Sunday, November 16, 2008

Teaching and learning with the brain in mind.

I recently listened to an Educause podcast from their 2008 annual conference.  The presentation was by Dr. V.S. Ramachandran who is the Professor and Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California.  This speech offered an insight into brain function using what we consider abnormal function as the stimulus.

In one section of his speech, Dr. Ramachandran speaks of patients who experience a phenomenon called synesthesia.  This is a condition where there is a cross linking of the senses.  I encourage you to download this podcast and listen.  What had made this significant for me, follows on from my blogpost about Amanda Baggs.  In this post I mentioned an old friend who has inspired my practice.  This speech on synethesia reaffirmed the concept that not everyone thinks the same way.  But even more significant, is that not everyone interprets the same stimulus the same way.

If I apply this to my classes, I know there are a variety of thinking strategies and learning behaviours existent.  I am aware of a variety of teaching strategies I employ to ensure I am providing a productive learning experiences to as many students as possible.  Dr. Ramachandran's speech however, pointed out to me that the specific stimulus can be interpreted many ways.  How often has this resulted in a misunderstanding of what I required in an assessment task?  How often has this resulted in a misunderstanding in regards to behaviour?  How often have I confused my students and others?

It would be ridiculous to expect that I could tap into the brains of each and every person I interact with in order to understand the best way to present information to them.  Yet this speech has pointed out to me that when I deal with learning in groups, the stimulus (learning) material may be interpreted in different ways.  This has me thinking about my interactions in class and noticing (more) the body language and hearing (more) the verbal language of my students as I attempt to interpret understanding as I intend it.