and BRAIN-BASED LEARNING!!
WeBelong School has as its foundation the science of brain-based learning, the natural parent of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL - its brainchild :). Educators have combined neuroscience and its modern brain-scan technology with student-centered pedagogy (system of teaching, although in this case it's learning). Developed especially since the 1960s, student-centered learning now has its efficacy proven by science! Brain-based Learning has produced a student-centered system of learning that is rooted in science and based on evidence of how the brain actually works! Now we understand scientifically what students - especially children - need most to help their brains learn optimally: plenty of sleep, good nutrition and water, and a socially, emotionally, physically, and creatively safe environment of relaxed alertness.
What the brain most definitely does not need in order to learn is too much stress. What happens with an overload of stress is the neocortex, home of higher-order thinking, automatically shuts down as the body's autonomic nervous system takes over brain function in a fight or flight reflex. This condition is recognizable in situations of great fear; it is hard to think in times of panic. On the other hand, students thrive academically in socially and emotionally safe environments of relaxed alertness because they are able to focus calmly on learning, with only a little bit of stress in the guise of inspiration or competition or challenge. Their higher-order thinking skills flourish as they welcome the brain's normal love of complexity. Brain-based Learning, the natural system of learning that supports the brain's natural function, has not only given rise to Social and Emotional Learning, but also the recognition of Emotional Intelligence (Goleman, 1995), Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1993), and the audio, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles. When a child or adult has undergone great trauma, and has experienced powerlessness in the matter, whole sections of the brain that deal with higher-order thinking and long- and short-term memory may be negatively affected. Under these conditions, the overburdened student must find ways to re-program their traumatized neural pathways and consciously lay down new ones in order to effectively learn again. The good news is that with emotional healing, we can also heal - or grow, or change - the brain! (Barton, 2007; Smilkstein, 2003; Jensen & Dabney, 2000). A student supported with social and emotional safety can consciously create new and re-program old neural pathways to form renewed thought patterns.
Social and Emotional Learning has become de rigeur in many school districts across the country, although in my experience it is usually referred to as evidence-based curriculum. Online learning has fully adopted many of the tenets of SEL in its emphasis on sharing (Bonk, 2011), collaboration, and Netiquette (standards for respectful online communication). I have yet to see in my educational travels modes of emotional learning, per se. The blended and online student-empowering curriculum at WeBelong School includes constructive, positive, and kindly delivered feedback, project-based assessment and self-assessment, as well as problem-solving real-world challenges, creating projects, developing and strengthening students' voices, encouraging student choice in assignments, and respecting the diversity of all people and all modes of learning. We like to take advantage of the magical quality of online learning, adding a level of creativity to projects which was unimaginable before (Puentadura, 2014).
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