Biology of Learning: Brain Compatible Learning Part 2

” . . . the land of the young is the land of energy, enthusiasm, confusion, hope, despair, love, optimism, faith, and belief . . .”

— Norma Fox Mazer, young adult author


As a teacher, my objectives are to accommodate students’ needs, invite their independence, and challenge students to grow. In my classroom I strive to create a brain compatible learning environment. A brain compatible learning environment is one that contains meaningful content, choices, adequate time, an enriched environment, collaboration, immediate feedback, mastery, and absence of threat.

The Triune Brain – The Triune Brain, a concept developed by Paul MacLean shows that the brain can be viewed as having three parts: the brain stem, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex. The brain stem is responsible for survival, it senses life-threatening situations. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain which processes language and enables us to learn the academic subjects of school. Fear of failure, frustration, anxiety, and grades result in “downshifting” – the physiological process that interferes with learning – and reduced the capability to learn. When we downshift from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system, we longer can process language at the level necessary to learn our academic subjects. A non threatening learning environment encourages/ enhances the learning process.

To help create a non threatening learning environment the classroom is designed to encourage learning rather than hinder it.  Soft lighting and neutral colors are used throughout the classroom. Live plants and soft music.  The classroom is kept neat and orderly with procedures posted for clarity of expectations.  A daily agenda is posted to students know what they will be learning.  Students often work in small groups.

The human brain is pattern-seeking.  The brain is constantly searching for patterns to understand the environment.  The daily agenda and key points allow students to identify, understand, and apply patterns.

Many things matter in the learning process, as Eric Jensen states in his book Teaching with the Brain in Mind (2005). The brain learns best through being there or immersion experiences. Active learning includes pair-sharing, building, discussing, drawing, and performing.  Offering students choices also benefits students.  Howard Gardner suggests that we are born with at least seven different problem-solving and or product producing capabilities. Each other of us develops the ability for using one or more capabilities in our everyday lives. In the classroom, the more options that are available, the greater success for students.

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