School Libraries on the Brain: Brain-Based Learning and Your Library

As either a seasoned regular to the educational field or a budding new rookie, we have all come to familiarize ourselves with the latest fads and buzzwords in education.  Recently, common core, applied rigor, and a few others come to mind when thinking about this topic.  However, there is one term, brain-based learning, that is starting to garner attention from reputable stakeholders in the educational field.  Whole doctoral programs are being formed, at top tier universities such as Johns Hopkins University, based on this buzzword.  In today’s post, I’ll show you how to incorporate the latest brain-based learning trends into your school library environment.

First, you may ask, “Isn’t all learning brain-based?”  And you would be correct.  Yes, all learning is brain-based, because we use our brain to learn and store information.  Yet, the budding field of brain-based education utilizes and brings together the fields of neuroscience, pedagogy, and psychology to form a basis to better understand how we all learn.  The new findings of the field are where we, as school librarians and media specialists, can benefit from by taking appropriate actions to integrate this knowledge into our everyday practices.

Let’s start with the amygdala:  This tiny area of the brain, located in the temporal lobe, has big educational implications.  This area plays a significant role in emotion and types of memory.  It stores the memories of emotions and aggressively reacts to stress.  When reacting to stress, it will physically prevent information from reaching centers of the brain necessary for absorbing new information.  Thus, student feelings of embarrassment, frustration, or boredom can cause the “fight or flight” response to go into overdrive, thereby getting in the way of how the prefrontal cortex stores memories and information.  So, you may ask, what do I need to know now that I am aware of this?


1.  Build Healthy Relationships

Our brains are hard-wired for us to be social creatures and to build relationships with others.  This is also true of the developing brain, be it elementary or high school level.  Start by building healthy relationships.  Try to learn each student by name.  For younger students, conduct morning meetings that allow them to share information about themselves with the group.  For older students who may be more self-conscious, try the post-it method:  Each time the student comes to see you, have them write down something about themselves or their day.  You’ll get to know your students quickly and build healthy relationships, while still respecting their growing need for boundaries and privacy.

2.  Create a Predictable Environment

As queens and kings of organization, we librarians often think that the school library ought to be one of the first places one imagines of being a controlled, predictable environment. On the other hand, your school may “happily suffer” from what I like to call the “school living room syndrome.”  This is best defined as your library not only serving as a library media space, but also as a faculty lounge, computer lab, lunch café, faculty meeting location, and Spanish club hideout.  In other words, your school library is anything but predictable.  While you cannot control the circumstances of your library living room, you can put a few fail-safes in action that can provide students the comfort of predictability, be it your routines and procedures, or a simply way that you use to greet students on entering the library.  This provides the emotional stability and comfort the brain seeks out in an environment, so as to prepare the stage for optimal learning potential and receptiveness of brain areas.

3.  Novelty

Novelty is defined as being the quality of being new, original, or unusual.  Our brains crave novelty, not chaos.  Our attention spans last longer and focus is improved when novelty comes into play.  Novelty can be easy to achieve (a changing bulletin board that students look forward to reading every month) to creative maker-space projects that allow students to build and create new and exciting fabrications and inventions.


Ultimately, there is a multitude of ways that we, as school librarians and media specialists, can take into account the new findings of brain-based learning and make them our own success within our own school library environments.  From building healthy relationships with students to creating a bit of novelty in our environment, we can tap into the memory and attention-building areas of the brain to create lasting learning experiences for our students.


Author: Megan Shulman

Megan is both the middle and high school librarian at Humboldt Junior Senior High School which serves grades 7-12. She has her Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Mrs. Shulman has been both a classroom teacher and a school librarian. This upcoming school year, she will be entering her 8th year in public education serving Title 1 schools. Her areas of expertise are school library leadership, brain-based learning strategies, and creating maker-spaces in the current library atmosphere.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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