The human brain is an amazing thing! It controls every part of us, from our movements (conscious or non) to our cognitive abilities and thinking. In my opinion, one of the most interesting and exciting qualities of the brain is it’s plasticity. Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to modify it’s functions according to changes either within the body or externally in the environment.
An astounding example of the brain being able to change and adapt to extreme situations can be seen in the below video:
For little Jody, as well as in other cases where the same procedure has been equally successful; the removal of half of the brain meant that she was able to lead a full and happy life – far more so than when living with the full brain whilst half was failing to function properly. This is because the remaining half of the brain is able to adapt and re-learn in order to take on the functions that have been lost.
So, how does this impact the classroom?
As well as being able to ‘cope’ and adapt, brain plasticity also involves building new connections and strengthening pathways. When a child is learning a new concept or new information, the brain makes a connection; if this is the only time that it is accessed, then the connection is weak, however if the learning is re-visited (even better if it is re-visited in numerous different ways) then the brain becomes increasingly efficient at following that pathway.
My favourite way of thinking about this is as if it were a garden path. If the path is walked often, then the soil is trodden down and the groove is deeper. If the path is rarely walked then it will become overgrown and harder to walk.
For me, the key message is that a lesson cannot be taught only once. If a teacher wishes the children to grasp the concepts, they need to provide the opportunity to practise and revisit regularly. By providing stimulating and varied activities, a teacher gives the children the best possible opportunity to learn as well as develop their brain for continued learning.