Five Brain-Based Learning Approaches to Improve Learning, Retention, and Focus

What is brain-based learning?

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, the definition of brain-based learning ”refers to teaching methods, lesson designs, and school programs that are based on the latest scientific research about how the brain learns, including such factors as cognitive development—how students learn differently as they age, grow, and mature socially, emotionally, and cognitively.”

A key element of brain-based learning is that educational strategies are based on findings from neuroscience research. Of course, each student is different in the way that they learn, so it’s important to use different brain-based learning strategies in your teaching practice to appeal to a wide variety of learners and their needs.

Easy tips for implementing brain-based learning into the classroom

The International Journal of Innovative Research & Studies lays out a great set of brain-based learning strategies to implement into the classroom to improve your students’ performance and increase their chances of success. Here are five strategies to get you started:

1. Create a positive atmosphere from the beginning

Normally, students must feel physically and emotionally safe in the classroom for real learning to take place. By creating a positive classroom environment where students feel supported and encouraged, you’ll enable your students to learn the best.

Welcoming your students into the classroom each day creates a positive learning environment from the start. A study published by Sage Journals —comprising 203 students in 10 classrooms—found that greeting students at the door sets a positive tone and can increase student engagement and reduce disruptive behavior. Spending a few moments welcoming students promotes a sense of belonging, giving them the social and emotional support that encourages them to feel invested in their learning.

2. Establish “turn and talk” time

When students talk about concepts they’ve learned, they’re more likely to retain the information. Implementing “turn and talk” time into your lessons can help students process and retain what they’ve just read, discuss ideas before sharing them with the class, and clarify problems they may have had while completing homework. This strategy can be implemented as a warm-up activity, during class discussions, or as a closing activity towards the end of the school day. Watch the video below to see how one middle school science teacher uses “turn and talk” time to help his students discuss their ideas.

By letting your students discuss their ideas, you’re giving them a chance to describe what they’ve learned in their own words and helping them explain their thoughts to their classmates. The Teacher Toolkit has great resources on this practice to help you get started. Utilizing the raise hand feature in most video conferencing platforms to make this more organized if you’re teaching virtually.

3. Incorporate visual elements

Many people are visual learners who absorb and recall information best by seeing. You probably already have posters and visuals in your classroom or in your background if you are teaching remotely, but are they helping your learners? These eight strategies from TeachThought are designed to help you optimize the visuals in your classroom to appeal to your students.

In a virtual setting, providing additional context to lessons with visual elements, such as breaking up your slides with a GIF that calls students’ attention back during a class or finding a quick video of the science concepts you are discussing, are simple ways to hold student interest remotely. Changing out your remote learning video tool background to align with the theme of your lesson or wearing a silly hat or decorative necktie are other fun ways to incorporate visual elements into your teaching. Check out these fun virtual backgrounds from We Are Teachers.

4. Break learning into chunks

Chunking, or breaking down difficult or large pieces of text or information into smaller pieces, has been proven to help students identify keywords and phrases, paraphrase, and understand the text in their own words. By breaking down a large piece of text into more manageable pieces, students are able to better understand and comprehend the material.

Chunking can also be used to break down pieces of your instruction into smaller, manageable pieces. Work through lengthy instructions step by step with your students to help them understand each piece of what is being asked of them.

5. Do some physical activity

Brain breaks are a great way to get your students up and moving, and they have been shown to increase brain activity. You’re probably already familiar with how fidgety your students can get when sitting at their desks for long periods, so incorporating some movement into the day can help. Luckily, brain breaks are easy to implement in any classroom setting, and they require almost no setup.

We Are Teachers have created a list of some great brain break activities to try, most of which can be done virtually.

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