Growing Your Student’s Brain

Dear Homeschooler,

This summer has been a time of reflection for me. I guess every summer really is: a time to look back on the previous school year and identify what worked and what didn’t. Taking note of these, I start thinking about what changes I want to make for next year.  A few months ago, I listened to a seminar that has spurred many moments of ponder and will most definitely affect my planning.

While writing a review for Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization, I listened to its author Andrew Pudewa give a lecture entitled Nurturing Competent Communicators (Click on the link to listen to it). The whole lecture is very good and worth listening to; however, two particular points have stuck with me.

 

The Type of Input Matters

As homeschoolers, I don’t think any of us would disagree that reading to our kids is important — no matter what our teaching style is. I consider myself to have an eclectic homeschool style, with elements of Charlotte Mason, so we read a lot: story books, readers, living books, novels, even graphic novels.

Schoolgirl Reads Book In Library

I am also a proponent of interest-based reading. We know that kids tend to be more engaged in activities that they enjoy. So it goes with reading. My son likes to read. When I pick out books, he reads them and enjoys them, but when he picks out books, he can’t put them down. I want to encourage this.

Having said that, the point brought up by Mr. Pudewa that keeps  recurring in my thoughts is this: the type of input matters. What does this mean? Input is that which we expose our kids to. It is what we teach them and the example we provide them. We can’t expect our kids to gain the skills of level 2 if we only teach them the skills of level 1. Consequently, we can’t expect our students to become sophisticated writers (and communicators) if we don’t expose them to sophisticated writing. We need to read, not only the fun, interest-based stories but also those literary works rich with vocabulary, complex sentence structure, imagery, etc.

 

Growing My Student’s Brain

The benefits of repetition are well-known, but did you know that it can actually change the structure of your brain? The brain stores knowledge as memory by creating new neural pathways:

“Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge about the world. Memory is the retention or storage of that knowledge. . . .alterations in the brain (are) produced by learning” (Kupfermann, 1991, p. 997).

brain

Rote memorization has taken a backseat in today’s teaching methodologies. Many say that facts without application are useless, and to a point I would agree with them. And why memorize anything when Google is at our fingertips? Mental math is also ‘going the way of the dodo’ with calculators in every pocket.

Mr. Pudewa stresses this point: memorization actually grows one’s brain. When I was working with autistic students, we used many teaching methodologies including direct teaching, which encourages speedy responses to inquiries. The student would learn through repetition and generalization and prove mastery by quick recall. We know that the brain of an autistic child is different from a typical one, but creating new neural pathways through repetition helps them gain and keep new skills. The same technique can work with any child and aid in the acquisition and mastery of new knowledge. It also provides building blocks on which further knowledge and skill can be built

 

These thoughts have affected my plans for the upcoming year. I plan to incorporate more classical stories into our school schedule in the fall. My kids are only in kindergarten and second grade, so we will revisit them again a little later. At this point, I’m not interested in doing in-depth literary studies, so it’s ok if they don’t understand everything; I just want to expose them to good literature.  I also plan to promote more memorization of poems, facts, Bible verses, etc. to increase my kids’ recall and grow their brains!

If you have a chance, listen to Mr. Pudewa’s lecture  Nurturing Competent Communicators. I hope it gives you as much food for thought as it did me. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Till Next Time,

Jennifer

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