The Case for Brain-Based Learning

The brain is involved in everything humans do. Thus, school and classroom environments affect students’ brains daily. This is an essential understanding for educators to have in the 21st century. Jensen (2008a) said, “Brain-based education is best understood in three words: engagement, strategies, and principles” (p. 410). Brain-based education is learning in accordance with the way the brain is biologically designed to learn. Jensen (2008c) identified the BBL approach as the professionalism of knowing why one strategy is employed instead of another. Brain-based teaching encourages educators to consider the nature of the brain in their decisions regarding reaching more learners. Brain-based instruction is a means to reach all students using a set of guiding principles embedded in differentiated instruction. Understanding the guiding principles and being well-trained in brain-compatible strategies are essential to solving the problem of reaching all students in the classroom. Jensen (2000) asserted, “[BBL] is . . . a set of principles and a base of knowledge and skills upon which we can make better decisions about the learning process” (p. xiv). Caine and Caine (1994) synthesized educational and scientific research to establish a brain-based theory of learning with 12 basic principles that apply to classroom instruction. The principles constituted a strong connection between neurosciences and education and introduced the human learning process. Caine and Caine (2002) and Sousa (2001), seeking to understand the strategies that work best for quality teaching and learning, suggested educators look closely at the suggested 12 principles of BBL that serve as the theoretical foundations of the approach. Caine et al. (2005) restated Caine and Caine’s (1994) original principles of brain-based instruction as follows: 1. The brain is a parallel processor with entire systems interacting and exchanging information. 2. Learning engages the entire physiology, including stress, nutrition, and relaxation. 3. The search for meaning is innate with a hunger for discovery and challenge. 4. The search for meaning occurs through patterning, and life-relevant approaches are the best ways to influence the learning direction. 5. Emotions are critical to patterning because a learner’s feelings will be involved with and can determine future learning. 6. The brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously, especially when incorporated in genuine experience. 7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception including those unconscious signals related to the importance and value of what is being learned. 8. Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes, and students need time to reflect upon what they have learned.   9. Two ways of organizing memory include spatial memory and a system for rote learning. 10. An individual understands and remembers best when facts and skill are embedded in natural, spatial memory with the use of real-life activity, demonstrations, projects, and field trips. 11. Complex learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat, and optimal learning requires a safe place to think and take risks. 12. Every brain is uniquely organized, which is why learners are all different. These principles offer a quality learning approach aligned with how the brain naturally learns best (Jensen, 2000). They are the foundation to why teachers select and use specific strategies and why they use them with certain students and at various times. Jensen (2005) noted that the 12 principles serve as a framework for teachers to consider as they create lesson plans integrating brain-based strategies. Research involving brain-based teaching was first undertaken in 1988 (Jensen, 2008b). The BBL theory is a nontraditional approach that has gained acceptance among some within the scientific community. This technique shows that learning is not always achieved by the same means for every individual. BBL has evolved to the extent that eight elements have been identified as contributing to brain-compatible classrooms: (a) absence of threat, (b) mastery, (c) immediate feedback, (d) meaningful content, (e) collaboration, (f) enriched environment, (g) adequate time, and (h) choice. According to Caine and Caine (1990), Jensen (1998), and Sylwester (1995), when these eight conditions are part of the learning environment, conditions are optimal for learning to occur. BBL is student involvement in purposeful engagement using strategies based on the principles.