs such as multiple intelligences, learning styles, and cooperative learning. He discussed many valuable teaching strategies to help accomodate todays learners. He explained that students learn best when actively involved in interesting and challenging situations. Often, students sit quietly and passively for long periods of time with little visual stimulation. Teachers can help by consistently providing a multisensory approach so that students are actively involved in their learning. He also discussed how movement helps stimulate the brain.

Non-threatening classrooms are crucial to every students learning process. Current research enphasizes the impact of emotions in learning. Dr. Sousa discussed how emotions can support or inhibit learning. Students must feel physically safe and emotionally secure in their schools and classrooms before they can focus on the curriculum. Teachers can assist by providing a positive climate that encourages students to take appropriate risks while learning.

Biological rhythms and time spent on lessons were two other areas discussed by Dr. Sousa. Biological rhythms refers to the time in the day where students learn best. The biological rhythms responsible for intellectual performance start later in the day for an adolescent than for an adult. We need to fit the brain to the system instead of the system to the brain, states Sousa. We are also learning more about the timing in lessons. Twenty- minute lessons are more likely to hold student interest, and result in more retention of learning.

He discussed the critical period of learning called the windows of opportunity. This is a period when the brain demands certain types of input in order to create or stabilize long-lasting structures. Neuroscientists have now confirmed that the brains greatest growth spurt is between the ages of 2 and 11. Educators need to be aware of this critical learning time to best approach the content and skills in their curriculum, and provide an enriched, brain-friendly classroom environment.

I was fascinated with the finding that some abilities or skills are acquired more easily during certain sensitive periods or windows of opportunity. I am particularily interested in the finding that foreign languages should be taught in elementary school, if not before. Students in our school district dont have the opportunity to be exposed to a foreign language program until they reach junior high when the windows of opportunity have closed. Thus, learning a foreign language as an adolescent is more difficult. Dr. Sousa talked about how the brain loses plasticity after this critical period.

MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scans, produce three-dimensional maps of the human brain in action. Dr. Sousa showed PET scans of young childrens fully engaged brains. These scans made modern neuroscience findings much more convincing.

This research reminds us that the early years are important in helping children establish meaningful associations between learnings. This knowledge about how the brain learns will enhance our school and classroom practice. As Dr. Sousa stated, This is an exciting time to be in education because neuroscience holds the promise for a quantum leap in our profession. I will continue to research about the windows of opportunity and other brain research topics to assist me with my research project on learning a second language during this critical learning period. I have utilized the information on the brain in my classroom with shortened lessons, a multisensory approach with active movement, cooperative learning groups, discussion groups, role playing, guest speakers, and parent involvement. I want their learning time to be time well spent. I am finding that teaching this way is challenging and time-consuming, but worthwile as I see the excitement of learning in my students faces.

-- Anonymous, April 23, 1999

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