Ideas coming together: neuroplasticity and learning!

As I read more widely around my PhD topic I am finding many connections forming in my mind as to how a range of ideas and theories can mesh together to make a supporting argument. My Son, LT (6yo) would be exclaiming “I made a connection to text!”, and sometimes, when these ideas mesh in my mind I feel like shouting that too. Instead I tuck away the idea for a blog post. Here is one of  the most recent connections I have made.

As a teacher I know that ‘practise makes perfect’ (and if it still isn’t perfect, if you have been practising you will be better at something than when you started!). As a Mum introducing food to a toddler, I had been told that you need to present a new food at least 10 times before a child may even taste it. In my reading about becoming a ‘master’ at any activity requires 10,000 hours of practise (McGonigal, 2011).  As a constructivist teacher I consistently use activity based learning to support students in exploring and making connections with science and math concepts. It is now that I am reading about Neuroscience that I am finding support as to why this practise and immersion does improve learning. Here is a link to an Edutopia blog: Neuroplasticity: Learning Physically Changes the Brain | Edutopia.  This article states that the reason for this repetition working to improve learning is that the brain is ‘plastic’, through our lives our brains adapt to what we are doing, and makes new connections all the time. I recall reading about this in ‘The Brain that Changes itself’ (Doige, 2007), where people use physical therapy to help recover full mobility after strokes, by repeating the actions in physical therapy the body re-forms the neural connections needed to command movement.

By continuing to read, teach and think about learning I have linked my own experiences to emerging research on neuroplasticity. Learning needs to be an active process, for the learner as well as the teacher. Reading is only one form of experiencing information, but different people learn in different ways (not everyone enjoys reading either).  Thinking about how to support the diverse student needs in a classroom means that teachers need to consider the learners in their own class and how to assist each learner to make connections between themselves and the learning at hand. These connections will take time to discover and then need to be nurtured, teachers professional knowledge of pedagogy is central to identifying and then meeting the learning needs of students. Good teachers have known this for a long time, and I am pleased we now have research to support that activity based, cognitively challenging, real world tasks will help students to enjoy the experiences and see their learning more clearly. I can certainly see my learning more clearly!

Until next week

Fiona T.

Bibliography

Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. Viking Press.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken (2nd ed.). Penguin Books.

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