7 Brain-Based Ways to Communicate with Students

We want our kids to be lifelong learners, to think more deeply about what they are learning in school, and to make connections to their own experiences. We want them to be engaged beyond the classroom, and it can happen with a short message.

I use Remind for things like returning signed forms or announcing a quiz, but the most important way I use the app is to prepare students for lessons by kindling thought the night before.

1. Make a commitment

We know that patients who complete their own reminder cards are more likely to show up to doctor appointments.

Assure students that they will be less stressed if they commit, in writing, to a time and place to complete an assignment. Schedule a message to remind your students to write down where and when they will do it.

You may have already told them in person, but if they read a reminder a few hours after school, they are more likely to think about it while in proximity to their home study area. This engages their episodic memory, which can assist the internal narrative we continuously maintain to script our lives.

2. Feel the progress

When rush hour fills up the grocery stores, some managers assign employees to help customers choose the most efficient checkout line. You’ll still wait, but it will feel like the store understands you. This will lead to more positive feelings about your experience at the store.

Remind your students to break assignments into manageable pieces. If the assignment is to read a selection and make notes using main ideas as sub headings or labels, tell the students that a homework starter activity could be to skim the reading for main ideas to be used as organizing labels in their notes, which can be completed at a later date.

This strategy, like the grocery store line, does not change what lies ahead. But setting and achieving a goal that might only take five minutes for a three-page reading selection will leave students with a feeling of satisfaction about their progress on the assignment.

3. Use repetition

Practice does not make perfect. It makes myelin, the protective sheath around a nerve fiber. The more our brains fire along the same pathways, the more myelin builds to make thought transmission more fluent.

Students will not learn it all in one sitting. Send them a link to a Quizlet deck with a prompt that says, “Practice this deck until you can beat my Scatter score.” Students beat my score all the time. We play the games on Quizlet and compete. I set my score at a place that’s attainable for most students.

4. Teach students to find relationships

In a list of three examples, group the first two based on a more explicit similarity. The proximity of the more commonly related words makes identifying the patterns much easier.

The examples below show how I chose to group transportation technologies to stimulate the relationship between saddles and stirrups. Example A is not an effective way to group words, while B draws the relationship with fewer instances of rereading for clarity.

Example A: “We will learn about how longships, camel saddles, and stirrups made long-distance trade easier.”

Example B: “We will learn about how camel saddles, stirrups, and longships made long-distance trade easier.

The first example will strike uncertainty before the pattern is understood because “longships” and “camel saddles” are not a common relationship. Example B has two words, “saddles” and “stirrups,” that almost every high schooler can immediately relate.

The way Example B is written will allow students to more fluently detect the relationships among the technologies. This will prime them to find the implicit relationship between the technologies and the long range of the trade routes.

5. Make connecting statements

We want our students to be able to make connections. That’s learning. But it’s not always an easy task. Modeling connecting statements by sending one in a message will help students develop the confidence that they know what success looks like.

CONNECTION: The demand for Chinese luxury goods, such as silk and porcelain, fueled the intensification of Post-Classical trade routes.

Make a routine out of reading the Remind wall at the start of class or after warm ups. Students will eventually begin to think at home in the ways they think at school. Perhaps their connecting statements in class will begin to look more like the ones the teacher sends.

5. See the big picture

The brain will be ready to learn if the right neural networks for the context are activated. The big picture for the trade routes and technology example in number one is the relationship between new transportation technologies and how they facilitate traveling longer distances.

This outcome can be achieved with a question. Try something like, “What transportation technologies enable us to travel long distances?” Have them respond on TodaysMeet or Tweet their response with a class hashtag. Writing it in their notes works, too.

7. Associate visual information with declarative

Send an image attached to a question or statement. The example below might seem easy, but it usually takes three class blocks before students remember where in Africa the Bantu Migrations started. If I send this message the evening after introducing it in the first class block, we gain a block. I know it’s only one fact, but it’s related to a major theme: migration patterns.

THINK?: Which direction did the the Bantu people NOT migrate? (Bantu Migration map image attached.)

If students cannot receive the image on their phone, they have been instructed to go to our class website where they can read and click the feed embedded on the homepage.

Beyond Reminders

Communicating with students is best explored down multiple avenues. I started sending content-specific messages when I noticed that the regular quiz results were overall better when the students simply remembered that they learn stuff in history. Really, that’s all it took. A few seconds of thought provoked by a teacher who values building relationships was enough to engage the lower and middle achievers.