Omatas Talent Show June 2015

Creating enquiring minds,

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PROGRESSIVE PRIMARY SCHOOL

I read a book last year that I have since recommended to everyone. The thing about this book and how it was enjoyed or not enjoyed by the ‘recommendees’ is that the level of enjoyment depended on whether the book was read over a few days or over a few weeks. You see when read over only a few days the beauty of the story came alive in the descriptions and emotions delivered so uniquely and simply. When the book was read over a few weeks its beauty was lost and only the story line was left behind. The story line was relatively dull and over used but the writing was exquisitely fluid and emotive. You see, the book didn’t change, only the way in which it was delivered to the brain for comprehension.

The way that information goes into our brains effects how it comes out. A simply example of this is when you are not concentrating on instructions being given to you, or when someone is mumbling or speaking too fast. Think back on a time when you were being given directions and the person was constantly correcting themselves. When we get information clearly, coherently and correctly we are more likely to remember it. The same could be true about children with input processing difficulties, how they receive information affects how they process and produce it afterwards.

In order for learning to occur we must consider how we are giving children the information. The brain uses connections to integrate new experiences so 4 things are important:


Priming the Learning

Simply put this means that a teacher should introduce a topic in a cursory yet interesting way a few days before delivering the learning. Priming makes the brain aware of a subject and open to more information that it can connect to. Everyone has a mechanism in their brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). This system is a filter for information from our environments. It is responsible for opening up our awareness to things that are important to us so that we don’t have to be actively aware of everything.

Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow states that, “cognition is embodied; you think with your body, not only your brain.” He is referring to how our bodies react to even the thought of something and how our thoughts are conversely affected by our actions. People asked to hold a pencil between their teeth were more likely enjoy a comic because their smile muscles were being engaged by the pencil. He states in his book that if we give you the word EAT, you are more likely to read this word S__P and SOUP. If we give you the word WASH, then you are more likely to read this word S__P as SOAP.

Priming occurs when we layout the class timetable and topics for the week. Priming occurs when we use scaffolding to build up learning. Priming occurs when we create a theme or set goals. We can prime children to concentrate as much as we can prime them on a particular topic. This is a powerful tool and can really enhance learning.


Introducing New Information Clearly

The brain usually remembers information the way in which it was received. When a message is spoken in a clear voice and the information is presented concisely and specifically, the child is more likely to remember it.

Clear delivery of information could include more than just how we say things but also what we use to relay the information. For example, we could introduce the concept of a cube, a square and a cylinder by showing a child a drawing, or we could get an object in each of these shapes and place them in the child’s hands. We could clearly give each shape its name and point out the features of each. In doing this the child experiences these 3D shapes in a clear way, without confusion or misinterpretation.

It is important that when new information is being introduced that we make sure everyone gets the message clearly. In large classrooms this can seem impossible but what if you broke the class into smaller groups and took the time to go to each group to explain. Montessori’s Three Period Lesson is a good example of presenting new information clearly.


Guiding Children to Make Their Own Connections

When we are ‘taught’ information we are passive learners expected to piece together bits and pieces into cohesive thinking. When information is discovered it is usually from our own connections and those connections are real and permanent. “What the learner does is more important than what the teacher does”, Geoff Petty. This is not to say that we place the child in the classroom and stand back and watch, what it means is that we must facilitate the child’s thinking processes so that he is able to find the meaning and make the connections. When we ‘make our own learning’ we physically change the neural structures in our brains.

Prof Reuven Feuerstein makes it clear in his Mediated Learning approach. Mediation is required when the child does not or cannot learn from direct exposure to a stimulus such as a maths problem or a list of words. Maria Montessori seemed to embody this idea as her materials were designed to require an initial clear lesson followed by independent practice with the built in control of error.


We Must Provide Opportunities to Practice

New skills take up a lot of brain space, remember learning to drive. In order to do something that is not yet automatic, the brain has to engage many of its parts. In children you see them use more of their bodies than they need to such as facial muscles or arm movements. As you become more proficient so your brain becomes more efficient, using less of your brain space to perform the task. This proficiency was the driving pathways forming and strengthening and it only happened because you kept driving.

When we practice on a daily basis we strengthen neural pathways that are in place, when we continue that practice over many weeks we start to create new neural pathways. Dubbed the “Monday Affect”, Pascal-Leone has proven a cumulative effect for students.

Information we are looking out for impacts us both mentally and physically. Violent films are being blamed for the increased violence in our youth.


Summary

Learning is a natural process for everyone, though for some it requires from us a bit more forethought and consideration into how information is introduced. Through preparation and the consideration of how we learn, we can determine how to educate our children so that none get left behind.

How are we taught ?