Teaching Students to Learn: Rewiring Their Brain

“You can rewire your brain.” Every time I hear that, it just gets all over me.  My brain does not have any wires in it, so how could it be wired again, right?

Recently, I read this post by Dr. Hilary Stokes, that made it make sense. No, my brain doesn’t have real, hard wires, but it is made of neural networks that are like those light sets I wrestle with every December.  When I think of something, I make a set of lights come on. “The more I think, feel and act the same way, the faster the lights turn on and the brighter they glow.”  This is why it is easier many adults can read those paragraphs with the letters of works mixed up but it takes a kindergartener a while to sound out the word “cat.”

So, when people claim that our brains can be rewired, they are saying that our brains can form new neural connections.  It’s called “neuroplasticity.” The difference in our brains and my Christmas tree is that each neuron (think light) can connect to tens of thousands of other neurons. Our brains are constantly forming new connections as we think and feel and act.

What does all of this have to do with learning and teaching?  Well, we used to think that either a person was a good learner, or he wasn’t.  What we know now, because of brain research and technology, is that as our brains change, we can become better learners. Our students can learn to learn.  Just like we can practice playing the piano to become better, our students can also practice learning to become better learners. There are strategies that our students can practice to make those Christmas lights come on more quickly and shine brighter.

Brain research is new and we are still learning about those strategies that help us become better learners, but Ulrich Boser has identified three strategoes that we can put to work in our classrooms today.

    • Set Clear Goals
      Research shows that people with clear goals learn better with those with no goals, or with vague goals.
    • Think about Thinking
      Meta-cognition is a real thing and it is good for more than helping our students pass a test. Thinking about thinking actually does that rewiring thing.
    • Reflect on Learning
      Reflecting on the learning is moving away from the learning, letting our brains chill, and the bringing our minds back to what we l

I know, these are not new.  As educators, we’ve known that these are good practices, but now, we know that they actually rewire our own brains.  And, isn’t that what teaching is all about?