6 June 2017 by Rachel Paling
The more we are discovering about the brain through neuroscience and modern technology, the more fascinating it becomes. In addition we are really blasting through “neuromyths” that we lived with in the past and we are now moving forward with what we are starting to comprehend about the brain. For example:
- The brain has the ability to learn (make new neural connections) right up until the day we die
- Once brain cells are destroyed they cannot be replaced is absolutely not true
- Children can learn languages from a really tender age and not grow up confused!!
- The best age for children to learn languages is actually between 2 and 5 years of age
- People who are bilingual have more grey matter in their brain and can multitask better
- The brain possesses a performing side and a thinking side (Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis)
- Once the brain gains mastery of something it then goes into an automatic mode
- Learning a language is an excellent way of getting the brain to make new neural connections and pathways and potentially keeping disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay
- Stroke patients with paralysis are being encouraged to move the paralysed part of the body and continuous intention to fire brain connections is actually producing astonishing results. (Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi – Super Brain)
On a personal reflection of my own brain, I now understand what the neuroscientists say when they say that the “brain needs real and personal situations or context to relate to”. 
“If a student acquires new information that’s unrelated to anything already stored in his brain, it’s tough for the new information to get into those networks because it has no scaffolding to cling to………………………………..Studies published in the journals Nature; Science; and Mind, Brain, and Education support this idea, and a solid amount of research also links personal relevance and emotional engagement to memory storage. “
Looking back at my own life, there have been two prominent times when I see that my brain was unable to connect or find that “scaffolding”. The first time was when I was a child, possibly the age of 7 or 8 and I really had difficulty to learn how to tell the time. All the other children in my class were able to do this, but for me the whole concept of telling the time was just something that I could not grasp and did not even know where to start grasping from. My parents bought me a watch and spent long periods with me, trying to get it into my little brain, but it really took me an exceptionally long time for it to “click”. I even remember having private lunch time tutoring with the deputy head mistress in her room, going through the clock and the time with her. Clearly my brain had nothing like time-telling inside it and clearly there was nothing to relate to and without relation or sense, the brain did not “like” it. I remember at that time feeling strange that the other children could learn faster than I could and I felt that somehow I should have been able to learn as they did. But what I now know is that the situation was in fact normal. Everybody´s brain is different, every child´s brain is different and everyone learns differently – it is really up to the teachers to help the child connect and to create real and personal context for the child to grasp the new information. Nobody had explained to me that I needed to know the time, there were always bells ringing at school telling us when to go to class, when to stop, when to go to lunch etc. I was in desperate need of connecting real life to the learning, and it really took me a long time to do that.
The second time was much later in my life. As a mature student I attended the University of Sheffield to do a BA in Law and Spanish. After a bumpy first year, my brain and learning adapted and I went on to achieve a First Class Honours Degree. With legal theory I had a photographic memory and was really able to memorise and remember cases and laws. I remember in my criminal law examination I sat and wrote pages and pages answering the questions and quoting the laws and case law and the same for the Law of Trusts exams. In some of the exams I achieved 15/16 and even 16/16. At that point I was extremely grateful to my brain for such an amazing achievement of memory and ability to retrieve long term memories and working memory.
After Sheffield I went on to do a Master´s Degree and then a Legal Practice Course Postgraduate Diploma, before I finally decided to become a lawyer and went to do a two year training as a trainee lawyer.
Then the shock came. Somehow I was totally unable to connect and put into context the theoretical part of the law into the practice. For me it was like looking at life from a different dimension, where suddenly real people had real legal situations and that gap for me to connect the real with the theory was absolutely unbelievable and at times unpassable. At the time I really thought I must be the most stupid person on earth – how could I have achieved a First Class Degree in Law and be so far away from the application. Now years later, I understand what happened.And as I continue to teach adults and children I see how important it is for the educator to really understand how the brain works and to really bring in real and personal. Through my own experiences now, writing my own legal contracts in my own business I now have my own real and personal connection to those contracts that make them come alive and connected to neural pathways in my brain and the best way is learn is to actually bring the learning into real “personal doing”.
So the next time you have someone in front of you who does not seem to be able to grasp something – avoid judgement – you may have the most intelligent person in front of you, with an exceptionally high IQ who simply is not able to connect because the brain has no scaffolding to cling to and then ask yourself how you, as the neuroeducator, can bring personal relevance and emotional engagement to facilitate those brain connections and enhance memory storage. Never underestimate the person you have in front of you, always consider everyone to be their own genius with his/her own special way of learning.