Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Brain Loves Novelty!

   Novelty & the Brain 

I'm often asked why it is that the SECRET STORIES musical skill-manipulation exercises (on the CD that comes with Class Set) aren't in the form of actual "songs" (i.e. no musical/ instrumental accompaniment, repetitive lyrics, etc...).


If you have the classroom kit and are already using the Secrets, then you probably know what I'm talking about, and perhaps have even wondered the same thing!  

While it's true that the musical exercises on the SECRET STORIES CD are very different from traditional, skill-based 'sing-along' songs so often used in early grade classrooms, there's a reason!  As like everything else with the SECRET STORIES, it's always about getting the most 'instructional brain-BANG' for the buck!!!  
As teachers, we've all seen how easily and effortlessly students can sing through the daily array of familiar, skill-based songs... almost as if they're singing on "autopilot!"  The familiar, repetitive and 'skill-based' lyrics of these daily-ditties literally roll off the tongues of learners.  No thinking required! 

And that's a good thing, right?  
Not necessarily. 

It depends on the type of skill and how learners are going to use it.  

Familiar and repetitive songs work well for acquiring finite or sequential skill sets, like the days of the week, months of the year, names of the planets, fifty nifty states, etc...  

Skills like these can be easily acquired through traditional song, as they allow learners to store away the content sung in their muscle-memory, much like storing information on a 'read-only' disc, where they are easily retrievable for later use.  

Letters and sound skills, however, are a different story altogether!

Because letters and sounds are taught for the sole purpose of using them to read and write, learners must be able to put them together (for writing/ spelling) and take them apart (for reading) in a variety of ways, which makes these skills very different from those skill-sets mentioned above. 

For this reason, singing the letters in repetitive order (as in a song) does NOT equip learners to actually use them as reading and writing tools!  To do this would require an ability to manipulate them fluidly, in a free-form and flexible manner closely mimicking the decoding and encoding processes. 

         The "unfamiliar" and the "unexpected" are the brain's BEST FRIENDS!

Singing through the virtually endless letter, pattern and sound combinations in a variety of constantly changing musical exercises is a great way to ensure that learning them remains a novel experience for learners!

And the Brain LOVES Novelty!

Click for MORE 'Brain-Bits' for Teaching & Learning!

The following is taken from an article written by Belle Beth Cooper-  
Why Getting New Things Makes Us Feel So Good: Novelty and the Brain 

We all like novelty! In fact, our brains are made to be attracted to novelty.  And it turns out that it could actually improve our memory and learning capacity.

It’s actually hardwired into my brain—and yours—to appreciate and seek out novelty. Anything that’s new, different or unusual... we can even be drawn to novelty without being conscious of it. Of course, this makes a lot of sense—we wouldn’t get much done if ordinary things captivated us constantly!

The cool thing about this is how intricately novelty seems to be associated with learning, which means we can use this knowledge to our advantage for learning new things and improving our memory. 

It’s been thought before that novelty was a reward in itself, but, like dopamine, it seems to be more related to motivation. Our Dopamine pathways become activated whenever we are exposed to novelty, and only completely new things will activate our midbrain area. 
Studies show that the plasticity of the hippocampus (the ability to create new connections between neurons) was increased by the influence of novelty—both during the process of exploring a novel environment or stimuli and for 15–30 minutes afterwards.  
As well as increasing our brain’s plasticity—and therefore potential for learning new concepts and facts—novelty has been shown to improve the memory of test subjects. 
Studies suggest that dopamine (a "reward" chemical in the brain) levels increase in the context of novelty.  Each new stimuli gives you a little rush of motivation to go further, to find more new stimuli that will generate more dopamine rewards.  

Here is a graph that shows activity in your brain on this:
novelty and the brain
 According to a study conducted by Dr. Emrah Duzel from University College in London:
Subjects performed best when new information was combined with familiar information during learning.  After a 20 minute delay, subjects’ memory for slightly familiar information (i.e. letters/ letter patterns & sounds) was boosted by 19 per cent if it had been mixed with something new (i.e. new combinations of constantly changing skill-content) during learning sessions.
This research suggests that we use the brain's increased plasticity wisely by setting aside time to learn right after novel stimuli, as learners' brains are more open to making new connections during and right after this time.  So why not take advantage!

Dr Düzel pointed out additional benefits that could come from his research:
“We hope that these findings will have an impact on those with poor memory. Current practice aims to improve memory through repeatedly exposing a person to information. This study shows that it's more effective if you mix something new with the old. You actually learn better, even though your brain is also tied up with new information. 
So what does this mean for teachers?  
It means that you can significantly improve knowledge retention and make new ideas and concepts stick by introducing novelty into the learning process.  And doing this is easier than you think!
Above is just one example of MANY research studies showing the significant impact that novelty has on the brain, and for purposes of teaching and learning, novelty can take many forms! 

Incorporating novel experiences into daily learning doesn't mean having to continually add on new skills and information to what you're already teaching!

Novelty can be easily achieved by simply framing 'slightly-familiar' content in new and unique ways. This causes our brains to notice and recognize it more easily because it's been offset by the new way in which it's being presented. 

If this sounds confusing, I promise, it isn't.... not once you see it in action! 

And it's not just the musical exercises in the SECRET STORIES that make use of this "novelty-effect," but the Secrets, themselves! Every time you share a Secret, learners are hearing a brand new story about already-familiar letters and sounds... and the higher the grade level, the more significant the "novelty-effect!"  

Intermediate-grade struggling readers who have "been there" and "done that" in their many failed attempts at acquiring these critical reading and writing skills, often have completed hundreds, if not thousands of remedial skill sheets and still "don't get it!"  

For these learners, framing these "all-too-familiar" skills as a novel Secret that explains WHY the letter patterns make the sounds that they do, re-ignites their interest and curiosity, motivating them to capture what they found previously unattainable.

The Secrets make letters and sounds novel!  It's that simple. 
So remember, whether a you're four or forty, "novelty is the key" to easier learning!  

The short video clips below show how easy infusing novelty into daily skill practice can be!
For more videos, subscribe FREE to my SECRET STORIES YouTube Channel.

Beethoven Blends & Beethoven Blends 'In-Reverse!'

The "Beethoven Blender" Pack" on TpT


Apples & Bananas to the EXTREME!



Singing the Sounds "Every Which Way to Sunday!" 
*This one we would also do backwards, as well as to different tunes (i.e. Star-Spangeled Banner, Happy Birthday, etc...) while continually switching vowel sounds back and forth, from long to short... 
so many ways, so little time!

So have you noticed novelty affecting your memory or how you learn? 
If so, I would love to know your thoughts!  
Just post your comment or question for automatic entry in this month's drawing for a Free SECRET STORIES Classroom Set, and be sure to subscribe so that I have your contact info if you win!  

Until next time,


PS  You are also invited to follow me on any or ALL of the following for the best FREE brain-based teaching "tools & tricks" (plus LOTS of other fun teaching stuff!!! :)



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17 comments :

  1. Thanks Katie for you inspiration. Can't wait to break out the vertical alphabet this August with my new class of kinders. I've often done the alphabet song using the letter sounds but haven't used it in conjunction with the alphabet chart.

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    2. You're so welcome, and I'm so glad you're enjoying the posts! Definitely do give the "Letter Runs" a try! They're SO much easier to do, especially the super-fast version, with the vertical reference. I think I clocked at least one mile every morning just by running back and forth across the length of my alphabet train for those darn Letter Runs, alone!
      LoL

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  2. Thanks Katie for you inspiration. Can't wait to break out the vertical alphabet this August with my new class of kinders. I've often done the alphabet song using the letter sounds but haven't used it in conjunction with the alphabet chart.

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  3. Thanks for the post. I know I pay more attention to something new, like a new pillow on the bed or picture on the wall. It makes sense to think that my brain will retain something old mixed with something new.

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    1. The research really is fascinating! Especially that which ties into "novelty-addictions" in the form of obsessive shopping, hoarding, impulse purchasing, etc... It all ties in with the release of dopamine in the brain and the driving motivation it provides.

      For learners, that motivational drive is a good thing, but at the extreme end, it can escalate into al form of addiction... truly fascinating stuff when you learn about how these connections are intermingled in the brain!

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  4. Great post!!! I would love to win this set!!!

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  5. Fantastic info you have here! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks so much, and so glad you enjoyed reading the post!

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  6. This is exactly why we, as teachers, have to be looking for new and fun ways to engage our kids! Engagement = Connections = Learning! Thanks!

    Marissa
    First Grade STARS

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  7. I just discovered your website and am very intrigued! I've watched a few of your "vlogs" and definitely picked up some good tips!

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  8. That's great to hear! So glad you found me :)

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  9. I am the director of a private elementary school, and we are currently researching spelling programs. Looks like this may just be what our students need. I look forward to learning more.

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  10. I have been going back through your blog and website because this all fascinates me. I am so interested in your program and would love to be the "guinea pig" on my new campus so that I can show the other teachers my results! Now to continue on with watching more of your videos! ☺

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  11. I hope I win! This program is awesome!!!!

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