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We're Born to Learn

We're Born to Learn
Using the Brain's Natural Learning Process to Create Today's Curriculum

Second Edition
  • Rita Smilkstein - Western Washington University, Woodring College of Education, Bellingham, USA

March 2011 | 272 pages | Corwin

"Applying the natural human learning process described in the book transformed my students' ability to learn. No teacher, new or experienced, should enter any classroom without a copy of this book."
—Patricia Jamie Lee, Educational Consultant
Many Kites Press, St. Paul, MN

Teach students to take responsibility for their own success!

This updated edition of the bestselling book on the brain's natural learning process brings new research results and applications in a power-packed teacher tool kit. Rita Smilkstein shows teachers how to create and deliver curricula that help students become the motivated, successful, and natural learners they were born to be. Updated features include:

  • Guidelines for using the six-step Natural Human Learning Process (NHLP) for lesson planning and test preparation
  • New information on how technology and Internet research affect student learning
  • Practical methods for giving all students the tools they need to achieve

The author translates her unique research on students' critical and creative thinking into classroom strategies and sample lesson plans that will help to create a successful learning environment. Building on the content that earned the author an Educator's Award of the Year from the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society, We're Born to Learn provides teachers with practical methods for giving all students the metacognitive, motivational, and technological tools they need to take responsibility for their own achievement.

Foreword by James H. Berry
About the Author
What This Book Is About  
Why Study the Brain?  
Experienced Educators and the Research  
The Learning Paradigm  
Where We Have Been  
Where We Are Today  
This Book  
PART I: Research in the Classroom and in the Brain Lab
1. Learning and Teaching
Eye-Opening Experiences in the Classroom  
The Natural Human Learning Process and Brain Research  
The Breakthrough Classroom  
The Research-Based Stages, Curriculum, and Lesson Plans  
2. How People Learn: The Natural Human Learning Process (NHLP)
Critical and Creative Thinking by Infants and Children  
An Example of Children’s Critical and Creative Thinking  
Critical and Creative Thinking in School  
The Natural Human Learning Process and School  
The Natural Human Learning Process (NHLP) Research  
After the Research Is Over  
Research Reports  
The Importance of Making Mistakes  
Where We Go From Here  
3. How the Brain Learns: The Brain’s Natural Learning Process
Introducing the Brain  
Getting to Know the Brain  
How the Brain Learns  
Convergence of Ceiling Levels and Neural Networks  
Experience and Brain Growth  
How the Brain Thinks and Remembers  
The Brain’s Innate Resources and Rules  
Children’s Brains and Adults’ Brains  
The Brain Grows Holistically with Plasticity  
Implications for Curriculum Development  
What About Piaget?  
The Breakthrough Theory of Learning  
4. Personal Experience, Individual Differences, and Learning
Emotions and the Brain  
Negative and Positive Self-Image Networks  
Learning from Experience  
Learning Styles, Preferences, and Multiple Intelligences  
Gifted Students  
Special Needs, Learning Differences, Autism, ADD, and ADHD  
The Seven Magic Words: See If You Can Figure It Out  
Beyond Individual Differences  
A Handout for Students  
5. The Student’s Experience: Metacognition, Motivation, Self-Evaluation, Achievement, and Technology Self Taught
Metacognition and Motivation  
Intrinsic Rewards  
Removing the Barriers  
Self-Evaluation and Metacognition  
Another Metacognitive Experience  
Writing Samples  
Age and Achievement  
Technology Self Taught  
PART II: Theory and Application
6. Sequencing of the Curriculum
The Missing Link  
Two Problems  
Neuroscience and Education  
Converging Research  
The Theory and Guide  
Putting the Theory into Practice  
Thinking at Higher Levels  
Constructing New Knowledge  
Planning the Sequence of the Units or Topics in a Curriculum  
Using a Causal Sequence  
Learning Activities for Units and Topics  
The First Activity  
Two Classroom Examples  
Students and the NHLP  
Developing a Curriculum  
Young Students Thinking at a High Level  
The NHLP in the Classroom  
7. The Pedagogical Model and Guidelines
Four Effective Instructional Practices  
NHLP Pedagogical Guidelines  
Education Courses or Faculty Development Programs  
Good News  
PART III: Using the Brain’s Natural Learning Process to Create Curriculum
8. Brain-Based, Natural Learning Across the Curriculum
The Seven Magic Words in Action  
The Opportunity to Learn Naturally  
The Critical First Stages  
The Introduction-to-Poetry Unit  
Front Loading  
A Science Learning Activity about the Concept of Buoyancy  
A Unit for Library Orientation  
A Unit for Introduction to Safety Procedures  
A Science Learning Activity about Water  
A Unit for Learning How to Take Lecture Notes  
The NHLP Planning Guidelines and Pedagogy  
9. Curriculum Development for Units, Courses, and Programs
Where to Start  
Curriculum Development Guidelines  
A Unit on Literal and Inferential Meaning  
A Unit on an Introduction to Egypt  
A Unit on an Introduction to Fractions  
A Basic Grammar Curriculum: A Sequence of Units for a Whole Course  
A Developmental English Curriculum: Courses in a Program  
General Bibliography

"I encountered Rita Smilkstein's work as I struggled with teaching entry level students on an Indian Reservation. The natural human learning process described in the book transformed my experience. My students were engaged, attending classes, and reprogramming their past from the frame of 'failure' to the frame of 'born to learn.' No teacher, new or experienced, should enter any class without a copy of this book."

Patricia Jamie Lee, Educational Consultant
Many Kites Press, St. Paul, MN

"Dr. Rita Smilkstein has inspired thousands of students and educators with her practical application of the Natural Human Learning Process. This new edition brings us up-to-date, and maintains the clarity and generosity of spirit that is Smilkstein's trademark.  Her enthusiasm rekindles the joy of learning that is hard-wired in all of us. If you read one book this year, make it We're Born to Learn, then put it into action."

Laura Symons, Assistant Professor
Piedmont Community College, Charlottesville, VA

"We're Born to Learn is one of the most valuable instructional tools teachers will ever use.  Knowing 'how' students learn should be absolutely mandatory, yet is rarely taught in college prep. All teachers believe that they are teaching, but few know how students actually learn, and don't consider how the brain processes new information while developing their lesson plans. Dr. Smilkstein likens the learning brain to twigs on a tree; the twigs grow from a branch that is already there (prior knowledge). After reading this book, the most treasured seven words in every classroom will be, 'See if you can figure this out.'"

Dr. Deborah Daiek, Associate Dean
Schoolcraft College, Livonia, MI

"Dr. Rita Smilkstein offers a prescription for what ails our developmental students: lack of critical thinking, lack of understanding of the learning process, etc. While the previous edition is a must read, this latest edition is teaching and learning’s pharmacology textbook…a collector’s item for developmental education."

Reneau Waggoner, Associate Professor
Jefferson Community and Technical College, Louisville, KY

"This book is a must read for anyone with ADHD or ADD students who are drowning in the public education system. The author presents recent research that opens the door for teachers to immediately create an environment conducive to helping these students learn." 

Karen J. Sides, Dean of Interdisciplinary Programs
St. Philip's College, San Antonio, TX

"Packs in in practical methods for achievement and is a top pick for any education collection."

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
The Midwest Book Review, August 2011
Key features

The updated edition includes:

  • Step-by-step instructions to help educators conduct student research in their own classrooms to determine similarities and differences between individual learning processes
  • Answers to how teachers might adapt to the widespread use of user-controlled technology both in and out of the classroom
  • A chapter dedicated to explaining how the brain learns in accessible language to share with students, complete with diagrams depicting the parts of a neuron, growing dendrites, synapse communication, and the sections of the brain
  • Emphasis on the imperative of emotionally safe classrooms, including discussion of self-image and positive and negative neural networks, and the way that feeling's physiological effect on the brain plays into a successful learning environment
  • A section on learning styles, aptitude, preferences, and multiple intelligences, including learning type (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), gifted students, special needs learning differences, and students with ADD/ADHD
  • Real life classroom examples of students' critical and creative thinking coupled with research on the NHLP (Natural Human Learning Process)
  • a list of non-natural learning assumptions followed by a list of ways to change them to natural learning assumptions
  • an examination of students—their emotions, similarities, and differences, including learning styles, multiple intelligences, and disabilities such as ADHD and autism—as a precursor to pointing out their own resources for achieving success as learners
  • Self-evaluation tools to help students take responsibility for their own success, including pre- and post-evaluation forms for classroom use
  • A discussion of how to help students use positive transfer to intervene in the natural constructive process of learning, including an example of a transfer problem from the authors' own time as a graduate student
  • Updated discussion of student group instructional feedback, and how teachers can learn and improve from their student evaluations
  • Procedural suggestions for exams and exam preparation
  • Sample lesson plans for elementary- through college-level classrooms
  • How to give students the matacognitive, motivational, and technological tools to help them take responsibility for their own success

Sample Materials & Chapters

Foreword by James H. Berry

Preface to the New Edition

Preview this book

For instructors

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ISBN: 9781412979382

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