Neuroscience of Learning 4 – What a week!

My notes during Mirela Ramacciotti’s brilliant Mind, Brain, and Education course

Hello, folks!

Hope you’re all doing well and getting ready to start another great semester. I can tell you that I am! I apologize for not writing anything earlier this week, but I think I have the perfect excuse. I’ve been teaching and learning about neuroscience, psychology, and education. Here’s what I did:

-Went to Fortaleza to talk about the Neuroscience behind Second Language Acquisition at the National Geographic Learning Conference side by side with Katherine Stannett, one of the authors of Impact.


-Went to São Paulo to take the Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) course given by Mirela Ramacciotti, my bright partner and head of the Braz-Tesol MBE SIG.


-Came back home to teach the Neuroscience and Learning course to nine teachers.



The purpose of this entry is to share some of the highlights and five more tips about neuroscience (psychology, and education are also included).

HIGHLIGHT #1: Mirela Ramacciotti is the best teacher I’ve ever had!

WOW! That’s how I would describe having class with the one and only Mirela Ramacciotti. The reason I say that is because of the way I felt after I left the course: inspired, with the sensation I had learned so much, even though I’m familiar with the topic, and longing for more after 8 hours of intense studying. Also, we (the other participants and I) couldn’t stop talking about it for a second.

Mirela not only talks about some key concepts of this young and exciting science, but she also walks the talk. She is funny, incredibly knowledgeable, affectionate, and delighting. We couldn’t take our eyes off of her! The way she moved in the classroom, sat by the door to tell us stories, came closer to establish eye contact and really listened to our comments and questions… well, I can only say everyone would learn much more if they had teachers like Mirela. Based on my experience, here are the two first tips:

  1. Showing and telling is better than just showing or just telling: Mirela walked the talk when she could’ve just talked. Use the principle of Dual Coding to make your lessons more memorable, that is, give practical examples and apply them in class instead of just telling the theory. Use both images and sound.

This video might help with the concept:

2. Don’t label your students, even when they have “learning difficulties/problems”. If there’s one thing neuroscience knows it’s that our brains are incredibly plastic and can change the wiring as they go. Mirela showed us the case of Nico and Brooke, two boys who underwent a hemispherectomy – THEY HAD HALF OF THEIR BRAINS REMOVED! But, despite some movement impairment, they have developed as normal kids (now grown-ups) with all their cognitive functions. Read their story here.

Don’t forget to attend one of Mirela’s lectures or courses if you happen to be in the area. Here’s her website with more information:

HIGHLIGHT #2: Most of us, teachers, have very little information about how our memories work!

If you are an engineer and want to build something, you must know how much weight the materials you are going to use can take, right? If you’re a baker and want to bake a cake, you must know how many ingredients you are going to use and how much of each you need, correct? If you’re a personal trainer and want to help someone get fit, you must know how much they can take in each training session, mustn’t you? Why isn’t the same principle applied to teaching/learning? I realize my analogies differ on many levels, but why do we teach much more than what our students can handle? Is it because there’s too much to cover or because we simply don’t know how learning occurs? Here are two more tips to think about that:

3. There’s a limit to the amount of information we can take in. Sweller et al. discussed that in 1988 and came up with the concept of Cognitive Load Theory. There are ways we, teachers, can reduce the load and help our students make the transition between working memory and long-term memory. Here’s a video to help you grasp the concept:

4. Our memory can be improved. Trying to recall things we did a long time ago, creating associations with bizarre images and solving puzzles are great ways to make our memory better. Watch this wonderful TED video with Joshua Foer:

HIGHLIGHT #3: Understanding how our brains work is a fascinating subject to basically everyone!

“What a fascinating talk!” – These were Katherine Stannett’s words to me after my presentation at the Nat Geo Learning Conference in Fortaleza. Back in Goiânia WONDERFUL, GREAT, AMAZING, INTERESTING, INCREDIBLE and other similar words were predominant in my attendees’ comments after my Neuroscience of Learning course. It is fascinating to learn about the brain indeed, but as Mirela mentioned in her amazing course, quoting an expert in neuroscience:

“How far have we gone into discovering how our brains work? If the distance were 1 meter, we’ve only covered 3cm so far”

However, the little we already know can make a huge difference in the way we teach. So here’s my last tip of the day:

5. Learn about how we learn: Don’t replicate ideas, ideologies, and methods in the classroom if they don’t make sense from an MBE perspective. Learn the basic concepts and share them with everybody. This is the only way we can make education even more lasting and powerful. Here are some online courses, websites, and texts you can try:

As I mentioned before, WHAT A WEEK! But it gave me more energy to carry on with my mission of spreading the word about this exciting new science. I can’t wait to deliver more talks, take more courses (hopefully with Mirela again) and teach more people. Why don’t you join me in this education revolution? I could really use your help!

Check out my other blog entries about neuroscience here, here, and here.

Don’t forget to leave your comments here! After all, with interaction, we can create more memorable moments and make learning even more effective!


4 thoughts on “Neuroscience of Learning 4 – What a week!”

  1. Great post André! Very clear and highly informative. I attended Mirela’s talk at TEFL conference last month and also marvelled at the way she conducts her talk. Not to mention her extensive knowledge of the subject. She’s definitely a role model. The dual coding theory you’ve mentioned interests me a lot. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the video. It’s not working. If you happen to have some websites and texts about it to recommend me, I’d be really grateful. Hope you keep up the good work and enthusiasm for discovering a bit more about neuroscience and its contribution to our practice. Cheers

    1. Thank you for the great feedback, Fabiano! Mirela is indeed a force of nature. I’m so proud I’m her Braz-Tesol MBE SIG buddy. I’d also like to thank you for warning me about the video. I fixed the link now. If it still doesn’t work, try here:

      You can also do some extension on dual coding here:

      By the way, if you happen to be in São Paulo on September 1st, come to our MBE launch at CNA Paraíso. The whole team will be there and Mirela will certainly deliver one of her wonderful talks.

      1. Thank you very much. I don’t know if I can make it to MBE launch but I’ll do my best. Cheers

  2. Pingback: 5 activities to get your students to speak more in class – André Hedlund

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: