Brain research shows us that learning is highly dependent on positive emotions. Try to create positive learning environments and situations with low stress and a high-challenged frame of mind. Please note that creativity thrives when there is challenge, enjoyment, interest, engagement and involvement.
During the learning process give them challenging tasks to think and create new ideas building upon what they have learnt. For example, ask them to recommend changes to something and explain why they have made such recommendations. (How might you change the structure of your textbook to make it more student-friendly? Or, how might you change today’s lesson so that future students can learn more easily from it?) Challenge them to invent machines, slogans, theories, solutions, products, advertisements.
Learn as much about each learner as possible. Back to School and All About Me activities given at the beginning of the school year is a good opportunity to find out about the learner profiles of your students. This information will enable you to plan your lessons to cater the needs of all learners in your class and to form groups in a productive way while you are desingning cooperative and collaborative learning activities.
Our brains learn better if we are given the big picture first. Before starting each lesson tell the students what they are going to learn, why they are learning it and what the outcomes/expectations will be. You can even ask them to analyse how what they are learning might link to jobs, ideas, actions, beliefs, other subjects they are studying or relationships. Or, where it might have come from originally and why it is important for students to know.
Present material in an intelligence-friendly way. Decide what is truly important and present that content in a number of ways, addressing all the relevant intelligences. Make sure that students with different learning styles and interests will benefit from your lessons. Keep as much movement in the classroom as possible not only to engage your kinesthetic learners but also to increase memory and concentration. Try using manipulatives and other concrete objects in your lessons for the visual learners in your classrooms. Auditory learners will benefit from ‘Discuss with your partner/group’ type activities. Remember that variety is the spice of attention, so try to use different strategies during the different phases of the learning process.
Build curiosity for learning. Learning will never take place if there is no curiosity. Ask questions to ignite curiosity. For example, ask them to predict the content of a text by reading the title and looking at the pictures or the ending of a story they are reading.
Try to activate multiple senses. For example, ask the students to visualize the characters or a scene in the story they have read and then to dramatize it. They can also write a poem about the theme of the story, design an alternative book cover, write a letter to one of the characters (young learners can make puppets of the characters) or create a video, a comic strip, or a board game about it or an ad to promote it. Alternatively, they can make a storyboard of a narrative poem they have read and then write a story/script/play or create an animation about the poem. They can also write a letter to the poet or create a digital poster about it adding appropriate visuals and music.
Teaching students metacognitive strategies has proven to help improve learning. Giving explicit attention to thinking and learning helps them transfer their learning to different contexts and enables them to understand themselves better as learners. Therefore, students should be taught study skills such as organization, time management, strategies like mnemonics or SQ3R and they should be encouraged to use mind maps, concept maps, graphic organizers.
Research shows a strong correlation between the effective use of graphic organizers and academic achievement. They help us see relationships and make abstract concepts more concrete as we visualize them. Please remember: Our memory functions much better if we store data in several regions of the brain. Ask your students to process the information they are studying by using graphic organizers to brainstorm or compare and contrast ideas, concepts, etc., to infer meaning (read between the lines), to make predictions, to distinguish fact from opinion, to analyze cause and effect and to solve problems.
Please make sure to choose graphic organizers that match with the learning goals and your students’ needs. Before they start a project on any subject, give them a KWL, KWFL or a KWHL chart. Ask them to fill in the last column of the chart at the end of the project and the rest at the beginning.
The use of these graphic organizers helps students connect information meaningfully and gives them time to reflect on the new information. Apart from the websites mentioned above, Read Write Think offers digital graphic organizers with lesson plans on how to use them as well as other great resources.
Use relevance to increase the level of attention. Our brains weren’t designed to remember facts that aren’t relevant to our lives. For true learning to occur, we have to transfer what we have learned from academic to real world applications. For example, you can have your students respond to the texts they have read by text-to-text, text-to-self and text-to-world questions/activities that require students to make connections with other texts they have read, their life experiences and their prior knowledge to retain the new information. Ask them to write personal response-type journal entries on the stories they have read. Pairing fictional texts with non-fiction texts with a common theme will also make learning more meaningful. For example, if the setting of the story they are reading is Antarctica, they can start by reading a non-fiction text on Antarctica and/or doing a research project on Antarctica.
During the learning process, the learner must be engaged, focused and allowed time to process the new information. Activities like Wait-time, Think-Pair-Share, and Three-Minute Pause promote achievement.
Give them multiple forms of review to assess their progress in a variety of ways and to reflect on their own learning. During the learning process (not only at the end of it) give them opportunities to evaluate their learning and that of their peers’ in order to monitor how their learning is progressing and set personal goals for future learning. With the help of self-assessment, students are expected to become critical, active thinkers who can take responsibility for their own learning. It helps them perceive the process and growth of their language learning; thus giving them the tools to examine and improve their own learning methods. Through peer-assessment, students can be models for each other by sharing their work. It helps them learn from others’ strengths. They can also learn how to accept and give productive criticism and praise. Moreover, it is useful for comparison purposes. Students can compare how they view their work with how their peers evaluate it, and then compare them all with their teacher’s evaluation. Rubrics and checklists should also be given to students to help them reflect, review and evaluate their performance on a completed learning task, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses and taking steps to improve themselves. Encourage your students to keep learning logs / journals to reflect on their own learning.
If you want your students to remember something make it memorable by including music, movement, drama, costumes, hats, art work, etc.
If students are given opportunities to interact with the information they need to learn actively by using the strategies above; in other words, if they discover, interpret, analyze, process, practice, and discuss the information instead of memorizing it, this information will be stored in the long-term memory. Another way to increase retention is giving students opportunities to rehearse learned material by teaching or tutoring others.
Some of the handouts in this post have been created having been inspired by Mike Gershon’s wonderful resources: The Plenary Producer and my favorite, Plenaries on A Plate. Mike is a popular blogger and resource creator. Mike’s resources have generated about 1 million views and downloads through the TES Resources Web site and the Guardian Teacher Network. Please check them as they will offer you many more ideas to enhance your students’ thinking and learning skills. Don’t forget to click on the f5 key before you start. 🙂