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Students get 'BrainWise' for exams

Students get 'BrainWise' for exams

3 min. 07.05.2017 From our online archive
Five hundred pupils from years 4 and 5 at secondary section of European School in Mamer are taking part in 'BrainWise', a programme dedicated to "learning how to learn".

By Sarita Rao

Five hundred pupils from years 4 and 5 at the secondary section of the European School in Mamer are taking part in 'BrainWise', a new month-long programme dedicated to "learning how to learn".

Designed to help students to concentrate in class and retain knowledge when studying for exams, this week’s 45 minute session delivered to groups of 20 teenagers, covered how the brain works, and the different audio, visual and physical techniques to learning.

"At school we use two intelligences – linguistic and logical, but our brains can also learn through sport, art, creativity, and emotions," the instructor Sophie Le Dorner-Debout tells the class.

The students reveal that they find it hard to concentrate sometimes, either because the lesson is not interesting or seems repetitive, or because they feel anxious or distracted.

Sophie uses a mixture of video, classic teaching and both physical and mental interaction to get students to engage. She constantly asks pupils to put their hands up if they feel connected to what they are learning, and changes her style and tempo if every student is not engaged.

Are you a logical, linguistic or creative learner?

"We are all smart, but we might learn in different ways. Not every child will have a learning style that fits with the school teaching methods, so it’s important they use other study strategies," she explains.

Our brains contain billions of neurons and millions of connections are made every second. If a student is anxious or emotional the brain will not connect well, making it harder to think. In extreme cases, the brain will release adrenaline and cortisone.

This particular session explores methods of learning in audio, visual and kinaesthetic ways.

These include mind maps, notes, cartoons, movies in your imagination, reading your notes out loud or explaining them to someone else, and even studying whilst walking or playing basketball. Sophie reiterates several times that in order for the brain to learn you must review, read and relearn. Repetition is critical to learning, but it can be made more interesting.

"We expect children to study, concentrate and be motivated, but we don’t tell them how to enjoy learning. We give them the content but not how to organise and digest that content," says Sophie, an academic coach and language trainer, who has worked for the French Ministry of foreign affairs.

In addition to learning strategies, Sophie covers the importance of avoiding dehydration, and eating a balanced diet without too much sugar, both of which hinder concentration.

She also demonstrates the value of taking "brain breaks" asking the students to perform some simple de-stressing exercises that increase oxygen in the blood and therefore to the brain.

"It’s important to know what is going on inside our brains and bodies," she adds.

Classroom tactics

The session finishes with some classroom tactics, including the "square breathing" exercise which invites pupils feeling anxious in a test or exam to look at the four corners of the window and move from corner to corner breathing in for four counts, holding their breath for four counts, and breathing out for four counts.

She also suggests that students losing concentration in class should focus on the teacher, change their posture, take notes as if they were a journalist, and limit interference from friends or mobile phones.

EU school programme to extend to primary level

Charlotte Henriksen, secondary support co-ordinator at the school, explains that secondary students in years 4 and 5 often experience stress because they don’t have strategies for coping with exams and daily work pressures.

"Previously, the school ran half-day events on learning techniques, but we found that many students did not retain strategies," says Charlotte, adding: "This year, the school asked Sophie to tailor the 'BrainWise' programme to include interactive elements, shorter sessions with smaller groups, and more repetition of key themes."

For the first time, the school will also run a 'BrainWise' programme for primary 5 students to help them prepare for the challenges of moving from a supported teaching environment to a more independent style of learning.

Parents too have a role to play during exam season, as Sophie points out: "Help your child to organise and manage their time, and be alert to their emotional needs. Support them, but also give them space, and ensure they have a decent diet and a good sleep pattern."

The European School in Mamer also plans to run 'BrainWise' sessions for teachers and parents. For more information on "learning how to learn", visit