Applying Mind/Brain Principles?

I was recently looking over the notes I took after reading 12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles in Action by Caine, Caine and two others.

While this book has its touch-y-feel-y aspects, there are many good ideas. Indeed, I found that the principles in Caine, Caine et al jibed amazingly well with Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do.

In my notes I synthesized them down to ten or so points.
  • Get the learner relaxed.
    • This can involve things like: clear communication about expectations, short assignments.
    • Assignments that involve contributing or sharing experiences can lower the learner’s stress, while also providing fodder for meaningful discussion later.
  • Give the learner a challenge--but not too much.
    • This implies knowing what the student can do. You can give a pre-test, quiz.
    • Or you can even give a ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ test--e.g., asking students to write about themselves and then noting who can write a paragraph, who has spelling problems, etc.
  • Crank down threats and fatigue and things that make students feel helpless.
    • So: don’t overwork the student. Give clear feedback. Communicate clearly about deadlines.
    • Rewarding the student for submitting work on time, for instance, helps the student feel she has control over her performance.
  • Get the learners to interact socially.
    • Social interaction is a motivation, and it has lower stress than interacting with a forbidding instructor.
  • Encourage the learner to search for meaning that's important to her.
  • Immerse the learner in a complex but clear and structured task.
    • It can be a ‘Where’s Waldo?’
    • Or it can be finding something meaningful based on her own experiences within a significantly complex whole--such as an essay or a textbook chapter.
  • Give her ways of grasping wholes and not just a dizzying array of minute tidbits.
    • E.g., demonstrate a clear pattern and then ask students to recognize that pattern in small examples.
  • Promote pattern recognition.
    • Keep using the same pattern or configuration--a loop in a computer program, an irregular verb, “causes of Expressionism”--so the student knows what to look for.
  • Give the student ways to actively process information with concrete tasks (list, re-arrange, draw, map, etc.).
    • The point is not the beauty of the results: indeed, you needn’t grade on quality, only meeting minimal assignment requirements.
    • The point is for the student to put the information into working memory and build connections.
  • Guide each learner to create her own unique knowledge-map.
    • The important thing is to do and make the map--not that it’s the map you would make for yourself.
A good course design brings these all together. Yes, the devil is in the details. But it can be done, and Bain's book provides fine models.

--Edward R. O'Neill


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