the Human Brain Learns is the Basis for New Teaching Text By La
Salle Professors, Takes Advantage of Cognitive Science Findings
Scientists and educators have made huge strides in understanding
how the brain works and how human beings learn, but despite these
advances most teaching methods are based on outdated and limited
techniques. Now, two La Salle University education professors have
written a textbook that focuses on newer ideas and concepts based
on the science of learning.
Feden and Robert Vogel spent the past 15 years understanding how
findings from cognitive science can be applied to teaching, and
helping students and teachers learn to apply the techniques derived
from these findings. They have worked with 32 schools across the
country helping teachers implement their methods with success.
level. (The authors also pointed out that they received important
feedback from teachers using their findings, and incorporated that
information into their text.)
know a great deal more about how children learn than we did
years ago, and we have the tools to help them learn better,"
says Vogel, who studies instructional methods.
They have distilled the essential ideas from their findings
down to nine concepts (see Add Two of release) that form the
core of their newly published textbook, Methods of Teaching:
Applying Cognitive Science to Promote Student Learning, published
It includes numerous ideas and strategies derived from cognitive
science that can be used in classrooms from elementary school
who studies human cognition and learning, brought his specialty
together with Vogel's to create "thinking tools" to help
even experienced teachers organize and implement lessons using tenets
of cognitive science. The 'tools' are based upon their work with
more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and their work
with teachers all across the country.
Vogel, "First and foremost among these concepts is the need
to change the ways we teach. While virtually everything in our society
has changed, schools and teaching methods have not changed substantially
in over 100 years. Technology has changed everything. Students today
have easy access to lots of information, and that change has to
core idea is the need to learn together with one another. According
to Feden, research shows that "human beings learn best by interacting
with one another about things that that they find personally meaningful."
to research, the human brain, when learning, strives to make connections.
"The brain does not learn in isolation," says Vogel. Lessons
have to be taught in a way so that the new knowledge connects to
something the student already know, he says.
Feden, "Students have to do something with information
they learn, and then they can process information more deeply.
Students need to use what they have learned to reinforce it."
The professors also note that not everyone learns the same way.
"Everyone comes 'wired' differently," says Vogel.
"Some people are better at communicating through writing,
others by speaking. Both Feden and Vogel agree that rather than
subverting individual differences, teachers should exploit them
to their fullest advantage to make for a better learning environment.
controversial concept that they include in their textbook is that,
in their view, students with disabilities are not as different from
other children as most people think they are. Conversely, children
in regular classrooms, even though they may be the same age, are
not so similar to one another as people assume they are. Teachers
need to use these differences to their advantage, say Feden and
major idea is that student testing needs to find a happy medium
between "objective, norm-referenced measures" on the one
hand, and more authentic, subjective measures on the other hand.
important concept that they believe is that "less is more."
Americans think that more is better, but study after study shows
that human beings can process only so much information at one time.
According to one study, math textbooks in the United States cover
175 percent more topics, yet German students outperform American
students in math achievement. Why? The answer is that the human
brain can only absorb so much information at a time. By concentrating
more on less information, students are better able to retain and
Vogel and Feden reiterate that schools have not changed very much
over the years. "Now is the time for such change," they
nine core concepts of instruction Professors Feden and Vogel devised
based on cognitive research findings are:
Change: What we know about how human beings learn has changed, say
Feden and Vogel. That information must be used when teaching.
Human beings learn best in cooperation with other human beings by
actively using the information they learn to be personally meaningful.
The authors suggest having students communicate using email, instant
messenger and chatrooms to encourage working together and using
each other's expertise to check homework and prepare for tests.
The ability to retain and understand knowledge is greatly enhanced
when students make connections to what they already know. A real-life
example is how a class studying the human cell compared its components
to soccer: the nucleus was represented by the referee, because he
controls the game, like the nucleus controls the cell. The cell
wall was represented by the goalie, because he doesn't let things
Deep rather than surface learning promotes retention, understanding
and the ability to use knowledge. Feden and Vogel write that instructional
strategies, such as identifying similarities and differences, summarizing,
generating and testing hypotheses are some methods of promoting
Human beings learn in different ways, and those differences should
be exploited, not rejected. Some people perceive information either
concretely or abstractly, and order that information either sequentially
or randomly. Some people are introverted, and some are extraverted.
They all bring important abilities to each other and to the classroom.
Students with special needs are not so different from other students;
therefore, when instruction is properly adjusted, all students can
benefit. With students who have short attention spans, the authors
recommend varying the tasks, or providing compelling visually stimulating
There should be less emphasis placed on objective, standardized
tests (such as the SAT) and more emphasis on subjective methods
to indicate a student's understanding of content. An example would
be to have students make presentations in class. Using visuals,
such as maps, or taking questions from other students, can demonstrate
what a student has learned from lessons.
Less is more. The brain can only learn so much. One method of "less
is more" is, rather than teaching about individual wars in
history, study the concept of "conflict," and what are
its causes and outcomes.
Everything Changes. Society has changed, technology has changed,
people change. Now is the time for Schools to Change!