What is Accelerated
Brain-based learning is a comprehensive
approach to instruction based on how
current research in neuroscience
suggests the brain learns naturally. The
theory is based on what we currently
know about the actual structure and
function of the human brain at varying
(Wilson & Spears, TeachandLearn.net)
What have you heard of / used?
Water in the classroom
Left brain / right brain
Facts about your brain:
A human brain is about the size of a
grapefruit and weighs about 3 lbs.
It is 78% water, 10% fat and 8%
It weighs about 2% of your body
weight but uses about 20% of your
energy and your oxygen.
Brain Theory: the 3-part brain
Research in the 1970s proposed we
had three brains, not one.
The first and smallest is the reptilian
or primitive brain (brain-stem).
The mammalian brain (limbic
system): fits around reptilian brain,
is shared with all mammals.
The learning brain or neo-cortex.
The reptilian brain (brain stem)
Oldest part of our brain.
Shared with birds and reptiles.
Controls the basics: hunger, temperature control,
fight-or-flight fear responses, defending territory,
Always on the alert for life-threatening events
We "downshift" when responding to life-
"Flight or Fight" action takes place without
Anything that is a threat - real or perceived -
causes our brain to "downshift"
When "downshifting" occurs, learning
cannot take place
The Limbic System
Home of the emotions
Has visual memory, but language is limited to
yells, screams, expletives
If we are not in an emotionally stable state we
will not be able to learn efficiently as our brain
"downshifts" from higher level activities.
Any threat to our wellbeing can cause
downshifting, but not to the "blanking out" stage
of the brain stem (reptilian brain)
A part of the limbic system, the hippocampus, is
associated with long-term memory.
The Cerebral Cortex
Used for higher level thinking.
Processes thousands of bits of information
Slowest of the three levels of the brain
Students must be operating in this level if
learning is to take place
Therefore the learning environment must
be absent of threats, so that the brain
doesn't "downshift" into its more primitive
This is the home of academic
(from Evans, 2003)
Neo-cortex Mammalian brain
Left & Right Brain;
The brain has 2 halves or hemispheres.
The left brain is more concerned with
The right brain is more concerned with
But it’s far more complex than that. The
two halves work together, balancing the
abstract, holistic picture with the concrete,
Left Brain Dominance
Prefers things in sequence
Starts from the parts first
Phonetic reading system
Likes words, symbols, letter
Rather read about it first
Unrelated factual information
Detailed orderly instructions
Prefers internal focus
Wants structure, predictability
Right Brain Dominance
Comfortable with randomness
Sees whole picture first
Wants pictures, graphs, charts
Rather see it or experience it
Sees relationships in learning
Spontaneous, intuitive, flow
Likely to prefer external focus
Likes open-endedness, surprises
Free with feelings
(Cheshire County Council, 2006)
The principles of brain-based
Create the right environment for learning
Address children's physiological needs
Build self-esteem in the child so that he or
she wants to learn
Work to help children develop what Daniel
Goleman calls 'Emotional Intelligence'
Add movement to learning and plan for
regular brain breaks and Brain Gym®
Use and teach mapping techniques.
Use VAK to present learning in visual,
auditory and kinaesthetic form
Be aware of the different forms of intelligence
as you plan for children's learning
Use rhythm, rhyme and music to enrich
Use motivation systems such as RAP
(Recognition, Affirmation and Praise) or The
Three A's (Acknowledgement, Approval and
Minimise stress and teach relaxation
Teach children to be metacognitive –
to understand how they learn
Develop the New 3Rs -
Resourcefulness, Resilience and
Set clear and ambitious targets for
groups and individuals
Regular brain breaks are a major feature of
As a crude rule, add one minute to the average
age of the children in your class. This is about the
length of time that those children can maintain
sustained concentration on a task.
So if you teach five-year-olds, expect about six
minutes before sustained concentration starts to
decline. That is not to say that you need to take
a break every six minutes, but it does mean that
you need to make frequent opportunities for
movement and refocusing activities.
A B C D E F G
l t r r t t l
H I J K L M N
l r t t r l l
O P Q R S T U
t t l r t r r
V W X Y Z
t l l l r
What is a brain break?
BRAIN GYM: these cross-lateral
movements can improve motor control,
hand-eye co-ordination and excite the
neural pathways that connect the left and
right hemispheres of the brain. If you
sometimes also combine these
movements with academic content, for
example drawing letters or numbers in the
air, you are giving maximum input at all
Pole-bridging, saying what you are
doing as you do it, can make your
brain breaks even more productive.
Physical movement also increases
oxygen supply to the brain.
Regular brain breaks give a moment
for diffusion before returning to focus
on the original task.
See: Smith, A., Call, N. (2001)The
ALPS Approach Resource Book:
Stafford, MPG books, for lots of
ideas, or look online.
Writing key words in the air etc.
Bibliography / Essential
For a clear, user-friendly introduction, read:
Smith, A., Call, N. (2003)The ALPS* Approach:
Stafford, MPG books
Smith, A., Call, N. (2001)The ALPS Approach
Resource Book: Stafford, MPG books
Smith, A., (1999) Accelerated Learning in the
Classroom: Stafford, MPG books * Accelerated
Learning in Primary Schools
HIAS INSET materials – thanks to Diane Lawry.
For a critique of brain-based
National Educational Research Forum
Teacher Training Resource Bank,