Teaching the Brain How to Learn

Guest Blog

As a speech pathologist, I have spent years in search of a better way to teach my students how to learn.   I have been teaching in the public school for many years but it was not until I started to work in hospitals and nursing homes that I realized the importance in targeting the brain to find ways to help my students.

I spent the last approximately 12 years researching the brain and how it learns.  I wanted to find a way to directly teach the brain how to learn.  In spending a lot of time in classrooms, I found that many of my students were failing not because they were not “smart” enough but rather they did not really know how to learn.  They did not possess the basic skills required by the brain to help the student learn.  We often use terms like concentrate, focus or pay attention to get students to improve their learning abilities.  What I found is that the brain has no idea what these terms means.  I often tell students and parents a scenario which the brain and student goes through when they try to learn but do not know how.  For example, students will go to their room with those instructions and have conversations with their brains.  They will basically say to their brain that my mother, teacher, etc. told me I need to concentrate or focus and the brain will respond with “great” tell me what to do.  The student will continuously repeat the instructions and to brain will once again state that it is ready to learn but just needs to know what to do.  I have found if the brain is not instructed how to learn then how is it going to be able to help the student learn.

Most children are born with the capacity to learn and just need to be fed the information and knowledge needed to learn but there is group of students born with a learning disability whose brain needs to learn how to learn.  My research has targeted this group of students.

I want to begin the discussion of learning how to learn by discussing the three most important skills which I have developed for the purpose of teaching students within the public school system.  These skills are Vocabulary, Comprehension and Inference.  These skills also follow the levels of elementary school, middle school and high school respectively.  This was also stated and supported many years ago in the Trivium which was part of the basis of our liberal arts education that we have today.

I want to begin with vocabulary which I have found to be the reason why many of my students are struggling or failing in school.  The problem I have found is that many parents and teachers have not be trained how to correctly teach vocabulary.

We assume too much that students know the vocabulary words of items that they see everyday or have in their possession.  A baby does not have to know the label spoon in order to use it.  I have come to the conclusion that when a baby starts to walk, his or her vocabulary can dramatically increase or decrease depending upon his or her interaction with his or her environment.  As soon a baby can walk, they can get what it needs on its own and no longer needs to ask for the item or even know the name of the item.  An example of this is that in approximately 15 years of teaching and asking my students the name of a door hinge when I pointed to it, only 6 students were able to name it correctly.  They do not have to know the label of hinge in order to open the door.  We too often make the assumption that a students knows a vocabulary word due to his age, grade level or that he has one in his hand or on his person.

I would like to open the discussion on the three most important skills so that we can help develop ways to teach our students to become more independent life long learners.

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