In October 2016, I participated in the workshop Study for Success and Learn to Get Better Grades, which was facilitated by learning skills specialist Terry Small, B. Ed., M.A., who has been offering presentations on the human brain for over 33 years. Terry’s belief is that "Anyone can learn how to learn easier, better, faster, and that learning to learn is the most important skill a person can acquire." He also believes that success is a skill that we can all learn.
At the time this workshop was offered, my son was in grade 6 and we were struggling to help him develop effective study skills and become more focused. I was also starting my path towards becoming a teacher, so I thought it was a great opportunity as a mother and a future educator to find out how learning skills can be improved.
One of the most interesting things I learned during the workshop was how closely connected physical activity and learning are. When the body moves the brain becomes more efficient and learning is accelerated. Pacing is a very good way to help our brains become more successful at developing thoughts and retaining information. With physical activity oxygen is pumped to all our organs, including the brain, which improves our thoughts and our thinking process. I have actually experienced this while helping my son study for a science exam. When I quizzed him to check for knowledge and understanding, he was more focused and answered more questions correctly while he was simultaneously bouncing a basketball than when he was sitting down. Now, does this mean students in a classroom have to be constantly bouncing balls to become successful learners? Not necessarily, but they could be allowed to take frequent brain breaks that involve movement within the classroom to increase brain oxygenation. Older students might also be allowed to walk up and down the hallway while reading or when trying to develop ideas for an assignment.
Another interesting thing I learned was that eating certain foods promotes more effective learning. Neuroscience shows that the consumption of walnuts and prunes, for example, improves the cognitive function. So when studying for an exam, eating a prune or a few walnuts would be a good snack to further contribute to our focus and learning ability.
Research has also proven that listening to music stimulates the brain in many ways, but in order for our thinking engine to reach and remain in the ideal alpha state the music we listen to has to have a specific rate of beats per minute. Baroque music between 55 to 70 beats per minute has just the perfect rate that takes and maintains the brain in that state of flow, which contributes to learning success.
Other learning strategies suggested during this workshop included:
Having good learning skills is crucial to succeed not only in school but in life. If brain science shows that we can all improve our learning skills to become more successful learners why not teach students and our own children these effective techniques to contribute to their academic success. Success in turn will lead to motivation and life-long learning.
I have always found that poetry is a genre within Language Arts that poses significant challenges when it comes to engaging students. Analyzing a poem, finding the meaning behind the words, and determining the subject are some of the tasks that many students do reluctantly. However, I found that the poem sorting activity completed in class is an excellent way to engage learners as it requires them to complete an analysis of the text in a more dynamic way. It gives students the opportunity to respond to the poem in a personal way. In addition, students not only have to think critically and reflectively to explore the meaning of the text in order to sort out the excerpts, but also have to communicate effectively, exchanging ideas and opinions to reach an agreement to make sense of the entire poem.
Once the pieces are all organized and sorted, students have to contribute ideas and work collaboratively to reach a consensus to give the poem a title of their own. Thus, students learn from one another by making sense of the text together and potentially helping each other figure out the meaning of new words or concepts. In the next step, they have to be able to represent text visually, whether they choose to make a poster or a tableau, which requires further communication and collaborative work. This is why the tasks involved in this activity offer an opportunity for students to actively engage in the interpretation of a text as well as to express their own ideas. Not only by having to read and write text, but also by listening to and speaking with their peers and by viewing and interpreting images or visually representing the text, learners participate actively and creatively in all six language arts. In addition, greater student engagement is achieved when there is an opportunity for learners to choose how to complete a task. Thus, allowing students to choose their own excerpts and having the option to visually represent the poem through a tableau or a poster is likely to increase their active participation.
To conclude, through the poem sorting activity as well as some of the other activities completed in class so far, I have come to understand the importance of dramatization and visual representation in Language Arts teaching. I have also gained some knowledge on how to incorporate these two arts to teach things that I never thought could be connected, for example, poems and dramatization. I am also starting to see more clearly how my own experience in Language Arts influences my teaching, that is, how my own personal interests might directly influence what and how I teach, which is something I need to be aware of when I finally become a teacher. My experiencing a student led learning environment, in which curriculum content and core competencies connect, also contributes to reinforce for me the importance of maintaining this teaching approach as much as possible in my practice. Therefore, I look forward to deepening my knowledge in all these areas, as I have realized the possibilities are endless and there is plenty of room for improvement and learning.
All images CC0 Creative Commons.