Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and change throughout an individual’s life. Research has shown that the brain is constantly re-shaping, re-wiring and changing itself. Therefore, everything we do, from practising a skill, to reading a blog or kicking a football has an impact on our brain.
Unfortunately, many people still have a perception that their brain (and therefore their abilities) are fixed. That what we’re born with determines how well we do. However, years of neuroscience research have shown us that is not true – and also that being aware of the brain’s malleability can have very positive consequences.
Why Teach Students About Neuroplasticity?
Growth Mindset, motivation and attitude to learning
A meta-analysis which looked at the findings of 10 different studies found that teaching students about the neuroplasticity of the brain induces a growth mindset, which in turn leads to improvements in students’ motivations to learn.
There were also positive effects in terms of students’ academic achievement, in regards to reading but also in particular maths, an effect that was most prominent amongst struggling students. This effect likely occurred because struggling students often wrongly believe that success in maths is a result of a “natural” talent that you are either born with or without, causing them not to put any effort into maths.
Enhances student revision
The vast amount of information that students have to be able to recall for exams is often a source of demotivation, as they believe that they will never learn all the material, no matter how many hours they spend revising.
However, teaching students about the neuroplasticity of their brain should help install a belief that effective studying is possible. They would then know that if they put in the necessary effort and practice (using strategies such as retrieval practice), their brain will be able to adapt and make new connections, allowing them to learn and recall lots of new information – more than they previously thought they could.
The brain’s ability to do this was recently demonstrated in surprising research that followed black cab drivers who had been learning and practicing 320 different routes through London to pass a test known as the Knowledge. When compared to control groups, they showed enhanced myelination in the brain – which means that they could process new information more efficiently as a result of practice.
Improved response to mistakes
The brain is programmed to have one of two different responses to mistakes:
- The first is when the brain sees a mistake as a problem that needs solving and hence focuses its attention on it. This means that the brain comes to better recognise and understand mistakes so that, if a similar situation were to arise again, the brain will have learnt from the previous mistake and will be better placed to avoid it occurring again.
- The second response is a negative one, where the brain perceives a mistake as a threat and tries to block out or ignore it, in order to protect itself from any negative emotions that may arise.
Research has found that when individuals believe that their brain is malleable (as they often do when they understand the neuroplasticity of the brain), they are more likely to experience the first response and hence see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve. On the other hand, when an individual believes that their abilities are fixed (and hence does not understand neuroplasticity), the second response is more likely to occur. As a result, students may repeat the same mistakes over and over again without learning from them and attribute their failure to a lack of ability.
Teaching students about the neuroplasticity of the brain can have a range of positive impacts on them. It can be very motivating to know that their brain is developing and improving and that they can help accelerate this process. This will hopefully lead to less students disengaging from certain subjects because they "don’t have the right brain for it". As well as sparking a love of learning, it can also lead to an improvement in how they think about themselves and their future abilities.