The Doing Brain

Where is the brain? Inside a protective covering called the skull. What does it do? That’s more complicated.

When unimpaired, the brain allows you to:

  • remember
  • reminisce
  • ponder and meditate
  • invent and solve
  • daydream and retrace
  • plot and scheme
  • envision and celebrate

The mere mention of the brain can cause a person to backpedal into a zone of caution, concern, insecurity—or avoidance. Yet on the fourth day after conception the brain begins to develop into an organ that will be able to hold 1,000 times more information than a 20-volume encyclopedia.

Been There, Done That
Your brain, in fact, is an amazing three-pound structure, a universe of infinite possibilities and mystery. The brain constantly shapes and reshapes itself as a result of experience.

Just how the brain learns has been of particular interest to teachers for centuries. As we examine the clues that research is yielding about learning, we recognize important factors about effective teaching. Every Sabbath, class facilitators arm themselves with lesson plans, experience, and the hope that lives will be changed for eternity. The realization of that hope depends largely on (1) the knowledge base that these facilitators use when designing plans and (2) the instructional techniques they select during the lesson. The more class facilitators know about how learning occurs, the more successful they can be.

They’re Stacked
The brain can be described as three functional layers: action, emotional, and thinking. Each layer has distinct functional systems that continually interact at some level.

The brain layers can be compared to gears in a vehicle:

  • Thinking, third gear, orchestrates conscious rational or logical thought, provides for a variety of executive functions, and is associated with the processing or expressing of emotions.
  • Emotional, second gear, includes the pain/pleasure center, generates emotional impulses, and contains selected memory functions.
  • Action-brain, or first gear, houses automatic or instinctual behaviors, protective reflexes, survival mechanisms, and automatic responses to stressors.

The important issue is whether or not the brain is in a mode to learn and retain. Having thoughts and emotions on the same wave length so that after Sabbath School you could get some action in your legs, hands, mouth, and heart—that would be ideal. After all, don’t you want to share all the good that you have learned?

Be aware, however, that learning and retention (remembering) are very different. You can learn the telephone number for a pizza delivery and in just a few minutes forget it. Retention is that process in which important learning is preserved in the brain for future use. In Sabbath School, retention matters!

Retention is influenced by many things, but none are as important as rehearsal. Rehearsal allows the learner to review the information, make sense of it, elaborate on the details, and assign value and relevance.

The transference of information from working memory to long-term storage depends on rehearsal. That usually begins by asking questions similar to these:

  • What have I learned?
  • What do I need to understand more deeply?
  • What do I now believe?
  • What are my skills?
  • What do I need to improve?

The Sabbath School class facilitator can certainly walk class members through these questions—and probably often should.

At the beginning of each lesson, members might reflect on what they learned last week.
At the end, they reflect on what they learned this week.
And, in the middle, reflect on what they still want to learn before class has ended.

A brain engaged is a short leap to a life engaged.

W. Eugene Brewer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists