Q.  How is it that so many young people exhibit anger or disgust towards school?

A. Some young people openly express their frustration toward “school,” others seethe silently, still others lash out or drop out when they perceive no one is hearing them. Unfortunately, the way in which students react often results in their becoming marginalized, if not just kicked out of school on the spot. Nevertheless, their behaviors are trying to communicate something—something about how the current educational environment is not meeting their learning needs and, in fact, may be making it more difficult for them to learn.

Although research hasn’t exactly pinpointed how the brain learns, studies have shown how the brain learns best. This is at once exhilarating, because with some effort and innovation the process of learning could be enhanced significantly for most, and depressing—since millions of brains are experiencing sub-optimal learning as they move through or drop out of the educational process in a variety of environments, some of which are at least demeaning if not outright punishing or abusive at some level. Following are just two examples.

  • Some brains learn best seated in a traditional chair or chair-desk position; others in a nontraditional body position (e.g., sitting or lying on the floor, curled up / stretched out on a couch, standing, walking around, in a beanbag). If in traditional chairs, the seating arrangements need to be movable (e.g., circles, U shapes, V shapes). Studies by Rita and Ken Dunn have shown that 20% of learners are significantly affected, positively or negatively, by seating options or lack of options. An increase in physical space between students leads to an increase in on-task time and a decrease in disruptive behavior.
  • Students learn best when they are not only permitted but also are encouraged to stand and to get up and move around. Studies of adolescents have shown that 50% needed extensive mobility while learning, 25% needed occasional mobility, and 25% needed at least minimal opportunities for physical movement—not just at recess or meal breaks but throughout the learning process. The brain is activated during physical movement, which helps to optimize its performance. Just standing up creates more attentional arousal, increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain by 10-15%, and can speed up the processing of information by 5-20%.

It’s no wonder some students are frustrated. Moreover with brains only partially completed, they are unable to articulate what isn’t working—they just know they’re struggling.

In this 21st century, educational systems could be capable of providing learners with brain-compatible environments and with curricula that support the way in which the brain naturally learns best. The question is, will they? For the sake of millions of brains on this planet, the answer needs to be “yes!”

References are available at Brain References—Learning and Memory.


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