The Neuroscience of Learning

By Shankar Rao

A student’s brain in school goes through a series of transformations. The evolution of cognitive abilities is primarily driven by activity that is happening in the classroom—first developing the ability to identify letters or numbers and then learning how to interpret those symbols in written words or math.

That transformation comes about due to new connections being made and strengthened in the brain. Learning is an active process and personalizing the journey expedites the development of neural pathways.

Personalized Learning

To personalize the learning experience for different learners, it is imperative to understand how educational experiences are driving changes in the brain.

The neural network or the wiring diagram of the brain is unique in each person and changes with experiences. There is a profound relationship between the way a person’s brain is organized and how well that person masters abstract intellectual skills.

Thrively’s strength-based, learner-centered approach with its comprehensive suite of assessments enables educators to meet learners where they are in their learning continuum—providing a great platform to start their respective journeys.

Embrace the Challenge

If you think you just don’t have the brain for certain skills, you’re not only deceiving yourself, you’re undermining your ability to learn—whether it’s math, basketball, or playing the saxophone.

Every year, students start school excited about what they’re going to learn, but when they see somebody who seems to be quicker or better at learning, they start doubting themselves.

Students often remember their teachers and parents telling them that only reason they haven’t gone into pathways they wanted to pursue is because they thought they weren’t good enough. Thrively’s approach is asset-based rather than deficit-based and dispels the myths that hold these learners back.

Celebrate Learning. Why?

Young learners and adults often struggle when they’re learning a new skill, which can feel excruciatingly painful. The reality is, if you aren’t struggling, you aren’t really learning. When we’re struggling and making mistakes, those are the very best times for our brains.

When next-generation educators hear students say, “This is so hard,” they should be elated. “That is absolutely fantastic! you are now pushing your brain to do things that are difficult.”

Just like our muscles, the brain also needs challenges or “desirable difficulties.” Embrace struggle. It’s emancipating! It changes how we go about our work. We’re more persistent. We interact with each other differently.

If you live just a single day with this perspective, you’ll feel it—particularly if things go wrong. It changes those moments pretty significantly.

Praising learners to be “smart” can actually be harmful. Is that true?

Why do we need this binary thinking about people being smart or not? Everyone’s on a growth journey. There is no cutoff where one person becomes “gifted” or “smart” and another is not. We were all born with the same amount of neurons.

Most parents and educators make it a point to tell young learners that they are smart. When they make their first mistake, it deflates them and they resign to “hmm, I’m not that smart after all.” What did we achieve? We promoted a culture that did not elevate a strengths-based, learner-centered mindset with the understanding that intelligence can be developed.

Thrively challenges the notion that success is about working with your strengths and giving up on your weaknesses. There are no weaknesses. Period! There are only relative strengths.

Learners today buy into the myth that they do not possess certain strengths because it was drilled into them that they couldn’t. We as educators and parents have to let go of the idea that kids at a certain place are just where they’re going to be.

Rewarding resilience, persistence, and tenacity develops hunger for learning and develops cognition. Learners become unafraid of making mistakes—an important step in their learning journey.

How can parents and teachers help students become more receptive to learning?

Using words that promote a strengths-based, learner-centered culture promotes a mindset of curiosity and discovery. Students start recognizing that intelligence can be developed.

You don’t have to be the expert in the room. You don’t have to pretend to know things you don’t.

There’s a whole host of research that has provided evidence that small changes and interventions can change the way our brain functions. However, the success of the intervention rests upon two central factors:

  1. A different form of Professional Development (PD) served to eradicate the learning myths that have stymied teachers and school administrators; and
  2. Teachers have space for developing strengths-based, learner-centered curriculum in the classrooms to develop learners for life.

Let’s change our mindsets and boost the confidence of our learners.