Page 4758 - Week 15 - Tuesday, 13 December 2005

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people were worse off with literacy. It is a pretty frightening situation when people say, “That didn’t work too well. Sorry about that. Life goes on.”

When you look at the document Teaching and learning in the middle years in the ACT, you find that a principal reason for doing away with traditional teaching and learning programs in schools is given as research in the 1990s into brain-based learning. I must say that I had not heard of this educational theory before I did a bit of research, but what I found was quite fascinating. It might be helpful to share with members some of the main features of what would seem to be the intellectual foundation of the proposed system of middle schooling now in the ACT.

What, then, is brain-based learning? In the first place, it is also known as brain-compatible learning, which presumably means learning that is compatible with using the brain, or at least not incompatible with it. Indeed, according to one of the pioneers of the theory, Dr Leslie Hart, the brain is the organ of learning, which is just as well if learning is also based there. Anyway, the theory is defined in one leading work as follows:

This learning theory is based on the structure and function of the brain. As long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes, learning will occur.

So far as I can tell, this means that having a functioning brain will enable people to learn things. I know that that is profound. It is something that never really occurred to me previously, but I am pleased to be able to enlighten the Assembly on this aspect of this theory.

There are 12 core principles of brain-based learning. I will note them for the purposes of this debate. They are: the brain can perform several activities at once, such as tasting and smelling; learning engages the whole physiology; the search for meaning is innate; the search for meaning comes through patterning; emotions are critical to patterning; the brain processes wholes and parts simultaneously; learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception; learning involves both conscious and unconscious processes.

Apparently we have two types of memory—spatial and rote—although often in question time one wonders about the depth of memory of some of those opposite. But that is what the theory tells us. The other core principles that are contained in this theory are that we understand best when facts are embedded in natural, spatial memory; that learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat; and, finally, that each brain is unique. Those are the profound core principles of brain-based learning. These are remarkable insights and this is going to be the new basis of teaching and learning in the middle years in the ACT.

Apparently there are also, as part of it, so-called instructional techniques associated with brain-based learning. They are: orchestrated immersion, that is, creating learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience; relaxed alertness, namely, trying to eliminate fear in learners while maintaining a highly challenging environment; and active processing, which means allowing the learner to consolidate and internalise information by actively processing it.

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