In 2021, pupils at GEMS Wellington Academy - Al Khail achieved outstanding A-level results in Dubai, with 52 per cent of grades marked at A and above. At GCSE level, there was a 100 per cent pass rate and 74 per cent of grades were B and above.
The school’s Principal, Campbell Douglas, says that one reason for the students’ success is his team’s use of neuroscience in their approach to teaching. He refers to the concept as “limitless learning” and says it is about maximising each student’s potential, preparing them for the future.
“We are firm believers that for students to be successful and for their learning to be efficient and effective, teachers really need to understand the physical process that takes place in the brain when learning is happening,” he says.
“For us, using neuroscience as an approach to learning is about asking two fundamental questions - what do we know about how students learn and what does that mean for our teaching?”
Douglas says that he is surprised that the majority of teachers don’t study the principles of neuroscience and learning when they train. “Very few teachers understand the science of the brain and how students learn best so by introducing and implementing the use of neuroscience in our school, we are certainly giving our students a better chance.”
We believe that for the science of learning to be implemented properly, it’s not just about teachers knowing about how the brain learns best but it’s about students understanding how they learn best.
The whole leadership team are now certified in the neuroscience approach and the teaching and learning policy has been revised by the whole teaching team to ensure there is a whole school understanding of neuroscience and what this looks like in the classroom. This is defined by nine teaching principles that are common features in all lessons.
At the school, pupils are taught to understand the difference between working and long-term memory. “One example is retrieval practice, which is about how important the memory is in learning. We have the working memory and our long-term memory, and it is about understanding how we can move information from our working memory into our long-term memory," says Douglas. “To bring information into our long-term memory, we need to forget. The process of forgetting is very important in the learning process.”
Douglas says that teachers use methods such as low-stakes quizzes and testing to encourage students to retrieve previously learnt information that they may have forgotten. “At various stages throughout the week, the month and the term, there are opportunities for students to recall that information, retrieve it and ensure that it is consolidated within the memory,” he says.
“We believe that for the science of learning to be implemented properly, it’s not just about teachers knowing about how the brain learns best but it’s about students understanding how they learn best as well.”
Students learn how neural pathways form, the way that memories are embedded, how learning is consolidated, the way that retrieval practice works and the limitations of their working memories. “By showing them the way that we can manage our cognitive load – they start to gain control of their own learning and they can make it very personalised,” says Douglas.
Preparing minds for the future
The school’s scientific approach to teaching and learning is designed to not only maximise students’ chances of academic success but to also ensure they have the key skills required for a rapidly changing world. Douglas refers to how an understanding of concepts such as neuroplasticity - which is the brain’s ability to form and reorganise synaptic connections in response to learning – can benefit young people later in life and in environments such as the workplace.
“There is a growing body of evidence and research about how effective the science of learning in teaching is. Once people start to understand how their brains learn best and how the brain works it can impact all areas of life. Learning is just a small part of that.”
To learn more about GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail, visit www.gemswellingtonacademy-alkhail.com