May 22, 2020

SYNAPSE Step #5 — Personalize

Relate what you’re learning to your own life
by Christine Marshall

This is #6 in a series of 8 posts. Visit post #5 here.

Rooted in the fundamentals of neuroscience and buoyed by the power of storytelling, SYNAPSE was designed to support students as they step up to new academic challenges. And, yes, remote learning certainly counts as a new academic challenge. Offering practical tips for students working outside their comfort zones, SYNAPSE is easy to learn and fun to implement. Most importantly, SYNAPSE frees students from negative thought cycles that can undermine their progress, especially when the task at hand seems “just too big.”

Personalize, the P in SYNAPSE can help you lean in to learning this spring. Remote learning doesn’t have to be a stale or abstract experience. Personalization puts you in the driver’s seat, helping you leverage your unique character strengths to boost motivation and joy. Reimagine the nature of learning with “Personalize.”

PERSONALIZE — Relate what you’re learning to your own life

What are YOU bringing to your current topic of study? Engage your individual character strengths and life experience to create customized “power tools” for learning, reframing schoolwork as a journey towards personal growth and improvement. Personalization promotes more authentic thoughts and explorations, rich with emotional weight, stimulating part of your brain called the amygdala, boosting your perception, attention, and memory. Learn to “Personalize” your studies by practicing the following steps, based on what we know about the role of our amygdala in emotion, learning, and memory.

  • Identify and reflect upon your character strengths. Complete the following brief survey, answering as truthfully as you can, to learn about aspects of your character. Your core character traits are aspects of your personality that must be engaged to optimize your fulfillment during learning.
  • Experiment with learning strategies that utilize your unique set of strengths. Deliberate use of study methods that engage your strengths increases your comfort and confidence while decreasing your cognitive load during learning challenges. You bring the most social, emotional, and cognitive stamina to learning when affirming and further developing your sense of self.
  • Identify themes from your current studies that remind you of personally or culturally relevant life experiences. View your current topic through a different lens, searching for aspects that remind you of your home, community, or culture. Metaphors are useful for boosting understanding as well as humor, fun, and motivation, especially when an immediate, personal connection with new material eludes you. “Found” connections linking new material to your personal history or identity are naturally filled with emotion, helping you create the most memorable metaphors.
  • Question how your topic relates to you, your family, environment, or species. Connect your learning to the world around you. Why is this topic typically taught to students your age? What obvious benefits do mastery of this concept or skill impart to learners? What are some less obvious benefits? Extend the associations you’ve already made to explore ways your knowledge might impact your current or future role as an informed citizen and community member.

Prosocial in nature, this step celebrates and knits together diverse learning communities, creating authentic, trusted, and inclusive spaces of inquiry. As you strive to work in a more meaningful way—smarter, not harder—this spring, try “Personalize.”

Dr. Christine Marshall, a biology instructor at Phillips Academy, began developing SYNAPSE as a Tang Institute Fellow in 2016. She currently teaches a science elective, The Neurobiology of Learning, Memory, and Sleep, for 11th and 12th graders. Learn more about her work by visiting her blog, Laboratory for Learning.

Categories: Fellows, Projects, Featured

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