Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Dr. Britt Andreatta. Andreatta is an internationally recognized thought leader, author, and speaker on learning and leadership. She will also be a speaker at our upcoming National Leadership Forum 2017. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Tim Elmore: In your first book, Wired to Grow, you explore the brain science of learning. So what are some of the key takeaways that you would offer from this book?
Britt Andreatta: What became clear to me was that learning actually occurs in three phases, and different parts of the brain play a role in each of these phases. The first phase is when we actually sit down to learn something. The hippocampus is the brain structure that takes what we are listening to or watching and puts it into our short-term memory. What is really interesting about the hippocampus is it needs to process content every 20 minutes or so to move it effectively into our memory.
The second phase is to remember. We have got to get the information into our long-term memory so that we can get back to it weeks or months or even years from now. There are actually very specific strategies we can use to do that. The most effective—and this is what good teachers learned how to do a long time ago— is when we attach it to something that the learner already knows or has experience in. The idea of attaching new information to a cluster of neural-wiring that already exists in the learner’s brain is called schemas. The other big “aha” moment was around the concept of retrievals. Back in the day, when we were younger, it was all about repetition. Keep doing those math problems, over and over. Keep writing, over and over. What we are learning is that to get it into long-term memory, it is really about pulling it back out again—retrieval. Quizzing yourself, retrieving the information, is kind of the sweet spot. It turns out that through three retrievals—spaced with sleep—is where the magic happens. So if you are a teacher, ask your students to summarize it or take a quiz on it so they have to reach back into their brain and pull it out. Three retrievals spaced with sleep is really the key element to getting things into long-term retention, long-term memory.
The third phase is to do, which is about changing behaviors. Most of professional learning today (which is where I am working these days) is about driving some specific behavior change. The research on how our brain forms a habit was what really informed me in this area. Turns out the brain structure is the basal ganglia, and when we repeat something over and over again, it’s what turns something into a habit. It takes about 40-50 repetitions of a new behavior before it really gets synced as a strong neural pathway or a habit.
Tim: Interesting. So Britt, I know you are an educator, mainly working on professional learning for adults. How did what you learn shift your own approach to teaching students and young adults?
Britt: This is also true for working with children and young adults as well. There are three key things I could highlight for you. Now, I never talk for more than 20 minutes. In fact, my limit is 15 minutes, because I figure there is some variation in hippocampus (short-term memory): I will give some content for 10-15 minutes; I always have my learners go into some quick processing activity— for anywhere from 1-5 minutes. It could be a dyad discussion, a quick free write, taking a little assessment, a hands-on activity. It doesn’t matter, all the tools the teachers are already using, are awesome. I just now make sure that I do them in 15-minute chunks. Then I can string a bunch of those together to create a longer learning event like a 2-hour session or a half-day.
I hope you take time during your commute to listen to the whole conversation. Click below to listen to the full discussion.
Want More From Britt Andreatta?
Come Listen to Her at the National Leadership Forum 2017
When you attend the 2017 National Leadership Forum, you’ll get the key to…
- Gain an understanding of the trademarks of Generation Z.
- Adopt an educated plan for pedagogy to connect with teens today.
- Enable students to practice metacognition, allowing them to own their learning.
- Motivate young adults, enabling them to cultivate aspirations.
- Improve the mental health and performance of students through social emotional learning
- Prepare for where student engagement and education is heading in the future.