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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 2013 | 272 pages | Corwin
In this updated edition of the extraordinary book that linked brain research and the classroom, Smilkstein incorporates all-new research on brain-compatible teaching and the implications of the brain's natural learning process for how teachers can design and deliver effective lesson plans and curriculum. The author's unique research with almost 7,000 students and educators reveals how people experience their own natural learning.

In this book Smilkstein breaks down the physiological as well as the emotional development of learning into practitioner-friendly terms well-grounded in research, with special emphasis in this revised edition upon the use of technology in schools; strategies to reach gifted students as well as those who are diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders; and upon the 7 magic words—"see if you can figure this out"—that lie at the heart of curriculum development to engage all learners.

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

Rita Smilkstein

Dr. Smilkstein speaks nationally and internationally on brain-compatible education. She has taught in middle school through graduate school including 28 years at North Seattle Community College. Currently Professor Emerita North Seattle Community College and invited faculty in Educational Psychology at Western Washington University's Woodring College of Education, Everett Campus. Publications include articles and books on brain-based curriculum and pedagogy. Author of We’re Born to Learn: Using the Brain’s Natural Learning Process to Create Curriculum (Corwin Press, 2003), which won the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society’s Educator’s... More About Author

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ISBN: 9781412979382

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