By definition, a learner is supposed to learn. Benjamin Bloom, known to educators for his Bloom’s Taxonomy, wrote: “The middle 95% of school students become very similar in terms of their measured achievement, learning ability, rate of learning, and motivation for further learning when provided with favorable learning conditions” (Developing Talent in Young People, p. 4).
Teachers Can Make a Difference
The human brain is an incredibly plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function—even in old age. Each human being perfects specific cognitive operations and discards others as a result of personal experiences. An enriched environment significantly influences brain power; an impoverished environment limits brain power.
The brain continues to adapt and expand for the lifetime of the individual. It is not, however, like a machine or “hardwired” like a computer, as once thought. Cognitive potential grows and diversifies with use. Such findings have prompted a serious challenge to the way we have conducted learning or teaching acts.
Good teaching begins when the learner is confronted with a problem, issue, or new experience. Teachers want to arouse an interest in the new learning. “True education is not the forcing of instruction on an unready and unreceptive mind. The mental powers must be awakened, the interest aroused” ( Education, p. 41). Questions should connect the learners’ current knowledge to what the teacher wants them to understand.
The brain’s neurons make it a thinking and learning organ, but at its deepest level the brain is more about connections. During learning, the brain’s neurons form new connections. All new learning must be connected to an existing neuronal network—which means that during learning the brain physically changes. So that day beside the Sea of Galilee when Jesus spoke His first parables, He used familiar illustrations to explain the nature of His kingdom and the manner in which it was to be established. Those familiar illustrations connected the new learning to existing neuronal networks in their brains.
The type of sensory stimuli that registers most quickly in the brain has to do with preference—that is, one type of stimuli tends to get our attention faster and register more quickly in our brain.
Babies tend to use the senses almost equally. By age 5 or 6 the brain begins to organize toward a sensory preference. Unless a person has a disability, e.g., visual, hearing, sense of smell, the ability to use all the senses and process data in all three systems is available to everyone.
Since the brain is a veritable thicket of neurons, the more experiences the better. And anything that triggers the senses aids in learning. That could mean passing around grapes when you teach about the Promised Land. Or light incense when you teach about the sanctuary. Or playing a song that goes along with the lesson. One pastor piped into the sanctuary the smell of fresh popcorn when he taught about “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.”
Other sensory effects that could increase learning and memory are these: running water, passing around an object associated with the lesson, hearing a poem or story that touches the emotions, seeing a painting (or other artwork), or even acting out a Bible story. The cradle roll shouldn’t be the only place having all the sensory fun!
Communication, learning, and behavior that nurture sensory preferences need practice. Here are some tips to consider:
Knowledge: Identify your own sensory preference and then be alert to situations that could be enhanced through applying what you know.
Choice: Practice whole-brain-nurturing behaviors whenever possible (e.g., when greeting others look them in the eye, shake hands, and say something verbally).
Competency: Develop skills in all three sensory systems to be ready for almost any type of situation.
Creativity: Be innovative in using the sensory systems. Avoid the belief that simply because something worked once it will work all the time.
Implementation: Do something every day for your close friends/family members in their sensory preference. The sensory stimuli will register quickly and easily in their brains and will help them feel comfortable and affirmed (MindWaves, pp. 118, 119).
When in doubt about whether your class is mostly visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, rotate all three, so everyone will remember the lesson.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists