An Introduction to Learning Research

Major breakthroughs in brain research have illuminated how students learn. SMUS has incorporated much of this research into their curriculum to advance their techniques in both teaching and learning to make SMUS one of the most learner-centred university preparatory environments in Canada.

  • In 2010, SMUS created a unique position; the Director of Learning will ensure responsive teaching strategies continue to support all students' academic and post-secondary success.
  • We have worked with Ken O’Connor, an internationally recognized educator, to develop more effective assessment and evaluation processes.
  • Our ongoing development of differentiated learning practices from Kindergarten through Grade 12 has enhanced our students’ understanding of their own learning and their overall academic performance.
  • SMUS was recognized as a model in assessment practices at the 2009 Assessment Training Institute’s Fourth Annual Sound Grading Conference in Portland.

Brain Research

Research into the brain and specifically, its links to education has exploded over the past 15 years and the story continues to unfold. SMUS implements many of the principles of teaching and learning that are compatible with this research.

  • One of the most powerful ways to learn is experientially. Providing students with opportunities to learn using a variety of modalities allows the brain to understand, remember and apply that learning to other situations outside of school.
  • The brain seeks to nest smaller, individual facts into the larger concepts. Teaching these main ideas (or enduring understandings) allows the brain to go beyond repeating facts to storing these deeper ideas with lifetime learning implications.
  • Learning that takes place in a safe psychological environment allows our brains to flourish. Relationships through consistent Advisor Group teachers and TAG teachers are some of the many ways that SMUS intentionally builds relationships to create the safety within which to learn.
  • When learning is linked to an emotion, it is more likely to be remembered. The use of stories (such as in chapel) as well as the many opportunities for emotional connections through the arts, athletic activities and class work strengthens learning.

Brain research continues to support and challenge our educational philosophy and will be something we continue to focus on at SMUS. The teaching strategies that evolve from brain research drive differentiated instruction – they are inextricably linked.

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction means addressing the inherent differences between individual students and adapting teaching methods to ensure that everyone gets the type of help and instruction they require.

  • Classes have ethnic, cultural, linguistic and sociological diversity and effective instructors must take into account how these affect students' learning.
  • Classes will contain both students with learning difficulties, students who are gifted and students who are both of these things; responsive education is needed to address these individual needs.
  • Differentiated strategies link closely with brain research, reinforcing principles of focus, attention and meaning.
  • Differentiated learning intertwines with assessment. As student data is collected throughout the course and the unit, this data drives the instructional strategies chosen to support student-focused learning.

Effective Instruction:

  • Is proactive, with teachers planning multiple paths and continuously learning about both the students they teach and their subject;
  • Uses a variety of strategies including intentional grouping of students for collaborative processes;
  • Incorporates a variety of materials to meet different reading levels and preferred ways of absorbing new information (visuals, hands-on activities, etc);
  • Adjusts pacing to the needs of the learners and provides clear feedback to build student self-awareness; and
  • Identifies the important concepts ( known as “essential understandings”) and builds student learning on this foundation.