Brain-Based Learning – What is It?

Just between you and me, I’ve always thought the term “brain-based learning” was silly. After all, we don’t do anything, much less learn, without using our brain. Our lives are brain-based. So what do they mean “brain-based learning”?

Naturally the answer’s complicated because it means different things to different people.

The narrowest meaning refers to the work of Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist, and folks following him who’ve written books for teachers and parents.

In his book, “Multiple Intelligences,” Gardner identified seven different learning styles including edulize linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

For example, I always prefer to read directions instead of watching a video or trying to follow a diagram. I’ve got a linguistic learning style. You can find lots of learning style quizzes on the web for kids and adults.

But it’s also pretty easy to figure out your learning style without taking a quiz. What do you most like to do? What do your kids like to do? Love reading? Hate reading? Like to make things with their hands? Would rather sing or play a musical instrument? Excel in sports?

Gardner’s work has transformed hundreds of classrooms and taught us that we all learn in a variety of different ways. That the standard linguistic, logical-mathematical, left-brain style of teaching that has characterized school (and certainly college) doesn’t work for all kids–maybe not even for most kids.

A child with ADHD behavior learns in one way. A child who has been read to since infancy learns in yet a different way. Artistic children, yet another way. Children who are predominately left-brain learn differently than children who are predominately right-brain.

Some learning styles are unique to certain kids. Using movement, such as in Brain Gym® is more universal. Moving always helps everyone learn. It’s essential to effective stress-free learning. It’s how we learned as infants. And movement helps us use learning styles beyond our favorites.

For some, multiple intelligences seemed overly complicated and restricting. Differentiated instruction sprang up out of that frustration. It’s another variety of brain-based teaching based on individual differences and needs but broader and looser than Gardner’s model.

Eric Jensen, a well-know learning specialist among K-6 teachers, uses the term “brain-based learning” from the broadest perspective. Jensen suggests that brain-based learning applies neuroscientific principles to learning and teaching. He uses these principles to evaluate everything from scent to stress, from ADHD to art. Then relates them to classroom use.

His work, although highly research based, is generally more classroom and parent friendly than Gardner’s. Jensen offers resources from easy-to-read books to workshops to his annual Learning Brain Expo.

Bottom line, brain-based learning uses techniques and strategies that increase brain functioning for all kinds of different learners, all kinds of different brains.

Good teaching and good parenting depends on understanding as much as we can about our children’s brains, how those brains differ one from another. Then we develop teaching strategies that help our kids learn, no matter what their brain waves. Brain-based learning isn’t just about learning styles. It’s not just the best method for teaching a particular child to read. Brain-based learning looks at nutrition that supports brain function. Getting enough sleep to support brain function. Turning off the TV which can harm young, developing brains. Diminishing stress which isn’t good for the brain.

The decisions we make for our children or help them make either support brain function or diminish it.

O.K., so sometimes that leaves us in a dilemma. Take Darin’s birthday party. Cake and ice cream and all that sugar don’t support brain function. Playing and laughing with other children, celebrating, and having fun certainly do support brain function. I suggest a broad definition of brain-based learning and birthday parties with cake and ice cream. After all, a birthday only comes once a year.

And you can also claim your fun Brain Quiz-a-Week. It’s FREE. Test your knowledge. What do your kids know? Have a contest.

It’s yours when you subscribe to the FREE Brain Boosters for Your Kids newsletter. Get brain-based learning strategies including a Brain Gym tip when you sign up at []

from MaryJo Wagner, Ph.D. – The Learning Doctor, helping you help your kids learn quickly and easily every day in every subject

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