Brain Friendly tips for students

For a lot of us, the exam season is upon us;  for some it’s mocks, for others it’s the real thing. Whichever is your current situation, all over the land parents can be heard encouraging their loved ones as follows:

“Turn off that (delete as needed):

  • laptop
  • x-box
  • playstation
  • ipod
  • TV
  • mobile
  • Wii


So I thought I would share some of my best tips for embedding learning based on the latest research from neuroscience.

  • The 20 minute rule still applies. We apply the 20 minute rule to our training sessions because we believe this is the most our brains can cope with before we get overloaded. And so it is with revision. So we need to keep an eye on our students activities and ensure they take regular breaks, change state and change learning style every 20 minutes
  • Historically we have believed that the frontal cortex can cope with 7 +/- 2 processes at once. Hence the magic number of 5 as in: 5 bullet points per slide, 5 items per instruction, 5 sections per page etc…….Paul and Ally heard recently that we can have FOUR things on our minds. And it is just 4, not 4 +/- any others;
    So our lovely teen students are allowed to have some music ( that’s one) and some background visual (music video counts as two as does MSN with a webcam),  Facebook or twitter is probably one:  add in the revision material and the occasional text message and that’s their lot.

    Although we can hold 7 (plus or minus two) things in our working memory and the the latest thinking is that we can only have  FOUR things on our minds – remember that we can only pay attention to ONE THING AT A TIME - multi-tasking is a myth :)

  • We have come to realise now that the brain does it’s most effective embedding during sleep. Results from brain scans undertaken during sleep surveys show that the brain is incredibly busy during the various sleep phases is and it is during deep sleep that the brain starts to shuffle it’s days data into logical storage places.It is far more complex than just from short term to long term memory but the process starts during sleep. So we could encourage our students to read a little (maybe some revision cards) or listen to some content ( there are plenty of pod casts and audio books around these days) or perhaps watch a short video and then shut everything down and drift off to sleep.
  • Whether your preference is auditory, kinaesthetic, gustatory, olfactory, adding visual elements significantly enhances retention. Neuroscientists now have the hard data that confirms what a lot of us have instinctively thought. The brain is an immensely powerful image processor and irrespective of what you think your learning style is, it can be significantly boosted by the addition of visual elements.This might mean buying our students some relevant posters,  encouraging them to create some visual representations of non-visual elements as part of their revision ( why not  encourage them to doodle while they study?)
  • And finally – let’s not forget the impact of stress hormones on learning and memory. Some stress is good and helps us to focus but prolonged exposure to adrenaline and cortisol erodes memory and destroys learning.  So as much as we can let’s try and create a calm and supportive environment for our children during this challenging time.

Good luck to all our students over the next few months.

exam hall image by Kewima
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