MBE (Mind, Brain and Education) teachers view themselves as ‘brain changers’, taking on the responsibility of changing mindsets within the classroom. The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at St Andrew’s Episcopal School (CTTL) in the USA have devised four levels of classroom and school practice based on MBE research:
Level 1: Changing mindset (as mentioned above) by embracing the neuroplasticity of the brain.
Level 2: Changing practice: This involves the teacher reflecting on what he/she is already doing in the classroom (research-informed) and which aspects (if any) should be altered or stopped.
Level 3: MBE teacher/ practitioner: At this stage the teacher needs to ‘investigate with a research-informed lens’ the challenges or opportunities which abound within the classroom; reflect on the possible success of addressing these utilizing MBE strategies; and then, consider their implementation within the classroom or the school as a whole.
Level 4: The MBE teacher-researcher: This the final level and one where the teacher/practitioner becomes a researcher by considering the impact of the introduction of the intervention and asking the questions “What impact did I have?” and “What should I do next?”
Neuroplasticity of the brain
Without delving too deeply into the structure of the brain, it is safe to say that the brain reacts and adapts to each and every circumstance we encounter. For instance, the prefrontal cortex is associated with executive functioning and the ability to make responsible decisions, organisation and planning (effortful control). The limbic system, on the other hand, controls our emotions including our ‘fight or flight’ response (functions of the amygdala). Emotion and reaction are faster than thought and the amygdala, which takes information from the thalamus, is constantly scanning for danger, searching memory and making associations.
MBE brings neuroscience into the education equation as learning is driven by emotions and interest (the one which constantly affects the other). Therefore, if learning is meaningful the student will pay attention and memorise the lesson, helping to build the foundation of knowledge securely stored in permanent memory.
How learning occurs: Reflect and recall
As humans we are constantly being introduced to new information and linking it to existing knowledge. However, our working memory can only store approximately 7 – 9 new bits of information for a short-while before it is rejected (due to disinterest or no connection to existing knowledge) or added to long-term memory (as it has found a connection to prior knowledge). One of the responsibilities undertaken by MBE teachers is to show their learners how to unload their thoughts and not become totally overwhelmed.
Memory limitations, stress, outside distractions, boredom and the lack of pre-requisite knowledge and skills are but some of the inhibitors to learning. If the lesson or event does not stimulate the learner it will be forgotten and the knowledge base will not increase. If, as mentioned above, there is no connection to prior knowledge, it will severely impede the student’s conceptual growth.
The MBE practitioner is constantly aware of the factors which detract from the learning process and is able to make the necessary adjustments, rephrase the questions, increase or decrease the level of challenge dependent on the grasp of the learner