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Woodstock | Learning and the brain
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Learning and the brain

02 Aug Learning and the brain

Learning and the Brain

Ray Husthwaite, Head of Science, Amy Seefeldt, Dean of Academics, Shubhra Chundawat, junior school teacher and Gregory Miller, head of social studies, attended the conference. Apart from a keynote speech on “Five Minds for the future” by Howard E Gardner, an opportunity to see and hear one of the central movers of modern education, the attendees spent the remaining time seeing and hearing from other influential leaders in education today.

On their return the four staff were asked to train the entire staff during staff retreat in February. Teachers were empowered to look at their teaching and learning styles of their students and ask themselves what they had learnt and what could they change in their classrooms. Were they using the techniques learnt and if so how? We have asked three teachers about their new practices. Ray Husthwaite and Shubhra Chundawat brought these new skills home and below explain how they are putting them into best practice.

The sessions I followed during the Boston Conference were targeted to the development of the reading brain. I have since then made SSR (sustained silent reading) an essential part of the curriculum, and I build in regular time to simply drop everything else and allow students to read for their own purposes.

I have also included independent reading as a home assignment. This is more along the lines of an inquiry unit, which is usually a bit more goal-directed for the grades I teach, but there is still some element of choice for students’ reading, and the assignments allow for long blocks of time to get engaged with text.

I held a workshop for junior school parents during the last parent-teacher conference on the importance of the parent–teacher partnership in enabling children to learn to read. Parental involvement is a key factor in encouraging the child to read with a natural amount of effort and to obtain enjoyment through their efforts.

Shubhra Luukkonen, junior school teacher

Learning and the Brain

As a scientist, as well as a teacher, the Boston conference was fascinating for a number of reasons. For me perhaps the revelation of the conference was something I’d believed for many years but had no empirical evidence for: we need variety. A single teaching style and method does not work effectively, but change does; likewise there is overwhelming evidence that sitting still for an hour while the facts are crammed into brains is not effective education. For me movement during a lesson, breaking the flow, changing things – if only the warm, friendly and familiar wall decorations or an occasional joke – has become a must. A lot of the information, especially on creativity as a teaching method, I still need to think about and internalise before I introduce it. I’m still reading around the notes provided and books I bought and I hope to introduce some more of the ideas next semester.

Ray Husthwaite, Head of Science

Ian Whiteman did not attend the conference in Boston. We wondered if a teacher with more than 30 years’ experience could benefit from the training the other staff brought home to Woodstock.

”The times when, as teachers, we experience those “Wow! Where did that answer come from?” moments awaken us to the magnificent ability we all possess within our brain. Such moments are what we should cherish as educators; they remind us of why most of us became teachers. We want to broaden the possibility of learning from all types of inputs – and those that may seem the most unusual perhaps come from those kids who are the most perceptive or who are using a much wider breadth of understanding than we give them credit for. Let’s embrace the diversity of not only our students’ wide geographical background but also their styles of learning.

I am more enthused when I go into a classroom knowing there will be observations emanating from areas of the brain which I myself cannot fully utilise. I am just glad my brain has the ability to accept these answers for what they are – a peep into a level of understanding or a way of thinking which I do not possess.

I am so pleased that colleagues were able to listen, learn from, and communicate these insights to our entire teaching faculty. The brain has been around for a long time, and it has evolved the ability to operate at a higher level than we sometimes realise. It is the one thing we all share and, being reminded that we are constantly being asked to work with such a complex piece of anatomy, we should all stop and think “How can we best use ours?” before we plough into “How can the students best use theirs?”

Ian Whiteman, Junior School teacher and junior school curriculum co-ordinator.

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