The Mind: Study Action Areas


Each of the nine MAC themes is divided into four study action areas. This page sets out specimen content for the study action areas that form part of the Mind theme.

The four study action areas in this theme are:

  1. Learning how to learn
  2. Looking after the brain
  3. Learning readiness
  4. Commitment to learning

This page also includes the following:

MAC brings together disparate National Curriculum materials and adds important material, aiming to organise children’s learning in a focused and determined way.

There is no suggestion that the content set out below is in any sense definitive. It is intended merely for discussion and debate, a starting point for the detailed programmes of learning that will be required for each year group.

The aim of the Mind learning domain is to enable children to become effective learners by vastly improving their uptake of knowledge, concepts, attitudes, values and skills.

By harnessing learning to the way the brain learns, MAC brings a crucial new dimension to children’s education. It is by working the way the brain learns that children will make accelerated learning progress.

Study Action Area 1: Learning how to learn

Children need to know that learning requires knowledge of the senses and sensory uptake, and of short-term, routine, working, operational and long-term memory.

Specimen content:

  • Emotion. Bring emotion into their learning as a key component in the process of embedding the learning into long-term memory
  • Identify and improve the use of their senses. Deepen their knowledge, understanding and use of their senses as the means by which data is picked up and relayed to the brain; discipline their senses to focus on the information relevant to the completion of the learning task; understand that the brain picks up data from many and varied sensory routes and that the more senses are applied to the learning task, the better the chances of remembering.
  • Identify and improve the use of immediate memory. Become conscious of and improve in the usefulness of holding information for short periods of time — for example, following two or three instructions, holding the beginning of a sentence in memory while the rest of the sentence is read, or holding a number in memory to complete the addition of two figures. (Immediate memory is held only as long as it is needed in the moment).
  • Understand what long-term memory (LTM) is. Know long-term memory is the storage of ‘know how’ (eg riding a bike, driving a car, eating with a knife and fork), ‘know what’ (eg facts about the world, recall of personal events), ‘know when’ (eg remembering key events in your life, remembering to do homework, remembering a doctor’s appointment, remembering lesson times), and ‘know where’ (eg working to established routines, familiarity with your environment).
  • Understand the contribution ‘know how’ (procedural memory) has to life and living. Realise conscious practice is required to embed skills into muscle memory and that people vary greatly in the skills they can reach. For example, two people can swim, one is an Olympic swimmer practising to the point they can power down the swimming pool ‘on automatic’; two people can play the piano, with one a concert pianist playing at a level where muscle memory takes over in the playing of very difficult pieces of music.
  • Understand ‘know how’ works with other factors. Realise that the level of skills proficiency that can be reached depends on other factors — for example, people with dyspraxia have difficulty in writing, people with poor core strength have difficulty playing sports; find ways of circumventing impairments to reach their goals.
  • Understand the contribution ‘know what’ (semantic memory) has in life and living. Know that facts and information deepen understanding about life in the past and the present and into the future. Factual recall contributes to our life and living in our interactions with other people towards a shared search for meaning in life.
  • Understand the need for ‘know what’ reminders to ensure learning sticks. Realise that frequent access to information strengthens the neural networks, making recall of information much easier; learn strategies for remembering, such as attaching emotions to facts and events; the memory palace technique, memorising poems to recite by heart and other techniques.
  • Understand the contribution ‘know when’ (episodic memory) has in life and living. Remember events of significance in the past (eg past birthdays, an injury picked up or moving to a new house, a teacher who taught you) and into the immediate future (eg anticipating events in the school timetable and calendar, remembering the homework to be done, remembering to take home a parent letter from the teacher; remembering to bring PE kit to school on a particular day of the week); develop strategies to remember to their benefit now and as independent adults able to forward plan in cooperative activity with others.
  • Understand the contribution ‘know where’ has in life and living. Make use of routines to free up the brain to concentrate on the learning tasks. Routine memory enables the pupil to move around the school without thinking; to know where the materials for the task are without thinking and to be familiar with school and classroom routines and have established ways of tackling learning tasks so that the learning task can be focused on without distraction over this and that; children learn the ability to establish routines, an ability they can take into adulthood.
  • Increase operational memory ability. Identify the learning task, relate it to previous learning, identify what is new information and assimilate it with what is already known to complete the learning task; organise the materials required to carry out a learning task; plan how to go about the task by breaking the task down to complete the parts in a logical sequence. Work methodically — able to plan, map out, identify where to start, ability to sequence, ability to hold information together in the performance of intricate tasks. Linking the task to what is already known.
  • Increase oral and written language skills. Constantly acquire language and the ability to think linguistically, mathematically, scientifically, historically, geographically, artistically and logically.

Study Action Area 2: Looking after the brain

Children need to be aware that the brain needs looking after; they also need to know how to do so through care and exercise of the brain.

Specimen content:

  • Brain care. Gain knowledge and practice in brain care through rest, sleep, diet and exercise.
  • Brain exercise. Learn and practice a combination of brain-gym and calming exercises.
  • Comfort. Comfort their bodies and their brains: For optimum learning, body and brain have to be rested, with the brain uncluttered and calm.

Study action area 3: Learning readiness

The current National Curriculum turns too many children off learning rather than engaging and motivating young minds and instilling a love of learning. Children retain their enthusiasm for learning through the success of their individual efforts brought about by the intention, positivity and emotional support that MAC brings.

Specimen content:

  • Attitude. Have an overall positive disposition towards learning; see learning as valuable and relevant to their personal development, their interaction with others and their material circumstances; appreciate the value of the learning task at hand.
  • Exercise cognitive flexibility. Take on new learning, not just relying on what they know already, but able to make the effort to take on new information and rise to the challenge to complete the learning successfully. NB Children often get stuck in what they know and can resist new information as not needed.
  • Determination. Understand that learning takes effort. New learning involves moving the brain from a lazy, reactive state to an energetic proactive state.
  • Intention. Learn that intention to learn is crucial; realise intention is an attitude of commitment and resolve to engage in a particular learning task. The general attitude to want to learn is applied to the learning task. ‘Yes. I can and will do this.’
  • Focus. Focus on the learning task for longer periods of time; realise that ability to focus is critical to the successful completion of the learning task; learn strategies to remain focused.
  • Emotional readiness. Know that emotional readiness is essential for the brain to focus on learning; learn to frequently check that their emotional state is not blocking the brain from functioning. NB Emotional blocks can be pervasive across all learning, or specific to the task, the subject area of learning, or, indeed, towards an individual teacher.
  • Emotional engagement. Bring enthusiasm and positivity to the learning task.
  • Emotional blocks. Learn that emotions can overpower the learning processes in the brain to block the brain from paying attention to the learning. These blocks can be deep rooted in the person to prevent effective learning over long periods of time.
  • Negative behaviour. Recognise that they can become stuck in negative, impulsive behaviour preventing learning. This negative behaviour can spread to others; learn strategies to keep impulsive behaviour in check.

Study action area 4: Commitment to learning

Children learn focus and intention strategies, improving their learning mindset where it is weak and enabling it to flourish where it is strong.

Above all, children come to realise that learning involves a willingness to move away from relying on what we already know. Instead, we actively seek out and process information, taking pleasure in our new learning.

Specimen content:

  • Know what learning is. Know that learning is the retention of data picked up through the senses and expressed as muscle memory, emotional memory or information memory and combinations of the same.
  • Identify their learning. Identify the content of learning tasks as information to be assimilated, a concept or idea to be explored, a skill to be practised, emotions to be identified, or attitudes and values to be explored.
  • Who the learning is for. Identify the primary and secondary beneficiaries of their learning — themselves, other people, or the environment in combination or specific to a life area.
  • Learning 24/7. Understand that human beings are continually learning and using what they have learned in going about their daily lives.
  • School learning. Understand that the purpose of schools is to direct children’s learning — in intentional ways — to bring benefit to each child, to society and to the sustainable use of the environment.

Teaching notes

Harnessing learning to the way the brain works has implications for teacher training, including the retraining of teachers already in post.

Improving children’s ability to use their brains effectively is much more that giving them a few memory techniques. Teachers must fully understand how each step in the thinking processes can be developed in children to the point that children apply the way the brain works in all their learning.

Teachers themselves need to learn how to harness their thinking to the way the brain works and demonstrate their own ability to remember and recall information.

An environment for learning

Children need to be provided with the optimum environment for learning and to make best use of that environment. The implications for teaching are considerable, not least of which is the abandonment of the emphasis on passive ‘chalk and talk’ — “I, the teacher, talk for the whole lesson, and you sit and listen.”

Children should expect a nurturing and caring teacher-pupil dynamic of unconditional positive regard for the pupil. They should not be made anxious or resistant by negative teacher paralanguage and verbal utterances or by the general school ambience.

Knowing what makes a good learning task

Learning tasks need to be clear, achievable and enjoyable, with pupils developing an understanding of what makes a good learning task:

  • Clear: Identify what the learning task is and that is has a clear outcome.
  • Motivating: Identify the extent to which the learning task is interesting/ engaging, relevant/ motivating
  • Meaningful: Identify ways in which the  learning task relates to their life and experience
  • Doable: Separate out the purpose of the task from the abilities and skills being used and understand both are relevant to successful task completion. Children are confident they have the skills to carry out the task.
  • Streamlined: Recognise when their brain is overloaded by the task itself or by extraneous information to the key objective.
  • Self-directed: Speak more than the teacher. The teacher sets up the learning task, the children run with the task.
  • Empowering: See the learning task has every chance of success, that is, the outcome is viewed as achievable.
  • Social: Develop increasing capability to learn with others, working cooperatively off each other – the human brain is a social brain.
  • Emotional: Bring emotion into their learning as a key component in the process of embedding the learning into long term memory – link conjured up emotional scenarios to the learning.
  • Memorable:  Identify the memory outcome of the lesson and assess the outcome of the lesson in terms of how much their learning has moved on.
  • Practically supported: Trust in their teachers to accompany the task with the tools, the imagination and creativity support and emotional support to achieve the objective

Further information

The central concept underpinning the Mind learning domain — that children work in the way the brain works — is a massive area for research and development. An attempt has been made here to identify the different levels at which the brain works. At the heart of the teaching process is the teacher ability to understand the blockages in the brain to learning, whether these are emotional, involve failure to pick up and retain instructions in the first place, or lack of ability in the more complex processes involved in completion of learning tasks.

Websites contributing ideas and information to the action areas are listed on the links page.

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