Staying ahead of the learning curve


Dr Yolanda was the keynote speaker at the Melta KL Chapter symposium on enhancing learning through brain-based learning strategies.

The brain-based approach includes any teaching technique or strategy that utilises information about how the brain works and stores information

TEACHING today’s children for tomorrow’s world is a real challenge.

One of the most important theories in 21st century education is brain-based teaching and learning, said Assoc Prof Dr Cynthia Yolanda Doss from the University of Nottingham Malaysia.

“Teaching is a scientific art. When we teach, learning must take place. So to be effective, teachers must understand how the brain works.

“Education should be holistic because synergy between the left and right brain is important.”

Explaining the brain-based approach, she said it includes any teaching technique or strategy that utilises information about how the brain works and stores information.

This allows teachers to think and plan their lessons effectively, she said.

Dr Yolanda was the keynote speaker at the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) KL Chapter symposium on enhancing learning through brain-based learning strategies held on Sept 29.

The use of visuals improves learning outcomes by about 400%, she shared, reminding teachers to allow for brain breaks. And, daydreaming’s important because it’s thinking time.

“Sir Isaac Newton was daydreaming and reading when he observed an apple fall and that started him on his journey to discovering gravity.”

Aslam Khan addressing the participants at the symposium.
Aslam Khan addressing the participants at the symposium. 

Student achievement is linked to the curriculum, students’ characteristics, effectiveness of schools and quality of instruction. Who we teach and how we teach are very important, she stressed.

Teachers must activate the long-term memory so that information that’s given is stored there.

“If information is not properly delivered according to how the brain likes to receive it, 80% of that information is lost within 24 hours. So, how you present is crucial.

“Generation Alpha, or those born after 2010, are the ones we should be most worried about because they were born with smart devices in their hands.”

Learning, she said, is affected by five main factors - environment, emotions, sociological preferences, physiological characteristics and processing inclination.

Two characteristics teachers must have are open mindedness and humility, she added. Teacher-student collaboration in the classroom is vital.

“We can’t know everything that’s on the Internet. Students can come back with new information when we give them assignments.

“And when we give information, how that’s processed is very important. Learning must be relevant and meaningful. When we teach a class, we target the brain. We want them to understand and process that information into knowledge. Teaching must be done in a way that’s in line with how the brain learns naturally.

“We prepare students for primary and secondary school exams and when they come to university, these straight A students struggle, wondering why they’re getting Cs for their assignments. It’s because test-taking strategies can only take you so far,” she said, adding that learning must be useful, relevant and meaningful.

To succeed, students must believe that they can learn and be responsible for their own learning.

She said a variety of strategies and techniques are needed to engage learners so that all aspects of the brain are targeted.

Stress management, nutrition, exercise and relaxation must be fully incorporated into the learning process. Students must be properly fed, and their brains need to be hydrated.

“Provide healthy snacks in class. Make sure everyone has water bottles. The learning environment must offer stability and familiarity. Lessons need to be exciting yet meaningful. Their feelings and attitude will determine the learning outcome,” she said, adding that teachers must engage student interest and enthusiasm through their own behaviour.

Good teaching, she shared, should build understanding and skills over time because learning is cumulative and developmental. Understanding may not take place immediately, but may occur later. Reflection and processing time are important to the learning environment, she said.

Students need a safe place to think. The threat of failure may inhibit instead of encourage learners, she warned.

“Rote learning is sometimes important – for example in multiplication tables, but in other settings, teaching devoted to memorisation does not facilitate the transfer of learning.”

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