LD Skills Attainment

Venn Skills

Good teachers have a broad knowledge base of different teaching strategies and techniques. Knowing how and why learning takes place or does not take place is also an essential skill to acquire. Either singly or in combination, deficiencies in any of the four domains can greatly inhibit students learning. We will now look closely at the first of the four domains, skills attainment.

Skills attainment simply means learning has taken place. The student achieves the particular knowledge required to successfully move to the next level. But what else is it?

Depending on the skill:

  • It may result in a new behavior.
  • It may show itself as a change in attitude.
  • It can profoundly alter who we are.

When we acquire a new skill, the physical makeup of the brain changes because neurons rewire and reform. How does this happen?

  • Neurons are brain cells that process and transmit chemicals and electrical impulses to communicate information. As the brain learns, neurons are reformed into new patterns. This is similar to the process of how a city annexes land. As the city extends its borders, it is increased in both size and complexity.
  • Plasticity is the term for this phenomenon where the brain remodels itself based on new information it receives, processes, and puts in memory. Just as plastic can be molded in different shapes, our brain is constantly being reshaped.
  • Since our brains have plasticity, this means that everyone can learn regardless of age! As many of our adult students believe they cannot learn as well as younger students, this is valuable information to pass along to our students.

How are we able to learn and retain new information? Before we find this out, here is an introduction to several concepts that will be discussed in the next video.

  • Associative Learning Our brains do not learn well in isolation. Our brains need to connect new information to what we already know by relating the two together. In this way, you, as a learner, understand the material and can frame it in terms of the depth of your background knowledge.
  • Scaffolding Principle Just as a scaffold supports those working off the ground, we need to scaffold learning to create associations. We scaffold learning by building ideas one on top of another. Therefore, we should always start new teaching with a review and an opportunity for the students to voice their present knowledge on the subject. This is a great time to both ask and answer questions.
  • Hippocampus This area of the brain acts as a switchboard to stored information for consolidation and meaning. It activates storage areas for information that will be associated with the new information. The hippocampus controls the development of meaning for the learner.
Reflection 8: Why is understanding brain plasticity important for teaching our adult students?

Reflection 9: Describe a learning activity you already use or could use, that features associative learning.

Hardwiring the Brain

The key to skills attainment is changing neural networks to ensure new learning gets into long-term memory. This is sometimes referred to as hardwired information. Hardwired information becomes part of the body of what we know and is activated as needed in future related learning. For hardwiring to occur, practice is everything!

There are four essential characteristics of an effective practice strategy:

  • Intensiveness - Practice must be rigorous and concentrated enough to keep the neurons primed and responsive.
  • Frequency The material needs to be repeated with regular practice before it is integrated into memory.
  • Relevancy It must be important to the student.
  • Arousal There must be an emotional investment in learning.

As you watch the following video, use the Reflection Guide to take notes as Katherine presents information about how we can create practice routines for our students to allow new information to become hardwired in our students brains.

Reflection 10: For a subject you teach, create a practice routine that uses at least one of the four criteria we learned that allows new knowledge become hardwired.

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Developed by Adult Basic Skills Professional Develoment (ABSPD), Reich College of Education, Appalachian State University
Funded by NC Community College System Basic Skills, Raleigh, NC - Copyright © 2011, ABSP