The Science of Learning
Science has given us new discoveries about the brain and learning, even as our best schools and teachers are showing us how to energize, engage, inspire, and prepare. We know so much more today about what works in education; we need to use these remarkable insights to strengthen our schools, make teaching more effective, and prepare every student for success in life.
What We’ve Learned
The human brain physically changes when we learn.
The more we learn, the better we become at learning. Intelligence is not fixed and unchanging—problem- solving, experience, and practice literally make us smarter. Intelligence is not predetermined but can be improved by the experiences, opportunities, relevance, and type of encouragement received while learning. These scientific findings call into question many traditional ways of teaching, while also giving us a clear guide for the future.
Student beliefs influence how they learn.
When students believe that intelligence is genetic and unchangeable, they often learn at slower rates and avoid challenges. On the other hand, students with growth mindsets—the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere—tend to learn a lot more, learn it more quickly, and view challenges and failures as opportunities to grow and improve their skills. When a growth mindset guides teaching, students tend to be more motivated and enthusiastic about learning, and they often dramatically improve their academic performance in comparison to students in classrooms that promote a fixed mindset.
Everything matters when it comes to learning.
Being a successful school is not just about what teachers teach in class—the school culture, the relationships between adults and students, the food that is served, and the technologies used in classrooms all have a profound impact on learning. To graduate with all of our students prepared, our schools need to support them academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.
Learning should reflect real life.
When classroom teaching is blended with real-world experiences—internships, community service, public speaking, interviews with experts, or scientific investigations of the world around them—students not only learn “the basics.” They also learn about a variety of careers, how to collaborate in teams, how to advocate for important causes, and how classroom learning helps them to better understand themselves, who they are, what they care about. It also influences their choices and decisions relating to personal goals and long-term aspirations.
Want to Know More?
These readings from Edutopia provide excellent introductions to some the subjects discussed above:
Adapted from New England Secondary School Consortium,Leadership in Action; Issue #2