Learning and the Brain Conference – Professional Development Notes from Kaia Huseby

This year’s conference on Learning & the Brain was entitled “The Science of How We Learn: Engaging Memory, Motivation, Mindsets, Making, and Mastery.” I traveled with four other Gateway teachers to attend this exciting three-day conference in San Francisco.  The speakers were all experts from the fields of psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience; they were eager to speak with educators to share the implications of their findings for the classroom.

I found one presentation particularly illuminating: “Learning by Thinking, Questioning, and Explaining.” Tania Lombrozo, a professor at UC Berkeley, shared her research on the ways in which genuinely new insights can come about through the process of thinking out loud and explaining one’s thoughts to others. While we already place great emphasis on articulating thoughts and communicating with others here at Gateway, Lombrozo’s talk inspired me to plan more “explaining time” into lessons – not for me to explain things to students, but for students to explain their thinking to partners or to the whole group. In her research, Lombrozo found that prompting people (both children and adults) to explain their thinking aloud helped them to recognize the gaps in their knowledge and then be motivated to dig deeper. She argued that explaining can help learners to go beyond the obvious and prepare them for future learning. If, in the process of explaining a general pattern or underlying principle, people notice inconsistencies, they will want to dig deeper because they are unsatisfied with their first ideas. Knowing how to explain one’s ideas takes practice and support, however; this is something we can help children to learn both at school and at home.