Article Brain & Literacy Part 2

Brains also have a problem if the material they’re trying to learn doesn’t make sense. So, when they’re taught stuff that doesn’t “compute”, brains often just switch off. In this Brain & Literacy Part 2 article

But remember, the brain is like a toddler. It doesn’t have a mature perspective on reality. To help toddlers stay alive, we explain things they way they understand. For example, we tell them they mustn’t touch electric plugs because those plugs bite! We know that’s not exactly true – but toddlers don’t know about electricity, but they often have experience regarding things that bite!

In the same way, brains have trouble understanding new ideas, and they often just shut down at the very thought of having to learn something new! But as the person in charge of the brain, the student needs to find ways to help his or her brain understand and pay attention long enough to learn something new.


The best ways to do this are to:

  • break the information down into bite-sized bits;
  • explain the information in a way the brain can remember; and
  • tackle learning something new one small bite at a time.


Memory aids can help a brain hold on to new information long enough to wire it in. A memory aid might be:

  • an action or hand sign;
  • repeating a silly sentence or poem; or
  • singing (or chanting) a song.

This is where the different learning styles become relevant:

  • some people need to write something down to be able to remember it;
  • others need to perform a movement or sing it or say it; and
  • other people need to draw a diagram or picture, or make a model or just see a picture.
    Just don’t overload the brain by learning these extra things when your brain doesn’t need them.



If you think of trying to teach a toddler to remember the Periodic Table of the Elements, you will have an idea of how to go about teaching a brain something it’s having trouble understanding.
You wouldn’t say to the toddler, “Look Johnny, the months of the year are…”

Instead, you’d teach a song or rhyme (whatever way he learns most easily) in order for Johnny to learn the information. He’s not going to understand it, so he just has to learn it off by heart. It may sound silly to the human, but it keeps the brain happy and productive. And we want to win here, so being devious can be the best way to go!



You need to learn how to trick your brain into learning. This is an important Life Skill! Teach it to your child or student.

There’s one thing you really have to remember about brains. They’re great storage devices, but they can’t think.

By that I mean – the brain is there to store information by wiring it in. The brain’s owner is the one who actually USES the information. That’s why the first problem to deal with is getting things into the brain long enough for it to be wired in. Then, and only then, can you move on to teaching the student how to access the information easily enough to be able to use it.

So, when you’re first teaching something, don’t worry about whether the students can understand or use that information. That comes later.

Does the number of days in the months of the year make sense? No.


To learn things that don’t make sense, we have to bypass our brains’ making sense requirement by telling it to learn a poem or song or picture. Everyone I know recites the ‘Thirty Days Has September’ poem when they have to work out how many days in a particular month.

When I say things don’t have to make sense to the brain, I’m not implying that the brain is stupid; I just mean that in spite of its cleverness, it has limitations. And when it comes down to it, the brain isn’t in charge, the brain’s owner is. And he or she has to find a way to work with their own brain, just as you would with a puppy or toddler.



Just as students become confused if material doesn’t make (some sort of) sense, so their brain wiring becomes confused or ‘scrambled’ when they’re taught to do the same thing several different ways. I can remember having this problem with mathematics. When I was taught long division, I was taught two different ways to do it, on the same day! Of course, I didn’t manage to learn either of them, did I? Brain fry!

I constantly see this “multiple ways of doing things” way of teaching in the area of literacy. Students are taught ‘semi-phonics’ by being taught to sound out the first letter, then are told to just say the rest of the word (instead of sounding every letter out). So they never know whether to sound something out or just say something (anything!) and hope for the best!.


All these conflicting instructions confuse brains totally.

Even giving an instruction by using a lot of words can confuse a brain. Sometimes, showing what needs to be done, or just giving a few examples is the best way to go.

Brains like to know exactly what they have to do. Each time they’re given an instruction, they lay down wiring.

If the information is taught a different way the next time it’s taught, the brain lays down new wiring. Then, when the student goes to use the information, neither lot of wiring is strong enough to be used easily – so often the brain just ‘freezes’.

If this is the way reading has been taught, when the student’s eyes see a letter, no super highway has been built from that letter to the correct sound, so the student can’t immediately say the right sound. Instead, the brain wanders off into different wiring detours and the student resorts to guessing.

I know some teachers say guessing is reading, but they’re just plain wrong.

I hope you found this Brain & Literacy Part 2 article helpful.