The kid with three brains
A different way of looking at learning, and how to improve it.
Paul MacLean identified three distinctive areas of the brain, namely the survival brain, the emotional brain and the thinking brain. While the 3 areas (or brains) influence one another, the survival brain enjoys the highest priority for behaviour.

The survival brain
The survival brain develops first, during the period from conception until 15 months. It behaves in a primitive way, responding to any stimulation by means of physical action. The purpose of the survival brain is to monitor the environment through sensory input and then deal with any threats by responding physically in order to ensure survival. Typical behaviour patterns in the classroom are focused on physical safety through self-defence, meeting basic needs such as shelter and territory.

How to use it
When a child is stuck in the survival-oriented brain, physical stimulation (action) is necessary to develop his senses and muscular control. Concrete real-life experience is conducive to learning from a survival brain perspective, because seeing is believing.

Emotional brain
The second layer is called the emotional brain or limbic system.  Emotions are the glue which hold onto information and stick it in the memory. This part of the brain also plays a role in motivation. Lastly, it is involved in determining what is true and of value to you – the things you care about.

How to use it
Repetition builds confidence, which is the bridge builder that takes a learner to the next level of the brain – the thinking brain. Learners whose emotional brain still needs some development require a safe and secure environment that stays consistent most of the time. They enjoy dramatised lessons, and prefer discovering the learning in an experience for themselves.

Thinking brain
The thinking brain is the largest part of the brain. It is the last to develop; the critical development time is between 4 and 11 years.  The thinking brain is responsible for the systematic perception and interpretation that leads to the formation  of concepts, abstract reasoning, creativity, intellect and congnition.

How to use it
Learners with well-developed thinking brains thrive on a challenge and appreciate a variety of teaching methods. Opportunities for abstract reasoning and debate are welcomed with open arms.

Understanding the three brains and the behaviour of each takes us one step closer to identifying children with barriers to learning in the class.

Have you noticed the different ways that children think as they develop?

This is an extract from Mind Moves (Metz Press), available from at R129.95. We are giving away 5 copies of this intriguing book.

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