(8.) The Effective Learning Culture for Home, School and Church

(8.) The Effective Learning Culture for Home, School and Church

(8.) The Effective Learning Culture for Home, School and Church.

There is no such thing as a “brain expert.” The human brain is so complex, the most complex piece of creation in the universe, that there is no end to the mystery of how a brain operates. We learn from the latest research, but there is always more to learn.

The following components of a brain-friendly learning culture are relevant to parents raising children, teachers instructing students and pastors discipling believers. These observations are based on many years of brain research, as well as social and cognitive studies, and are summarized into these five components by Dr. Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor in their Graduate School of Education.

Key questions for us are, What type of learning culture provides the most optimum learning environment? How did God create our brains to function best? How were we designed to learn and grow? What does an effective, brain-friendly atmosphere look like? The following components are intended to help us as we consider these questions.

  1. TRUST AND BELONGING. For learning to occur, an atmosphere of trust is vital. Peace of mind is good for the brain. Where there is overt fearfulness or high anxiety, higher order learning is less likely to occur, eg, problem-solving, creativity, analysis, recollection. It’s interesting that we do our best thinking with “optimum stress,” a balance, when there isn’t too much stress, but there is enough stress to push the brain into action. Our emotional well-being is  an important part of learning… We learn best when not overly anxious or disconnected. An atmosphere of trust means that a student feels security, a strong sense of acceptance, belonging, and connectedness. Perhaps nothing promotes that feeling of belonging more than when a student feels s/he is known and understood. A teacher/parent’s role is to truly know, accept, and understand the child. When that happens, learning is most likely to occur. If a child is living in the midst of fear or trauma, learning is virtually impossible.
  2. MEANINGFUL CONTENT. Learning is more likely to occur when the child feels s/he is studying something worth knowing. Brains seem to operate well when the learner senses that this is worth the effort. It could be that the child will need to simply trust the teacher for a time, and learn anyway. But for optimum learning, a student needs a rich curriculum that invites intellectual or imaginative involvement. It helps when the content really does feed the mind and heart, and is not mere junk food. Content that is merely trivial pursuits, filled with lists of facts and raw data, is not meaningful and tends to be demotivating. Much of learning is emotionally driven, and it’s important for the person to sense that the content is significant, worth knowing, and thus inspiring. The more a student is convinced that something is worthwhile, the more likely learning is to occur.
  3. ENRICHED ENVIRONMENT. The brain loves it when its multiple areas are given the chance to integrate. Learning occurs best with a variety of things to learn and a variety of ways to learn them. The brain seems to be expert in adapting to methods and styles and content. A change is as good as a break in the learning environment. Multi-sensory and experiential learning tend to be the most memorable. Remember, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But, you can make him thirsty! A rich environment makes student thirsty, telling the brain there is something to look forward to. But there is an extreme that actually goes against learning… If the environment is too hyper, too busy, or overly stimulating, then there is simply an overload, too much distraction, and focused attention will be next to impossible. A healthy, not hyper, dose of richness and variety is key to learning.
  4. INTELLIGENT CHOICES. At some point a student has to take ownership of his/her learning. A child needs to grow into being an independent learner, self-motivated and able to choose to learn for himself. Providing options to students helps them learn how to make decisions for themselves in the learning process. Providing a range of acceptable choices also helps the student learn from mistakes. This builds confidence in decision-making even when one isn’t sure of the exact perfect choice to make. Providing intelligent choices gives students the opportunity of growing in personal ownership of the learning process.
  5. ADEQUATE TIME. Feeding the mind is not an exercise in speed-eating. Speed isn’t necessarily a virtue in the learning process, which calls for the gift of time. A sense of being unhurried is important, an opportunity to learn at one’s own speed. Evidently, the brain’s neural connections need “jelling time” for learning retention, kind of like film developing in the dark room, or incubation time. It’s interesting that “optimum stress” comes into play again. If there is too little time, then anxiety rises and learning is less likely to occur. But if there is no time limit at all, too much time, the brain isn’t pushed into action adequately. So, like so much of the learning process, the gift of time is another balancing act. A little time pressure seems to stimulate the brain, while too much time pressure works again learning.

At the end of the day, these five qualities will go  far in establishing an effective learning environment. Our brains were made to learn and develop in a culture that values trust and belonging, meaningful content, an enriched environment, intelligent choices, and adequate time.

May we all continue to explore what a learning culture looks like and how it operates, whether we are parents, teachers, or pastors. As we educate our young, may we all establish a House of Peace, of Shalom, where all concerned are free to learn, to flourish, growing into wholeness and integrity, without fear or insecurity.