Brain Based Learning – Improving Executive Function in Kindergarten Children

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It would seem a strange statement to say that “Brain Based Learning” is an important strategy to employ when teaching children. How else do you learn other than use your brain?

This topic though is central to best practice in teaching because when we understand the science of learning we can use strategies that we know will maximize performance.

Neuroscience science is the study of the brain and how we learn. A lot of research focusses on how we can improve Executive Function in children. Executive Function skills include children’s ability to avoid distractions, pay attention, hold relevant information in their working memories, and regulate their impulsive behavior. It is obvious that these skills are important, especially for young children and adolescents. These Executive Functions support both “how” we learn and “what” we learn.

There are many strategies that can potentially improve Executive Function. The following are simple but essential in every classroom, curriculum and school.

1. Activity Centers

Activity centers should have specific activities designed to foster learning that focusses on both content and Executive Function skills. Movement that starts simple but gradually becomes more complex is just one example. By challenging children in an environment where they need to pay attention and follow the rules children are motivated to function better because it makes the game more rewarding. We tend to think that paying attention is a skill for quiet time and a skill of concentration when seated. In fact students can learn this skill best in a much more life like and interesting environment.

2. Learning Goals

Children should meet with their teacher and set weekly learning goals. They should create plans that lead towards the achievement of these goals. Executive Function skills and abilities are always driven by goals. When children learn to plan ahead, monitor and review their goals they are effectively improving Executive Function.

3. Reflection and Self Evaluation

Children should talk about their work, reflect on and correct mistakes. They need to understand that what they achieve depends on their sense of how much effort they are investing as well as learning from their mistakes. As adults we know that we all learn best by making mistakes and modifying behavior. A great strategy to support this is a portfolio. We believe it is essential that children create products that can be placed in a folder so that they can visually monitor tangible progress rather than just grades or report cards.

4. Interpersonal Skills

When children work in groups or pairs with a “study buddy” it can help them remember what they are going to do, the rules for completing tasks, finding answers, and they can support each other in steps to complete each activity. They not only observe each others behaviors but their interactions support success.

5. Play

Play is an essential part of any early years curriculum. When children “make-believe” they are making up and acting out their own versions of stories and events. This activity strengthens children’s Executive Function skills through their attention to plots, different characters and roles. Children in fact experiment, think and feel with different emotions. They take turns and respond to each others versions of make- believe games. Genuine play is used to foster deep learning in contrast to activities such as electronic games and television which guide thinking, imagination and ideas within a certain frame.

6. Assessment

It is essential that learning has a purpose, including unstructured play. Teachers engage in a daily assessment of children’s development through informal methods (observations) as well as more formal testing (diagnostics) . Teachers observe and monitor skills and knowledge that each child has mastered and identify what children are ready to learn next. Scaffolding or structured support from the teacher provides the assistance needed to foster each new learning step for the child. This accelerates Executive Function, especially when the child is directly involved in their own reflection and assessment of self.

The research about applying these strategies is supported by Brain Based Research. It is very clear. Using these methods ensures students are better at focusing attention, it improves their working memories, better information processing, reasoning, and in regulating their stress hormones. In addition, children improve in reading, mathematics, and vocabulary. Kindergarten becomes a great start to their education pathway.

CEO and Education Expert, Greg Parry

Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for education institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

www.gsineducation.com | www.kingsgate.edu.my | @KingsgateInternationalSchool