Research is now showing that a child’s sense of physical and emotional safety needs to be established to ensure their brain has optimal conditions for learning. Essentially, brains that are distressed are less able to learn. As we understand more about how the brain works, it creates an opportunity for educators to adapt current teaching strategies to maximize each child’s capacity to realise their educational potential. It is an exciting time in education, and the new emerging research is creating opportunities for the application of easy-to-apply simple strategies that will make a grand difference to educational outcomes. Before we can talk about strategies, it is important to understand how the brain learns.
In her article Debunking Myths in Brain Research, Amy Saleh states that:
All information is transmitted to the thalamus which sorts information to send to the various parts of the cerebral cortex. If information is perceived to be important, it is transmitted to the hippocampus. The information is analyzed and identified in terms of patterns or meaning by the neocortex.
The hippocampus is responsible for sending information from the short-term memory to the long-term memory and is affected by hormones and proteins that are released according to the emotional value attached to the information (Earlauer, 2003).
Learning takes place when a dendrite from one neuron attaches to another neuron, forming a synapse. The synapse is strengthened by protein which settles around it and is a function of the emotions attached to the information (Howard, 2000).
When individuals are exposed to new information, the thalamus and hypothalamus determine the action needed to process it. The thalamus might decide to downshift to the “fight or flight” state if it feels stressed or threatened or move the information to the amygdala and the cortex for further action. On the basis of the emotional value that the amygdala attaches to the information, the cortex will sort and classify the information to be stored in the long-term memory (Earlauer, 2003; Wolfe, 2001).”
Now we understand the function of the brain in relation to learning we can see that the key ingredient here is emotional value the student attaches to the information. The learning process is also affected if the student feels stressed or threatened. Given this understanding, the emotion that a student attaches to the information and the way they feel as they learn become central ingredients, not adjuncts, to the learning process.
The next question is then:
- How do we help students to attach positive emotions to the information they receive in the classroom?
- How do we help children to feel safe and positive when they are at school to maximise their learning outcomes?
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