Learning Styles are the key

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How mind maps and learning styles focus students


This section deals with mind maps and memory. Click here here to skip to the next section on Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and to learn more about student motivation and the NLP spelling strategy.

Understanding learning styles is one of the keys to successful behavior management. If you can appeal to the learning styles of all of the pupils in your classroom then you have a much greater chance of engaging all your students in their learning, rather than dealing with behavior issues. Being aware for example that many boys are kinaesthetic (physical) and inter-personal (discussion-based) learners, will allow you to vary the type of learning activities that you use in class, rather than deliver lesson content through a 'one style fits all' approach.

I became aware of the term learning styles at about the same time that I developed an interest in what has been called accelerated learning. Initially, I discovered this concept as it related to the teaching of foreign languages, but it can and should be applied across the board. Accelerated learning describes any instructional method inspired by neuroscience and designed to maximize your brain’s potential. Your brain is an incredible organ, capable of dealing with vast amounts of information. But it is like a combination lock and each student needs to find their own personal code to uncover their preferred learning styles.

I only discovered mine in my final year of University when I found Tony Buzan’s book 'Use Your Head' in the University bookshop. I was astounded. I learned for the first time what my brain was capable of and specifically why I was only using a fraction of its potential.

What I realized from reading Tony's astounding book, was that I am a visual learner, who responds particularly well to the visual element of what he calls mind maps. A mind map (sometimes referred to as a spider diagram or brainstorm), is a diagram, drawn landscape on a piece of paper, which uses single words and phrases, as well as images, to represent complex ideas. It challenges the way in which most of us have been taught to handle information, in that you do not need to 'copy' information verbatim or 'take notes' in the normal way, on lined paper. Instead you are encouraged to work to your natural learning styles, by designing a 'web' or map of ideas, starting from a central theme and branching outwards. In addition, a mind map is often made up of single key words.

When I first encountered this idea, I was shocked as, for the first time, someone was telling me how to learn. I had been through 15 years of formal education before I ever read a book on learning styles.

At school I had been given huge history books at the start of my pre-University course for example, and told nothing about how to use them. I assumed therefore that I had to learn and remember every word of them. After all no-one had told me otherwise.

Buzan told me that in any page of text, only 10% of the key words carry the meaning and that if I learn to organize these into a mind map, I would be able to take notes that had meaning for me and which I could learn easily by using colors, pictures and symbols to help me link the ideas together.

So I learned to use my preferred learning styles when taking notes. What astounded me even more was that I could take notes in lectures as well in mind map form. That once I had understood the simple four part structure (Central Idea, Topic, Sub-topic and Detail) I could keep up with my teachers because the maps actually replicate the way that the brain works; by making connections and branching off, only to double back and resume at the original point. At 17 I was a depressed scribbler, trying to record word for word what my teachers were saying. By 21 I could sit in a lecture, listen for the 10% of key words, categorize them into four levels, branch out, double back, link to what I had remembered from the last class, color in, draw symbols and still have time to ask questions. I had turbo charged my brain.

Of course I also learned to mind map my essay plans for the first five minutes in my exams. In addition, because Buzan had also taught me how to use my memory properly, my revision was fixed in my long term memory through regular review, rather than having to cram two or three years work into a short term memory which is so unreliable, I still have trouble remembering people’s names after meeting them and cannot remember phone numbers at all.

The key neurological point about mind mapping, which I will often explain to students when introducing the technique, is that it uses both sides of the brain. Your brain has two hemispheres, left and right. If you make two fists, put them together and then hold them out in front of you, you have a rough model of your brain! In general the left side deals with numbers, data and logic, whilst the right side deals with color, shape and patterns. A mind map is an example of whole brain learning, because it puts words (left) together with patterns, shapes and color (right).

So what are the main benefits of using mind-maps.

• Very few teachers or schools actually teach their students how to learn, whilst this skill is possibly the most valuable to your students of all throughout their lives.

• Understanding how your students learn and remember will help you to structure your lessons, building opportunities for regular review for example or using mind-mapping to teach the skills of note-taking and essay planning and revision as I describe above.

• These techniques relate both the most and the least able of your students. Mind maps work just as well in special education as they do in mainstream. Any technique that works with the brain's preferred learning styles, will accelerate pupils' learning, no matter where the starting point.

How and why to teach memory


In his book 'Use Your Head',Tony Buzan estimates that one week after the average one-hour learning session, a learner will have forgotten roughly 75% of the information given to them. (Page 66). Add that up over a school year and you begin to wonder why you bother teaching at all! The implications for teachers and learners alike are obvious. It is best to not be one of those teachers who says: ‘Now go and revise for your test’. Instead why not:

• Teach you students why cramming info into their short-term memory is not the best way, when your short-term memory is like a sieve and you can avoid the need for cramming by learning to work with your memory and use your specific learning style.

• Teach them that in order for information to move from the short term into the long-term memory it must be reviewed four times; five minutes after learning it, 24 Hours, one week and then one month later.

• Build those reviews into your lessons, thus saving your students both time and stress. You will also be imparting a key study skill, which will be of tremendous use to them in all of their subjects.

I will often teach these principles in class, by giving out a fake phone number (I tell the students that it is mine) and asking them to repeat it back to me. This is often difficult because it has been estimated that our brain can only process 5 (plus or minus 2) bits of information at one time, whereas most phone numbers have more than 7 digits. I use this as an example of how your short term memory is like a sieve, information will flow through it like water, unless we find ways of hooking the information and transferring it into our long term memory.

We have already examined how mind maps and regular review impact on memory by allowing learners to access their preferred learning styles. Tony Buzan also adds a section in his book on memory systems (Page 70), such as mnemonics, such as 'Never Eat Shredded Wheat' for the compass points. The number rhyme system asks you to create a numbered list of words and lean to link the words and numbers through rhyme, where each number has a rhyming word:

1 bun2 shoe3 tree4 door5 hive6 sticks7 heaven8 skate9 vine10 hen

In this system, if the word 'table' was first on the list, then you would simply have to visualize a bun on a table, in order to remember the word.

Review is vital therefore, as is learning memory systems, that work with the learning styles, most conducive remembering.

Now skip forward to the next section on multiple intelligences.

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