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Teaching the Science of Learning

Friday, April 6, 2018

The end of Breck's formal spring break brought the return of faculty for a three-day training led by the Peter Clark Center for Mind, Brain and Education. The workshop - a first of its kind at Breck - trained all faculty in the neurodevelopmental framework called Teaching for All Kinds of Minds.

This framework brings research-informed tools and strategies to aid teachers in understanding how individuals learn, identify learning profiles, and personalize teaching and learning for all students.

Eighteen faculty fellows from Breck's Peter Clark Center were trained on the framework following spring break in 2017. After using and applying the framework for a year, some of the fellows received additional training to become facilitators in the framework. This allowed them to lead the training for their peers. These fellows were joined by members of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) from St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, MD, to train the entire faculty.

The workshop included different exercises to learn the foundation of the framework and how to apply it in classrooms. It also gave teachers a common language to discuss and analyze student learning, identify areas to push students, and assess cognitive load.

"This puts common scientific language to practices that a lot of really good teachers do intuitively," says Dan Ratliff, Middle School Science Instructor. "It's a really well-designed approach that puts a name to a lot of things that experienced, talented, and motivated teachers through years of trial and error have arrived at. For me, it really helps to give a reason to why things are so effective."

A common phrase from faculty at the training was that this framework "de-mystifies" learning, giving teachers tools to help all students - because at some point, all students excel in certain areas and may need a little boost in others.

"We're not looking at boy brains or girl brains. We're looking at all brains," says Kim Shafer, Lower School instructor. "After teaching for 33 years, this is the information I've been searching for. It has really made our conversations about students purposeful and useful. Our students might not feel a big difference but behind the scenes, they will benefit from an amazing transformation. This is a great equalizer in the way we talk about student learning."

In addition to the framework, faculty also valued the emphasis on how this work can be applied to every aspect of their work as teachers - no matter what subject they teach.

"This is some of the most useful professional development I think I've ever had," says Amy Roe, Lower School Spanish instructor. "It makes me think about every aspect of my teaching - from design to implementation to watching the students respond. I can wrap my head around how I can use this tomorrow and see a really clear path to practical application."

And for a school like Breck, not only was the content valuable, so was the time.

"We work so independently throughout the school day that it is wonderful to be reminded of all the amazing colleagues we have," says Frederique Schmidt, Upper School instructor. "Being able to collaborate and brainstorm together is so rich. Collectively we have some amazing minds and ideas."

Ultimately, the goal of the training is to take the teaching professional and turn it into a learning profession. By understanding the how behind the way a student learns, teachers are able to develop a customized and personal learning journey for their students and create learners for life.