Scientists are discovering more and more about how our brains really learn. And recent research has shown that increasing students' knowledge about how brains work has a positive correlation to achievement!
I won't get too technical with terms like "prefrontal cortex" and "amygdala" (mostly because I can barely comprehend that stuff:). Instead, I'll try to present a few simple "Brain Facts" in the way I do understand them and, more importantly, in a way your students will.
1. Brains Grow!
As we learn new things, our brains develop to accommodate the needed connections and memory storage. They literally grow (you know... dendrites and other such things:). Getting our kids to understand this process can be huge in helping them develop that "growth mindset" we desperately want them to have!
2. Learning has a Snowball Effect!
As the brain grows, developing connections and memory have more and more to tap into in order to make newer connections and form new schema. So, the more we learn, the easier it gets to learn, creating a snowball effect that can hugely impact learning. Again, if our students know this, they will be more likely to develop that "growth mindset."
3. Reading Requires Connections!
There is a part of your brain dedicated to spoken language. There is not a designated area for written language. So, in order to read and write, our brains must form connections between different parts of our brains... in general terms- from the part of our brains dedicated to spoken language to the parts of our brains that help us identify and remember shapes and symbols. Every time we see and hear/read a word, the connection is being built... and it will get stronger every single time! (This process is how we form letter-sound correspondence and transfer words into sight words).
4. Working Memory is Limited!
On average, our working memories (often referred to as short-term memory) can handle 5 - 9 pieces of information at a time. For students with learning disabilities, this capacity is often lower. This is why the Spelling and Word Zones only present 3 - 5 study words at a time, and why READ 180 never presents more than 5 vocabulary words at a time.
5. Emotion Matters!
It's obvious to anyone that has ever watched a sad or frustrated student take a test: Mood effects performance. What may be a little less obvious is that a student's emotions have the same impact on their ability to learn. When a student doesn't feel safe or welcome, their attention and memories suffer. When they are happy, their brains literally work better. (This is why it is so important to build that sense of community and trust during those first few weeks... and why it is okay to be a goofy teacher:)
6. Connection = Retention!
One of the best ways to get something to shift from working memory into long-term memory is to connect the new knowledge or skill with something already in permanent storage. Anytime we can relate one bit of information with another (something personal to the student... something previously covered... something that's like something else...) the chances of it getting retained by our brains increases dramatically.
7. Mistakes are Good!
When you mess up, your brain notices and rewires to avoid making the same mistake in the future. This process happens best when the feedback is immediate and safe (i.e. this doesn't really happen when we give a test back three days later or when the student feels humiliate that they messed up).
Bonus... You Can Learn Much, Much More About Brains!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and scientists are discovering new things every day. I highly recommend the "Ted Talks" about how our brains work. And a quick "Google Scholar" search will yield a mountain of fascinating information!