Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Building a Metacognitive Classroom

Teaching students basic knowledge about the brain’s potential can have a positive impact on their motivation, grit, and achievement. In particular, explicitly teaching them that learning changes the structure and function of their brains can be transformational in building a stronger belief in the value of working hard to master new material.

Teachers who explain these findings report that the knowledge has a positive effect on students’ perceptions of their abilities as well as on their expectations for success.

Examples from Elementary Classrooms

Diane Dahl of Texas, a participant in our brain-based teaching program, enjoys teaching her elementary students about the brain and strategies for learning. Students learn what neurons, dendrites, and axons are and how connections between neurons created by axons and dendrites create learning. Dahl emphasizes that each child has an amazing, unique brain and that through their practice and effort, all students will learn and remember a lot during the year. (Marcus discusses these brain basics and classroom implications in a short video.)

Next, Dahl tells her students that when we learn, it’s important to connect new information with something we already know. She gives a couple of examples and then tells students they’ll be using pipe cleaners and sticky notes to make a model of a brain and what they are thinking and learning.

Students each get three pipe cleaners to twist together in the middle to represent the axon, leaving both ends untwisted to represent dendrites. They then work together to build the representational brain structure, connecting all the axons by twisting a dendrite from one neuron around the axon of another, with guidance from the teacher. The structure represents the class’s brain at the beginning of the school year. Throughout the school year, students create and add new axons to the brain, labeled with sticky notes describing new concepts they have learned.

In her own words, here are Dahl’s tips for success:

  • As the year progresses, the brain model gets more complicated, and it’s harder for second graders to add new axons (this might not be an issue for older students). At some point, I take over connecting the new axons.
  • I write the labels myself so we can all keep track of the new learning that is added to the brain.
  • We suspend the brain from the ceiling, but low enough that students can interact with it and read the labels. We choose a location away from busy traffic areas.
  • Whenever possible, we discuss how new learning relates to other content.
Some elementary teachers have students create their own individual models of a neuron that they can keep at their desk or take home as a reminder of their vast learning potential.

Read the entire blog post at the Edutopia.com website.

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