Use Brain Science to Change Behavior

Teach Lessons that Change Behavior

Back in the day when I was teaching lessons to children regularly as a school counselor, I was always trying to determine the best way to engage children in the lesson as well as make sure that they could actually learn and remember it later.  Lucky for educators and parents today, there is all kinds of brain research to show the way.  In her book, Wired to Grow: Harness the Power of the Brain Science to Master any Skill, Britt Andreatti identifies three steps to learning anything well.

  1. The first step is simply the process of listening and taking in the information.  Research has shown that the attention limit is about 15-20 minutes, so keep your presentation short.  So much for those long drawn out lectures we used to listen to in college.  We knew it wasn’t a good way to learn even then.
  2. The second step is getting the information into your long term memory.  There are specific ways to do this and they mostly involve practicing some sort of retrieval that involves participation. Have students summarize information, take a quiz on it, play a game or use it in some way that involves remembering the essential facts. Three times of intermittent repetition is the sweet spot.
  3. Finally, the last step involves behavior change and in order to create behavior change, you must practice for about 40-50 repetitions.  I know that sounds like a lot but if you think about it there are lots of things that we repeat numerous times in a given day. Use those times as teachable moments.

Here’s what a typical lesson might look like:

Teach a lesson on being a good friend; you can include a story, examples of students practicing the qualities of friendship, a list of good qualities, etc.

Review the material.  Here are some ideas:

  • play a game
  • have students role-play ways to be a good friend
  • complete a worksheet
  • make a booklet
  • have students quiz each other on how to be a good friend.
  • Make a list of friendly behaviors: sharing, giving a compliment, helping, playing together, taking turns

Practice being a good friend throughout the day or until the next lesson.  Point out each time you see students practicing friendly behaviors.  Try to catch students modeling the behaviors you are teaching. Make a list of ways that students can practice being a good friend and have them each keep a personal score card to track their behavior. Check-in on a regular basis to answer questions and review student’s behavior tracing charts. In a follow-up lesson, have children talk about what the experience was like and what behaviors they would like to continue.

Any lesson could benefit from following this format of teaching, reviewing and practicing the lesson learned. It is particularly practical for counselor run lessons targeted at changing behavior.


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