Learn How to Teach so You Can Learn How to Learn: Two Lists from Neuroteach

Teaching without an awareness of how the brain learns is like designing a glove with no sense of what a hand looks like. If classrooms are to be places of learning, then the brain—the organ of learning—must be understood and accommodated. - Leslie A. Hart, Human Brain and Human Learning

Learning how to learn is intimately related to learning how to teach. When learning, you’re essentially teaching yourself. We can all take inspiration from learning how to teach so that we can better learn how to learn. The following two lists are extracted (SuperMemo’s pun intended) from the book NeuroTeach. I’ve added some comments for some points. For further explanations, please read the book.

The top twelve research-informed strategies every teacher should be doing with every student

1. Class periods should be designed with an understanding that what students will recall most is what takes place in the first part of the class and what students will recall second most will take place in the closing minutes of class!

2. Students should be given more frequent, formative, low-stakes assessments of learning.

This will easily trigger many parents' fear and hatred of testing. For more please see The Stigma Surrounding Testing and Memorization.

3. Students need more opportunities to reflect, think meta-cognitively, on their learning and performance.

4. Students need to know that the pervasive way they choose to study is actually hurting their ability to learn for the long term and that self-testing is much more effective than reading one’s notes.

If SuperMemo/Anki Really is THE BEST Learning Tool, Why Isn’t Every Student Using It?, Why 99% People Never Learned How To Learn: Part I and Part II.

5. Students, parents, teachers, and school leaders need to understand that sleep is critical to memory consolidation. Without sufficient sleep we create a system that perpetuates the illusion of learning."

The creator of SuperMemo, Piotr Woźniak has written extensively on this subject: Good sleep, good learning, good life.

6. Students need to know that “effort matters most,” and that they have the ability to rewire their brain to make themselves better learners and higher-achieving students (the concept of neuroplasticity).

This is more or less the concept of fixed mindset vs. growth mindset in Mindset.

7. Students need more, but well judged, opportunities for choice in their learning, which enhances engagement and intrinsic motivation.

Again, from Piotr Woźniak’s Pleasure of learning.

8. Students need to love their limbic system and recognize the impact stress, fear, and fatigue have on the higher-order thinking and memory parts of their brain.

9. Students need opportunities to transfer their knowledge through the visual and performing arts.

10. Students need their teachers to vary the modality of teaching and assessment based on the content (as well as the time of day): What methods suit this topic best? What methods have I just used and will use soon so that I can provide a range of challenges? All students learn best when taught in a variety of modalities, and when the modality is chosen with the content in mind rather than the student."

The highlighted part is in accordance with Learning Styles as a Myth: Some Evidence from Books.

11. Students need to know the anatomy of their brain, especially the role the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus play in their learning."

12. Students need frequent opportunities during the school day to play."

The unconscionable list things a teacher should never do again

1. Pop quizzes for a grade.

This is different from “frequent, formative, low-stakes assessments” because pop quizzes are unexpected and counted towards the grade. Pop quizzes are terrifying.

2. Starting a class by going over homework.

3. Ending a class by teaching all the way to the bell.

4. Coaching students to use passive studying techniques, such as reviewing for a test by just rereading their notes or textbook.

5. Defining kids by an individual style, such as “This person is an auditory learner, that person is a kinesthetic learner.”

6. Varying the modality of teaching to match these perceived individual Learning Styles.

7. Applying simple labels to students, such as “lazy” or “smart,” rather than making judgments based on observations.

For one, it’s easy to label students “lazy” or “smart” to explain away the discrepancy between different students' grades. For another, it may be the case that some teachers themselves have a fixed mindset (as it’s the default mindset).

8. Believing students have a fixed level of ability (despite their being in a time of great brain plasticity, able to work in ways that will rewire their brains to make them better learners and higher-achieving students).

9. Content delivery dominated by lecturing.

When the school curriculum is focused on covering as much material as possible, it’s lucky that the teachers could “lecture go over the material once.”

10. Assessment dominated by tests, particularly multiple-choice tests.

Again, “tests” mentioned here are not the same as self-testing or practice testing. Self-testing is about giving yourself no-stake and frequent tests. This can be achieved by using a SRS program (like SuperMemo or Anki) or doing practice tests from previous exams. Practice testing can be administered by teachers (point 2 from research-informed strategies above).

11. Always being the sage on the stage and never the guide on the side.

12. Praising achievement rather than effort.

13. Not recognizing the connections between emotion, identity, and health to learning.

In many ways, this “unconscionable list” is the opposite of “research-informed strategies”.


You can see how dramatically different the school’s system has to be in order for teachers to teach effectively. Maybe you could sympathize with the “unconscionable list” because it was your experience: throughout your school years, many (if not all) of your teachers belonged to the “unconscionable list”. That’s my case. Even with the best of intentions, many teachers aren’t aware of the science of learning. It’s unfortunate, to say the least, but teachers are only a part of the education system. Politics, societies, principals, parents are huge factors in making up the education system. It’s not fair to blame the part for the whole. Most of all, students (you) have to take responsibility for your grades too. Blaming your bad grades on the teachers just because “my teachers don’t know how to teach” is just shedding responsibility for your own learning. If you want to know more, this point is further discussed in Powerful Teaching.

I hope these two lists are helpful.