Brain-compatible learning

Brain-compatible learning


Brain-compatible learning

Educationists emphasise that an ideal class is one which involves all the sensory organs as learning happens by experience through the five senses. M A Siraj makes a case for brain-compatible learning

WAC“Teachers try to change the human brain every day. The more they know about how it learns, the more successful they can be.” -David Sousa

Now that neuroscience has explored the functioning of the human brain to a great extent, attempts are on to incorporate the valuable inputs in making the process of learning brain-compatible. In developed countries, classrooms are being designed with brain-compatibility in mind and teachers are being supplied with valuable advice as well as material on how to align their lessons and class behaviour with learners i.e., the children. The dictum that guides the teacher is: The teaching brain should be made compatible to the learning brain. Of late, the West has also learnt a few lessons from the Chinese and the oft-quoted Chinese proverb that has become the catchword among trainers is:  “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand and retain”. 

Educationists therefore emphasise that an ideal class is one which involves all the sensory organs as learning happens by experience through the five senses. Teachers have to employ all that they can to help the child learn. It could be repetition of key concepts, relating the concepts with images, expressions, gestures or body language or mnemonics.


Teachers need to be aware of the prime time and down time phases of a learning brain. It is pointed out that in a 40-minute class the best time to grab the attention of children is the first 20 minute phase which is the prime-time. The last 10 minutes is the next best.
The 10 minutes phase in the middle is down-time. So, experts opine that new information and key skills should be taught first i.e., during the prime-time and the teacher should ensure that the information conveyed is accurate. The middle period or downtime should be used for revision or practice and the last 10 minutes should be devoted for conclusion.
Looking at this learning cycle, the teachers are advised not to use prime time to take attendance, or check as to who is absent and why, or collect the previous day’s homework, or read out the schedules for club meetings and the like.

Similarly, the best time to study is stated to be 9 am. The brain of a child who has slept well is said to be more receptive and absorbing. Dr Qazi S Azhar, associate professor at the Michigan State University at Lansing (US) advises that tougher subjects be assigned for teaching during the morning hours. Dr Azhar, who has a B.Sc and B.Ed from Gulbarga, and who had taught in a Gulbarga school decades ago, says, the curriculum in India needs to emphasise ‘learning by doing’ rather than just reading. For example, the larva and pupa stages of a worm are likely to be better understood if the teacher carries a silkworm to the classroom and demonstrates the stages, rather than merely telling the students what they are. He says the brain of a child does not have the capacity to think in abstract ways. “If you say ‘house’, a seven-year old will think of his house rather than as dwelling places of people.

Attention span

It has also been established that the attention span of an adult is never more than 15 to 20 minutes. As for children, it is pointed out that most children can focus for a number of minutes equal to their age plus two. For example, a six-year old can focus for about eight minutes, and an eight-year old for 10 minutes but it becomes static between 15-20 minutes as one steps into adulthood. Teachers are therefore advised to provide some breaks beyond the focus points by changing activities, or through some physical movements.


Attention is also predicated on several factors such as diets, emotions and hormones. Children should be encouraged to drink a lot of fluids and discouraged from taking carbohydrates in large quantities in the morning. Carbohydrates are calming, limiting the alert state. Hence, they should be reserved for evening meals after which the body requires relaxation. Breakfasts and lunches should include more protein-based food.
Proteins help the brain stay alert by providing amino acids that trigger alertness.

Language learning

Language learning receives much less time, attention and effort in an average Indian classroom and within the family than it requires.  A child’s future learning is crucially linked to his capacity to communicate, think and read which essentially stem from the vocabulary and syntax he picks up during his early years. Dr Azhar, who also heads the Science Review Committee in Flint area in Michigan State, USA, says, most children learn any language without an accent and schools ought to teach more challenging vocabulary and foreign languages by age 12. He even advises parents to read to their children from the time they are six months old and not to wait until they are four or five years old. But the fact is that even 82 per cent of parents in the United State say they don’t read to their children.  

In a pioneering study that struck down the old notion that some children learn words faster than others because of an inborn capacity, Prof Janellen Huttenlocher, Professor of Psychology as well as Program Chair for Developmental Psychology at the University of Chicago, showed that when socio-economic factors were equal, babies whose mothers talked to them more had a bigger vocabulary. At 20 months, babies of talkative mothers knew 131 more words than infants of less talkative moms, and at 24 months the difference was 295 words. “Learning a foreign language, math, a musical instrument — anything is easy during this time. Put a child in a foreign country and he learns the language fluently while his parents struggle and have an accent,” she wrote in an article in the Chicago Tribune.

Consensus is slowly building up to discourage TV viewing by kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, ‘No television viewing for the first two years’ as it adversely affects the language development as well as attention and cognitive development at school age. Babies who watched 60 minutes of TV daily had developmental scores one-third lower at 14 months than babies who weren’t watching that much TV. Prof V L Ramachandran of California University says, that TV images move fast and provide no resting time for the eyes, while TV conversations refer to abstract things that are non-existent in the child’s environment. He says TV which is often used as a baby-sitter, is a poor replacement for sensory-motor development as it provides no time for reflection and interaction and has no three-dimensional visual development.  Several researchers and scientists would like to ban television for all children before age eight.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox