Cognitive Development at St Benedict's
Strategies to enhance learning and children’s cognitive development
“One of the most important questions educational research can ask is how children learn. If we know how they process and retain information, we can adapt our approach to teaching accordingly and in turn, increase effectiveness.”
(Professor Becky Francis, EEF Chief Executive, COGNITIVE SCIENCE APPROACHES IN THE CLASSROOM: A REVIEW OF THE EVIDENCE, July 2021)
At St Benedict’s we develop our children as life-long learners. We have employed the language of ‘Growth Mindset’ for many years and enabled the children to see the importance of challenge and reflection in learning.
An essential part of being successful in this is to enable the children to understand the learning process and reflect on themselves as learners so that they may develop their knowledge, skills, understanding and resilience and know the process by which they acquire these. By finding out more about how they learn, and how they can improve the way that they learn, we believe the children will be better equipped for meeting the many challenges that lay ahead of them and face them with positivity and enthusiasm.
Here we outline the strategies we use to develop the children as thinkers and as learners…
Brainwaves: The Power of the Human Brain
The first two weeks of each academic year are dedicated to children learning about their brains and the language of cognition. There is significant evidence which shows that knowing how the brain works in general and reflecting on how we learn as individuals can help us learn better. In other words, we can learn to learn. This 2-week topic not only helps our teachers and children to learn about how the brain works, but also gives them a chance to develop the meta-cognitive skills required for them to think about, reflect on and, in turn, improve on their own learning.
Throughout the topic, the children learn about the different parts of the brain and how they work. Children have the opportunity to reflect on themselves as learners and identify their areas of strength and areas for development. Fun and engaging activities are undertaken to show the children how they can make links between schemas and build their resilience and perseverance as learners.
We have also shared this approach with our parents leading a wonderful evening of learning and fun!
We use weekly, short, low-stakes 'quizzes’ which are a fun way of recapping material that might strengthen pupils’ long-term ability to remember key concepts or information.
Retrieval practice describes the process of recalling information from memory with little or minimal prompting. These activities require pupils to think hard about what information they have retained and can recall. We believe that by ‘quizzing’ for knowledge of previously learnt content, retrieval practice encourages pupils to strengthen their memory on key concepts or information. It also enables pupils to be aware of weaknesses in their memory and gaps in their understanding, thereby supporting self-monitoring of learning that can lead to the development of strategies for improvement.
Children undertake weekly fun quizzes where they are asked to recall knowledge from previous learning. This can be from the last week, the last topic or even learning from previous years to encourage the children to retrieve information from their long term memory and apply through their working memory.
The Learning Pit
The Learning Pit® (2007) and the Learning Challenge (2010) were created by James Nottingham. Trademark & Copyright (More details at: www.challenginglearning.com/learning-pit)
We have been inspired by the work of James Nottingham and, from this, developed our own physical Learning Pit at St Benedict's. Our mural was created by local artist Rachel List and is an area where children can go to relfect on where they are in their learning. Our staff and children use the Learning Pit as a point of reference and it eables them to recogniset the resilience, perseverance, adaptability and resourcefulness required to overcome challenges - skills they must acquire to be successful in their futue endeavours.
We believe learning should be challenging and, when this is the case, we often find ourselves in the 'Pit', needing a range of positive learning strategies to climb out of the pit and achieve our 'Eureka' moments in learning.
The Challenging Learning Website states many of the benefits of using the Learning Pit. These include:
- Knowing how, when and why to CHALLENGE students appropriately to that they are better able to move from surface knowledge to deep understanding.
- Building the SOCIAL & EMOTIONAL LEARNING of your students by giving them the opportunity to collaborate with each other in a caring, collaborative and thoughtful way.
- Teaching your students skills of REASONING, inference, connection and pattern recognition.
- Placing CONCEPTS at the heart of learning design so that students are afforded more opportunity to build a holistic understanding of the world.
- Creating a learning culture that combines intellectual risk-taking with PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY so that all students make excellent progress socially as well as academically.
Physical Learning Opportunities
Physical activity has a direct impact on the behaviour and development of the brain. An essay by Charles Basch of Columbia University summarised how physical activity can improve brain function:
- The flow of oxygen to the brain is increased
- The number of brain neurotransmitters is increased, which assists your ability to focus, concentrate, learn, remember and handle stress
- The number of brain-derived neurotrophins is increased, which assures the survival of neurons in areas of the brain that are responsible for learning, memory and higher thinking.
In 2018 our school submitted a successful match-funded lottery bid to install a Daily Mile track on our school field. Each day the children have access to the track to undertake the ‘Daily Mile’ – 10-15 minutes of running/jogging/walking/cycling around the track which has many benefits both physical, mental and indeed academic.
With the positive impact of physical activity on the children’s learning and cognitive development, we have added further opportunities for this, through initiatives such as Maths Passports.
After a successful experience day in July, we are excited to introduce 'Tagtiv8' to further develop our curriculum provision and encourage further opportunities to use physical activity to enhance learning across the curriculum, specifically in phonics and mental arithmetic.
Meditation allows children to get to know themselves better and in learning to do this, get to know God better too. So we give them an important life skill that will stand them in good stead as they progress through the school and into life beyond the classroom.
Children undertake meditiation on a daily basis, usually straight after their lunchtime break, and the benefits are very noticeable – not just in increased concentration, focus and aptitude for learning, but the much deeper fruits of the spirit such as joy, patience, love and self-control which are demonstrated by the children in the day-to-day life of the school.
- Meditation deepens the children’s personal relationship with God
- Meditation leads to increased self-knowledge and self-acceptance
- Meditation increases the desire to build community with others
- Meditation reduces stress and increases children’s sense of well-being and harmony
- Meditation increases children's readiness to learn