Just recentlyAs educators we want our students to learn and grow and be the amazing people we know they are becoming. Although in order to support their learning, we also know we can’t do this for them. They have to want to learn and grow. In Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt’s book, The Motivated Brain, Improving Student Attention, Engagement, and Perseverance, they show us where to start.
“The more teachers understand about how brains learn naturally, the more brain friendly techniques will become the norm and the more frequently students will experience success” (p. 32). Neuroscientists published recent research and have identified seven basic emotional processing systems (Panksepp & Biven, 2012). They include “raw emotional feelings” and “our instinctual emotional behaviors” (p. 35). The system that gives each of us the drive to learn is defined by Panksepp as seek.
This seeking emotional process system allows us to actively engage in the world around us by finding things that are important and what we should avoid. When our students have frequent opportunities to proactively engage in their own learning rather than simply completing a given assignment, more learning is occurring. In brain research terms, this feeling of “wanting” to learn is fed by the release of dopamine in our brains. “Dopamine provides us with a continued feeling of “wanting” as we seek, investigate, and research” (p. 38).
This release of dopamine increases our drive or motivation to focus on doing those tasks that are engaging and meaningful. As educators, we need to be mindful of the evidence-based teaching and learning strategies research has shown to have positively impacted student learning. The authors Gregory and Kaufeldt reviewed several educational researchers including Marzano and Hattie and found, “these strategies were extremely ‘brain–friendly’ as they aligned with how the brain prefers to learn” (p. 67).
To make learning more substantial for students in our rapidly changing world, the authors offer practical brain “seeking” strategies for teachers to use in their classrooms. These strategies include empowering students with opportunities to investigate, problem solve, make connections, and apply what they know. When implemented in a safe environment, where effort and grit are recognized as characteristics of a learner, these strategies can be powerful change agents as students are motivated to seek and discover and become owners of their own learning.