Since our brain is involved in everything we do, the next question is, “Is our brain fixed, or is it malleable?” “Is our brain shaped by experience?” An overwhelming body of evidence shows our brain is altered by everyday experiences, such as learning to read, learning vocabulary, studying for tests, or learning to play a musical instrument.
Therefore, it stands to reason that altering our experiences will alter our brain. This is a simple but profound syllogism: our brain is involved in all we do, our brain changes from experience, therefore our experiences at school will change our brain in some way.
Brain-based education says that we use evidence from all disciplines to enhance the brains of our students. The brain is involved with everything we do at school, and educators who understand take this fact into consideration in the decision-making process.
Brain-Based Education in Action An essential understanding about brain-based education is that most neuroscientists don’t teach and most teachers don’t do research. It’s unrealistic to expect neuroscientists to reveal which classroom strategies will work best
Is There Evidence That Brain Research Can Help Educators? This question is highly relevant for all educators. Brain-based teaching is the active engagement of practical strategies based on principles derived from brain-related sciences. All teachers use strategies. But the strategies ought to be generated by verifiable, established principles.
For example, we know that behaviourally relevant repetition is a smart strategy for learning skills. We know that intensity and duration matter. Did anyone 20 years ago know the optimal protocols for skill-building to maximize brain change? Yes, some knew them through trial and error.
But at issue is not whether any educator has learned a revolutionary new strategy from the brain research. Teachers are highly resourceful and creative; literally thousands of strategies have been tried in the classrooms around the world. The issue is “Can we make better-informed decisions about teaching based on what we have learned about the brain?”
Many theories might never be proven beyond reasonable doubt. It’s possible that the sheer quantity of school, home, and genetic factors will render any generalizable principle impossible to prove as 100% accurate. As educators, we must live in the world of ‘likely’ and ‘unlikely’ as opposed to the world of ‘certainty’. Neuroscience is a discipline you can’t see with your naked eyes.
The Healthy Role of Critics All paradigm shifts attract critics. As an example, Harvard’s highly respected cognitive scientist Howard Gardner has endured his share of criticism from neuroscientists who were uncomfortable with his brain-based evidence for the theory of multiple intelligences.
Yet, while subjected to two decades of criticism, Gardner’s work has made and continues to make a profound and positive difference in education worldwide. His ideas are in thousands of schools, and teachers are asking, “How are my students smart?”
Critics often do have valid criticisms. There is little controversy over whether sensitive periods, gender differences, or hemispheric specificity exist. There is no controversy over the value of developmentally appropriate instruction or removing gender biases from curriculum and instruction.
How reputable is brain-based education? Harvard University now has both master’s and doctoral degrees in it. Every year, Harvard’s Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) programme produces about 40 graduates with master’s degrees and two to four doctors of education, who go on to interdisciplinary positions in research and practice.
“Our mission is to build a movement in which cognitive science and neuroscience are integrated with education so that we train people to make that integration both in research and in practice,” says Prof Kurt Fischer, director of the programme. This intersection of biology and cognitive science with pedagogy has become a new focus in education. Interest in the programme is high in Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, and other countries.
In conclusion nothing is more relevant to educators than the brains of their students, parents, or staff. Brain-based education is here to stay.
Researched by Annie Manders, EFL Teacher