Mr Chan Zheng Ming, Vice-Principal of Anderson Serangoon Junior College (ASRJC), received his Masters in Education in Mind, Brain and Education (MBE) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. SingTeach talks to Zheng Ming about MBE, how this relates to the Science of Learning in Education (SoLE) and his plans for SoLE at ASRJC.
What is Mind, Brain and Education?
Mind, Brain and Education (MBE) is an interdisciplinary field that brings together evidence, perspectives, tools and insights from various disciplines to deepen our understanding of how people learn, and what we can do to improve learning. The disciplines included in MBE range from, and are not limited to, cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology and education studies. There are also many stakeholder groups that contribute to furthering the MBE field, such as teachers, policy makers, researchers and even students.
Studies in MBE range from basic research in the laboratory (e.g., identifying brain regions or networks correlated with certain developmental differences) to applied research in the classroom. Hence, with the diversity in the MBE field, communication and translation (from research to practice, and vice-versa) are important to generate deeper insights from cross-pollinating ideas across disciplines, stakeholder groups and research types.
MBE and the Science of Learning in Education
“Personally, I see the Science of Learning in Education (SoLE) field as synonymous with MBE,” Zheng Ming comments. “They both bring together multiple stakeholders from multiple disciplines to tackle the same key inquiry question: ‘How do we learn?’”
The aim of research in the fields of MBE and SoLE is to generate insights into how we learn, so that we can equip everyone with the ability to learn effectively at any age. As these fields continue to develop, we uncover more evidence to help improve the design, selection and evaluation of educational programmes. The goal is for educational programmes to cater more precisely to students’ learning needs.
Situating this research-practice nexus in Singapore, Zheng Ming says, “SoLE can help us develop strategies to better support every child in their learning. Other than involving our teachers in applying the findings from SoLE research, we also need to help our students appreciate how they learn, so that they can continue to learn, unlearn and relearn skills as they take on different careers and opportunities throughout their life.”
“As we embark on the next phase in the “Learn for Life” movement as a nation, we see how it is important to equip our students with the ability and disposition to learn. Our students need to learn how to learn. This will help Singapore remain competitive and relevant among global economies,” he adds.
“SoLE can help us develop strategies to better support every child in their learning. Other than involving our teachers in applying the findings from SoLE research, we also need to help our students appreciate how they learn, so that they can continue to learn, unlearn and relearn skills as they take on different careers and opportunities throughout their life.”
– Zheng Ming, on how SoLE can help to provide new insights on teaching and learning
Translating Research into Practice
As with other areas of research, SoLE research studies range from basic research (which might not immediately translate into classroom practices) to applied research (classroom practices).
Both applied and basic research complement each other and are needed to provide us with a fuller understanding of the science behind learning. However, given that SoLE is a relatively young learning sciences field in Singapore, there seems to be a divide between basic and applied research, where the former is often not translated into digestible and practical strategies for school teachers.
“For SoLE to thrive and flourish as a field in Singapore, time and resources must be dedicated to growing a community of researchers and practitioners who can translate research findings into strategies to be applied in the classrooms, and leverage practice-based evidence to drive further research,” Zheng Ming asserts.
Other than research translation, communication among stakeholders – researchers (including medical researchers interested in developmental science), practitioners (teachers, students and even parents) and policymakers – is key to bridging the gap between the learning sciences research and schools.
There are rich research findings in SoLE which could be better translated and communicated to practitioners in schools. Examples include the effectiveness of spaced practice, the importance of sleep for adolescents, the dual coding learning model (in place of learning styles) and effective emotion regulation strategies.
Zheng Ming remarks, “SoLE researchers should continue to focus on strengthening the practice-research partnership. Teachers and students in the classroom can pose research questions about their learning processes and provide researchers with rich perspectives. The classroom is also a source of ‘practice-based evidence’ that could be tapped upon to generate further insights and research directions.”
SoLE in Schools and in the Classroom
“I am currently Vice-Principal at Anderson Serangoon Junior College. From my perspective as a school leader, SoLE can provide us with evidence to guide our decision-making processes, as we examine how we can design and choose programmes to best cater to our students’ learning needs. It is important to keep up to date with key evidence but also be able to discern the reliability of evidence base!” Zheng Ming shares.
“One of our college’s assets is the deep body of experience and expertise among our staff,” he continues. “I aim to build on existing college structures and processes to incorporate the use of evidence from SoLE research in our teaching practice and strengthen our research-practice partnership with the National Institute of Education and the Academy of Singapore Teachers.
“On a more personal note, I would like to support our learning community of practitioners in our college by filtering, digesting and translating MBE and SoLE research findings into short blog posts. I hope that these posts, which will touch on topics such as emotional regulation, cognitive load and neuromyths, will promote discussion among teachers and inspire them to pursue SoLE topics that might interest them, bring these ideas into the classroom and help our students embark on their journey of ‘Learning for Life’.”