Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

“Don’t Assume We Know How to Study!”

Prologue: Driving my 15 year old daughter home from cross country yesterday, I asked her where she learned to study. She replied, “Mom I have never been taught how to study, we just do it because teachers have way too much to teach! They assume we know and Cornell Notes are their idea of teaching us how to study!” I thought about this conversation and I began to write and create a template that can hopefully assist students to organize, plan and create capacity in their working memories so content is learned for the long term. Below is a brief and simply stated template on study skills for fifth grade students preparing for a math assessment. The Executive Functions must be addressed even though our curriculum is full to overflowing, our days and hours are shortened instructionally, and we cannot afford not to integrate these mindful researched strategies that invite the working memory and prefrontal cortex to engage in the learning process. 

Brain Compatible Study Strategies

(These study skills may be implemented for any subject and need to begin in the upper elementary years before the more challenging middle and high school curriculums begin; assuming and expecting the students indirectly to manage time, organize materials and thoughts and know how to prioritize and plan for the skills they will need to master throughout academic standards and across subject areas.)




Teaching what we need to learn



Focused Attention Practice

(Study-Sleep Cycle)


5th Grade Forum

October 3 2013


Taking a test is like baking a cake, putting a model airplane together, learning a video game, playing a sport or getting ready for a performance! There are steps to work through before we reach the final answer, skill or solution! If I am baking a cake, I need to get out the recipe and read over the directions and check to make sure I have all the ingredients.  When I look at the image on the box of the beautiful delicious cake, I get excited about what I am going to create! Taking a test is no different!

  1. Check to make sure I have all the ingredients
  2. 2.     Measure each ingredient in the right order, and gradually add to the mixing bowl!
  3. Check….
  4. Stir the batter
  5. Grease the pan
  6. Oven on…check
  7. Check…
  8. Place batter into pan
  9. Bake
  10. Check recipe to see how long, and next steps
  11. Pull out of oven… cool off… and ice the cake
  12. Check as I clean up and put ingredients away… did I miss an ingredient, did I follow the directions? What would work better the next time?


  1. Before you begin to study, check to make sure you have all of your materials.
  2. Free write for three minutes any concerns, worries, or stresses you feel about the test or just worries you have about anything happening in your life.
  3. Three to five deep breaths through the nose with your eyes closed… count to five in the inhale and six through the exhale. See your neurons turned on firing behind your eyebrows much like a firework show… see your neurons making connections and feel the electrical charge as you visualize the right answers and solve the problems! ( SIZZLE CRACK POP)
  4. Begin with the first review problem and talk out loud as you write out the problem, the important information and the steps you will need to know.
    1. After you have solved the problem, move away from the problem for a few minutes… take a brain break… stretch, take a short run or walk for 10 to 15 minutes, get some water and a snack but no TV or computer. Return to the problem  with a new color of pen or different pencil and paper and check your answer as you talk through each step out loud!
    2. Now is the time to teach your problems to a classmate, a teacher or to your family! After you have explained the steps to your (new) student, create two problems for your students to solve, but you must do this too and then compare answers!
    3. Set aside 30 minutes before you fall sleep. Go through your practice problems one more time …talking out loud and through the steps. Close your notes, fluff up your pillow, close your eyes and feel the excitement of being prepared for the test. As you begin to fall asleep, feeling relaxed, your brain,( the memory systems) , work all night long taking the information in and moving and massaging it throughout the working memory! Our brains are able to actually work harder when we are asleep if we study what we need to know before we close our eyes for the night!

(Questions to ask yourself as you prepare for the test or following the test)

  1. Did I make careless mistakes?
  2. Did I forget the steps or order of operations?
  3. 3. Am I forgetting “how” to solve the problem?
  4. What do I need to come up with the right answer?
  5. Who can help me?
  6. What are my resources? Friend, call a teacher, parents, book, worksheets, computer?
  7. I know that 24 repetitions is the way to learn this 80% of the time!!

Parents and Teachers,

When we look at the results of a test, we want to not focus on the final grade with our students, but our focus and questions should be: “Do you understand your mistakes or errors and have you found a way to correct them?” “What could you do differently the next time?”  “What can I do to make sure you are feeling very comfortable with your corrections from the errors you made on the test?


Remember, that mistakes are our greatest learning tools! It is what we do with our mistakes that matter the most! Scientists LOVE mistakes, because with each error, they improve the experiment or the invention, and know so much more the next time.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D.


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