The brain develops according to how it’s used

The brain develops according to how it’s used

The prefrontal cortex continues to develop rapidly in adolescence and into early adulthood, which is why Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I couldn’t stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Our brain develops according to how it’s used. Maturity in neuroscience terms means increased emotional self-regulation, good decision making, managing and overcoming challenges. This is when the prefrontal cortex is conscious of what you’re doing and in charge. And, to help develop this area of the brain the number one approach you can use is REFLECTION technique.

Craftsmanship mindset to develop self-awareness

In my previous article, I invited you to imagine children around the world as craftspeople rather than just children. I proposed teaching children to approach learning from a craftsmanship perspective, using among others the reflection technique. This way children focus on growth rather than achievement. Moreover, this help them develop besides self-awareness a growth mindset.

Craftsmanship is based on a number of skillsets that are not always the core focus of schools, but that are essential in life. Here is a very short list of those important skillsets:

having an inquisitive attitude to life,

locking your mind onto work and learning,

sticking with challenges that matter,

creatively exploring possibilities,

working things out with clarity and accuracy,

looking back at what you did and reflect upon own learning,

managing and controlling your own work,

accepting feedback without getting upset.

For children to be successful and happy learners, 3 different kinds of learning opportunities should be available. There must be knowledge to be accumulated, specific skills and techniques to be acquired, and more general attitudes and habits of mind to be formed. Traditional teaching doesn’t always produce this third set of outcomes nor does it focus too much not he reflection technique. As Sir Ken Robinson once said, “If you want to shift culture, it’s two things: its habits and its habitats—the habits of mind, and the physical environment in which people operate.”

In the classroom a craftsmanship mindset which is rooted in the reflection technique means children develop self-awareness, and they learn to think and talk about their own learning. This mindset and the range of tools associated with it builds their capacity for self-evaluation and self-correction, as well as their general awareness of what works and what doesn’t as far as their own learning is concerned. That self-awareness helps them to develop a calmer and more balanced attitude towards difficulties and mistakes. If children don’t panic when faced with challenges and mistakes, they are more open to advice about how to improve their work, which also builds their skills in giving feedback to others in a kind and helpful way.

In many schools, teachers see it as their job to provide feedback. We, at How People Learn, however, believe that children can do the diagnostic work for themselves, both individually and in collaboration. Thus, it’s our mission to design tools that can help teachers, parents and children develop the habits of the mind required to be successful lifelong learners. Learning to think and talk about their own learning gives children greater independence and confidence, as well as builds the number one brain muscle: REFLECTION. 

3 tools to help children use the reflection technique:

A 40-Card Deck for Reflective Thinking Routines

You can use the reflection cards in different ways depending on the lesson, the age of the children and the goals for learning. Sometimes, you may introduce specific reflection cards during a meeting or small group circle as a focus for that lesson. Other times, you may ask the children to select a card for the group to focus on during the lesson. Alternatively, you may select a reflection card as a focus at the end of class. You could also plan for brief pauses, during which the children reflect on how well they are using their brain muscles. For example, during a lesson that stretches their perseverance muscles, you could “press the pause button” and ask the children to reflect for a minute or so using these two cards: (1) What can we notice about our perseverance? (2) Who is showing really great perseverance? What are they doing? What can we learn from them?

These reflection cards could play an important role in children’s learning experience throughout their school years. Print out enough sets and make sure they are always available for the children to look at in the toolboxes at each table. You can also have large versions of the reflection cards hanging in the classroom to serve as a reference and reminder of the expectations and goals for learning. The sentence prompts can be displayed on the whiteboard or as a poster for the children to refer to when reflecting on examples of their own or their classmates’ work. If you encourage the children to regularly practise critiquing their work as a group, all the children will build their understanding of what quality looks like together. Using these kinds of prompts, sentence structures or thinking routines can purposefully develop both the quality of children’s work and their ability to reflect productively so that they take increasingly confident ownership of the reflection and improvement process over time.

My Learning Journal

A learning journal is a collection of notes, observations, thoughts and other relevant materials gathered over a period of time. Usually it is used during period of study, a placement experience or fieldwork. Its purpose is to enhance your learning through the very process of writing and thinking about your learning experiences. Your learning journal is personal to you and will reflect your personality and experiences. 

Why would you use a learning journal?
To provide a live picture of your growing understanding of a subject or experience.
To demonstrate how your learning is developing.
To keep a record of your thoughts and ideas throughout your learning experiences.
To help you identify your strengths, weaknesses and preferences in learning. 

Essentially, a learning journal helps you to be reflective about your learning. This means that your learning journal should not be a purely descriptive account of what you did, but an opportunity to communicate your thinking process: how and why you did what you did, and what you now think about what you did. 

How People Learn Cube

If you are a parent, every night before saying “goodnight”, toss the cube and share your thoughts. If you are a teacher, invite the children to toss the cube and share their thoughts. Suggestions for sentence starters to create more cubes besides the ones we offer:

I predict that…

Today I learned…

Today I figured out…

Today I discovered…

Today I explored…

I want to know more about…

I’m most proud of…

I’m determined to…

The most challenging thing was…

I wonder…

Today I found out…

The most difficult thing was…

Today I asked…

Today I was successful because…

Today I was unsuccessful because…

I am proud of myself today because I…

I used my time well today because I…

I discovered…

Next time, I will remember to…

It’s cool how…

I’m confused about…

Can you help me with…?

Now I know…

I was surprised that…

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