Neuroscientists have made considerable progress in understanding how the human brain works and how we learn in recent years. However, only a small portion of that knowledge has been implemented in the actual world to improve learning and the way teachers educate.
The practical insights generated from neuroscience research can enable teachers to teach effectively, as well as increase the learning capacity of students, further boosting their cognitive skill development.
Below are some of the best tips, all backed by research, to help teachers and students:
1. Teaching inclusively to reach the different kinds of learners in your classroom
Students in typical classrooms differ widely in their "working memory capacity," or the amount of information they can hold temporarily in their minds. Some students can hold a lot, which allows them to learn more quickly. I call these "race car" learners.
"Hiker" learners, on the other hand, don't have as much temporary mental storage space, which means they learn more slowly. The important idea is that both race cars and hikers can get to the finish line and learn the material.
Race car learners can swiftly learn whatever they're given. But hiker learners benefit from breaking what you are teaching into smaller pieces of information. Have hikers practice, for example, with parts of a problem solution approach before expecting them to solve the whole thing on their own.
Hikers forget more easily. This provides a surprising advantage, allowing them to generalize and see the bigger picture instead of being stuck in minor details. This is a potent source of creativity.
2. The value of retrieval practice
Retrieval practice means learning something-say, a new word in a foreign language or how to solve a problem and then seeing if you can retrieve it from your brain. If you can do it, great you're making progress in your learning!
Each retrieval strengthens the neural links of learning. The trick is to pull the solution from your own brain-not peek at a page in a book or your notes. If you have to peek, the material is not yet in your brain-you haven't learned it.
3. The best way to remember information in the long-term
The best way to remember information long-term is to use retrieval practice. But here's the additional magical twist-space that retrieval practice out over several days.
For example, if you have five hours to devote to learning, space those five hours over five days. Don't just cram it all in one day. You'll learn much better!
4. Vary practice to maximize understanding
Blocking is when you learn a new concept by repeating it over and over again. Say you're learning the geometric, binomial, and negative binomial distributions. Blocking would mean you'd do perhaps a dozen geometric problems, then a dozen binomial, then a dozen geometric. You've learned those concepts well, right? Wrong! You haven't studied the difference between the concepts!
In other words, if you saw a problem and weren't told which technique to use, you could end up choosing the wrong method. Interleaving means that you randomly mix your practice in solving the different types of problems.
This allows students to see when they should choose one problem approach versus another. By interleaving over several days (spaced repetition), students begin to deploy their powerful procedural systems to detect when to use different methods. This provides the intuition needed to excel on tests!
(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in India Today. The original article can be found at https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/featurephilia/story/four-keys-to-teaching-and-learning-effectively-1850835-2021-09-10)