20th century came to a close and the 21st began, educators came
to recognize that the wealth of research about how our brain
works can lead to greater student success. Important findings
brain undergoes physiological changes as the result of experience
(Marian Diamond, UC Berkeley; Harry Chugani and Michael
learning environment impacts the learner:
associated with emotions are often enhanced (Daniel
Goldman, Emotional Intelligence).
The most recent discoveries about the brain provide a powerful
framework for understanding and boosting memory and recall.
Scientists now view memory not as a location, but as a process
which cannot be separated from retrieval.
drive attention, index events, set priorities, and create meaning.
Recent research has produced three important discoveries about
have their own biologically automated pathways, which are
the superhighways of the brain. Response to emotion occurs
before response to thinking.
chemicals produced by emotions are dispersed throughout
the brain and body and linger to strongly influence our
behavior and capacity to learn.
are a critical source of motivation. We use thinking to
plan and set goals, but emotions supply the energy and drive
to accomplish them. Whenever we reduce fear and threat,
students learn more successfully.
often we attempt to teach using only techniques that develop
reflexive or semantic memory. Failures of recall often lead
to fear. When we are afraid, we downshift
from higher level reasoning to our most basic automatic, ritualistic,
and resistant processes. If you have ever had a student
explode in anger or break down in tears because they could not
master a particular lesson, you have seen the results of this
downshifting. Learning is compromised by fear.
we incorporate real-world context with its many associations
and hands-on exercises, students use the power of episodic and
procedural memories to improve recall. Successful retrieval
leads to the pleasure of learning and confident, active students.
research proves that a safe learning environment enhances
learning. In a safe learning environment students
about and known as individuals
unique talents are recognized and used to benefit
- That the
faculty member guides the learning
- That they
are encouraged to take risks, but supported when they
- A sense
of team or community
- They are
treated with courtesy.
Nemmela Caine and Geoffrey Caine, (writing in Marking
Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain, Addison-Wesley,
1994) report on 12 principles for Mind/Brain learning.
It is wise to keep these principles in mind as you design your
- 1. The
brain is a complex adaptive system
The brain is a social brain
The search for meaning is innate
- 4. The
search for meaning occurs through" patterning"
- 5. Emotions
are critical to patterning
- 6. Every
brain simultaneously perceives and creates parts and wholes
- 7. Learning
involves both focused attention and peripheral perception
- 8. Learning
always involves conscious and unconscious processes
- 9. We
have at least two ways of organizing memory
- 10. Learning
- 11. Complex
learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat
- 12. Every
brain is uniquely organized.
about Cognitive Methods
research indicates that our brain functions as three interconnected
brains controlling behavior, emotions, and abstract thinking.
Complexity is the key. Ideally, concepts, emotions, and behavior
work in concert to fully realize our human potential.
1. The Reptilian Brain,
located in the Brain Stem, is responsible for maintenance and
security: breathing, circulation, territory, social hierarchy.
Behavior is automatic, ritualistic, and resistant to change.
2. The Limbic
System includes the amygdala and hippocampus
which serve as emotional guardians. Events are indexed and coordinated.
Memories associated with emotion and context are initiated here.
3. In the Neocortex,
abstract thinking, planning, and creativity
originate. It gives us the ability to use language, create science
and art, tolerate uncertainty, investigate, and synthesize.
Threat, Helplessness and Downshifting
Threat, together with a feeling of helplessness, causes our
brain's processing to downshift: perception narrows, stress
inhibits short term memory, the indexing function fails, and
behavior reverts to more primitive reactions. Students gripped
by anxiety lose the ability to think, their eyes "glaze
over", and they often feel fatigued.