October 25, 2017 | By Babe Liberman
New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA) is a high school that boasts rigorous academic and mastery arts curricula for students from across the state.
Though the school has collected six consecutive “A” grades from the New Mexico Public Education Department, and leadership felt proud of their accomplishments, NMSA Founder and President Cindy Montoya shared that staff had been operating primarily on intuition. Their instructional strategies seemed to be working overall, but staff couldn’t be sure which strategies were most effective, or why. Montoya and her team were looking for a way to ensure their strategies were evidence-based.
With this goal, they invited Dr. Melina Uncapher, Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and CEO and Director of Research at the Institute for Applied Neuroscience, to lead full staff trainings on the science of learning, starting in the fall of 2016.
In these training sessions, Uncapher introduced NMSA educators to research-based learning strategies, which helped the NMSA team put into words what they had been doing and why. The NMSA team learned about concepts including intrinsic motivation, growth mindset, and metacognition, and instructional strategies like retrieval practice.
NMSA has since implemented required classes that explicitly teach these concepts and strategies, which has helped students learn how to learn. Melanie McKinley, a former NMSA science and math teacher who is currently using data to measure student growth, described that understanding research greatly improved her work: “I realized how much more of effective teacher I could be, with knowing how the brain actually absorbs information, and what the best way to learn is.”
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