George Lucas Educational Foundation

Brain Research and Education

Brain Research and Education

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I was just reading an article on how it is important for teachers to know the structure and make up of the brain in order for us as teachers to better be able to adjust our teaching in order to benefit our students and help them to learn. It states that teachers should be aware of the two distictive types of memory (Precedural and Declarative). The article advises that teachers become familiar with the brain, its parts and its function. What I would like to hear is whether we teachers should rely solely on the parts of the brain to influence our teaching? Should we look to appeal to different parts to teach specific lessons? Should we now design a course at Teachers Colleges specifically related to the brain and its role in Education? Im looking forward to reading your comments.

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Lyon's picture

I think that we should always adapt our teaching to what best helps our students. It is always good to try new things and if they work adapt our curriculum to use them.

Becky Niermeyer's picture

I took a brain based learning course two summers ago. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed it. So many times it would tie into my class and click, it would make sense as to why a student did what he did. Not just with kids but us as well, if the information is relevant and intereting, we get it.

Meghen Samples's picture

I believe I read the same article, and I found it quite intersting. To answer your question as to whether or not teachers should rely solely on the parts of the brain to influence our teaching, my answer is no. I do not believe it is responsible for teachers to rely on one thing to influence there teaching. I believe that teachers should use a balance of research based practices. I do believe, however, that brain reserach is critical to understanding how students learn. Therefore teachers should have a knowledge base of how the brain works and how to apply that to the classroom. How can we interpret brain research findings and apply it if we have no idea how the brain works?

Amy's picture

I agree with you completely Meghen! I read a similar article that focused solely on brain research and found it to be very interesting. I also believe that we have to make sure that the research findings are scientific and not just a fad. I too would like to know how the brain research can enhance student learning in the classroom.

Mark's picture

As a teacher, I am fascinated by brain research and how it relates to learning. I try to stay as current as I can on the research, but admit I'm not as current as I would like to be. I would be interested to hear how other teachers like to use the brain research and incorporate it directly into their teaching. In other words, some concrete strategies that take the theory and directly apply it to the classroom. I really enjoy reading this blog, and appreciate all the comments.

Pamela Nevills's picture
Pamela Nevills
Teacher, Staff Developer, Consultant, Author

There is an abundance of misunderstanding about how neurology can be a valuable asset to classroom learning. I am offering responses to each of the questions posed.
QUESTION: What I would like to hear is whether we teachers should rely solely on the parts of the brain to influence our teaching?

The brain does not function structure by structure or system by system. While there are certain areas of the brain that respond to different tasks, much of the brain is somewhat involved at all times. What teachers want to know is where specific tasks are most likely processed and then how they can structure activities that cause students to want to concentrate and engage in the activities. Brain science encourages teachers to understand why some activities are more successful for student learning than others.

QUESTION: Should we look to appeal to different parts to teach specific lessons?

It is not about specific lessons for different parts of the brain. It is about understanding how the students' brains will need to be activated for learning to occur. If students are being asked to memorize spelling words, math formulas or facts, or lines from a poem the learning activities will require rote learning with repetitive practice. If, however, the objective is for students to be able to explain the culture of a specific Indian tribe, they will need to concentrate and talk about information they receive from a variety of sources. They will need to use declarative memory. Declarative memory is located in various areas of the brain depending upon whether the information is visual, auditory, or multi-sensual. Teachers who understand memory systems are better able to select activities and teaching models that help students learn the lesson or topic objectives.

QUESTION: Should we now design a course at Teachers Colleges specifically related to the brain and its role in Education?

Absolutely! One course may not be enough. The faculty must understand and be able to converse about how adults and children learn, so this information can be infused into all methodology classes.

I have two books that explain how learning happens for reading and all subjects. Please see my website for more information and a white paper topic of the month.

Judy Yero's picture
Judy Yero
teacher, curriculum writer, author of Teaching in Mind

I find this discussion so frustrating. This topic has been around since the early 90s when it was getting a lot of play at conferences. The term "brain-based learning" is an oxymoron...isn't all learning "brain-based?" It might be better called brain-based or brain-compatible teaching for our purposes.

There are dozens of books available on this subject (Renate Caine, Eric Jensen, etc.) But unfortunately, teacher prep schools have rarely deemed it important enough to include as a mainstream course. Then came NCLB and everyone forgot about the research on individualized differences and jumped on the standards bandwagon and making sure every student "possessed" the same body of knowledge in 14 different subject areas. Now that the bloom is off that rose, people are once again becoming interested in more important topics, such as whole-brain learning and individual differences.

I was prsenting teacher workshops on the topic back in the late 80s and early 90s and I can tell you that teachers who offer students multisensory and brain-compatible ways of accessing concepts and presenting information have had remarkable results. One Language Arts teacher in my workshop took her students from an average 50% on the semester spelling test to 80% using techniques that the kids loved to teach and learn the words. And that's only one small example.

Learning about how the brain works is very important in terms of teaching students and recognizing individual differences, which are much more profound than "learning styles." But the workshops also made me realize that teachers must begin by using the knowledge to understand their own methods of information processing and how those preferences influence the way they teach. For example, if you are a visual learner, it may never occur to you to present information in an auditory or kinesthetic way because what you do (visually) works for you, so it "should" work for everyone. Just not true! Even the process of metacognition...figuring out how you "know" which sentence is a topic sentence or what the word "inherent" means, or how to write a chemical formula, can reveal some amazing things about your thinking processes...including the critical importance of metaphors. And sharing those unconscious processes with students focuses them on their own processes and offers opportunities to identify why some students misunderstand a concept.

I wish I could believe that teacher prep schools would respond to the research on individual differences and begin focusing more on understanding those differences rather than on telling prospective teachers what they SHOULD be doing simply because it works for some teachers. However, if the NCATE standards tell us anything, it is that the schools are compelled to focus on knowledge, skills, and the ever-nebulous "professional dispositions" with little or no regard for how the individual mental processing of teachers influences their success.

I am encouraged by the interest and hope it will lead to pressure on schools to include courses on individual differences in both students and teachers.


Thomas J. Bailey's picture
Thomas J. Bailey
10th World Literature/History Cohort Teacher

I just caught up on the discussion here.

I read the following book and it was very informative with respect to brain research and practical strategies and considerations for teachers.

Author: Richard Cash
Title: Advancing Differentiation

Here is the information on

As I recall, there was a chapter dedicate to this topic in the book and that there was relevant information about differences in brain and cognitive development that I had not considered and some practices in the classroom that would facilitate better learning for students accordingly.

Julieta Pisa Barros's picture
Julieta Pisa Barros
Teacher from Cayman Islands

I think that it would be very beneficial for teachers and students to understand how the brain works. If teachers know why students struggle to read or in math, they can address the problem more effectively. There are many reasons of why this can happen, such as attention disorders, working memory issues, executive function problems, or auditory processing problems. All those disorders are associated to the brain and there are many strategies we can use to help the students with those issues. But unfortunately many teachers have no idea about the complexity of the brain that they just label the students and give up on them.

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