Better teaching, training, learning: use your brain

I’ve already mentioned David Sousa’s How the Brain Learns, but I keep going through it and thought it deserved a little more exposure.

Sousa’s writing for teachers (including college and university faculty), along with principals and staff development folks. Almost everything here offers value for the corporate trainer or instructional designer, in terms of more structured learning

A lot of makes sense for less formal learning as well.

It’s clear from the outset that Sousa does what he encourages you to do.  By the time you get to page 9 (there are 300 pages), he’s nudging you to do more than just read:

One of the best ways to assess the value of the strategies suggested in this book is to try them out in your own classroom or in any other location where you are teaching. conducting this action research allows you to:

  • Gather data to determine the effectiveness of new strategies and affirm those you already use,
  • Acclaim and enhance the use of research in our profession, and
  • Further your own professional development.

Besides which, he says, you get feedback on how you’re doing (as an instructor or designer), and you can collaborate with your peers to apply the research more broadly or more deeply.

So, what’s he offering?  The chapter titles are clear:

  1. Basic Brain Facts (parts, development)
  2. How the Brain Processes Information (models and their limitations)
  3. Memory, Retention, and Learning
  4. The Power of Transfer (both transfer during learning and transfer after learning)
  5. Brain Specialization and Learning (lateralization, spoken language, learning to read)
  6. The Brain and the Arts
  7. Thinking Skills and Learning
  8. Planning for Today and Tomorrow

Each chapter includes a section called Practitioner’s Corner. These are short, focused sections to help the teacher (trainer, learning professional) move stuff off the pages and into her repertory of skills.  For chapter 3 (memory, learning, retention) there are ten practitioner’s corner items.  They range from “avoid teaching two very similar motor skills” to “strategies for block scheduling” to “using rehearsal to enhance retention.”

I’ve actually felt a little intimidated by How the Brain Learns. I look at what Sousa’s done and think “I ought to be doing my own action research.”  I ought to create and document not only some successes from what I’ve done–but make those potential resources for future clients and coworkers.

  • What am I trying to do?  What’s telling me to try it?
  • What difference will it make?  How can I tell?
  • What difference did it make?
  • What do I do now?  What can I do better?  What’s telling me that?