Model for the Creation of
Meaningful Community College Learning Experiences
Considerations in the Learning Space
in the Learner
A Model for Instruction
Things to Remember
CONSIDERATIONS IN THE LEARNING SPACE
In order to create a safe, learning-centered environment, we should
consider the following:
Temperature and Air Quality
who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder recognize the power of light
to affect one's emotions. But light can also affect how one learns.
A study conducted by Wayne London in 1988 (as cited by Jensen &
Dabney, 2000) showed that students performed better in brightly-lit
classrooms than in dimly-lit classrooms. The study also showed
that students in a room with lots of natural light scored 20% to 26%
higher in math and reading tests. It's important
to have a well lit room with natural light preferred, but we have found
that it may be useful, if possible, to vary lighting as well.
Students will have different preferences for the intensity of light
and it will be impossible to please all students all the time.
Try turning off the lights (if you have windows in the room), or dimming
the lights from time to time as it's appropriate. For example, I often
turn down the lights when my students participate in small group discussions.
It makes the classroom atmosphere a bit more intimate and helps students
to be more open about their thoughts and opinions.
Although we may
be able to manipulate light somewhat in our classrooms, we have even
less control over temperature. Some people are especially sensitive
to variations in temperature. When I'm teaching, though, it is easy
for me to become so absorbed in what I want to accomplish that I forget
about the quality of the air and temperature in the room. As teachers,
we need to make ourselves consciously aware of these things. We all
know the effects of sitting in a stuffy room on our brain functioning.
Studies show that cooler temperatures promote
relaxation and receptivity, while warmer temperatures promote arousal,
which can lead to inappropriate behavior. A study done by David Harner
in 1974 (as cited by Jensen & Dabney, 2000), suggests that the optimal
room temperature is 68 to 74 degrees, especially when focus and concentration
are required. If possible, we can open a window, or if not, turn
on a fan or open a door. Since we can't open windows at TC3, we
have a water fountain and several plants in our room to help maintain
good air quality. The fountain and plants also help to create a more
natural environment, which is also conducive to learning.
We have long known
that color can affect our moods and emotions. Most people are
aroused by the warm colors (red, orange, and
yellow), but feel more relaxed with the cooler colors. In Brain-Based
Learning (2000a), Jensen suggests that the optimal classroom colors
are yellow, light orange, beige, or off-white, based on a study by Robert
Gerard of the University of California done in 1991. Not surprisingly,
our emotional state determines how color affects us. If we are stressed,
red can bring out aggressive feelings, while red can attract our attention
if we are feeling relaxed. Luckily, most classrooms are
painted in a beige or off-white color, an acceptable color, according
In addition to the
color of the walls, we can greatly improve
the physical environment of our learning spaces by adding colorful,
visually appealing posters, pictures or other graphic images to the
walls. Although we are living in a visual age, visual cues
have been extremely important for survival for humans throughout the
millennia. In other words, responding to visual stimuli is hard-wired
into our brains. A classroom that is visually appealing adds to the
comfort level and can help to reduce stress and promote a sense of community.
According to Jensen (2000a), the brain is capable of registering 36,000
visual massages per hour. Between 80-90% of information that the
brain absorbs is visual. Making use of color is very helpful
in getting the brain's attention. Jensen cites a study by Vuontela in
1999 that indicates memory of verbal cues is enhanced by color.
"speculate that abstract art may be especially potent. Because
of its hidden meanings and
atypical shapes and contours, abstract art, like abstract thinking,
requires the viewer to 'step out of reality'
and make use of more cognitive regions--a process that Rose (1991)
calls 'tension and release.' The
process calls for the viewer to take in the art as a whole, then visually
and mentally dissect it, and
finally put it back together to gain meaning. This stimulates
the brain's occipital lobe
(which controls vision and
spatial and geometric functions), the temporal
lobe (non-verbal pattern recognition), and the
interpretation, thinking and memory). Because more brain areas
are stimulated and used than in routine
observation, the brain gets a heightened mental workout which can
enhance perception and
learning, states Rose." (Jensen & Dabney, 2000, p.
We have to admit
that most college classrooms leave something to be desired in the way
of visual images. One obvious way to increase
visual stimulation is with the use of colorful handouts, colorful powerpoint
presentations or overhead transparencies. Jensen and Dabney
(2000) cite a study by Farley and Grant conducted in 1976 that showed
that full color multi-media images promote recall significantly better
than black and white images. One study (as cited by Jensen & Dabney,
2000) even showed that college students performed better on identical
tests printed on blue paper than on red paper. The color blue is more
calming than red and promotes deep thinking and concentration.
But we would encourage
you to be even more creative. As we suggested earlier, see if it is
possible to have all of your classes meet in one room and then ask others
who teach in that room if you can put up some pictures on the wall.
The pictures can suggest themes and concepts that are important for
your content area. In addition to adding color and interest to the environment,
such additions can play a role in peripheral learning which we'll look
of the most easily changed features of the physical environment of our
learning spaces is the seating arrangement, at least in many college
classrooms. Rows of seats work well for a large lecture class, but smaller
sized classes provide us with an excellent opportunity to provide for
interactive learning. In Learning Smarter, Jensen and Dabney
(2000) cite a study by Sommers that indicated that small group interaction
helps students to make connections between new material and previously
learned material, strengthening the neural connections in
Jensen (2000a) cites a study done by R. Wlodlowski suggesting
that rows of seats facing the front of the room are not conducive to
active processing and interactive learning. More
informal arrangements such as circles, U-shapes and V-shapes are better
suited. Another study done by J. Della Valle cited
by Jensen indicates that many students need "extensive mobility while
learning." (Jensen, 2000a, p. 110) For such students, being
required to sit in a seat for extended periods of time can actually
interfere not only with attention but also learning. Later, we'll talk
about using movement in the classroom, but here the point is that we
need to set up a learning environment where students feel free to stand,
sit on the floor, or move quietly about the room if they need to.
I have often observed
that where students sit on the first day of class is where they continue
to sit throughout the semester. Some students may prefer the left or
right side of the room because of handedness, while others may prefer
a front or back seat depending on their willingness to be engaged in
the class. A teacher may also consciously or unconsciously speak more
to one side of the room or other or prefer to stand in specific places
in the room. Thus, when seating patterns become fixed, it is likely
that some students are at a disadvantage. Furthermore, when seating
patterns become fixed, students may not have opportunities to interact
with all members of the class. Encouraging students to sit in different
places in the room can remedy these types of problems. Later we will
talk about the value of novelty. Having students move about the room
has the advantage of introducing novelty into the learning environment.
In our classroom
at TC3, we have the luxury of having large round tables. Not only are
such tables excellent for small group work, but they also make
the physical environment of the room more inviting. The very seating
arrangement makes it clear that learning involves collaboration among
students. An interesting feature of our classroom is that there is intentionally
no "front" of the room. Depending on the activity, students may be turned
in one direction to look at the blackboard, and then turn around to
look at an overhead transparency on the screen. As I teach in this room,
I find myself constantly moving about. This means that I will be close
to all of the students in the class at one time or other during the
class time. Even students who are too reserved to get up out of their
seats find themselves at least frequently changing positions in their
seats. Nor is there a teacher's desk. Since we are basically constructivists
in our approach, we believe that students must construct their own meaning.
We teachers are not the sources of knowledge, but the guides to knowledge.
By removing the teacher's desk, we are communicating this change in
CONSIDERATIONS IN THE LEARNER
as we recognize that the physical environment, things like weather,
light, and noise, can influence us, so too we know that our bodies also
influence us. It's not hard to remember sitting in a lecture class and
having a hard time staying awake after a night of studying for a test.
Or the difficulty of staying alert after a heavy pasta lunch. Nutrition,
rest, and physical activity are necessary for keeping our bodies healthy,
but also our brains. Unfortunately, not only students but also
teachers are experts at abusing their bodies without taking into consideration
that the mind and body are inextricably intertwined. Lack of rest or
exercise, excessive alcohol or food, or too much work can all take their
toll on us. As instructors, we need to model as well as instruct about
the proper care of the body. This is not an easy task, given the
students' and our own busy schedules. We have all had students
who stumble into class, having overslept after a long night of studying
(or whatever), without having had breakfast. It's clear that their
learning is not optimal is such situations. We need to address this
vital issue in our classes. I include a statement in my course outline
about the mind/body connection and emphasize that good learning requires
Food--Air and Water
body, and thus the brain as well, needs glucose, oxygen and water
to function properly. Jensen tells us that the brain
consumes an incredible 20% of the body's energy, derived from blood
flow to the brain. (Jensen, 1998)
cells consume oxygen and glucose (a form of sugar) for fuel.
The more challenging the brain's task, the
more fuel it consumes. Therefore, it is important to have adequate
amounts of these fuels present in the brain
for optimum functioning. Low amounts of oxygen and glucose in
the blood can produce lethargy and sleepiness.
Eating a moderate portion of food containing glucose (fruits are an
excellent source) can boost the
performance and accuracy of working memory, attention, and motor function.
(Sousa, 2000, p. 10)
Even if the air
quality in our classrooms is excellent, many students may still be oxygen
deprived because of improper breathing. Many studies have shown that
most of us a shallow breathers. Jensen and Dabney cite studies by Bernardi
in 2000 and by Sloan in 1991 that demonstrate that breathing patterns
can be negatively affected by stress and anxiety. Shallow breathing
and irregular breathing patterns reduce the amount of oxygen that is
taken in and impact brain processing. It can
be very helpful to take "breathing breaks" during our classes, a time
to stretch and breath deeply.
I begin all of my classes with thirty to sixty seconds of stretching
and deep breathing. When I notice that attention is lagging or students
seem to be drowsy, I will have them stand for just a few seconds, stretch
and breath deeply.
also important for good brain functioning. According to Jensen (2000a),
Dr. Carla Hannaford has discovered that the average student is dehydrated,
which leads to lowered learning. We are constantly being reminded
by health officials to drink plenty of water. Water is better for us
than coffee, tea, or soft drinks. We should encourage our students to
drink more by allowing them to have beverages, preferably water or fruit
juices, in the class room. And of course, we should model this behavior
by having our own glass of water with us while we teach.
not news that today people are less active than in past generations.
Galen Cranz, a professor of architecture at the University of California
at Berkeley (as cited by Jensen & Dabney, 2000), asserts that we
spend two-thirds of our lives in either a chair or a bed. And for most
of us, when we think of learning, we see ourselves seated either in
a classroom at a desk or at a table at home. But research has shown
that movement plays an important role in learning.
It activates many systems in the brain and creates an aroused attentional
state that promotes learning.
body's movement is first detected by the sensory systems in the inner
ear. Impulses in the inner ear travel
to the cerebellum, and
from there to the rest of the brain ...The inner ear also stimulates
which you may recall regulates incoming data and, thus, is critical
for getting our attention. ... Studies
have found that signals from the cerebellum go to multiple areas in
the cerebrum, arousing
spatial perception, and the frontal lobe's cognitive functions--the
same areas that are stimulated during
learning. It seems that the more we study the cerebellum, the more
we realize that movement is
inescapably linked to learning. (Sousa, 2000, p. 230)
mind and body research establishes significant links between movement
and learning. Educators ought to be purposeful
about integrating movement activities into daily learning." (Jensen,
1998, p. 88) So how do we use movement in our classes to improve learning.
Any learning activity that involves movement is an obvious choice: science
experiments, getting out of the chairs and measuring in math classes,
using equipment in any technical class. Some classes lend themselves
to role-playing, simulations, dramatizations or dance. But these can
be used to good advantage in classes that are normally the "sit and
listen" type of class. Students in a history class can dramatize a particular
event in history that is particularly important or complex. Students
in literature classes can do the same. Psychology and sociology classes
can also integrate such activities quite easily into instruction.
There are other
ways to integrate movement into a class, ways that take but a minute
or two and require very little space or
preparation. Jensen and Dabney (2000) cite research that recommends
stretching and deep breathing for three minutes for every hour of sedentary
activity. Having students stand, stretch and breath deeply from time
to time can be very beneficial. Adding some movement to the stretching
increases the benefits. For example, students can extend their arms
out to the side, up to the ceiling and down to the floor in a smooth
movement while breathing deeply. Cross-lateral movements seem to be
especially helpful: swinging the arms in front of the body, moving one
leg other either in front or in back of the other, alternate toe touching,
or even simply hugging one's self. If more energetic movements are required
to revive sluggish students, one could have students quickly move about
the room and touch seven objects that are the same color or write their
names in the air with either the elbows or their feet. Marching in place
or taking 5 large steps away from one's seat to lively music can get
blood flowing and lungs breathing. I like to combine walking with a
review/rehearsal activity: take five steps away from your seat, find
a partner, and tell them what are the critical elements in a thesis
statement and then return to your seat. Allowing students to stand or
quietly move about the room as necessary gives students with special
needs the freedom to move to their own body rhythms. Notice that many
of our activities in the classroom applications section include movement
of some sort.
Rhythm and Sleep
bodies have natural but differing bio-rhythmic cycles, ranging in length
from a year to less than an hour. Yearly biorhythms consist of variations
in bodily functioning with changes in the seasons. Some of us just naturally
feel better and function better at a particular time of year, most notably
in summer, when days are longer and we tend to be more active. Monthly
cycles are obvious in menstruating women, but even men experience monthly
fluctuations in hormone levels. Jensen (1998) talks about 7-day cycles
in both humans and animals. It is, however, the daily cycles that most
concern us as teachers.
physiological functions that are impacted by our bio-rhythms include
pulse rate, blood pressure, neurotransmitter
levels, and cell division. Psychological responses include changes
in mood, concentration
level, and learning. ... In addition, these cycles influence memory,
accident rate, immunology, physical
growth, reaction time, and pain tolerance. (Jensen, 2000a, 41)
let's look at sleep first. Sleep is important for long-term
memory. The encoding of information
into the long-term memory storage occurs during deep sleep,
specifically during the REM (rapid-eye
movement) stage of sleep.
During a normal sleep of eight to nine hours for most people, five REM
cycles occur. Some have suggested that "unlearning" also takes place
during this deep sleep, that is, getting rid of unneeded information
by rearranging neural networks. Processing of emotional events also
occurs at this time. If an individual doesn't get enough sleep, it reduces
the amount of REM time and thus impacts long-term storage of date. At
the How the Brain Learns Conference in Boston (2001) Jensen stated that
the most important work is done by the brain during the first two hours
and the last two hours of sleep, so a full night's sleep is important.
Sousa (2000) discusses a sleep disorder called Delayed
Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD), which is becoming more
and more common. "It is characterized by a persistent pattern that includes
difficulty falling asleep at night and getting up in the morning, fatigue
during the day and alertness at night." (p. 103) In addition to causing
problems with memory storage, such a pattern impacts overall health
as well. Yet how many of our students seem to suffer from this disorder.
Jensen made an interesting observation in Boston: Tasks involving only
memory are not as vulnerable to sleep loss as critical thinking. That
is why cramming works. A student who stays up all night cramming for
a test may do well enough on the test, but the information will be quickly
forgotten because it hasn't passed into long-term storage. On the other
hand, critical thinking tests require a full night's sleep.
Just as at night
when we experience cycles of deep REM sleep and light sleep, so also
during the day we experience fluctuations in our ability to concentrate
and focus. Our brains can benefit from a time of rest during the day
as well. Rest periods during the day allow
the brain time to review and begin incorporating new learning into long-term
storage. If our or our students' schedules allow it, a power
nap in the middle of the day, the traditional Spanish siesta,
has been shown to have positive effects on the brain.
At this point, it
may be good to step back and see what we are really saying here. What
does it mean to us as teachers when we say that information is moved
into long-term storage. When we first begin to process information,
as we have seen from the discussion on brain function (Click
here to go to that page), it occurs first in immediate memory and
then proceeds to working memory. If the data in working memory makes
sense and is meaningful, if it has emotional significance or is important
for survival, it is passed into long-term storage. Information that
is not in long-term storage cannot be recalled at a later point in time.
For us, exposure to new data and even using it for a period of time
successfully, such as a new formula for solving a math problem, does
not necessarily mean it has been learned. Learning involves retention,
the ability to call up the information again for future use. Attention
to new information is not enough. The information must be integrated
and consolidated with prior knowledge and experience in such a way that
it can be retrieved and used again. This requires periods of rest.
Beyond the long-term
storage of information, our sleep cycle can also influence our ability
to focus and pay attention. One consequence of becoming fatigued is
that is, we simply loose the ability to actively process what is happening
in our environment. Furthermore, all of us know that work seems to flow
more for us at certain times of the day. In fact, the
time of the day that different kinds of activities take place can influence
memory according to Brewer and Campbell (1991). They go so
far as to suggest specific times of the day for doing short-term memory
work, rote memory work, and more integrative learning. For most people,
though, there is a regular down time about 12 hours after the mid-point
of the previous nights sleep, that is, about mid-afternoon for most
people. Individual students can vary significantly, depending on when
and how long the slept and other factors that are happening in their
lives. It would be a scheduling nightmare if we tried to make scheduling
of classes adhere to the most productive times of the day for different
types of learning. However, as we advise students, we can ask them to
think about their most productive times of the day and their down times.
Scheduling a class that requires deep analytical thinking during a down
time, whenever that is, might not be such a good idea if there is a
choice. Within our academic departments, it might be wise to check on
classes of only one section to be sure that they meet at more productive
times (for most people) than mid-afternoon. On the other hand, classes
that involve movement or hands-on activities can be scheduled for that
mid-afternoon time slot. At the very least, a longer break with some
physical movement during the mid-afternoon can help a person recover
from the mid-day slump. Some researchers suggest
that we need a 5-15 minute break every 1 to 2 hours of concentrated
mental activity. Jensen (1998) says we need 5-10 minute
breaks every 90-110 minutes, that is not just changing to a different
class, but true down time.
studies have shown that "the brain's neural connections are strengthened
and solidified when
competing neural stimuli ceases for several minutes subsequent to
(Jensen & Dabney, 2000, p. 7)
There is not a lot that we as educators can do about the
yearly, monthly, weekly or daily body rhythms other than raise awareness
among our students how these factors can affect learning and recall.
But research also shows that there is a smaller cycle that impacts learning.
We need to understand these learning rhythms well in order to promote
a good physical environment in our learning environments. Jensen (1998)
cites a study by Allan Hobson of Harvard University done in 1989 that
indicates our ability to learn is influenced by fluctuations in brain
chemistry that occur about every ninety minutes throughout the day and
night, or about 16 times per day. The research demonstrates that a period
of down time after concentrated study helps the brain form stronger
neural connections. Our brains need time to filter new information,
relate it to prior learning and past experiences, in order to prepare
information for long term storage. Studies
show that adults become fatigued after about 25 minutes of intense cognitive
activity. This does not mean that we should give our students
breaks every 20 to 25 minutes. But it does mean that we should change
the pace or vary the activity after about 20 to 25 minutes of sustained
concentration. A moment of stretching and deep breathing can be sufficient.
But a change of academic activity often works just as well. For example,
move from lecture to small group discussion, or from intense small group
discussion to reflection activities, or from project work to individual
brain shifts its cognitive abilities on those high and low cycles.
There's literally change in blood flow and breathing
these cycles that affects learning. ... This oscillation [between
high and low cycles] suggests that we will get lower scores
if we test students at the wrong time. It makes a case for choice
in the learning process and choice in the assessment
process. Portfolios, which are compiled over time, are more
inclusive and accurate than a 'snapshot' test, since
they may average in the highs and lows better. (Jensen, 1998, p.
(2000) discusses the Primacy-Recency Effect,
which also has an impact on learning and retention. Essentially, this
principle says that retention of information also depends on when it
is presented in a learning situation. Here is an experiment that Sousa
suggests which will help you understand this principle. You will need
a timer, a pencil and a piece of paper with the numbers 1-10 written
in a column. Click here to
try this experiment.
If your response
was typical, you probably remembered the first three or four and then
the last one or two, but had difficulty with the ones in the middle.
This is explained by the Primacy-Recency Effect, which says that we
remember best that which comes first and second best, that which comes
last. The things at just past the mid-point we remember least well of
all. Thus, in a 40 minute class, says Sousa, the best time
for processing new information is during the first 20 minutes. The second
best time is during the last 10 minutes. The middle 10 minutes are down
first items of new information are within the working memory's functional
capacity so they command our attention, and
are likely to be retained in semantic memory. The later information,
however, exceeds the capacity and is lost. As the
learning episode concludes, items in working memory are sorted or
chunked for additional processing of the arriving
final items, which are likely held in immediate memory unless further
rehearsed. (Sousa,2000, pp. 88-89)
At the How the Brain
Works Conference in Boston, Jensen (2001) cautioned us to keep this
in mind as we give directions. For most of us, the tendency is to recite
all of the instructions for a particular task at one time. Then we expect
the students to follow the instructions. For example, I might say, "Divide
up into groups of 3, read the article on page 28, decide what the main
idea is, and then check with your group to see if you agree. Once you
agree on the main idea, decide which ideas are the important supporting
ideas and which ones are details." Given what we know about working
memory, students may remember the first two and the last steps, but
forget the middle steps. So the solution is simple: give one step of
the instructions at a time. Simple, but in our eagerness to get through
the material, how often we forget.
based on this information, we can see that we may need to reconsider
how we structure a learning episode. One conclusion is
that we should present new, important information first. How many of
us waste this valuable time with announcements, taking attendance and
collecting homework, things which could be easily accomplished during
the mid-class down time because they don't require intense attention.
The middle time can also be used to allow the brain to process
information through practice, review, or feedback. This gives the brain
time to organize and process the new information for storage and recall.
Then the last 15 minutes of the class can be dedicated to solidifying
and embedding the information in long-term memory. Helping students
to attach sense and meaning to the information will also help the process
of long-term storage.
Research has also
shown the three processes help the brain with long-term storage of information:
attention, rehearsal and priming. Attention
involves focusing on what is important and
simultaneously ignoring what is not important. For example,
we we are looking for a misplaced book, our brains focus on the image
of the missing book and ignore all other unrelated input, whether it
is pencils, magazines, boxes or whatever. As we have seen in the discussion
on brain function, attention is always directed first to survival and
emotional concerns. In our classrooms, we sometimes assume that our
students are paying attention to us, ignoring the fact that attention
is not simply a matter of the will. Jensen (1998) tells us "Genuine
'external' attention can
be sustained at a high and constant level for only a short time, generally
10 minutes or less." (p. 45) One reason for this is, as we have
seen, that the brain must initially sort through an immense data to
determine what is important. This sorting out is a very fast, intense
process. We need to give the brain time to process this mass of data.
Furthermore, the brain must decide if new information is relevant or
useful. This internal process of looking for meaning involves examining
past experiences and integrating it with the new information. So, we
can see that paying attention is in fact a very complex process, obviously
influenced by sleep, health and emotional concerns. We teachers need
to be sensitive to the degree of attention that students are giving
to new learning. Attention tends to be directed to new things in our
environment. We can use that characteristic of the brain to our advantage
when attention is drifting in our classes. For example, contrast is
a great help in getting attention. So changing the level of the
voice to very loud or very soft is one way to get attention. Moving
about the room, having students move, or changing activities all help
to restore attention.
A second process
involved in moving data into long-term storage is called rehearsal.
Sousa (2000) says, "The assignment of sense and meaning
to new learning can only occur if the learner has adequate time to process
and reprocess it. This continuing reprocessing
is called rehearsal and is a critical component in the transference
of information from working memory to long-term storage."
(p. 85) Initial rehearsal occurs when new information is first presented.
As we attend to the new information, it is moved into working memory.
But as we have seen, working memory is not able to work with information
for long periods of time. If there is not enough time for the learner
to fully process the new information and attach sense and meaning to
it, the new information will probably be lost. Thus, secondary
rehearsal becomes vital. Rehearsal can be either simply
rote rehearsal, as in the case of memorizing the periodic table of conversions,
or elaborative rehearsal as might occur in practice sessions, reflection
exercises or review sessions. Without rehearsal, however, there is little
chance of long-term storage of information.
sufficient time to go beyond the initial processing to secondary rehearsal
allows the learner to review information,
to make sense of it, to elaborate on the details, and to assign value
and relevance, thus increasing significantly
the chance of long-term storage. When done at the end of a learning
episode, this rehearsal is called closure.
(Sousa, 2000, pp. 85-86)
Both attention and
rehearsal can be enhanced by priming.
For example, if I ask you to look at a painting by Rembrandt and then
discuss it, you will probably not be as successful as if I tell you
that this painting exhibits an exceptional use of light. By priming
you, you are able to focus your attention on what is important. As you
study the painting (initial rehearsal), you make mental notes of how
light is used effectively. Then as you tell me about the painting (secondary
rehearsal), you are able to recall how light was used. In all likelihood,
when you see that same painting days or even weeks later, you will recall
that it is a good example of the use of light in paintings. Priming
involves telling our students either directly or indirectly what it
is they need to know. Many textbooks
are set up this way: chapters begin with a preview of the information
in the chapter. I for one am guilty of sometimes skipping over the previews,
thinking I can make better use of my time if I get right to the meat
of the subject. In his conference in Boston, Jensen made good use of
indirect priming by having posters around our learning area focusing
on different areas of content that he would cover during the conference.
In my classes, I've tried to do the same. A week or so before I plan
to cover the use of articles (a, an and the) in
my classes, for example, I put up a tree diagram which summarizes the
most important rules about articles and call my students' attention
to it. Although the students might not be able to verbalize the rules
from the tree diagram, they do begin to become familiar with the vocabulary
that we will use in our discussion of the rules. This pre-exposure,
even though cursory, helps to set the stage for a fuller discussion
later on. Other ways to accomplish priming include placing a mind-map
or other visuals of important concepts on the wall a week before discussion
is to begin. Or integrating references to future topics in our discussions.
For example, "Next week we will begin to learn how US economic policies
of the past impact the global economy today."
MODEL FOR INSTRUCTION
So, taking what we know about how the brain processes information
and moves it into long-term storage, Jensen suggested the following
model for instruction at the Boston Conference.
priming and pre-exposure to set the stage for learning new content.
beginning of the semester, we can use our course syllabi to let
students know what topics will be considered during the course In
addition to due dates of assignments and page numbers in the text,
we can include brief descriptors about the topics. Previews and
short human-interest readings on topics can be given out ahead of
time. Videos, web-searches, pre-tests, simulations, and posters
can all be used to introduce topics ahead of time. Having former
students visit the class early in the semester to talk with the
students in your class (without you being present) can give the
students a chance to get "inside tips" on the class.
Acquisition involves direct and indirect learning. During this stage,
it is important to engage your learners and get them vested emotionally,
remembering that we process information more easily if there is an emotional
hook. We need to frame the new material in terms of past learning and
help students to develop their own sense of the meaning and value of
the information. While we have emphasized the value of interactive learning,
lecture does have its place in the learning process. Lecture
is an excellent way to convey information, especially when it is done
well. But a interactive, discovery process is sometimes better suited
to acquisition of new information.
As we have seen
in the discussion on brain function, in academic situations our focus
is on declarative meaning.
There are two types of declarative meaning: episodic (implicit) and
semantic (explicit). Semantic memories
include facts and figures and are malleable over time, but also easily
forgotten. Eposodic memories
sometimes called procedural memories, are more fixed. Memories
are formed when connections are made between neurons in the brain.
More complex memories involve most of our senses and thus require more
neural connections. The more neural connections, the greater the
likelihood that memories will be retained. Experiences that have
survival value or strong emotional components, either pleasurable or
painful, make stronger neural connections. The lecture mode of
teaching relies heavily on semantic memory, while hands-on, interactive
learning is episodic. "By engaging active and emotional
pathways (the 'how' and the 'wow'), we supply an additional 'hook' for
learning." (Jensen & Dabney, 2000, p. 104) In other
words, movement and emotions activate more of the brain and thus enhance
Elaboration provides for rehearsal, which allows the learner to
deepen his or her understanding. This is the
time for active processing, which can include a trial and error testing
of hypotheses, practice with feedback and review. We need
to remember that working memory cannot retain information for long periods
of time. Rehearsal is essential for moving information from working
memory into long-term storage.
As I recall my own
college days, I intuitively knew that I needed to review lecture notes
very soon after the lecture. I remember dorm mates who did not do that.
When it came time to study for the test, they had to essentially learn
the material from scratch again, because they hadn't taken the time
to review and rehearse immediately after every class. Unknowingly, by
reviewing my notes immediately, I had helped my brain move content from
working memory into long-term storage.
have seen, memory formation requires a period
of passive processing, which occurs during rest periods and optimally
during deep sleep. Rest periods of at least one
to six hours are recommended by Jensen. During this time, strong neural
connections are formed and unnecessary information, at least from the
brain's perspective, is deleted. Everything we experience is registered
by the brain, but the brain prioritizes the processing and ultimately
the long-term storage of this information by value, meaning, and usefulness.
The connections in the brain are strengthened by repetition, rest and
than wasting time, longer breaks from our work are essential to long-term
memory formation. So how about it--isn't it time to get up and take
a walk so you can process some of this information you've been reading?
This is the final step that is required to firmly implant new information
in long-term memory: application or using it again in a new way. We
teachers generally feel that once information has been presented to
our students, our job is done. But we need to understand that solid
learning takes repetition. Jensen
likes to say, "The brain rarely gets it right the first time." To really
learn something, students need to revise it, apply it and use it often.
If we don't wish to take time for this in class, then we need to help
students find effective ways to do this: review assignments, study groups,
working with a tutor or periodic review on one's own. Again, emphasizing
episodic memory that involves trial and
error or hands-on variations is much more useful than simply rote memorization
of facts and figures. Rather than concentrating on memorizing formulas,
it's better to do more problems that require application of the formula.
Rather than memorizing what a thesis statement involves, it's better
to write another thesis statement.
repeating earlier learning, neural pathways become more and more efficient
through a process called myelination.
better a task is learned, the less energy is required by the brain.
(Jensen, 1998, p. 13)
of us were introduced to Madeleine Hunter's Mastery Teaching (1982)
years ago. David Sousa (2000) has taken her instructional model and
modified it slightly to reflect recent research in teaching. Since
her model is so familiar, it may be helpful for some to use her model.
Click here to read about it.
So, providing a physically safe learning environment involves more
than making sure the learning space is free of dangerous elements. It
means taking into consideration the physical needs of the learner as
well. We need to structure the learning experience to optimize long-term
memory formation and we need to be aware of the physical needs of our
students. To review, the following are important but simple, easy things
one can incorporate into the learning experience in response to their
to take care of themselves. Model this behavior.
with a bit of movement and deep breathing exercises to increase
oxygen flow throughout the body.
to drink during the class, encouraging them to drink water.
Model the behavior.
breaks periodically to help keep the body alert.
color whenever and in whatever way possible.
If a student
is obviously tired or sick, encourage that student to go home and
go to bed. Ask someone to volunteer to fill in the student
on the classes activities. The sooner a sick or tired student
takes care of his/her physical needs, the more quickly he/she will
be able to get back in the swing of things.
information during the first twenty to twenty-five minutes of a
fifty minute class and review it during the last ten minutes. Allow
for elaboration during the middle portion of the class.
Be aware of
the limits of working memory and design instruction with that in
to the next section, Creating an ENRICHED PHYSICAL Environment