Is it worth knowing about brain development?

I am most grateful this week to one of our cognitive coaches alerting me to a pilot project in twenty-one schools which is now about to be rolled out further. The project is focused on teaching teenagers about neuroplasticity: the development of our brains as babies and the continued capacity of the brian to change.  The teenagers involved learned how to engage with babies and actually help them increase their speech and language skills. Read more about it on the BBC website. What’s not to like?

All the research into metacognition starts with understanding ourselves as learners. Only when we know about the way our brains work and develop at a young age can we then apply this knowledge to our present situation. Admittedly, we do not bring young babies into our lessons at Meta Prep, but in a similar way we encourage pupils to take ownership of their actions so that they can become self-directed learners. 

Our wonderful brain can change 

The most fascinating part of our whole body is the brain. It is like the untapped depths of the oceans. What the grey, squishy sponge in our skull can achieve still blows our minds. Throughout our lives, we encounter joy, sadness, struggle, love, dislike, and experiences both good and bad. Freud talks about the impact they have on our super-ego, contributing to our thinking and influencing our thoughts and behaviour patterns. 

The gut reaction to extreme stimulus is the emotive brain. It is activated by feelings of hunger or fear. It is the powerful instinct to fight, flee or freeze. These gut instincts are shaped by our experiences. If this is true, can other instincts be shaped in the future? Yes they can! This is called neuroplasticity: the concept that our brain is not fixed and can be changed. Through conscious effort and an understanding of our motivations, triggers and thinking processes, we can adapt our thinking and behaviour patterns towards success.

Thinking about thinking 

Armed with the knowledge that the brain changes and how it works, pupils are ready to engage. At Meta Prep, we make learning visible through constant self-evaluation and reflection. This increases problem-solving skills as pupils can quickly identify the core thinking processes, whilst the routines and levels create a gateway for deep and profound thinking.

Anderson’s taxonomy, adapted from Bloom’s taxonomy, makes the different thinking levels clear for pupils to understand each step in the process. Consequently, if you can see more steps to climb, a curious child is going to keep climbing. 

The power of change

Armed with the knowledge about the brain’s ability to change and adapt gives immense encouragement to young people. Reminding them that everybody’s experiences and brains are different is empowering. Throughout our lives, we are constantly encountering new situations and experiences. Each of these situations will change the brain in some way. Neuroplasticity is the idea that we can change the neural connections in our brains through our thinking, experiences and education. They might not be able to do something YET, but by following the steps of deliberate practice and with the support of a coach they will get there.

Neural highways

To become an expert learner and confident in your abilities, you need to practice metacognitive skills just like you would practice times tables or memorising literary devices. 

At Meta Prep, our Year 4 metacognitive course focuses on metacognitive skills and imbeds those neural pathways with the pupil at the centre of everything we do. In Year 5, these metacognitive skills can be easily called upon to aid when learning the key maths, English and reasoning skills needed for success in the 11+ exams. When these metacognitive skills are continually practiced, the pathways become neural highways and information easy to access. It sets you up for a lifetime of deep learning.