Feeding A Positive Pathway

When something happens in our lives – an event, experience, activity – synapses in our brain fire together to form a neural pathway. If this ‘something’ happens again, a pathway becomes wired.

“Synapses that fire together – wire together”

Consider this in terms of learning a motor skill:

Imagine a child has learned how to jump, but learned to jump the ‘wrong’ way. Every time he jumps, that’s a neural pathway wiring together. With every ‘wrong’ jump he is reinforcing that pathway.

The impact of an inaccurate pathway?

When we are not able to perform a task as well as our peers, we typically perceive ourselves and/or our capabilities at this task in a negative light. Sometimes we consider ourselves as a failure. Every time we have a negative experience and perceive ourselves to have failed at something, we are feeding a negative pathway. Continuous failures wire a negative pathway – ‘I’m not good at this’ and, ‘I don’t like this’. This is often followed by fear, anxiety and the avoidance of similar tasks and activities.

Fundamentally, this why differentiation is such a core ingredient of effective teaching. But sometimes, providing differentiated opportunities for each child to experience success is challenging and inevitably, someone is left behind. This is why it’s important for teachers to keep asking:

“Is what I’m doing right now in my teaching embedding a negative pathway or, positive pathway?”

If upon reflection, you feel you have fed a negative pathway, do not worry. All you have to do is, prune!


Pruning Pathways

The most amazing thing about the brain is its neuroplasticity, it’s absolutely awesome!

Everything we do, every experience that we have is basically building our brain and moulding pathways. This means that when we stop doing certain things and stop engaging in specific tasks, we prune pathways so that, after a while, our brain goes in a different direction. From a motor development perspective, every time a child jumps the ‘right’ way or, has success in an activity, they are wiring a positive pathway.

Deposits in the Confidence Bank

Another important question for teachers to ask is:

“How can I wire or re-wire a student’s brain to build deposits and not embed withdrawal’s from the confidence bank account?”

Tips to tackle low confidence in a task:

Write out a confidence ladder marking the differentiated versions of a task, with the easiest version on the bottom rung and the hardest version on the top.

For example, if you’re trying to improve a child’s ‘free throw’ in basketball. At the bottom of the rung you might have – low net height and close positioning to the net.  At the top of the ladder you might have full net height, child positioned at free throw line. Put rules in place so that if a child fails twice at a rung, they have to step down to the rung below and only move back up the rung after three successful efforts. This promotes successful experiences and stops the child from feeding negative pathways in favour of feeding positive pathways.

Our brains are amazing. But they also get up to mischief and sometimes as teachers and learners we end up feeding negative pathways. The good news is, we can prune negative pathways by engaging in more positive experiences, making deposits in the confidence bank and ultimately, increasing our chances of improving movement behaviours over time.


Movement Intelligence

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