Mind games

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Research into how we think is changing our approach to learning. Mike Levy finds plenty of brain-friendly techniques on offer at this year's Education Show

The theme of this year's Education Show is "Fresh thinking". It reflects a growing interest in thinking and learning, and for teachers looking to embellish their lessons with "brain-friendly" techniques, there are a number of seminars and resources on the subject.

There is big support on thinking skills from the Government (especially in its KS3 strategy), and the Campaign for Learning is nearing the end of its five-year "Learning to Learn" research project. In a report published last month, it says there is "overwhelming evidence of positive benefits for the pupils, teachers and schools involved".

Dr Duncan Milne is one of several learning gurus at this year's show. He will talk on recent brain research which is coming up with very exciting possibilities. Milne is the author of Teaching the Brain to Read. An educational neuropsychologist, he has been doing his own brain imaging research to see what goes on in our heads when we learn to read.

He has discovered something rather unnerving. "Our brains are not wired for reading. After all, it is only something humans have done in the last 5,000 years. It is not like language - there is no natural built-in pathways to help children to read," he explains. Milne's findings also support the view that each of us has learning preferences: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

Ian Gilbert is another author presenting fresh ideas about learning. His Little Owl's Book of Thinking, which has been short-listed for an Education Resources Award, has been described as the "cleverest, simplest, funniest and most engaging treatise on thinking skills available".

"Thinking is a skill that can be learned," says Gilbert whose book comes out of 10 years work with teachers and children. "A decade ago, few teachers were interested in how the brain works. That is all changing now, but I still get asked by teachers, 'Should we be spending time teaching children how to learn?'"

His answer is predictable. Gilbert's owl book is a set of parables about thinking which emphasise that, in his words, "There are several types of right answer", and what is more important is to ask the "right questions".

The link between mind and body will also be emphasised by Alan Heath in his talk on "Brain Gym".

This set of techniques consists of activities that bring about rapid and often dramatic improvements in concentration, memory, reading, writing, listening, co-ordination and more. Started by Dr Paul Dennison in the late 1960s, lots of schools now use the techniques to improve concentration.

Brain Gym is also widely used to help children with learning and developmental challenges.

Flo Longhorn has been using the senses to help children learn. "Forget about the five senses," says Longhorn, "we have discovered at least 56."

These include a sense of balance, time and even radiation where extremely subtle changes in our skin colour can reflect how we feel and what we are thinking.

Longhorn uses our multi-sensory facilities to help children, often with severe disabilities, make sense of the world. "Children who will not respond to any other stimulus will sometimes react in an incredibly positive way to vibrations," she explains.

"Some children with severe autism have a heightened sense of colour - one boy loves green and will wear nothing else. Our environment teaches us how not to use our senses - my 'multi-sensory workouts' reverse that."

State of mind is a key element of how well we learn. Murray White's talk on self esteem will emphasise the importance of a child's feelings about themselves. "Learning just doesn't happen without positive self esteem," says Murray, a former headteacher. "It is more important than IQ in predicting attainment and a child's behaviour is determined by it," he claims.

One resource aimed at helping the brain get brainy is Fast ForWord, from Scientific Learning Corporation. The US company claims to use the latest advances in brain research to develop learning and communication for all students. Its language skills product builds on memory and attention.

How children learn is also central to the books displayed at the Accelerated Learning Centre. Accelerated Learning is sometimes described as Whole Brain or Integrative Learning. The technique involves accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. Advocates claim astounding improvements - not least as Accelerated Learning is supposed to bring fun back into the classroom. You will find all the key books and resources in Accelerated Learning on the stand. Though learning how to learn is still something of a novelty, this year's Education Show points in the right direction - inside our heads.

Accelerated Learning Centre Stand PV78 Scientific Learning Corporation Stand SN78

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