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Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child


Knowledge, Skill and Mindset Building

The science of learning and development tells us that learning is integrated – for example, no “math” part of the brain develops separately from a “self-regulation” part of the brain. Therefore, successful learning experiences simultaneously develop content-specific knowledge with the Building Blocks for Learning.

In the brain, this means that students are building anatomically cross-wired and functionally interconnected neural networks that facilitate skills like self-regulation while also helping them think, learn and remember content knowledge. For example, as a student works to regulate their emotions, remember new information and organize their thinking, they are using structurally and functionally interconnected processes in the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.


In classrooms, this means that academic instruction and student supports are most effective when they are driven by a holistic picture of the learner with unique skills, habits, mindsets, interests, relationships, experiences, knowledge and goals. Growth and learning emerge through real experiences and authentic practice over time that shifts the balance of power towards students, recognizing them as active agents within the learning process.

These active, integrated processes of learning and development occur in context, building upon students’ relationships, prior experiences and knowledge, and the broader ecosystem in which they are developing. The presence of positive relationships with adults who know children well buffers the negative impact of stress on the brain and supports the co-regulatory processes through which students develop skills like self-regulation. These skills and mindsets that adults in children’s contexts demonstrate form the model through which students acquire their own skills and mindsets. For example, a group of educators who consistently embody a growth mindset, demonstrate strong stress management, and take a productive approach to conflict facilitate the development of such skills and mindsets in students.

Finally, the science of learning and development tells us that each student is on their own unique developmental pathway. Systems of intervention and enrichment that account for variability and jagged learning profiles and provide matched supports for both holistic development and academic growth are required for each student to reach the full expression of their potential. Within these systems, acknowledgment of the impact of stress and adversity on learning and development points towards targeted efforts to reduce stress in students’ lives while intentionally teaching and supporting stress management techniques.

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Knowledge, skill, and mindset building IS NOT:

  • An isolated program, add-on, or enrichment activity.
  • For some students and not others, or the same for each student
  • About controlling students and keeping adults comfortable
  • Acculturating children to a White, heteropatriarchal set of behavioral norms and enforcing compliance with these norms
  • Asking students to demonstrate grit or resilience without addressing sources of chronic stress, including structural racism and systemic oppression

Knowledge, skill and mindset building IS:

  • When learning experiences simultaneously develop content knowledge and disciplinary ways of thinking alongside the Building Blocks for Learning
  • Holistic supports and enrichment matched to the unique developmental pathway of each student
  • Prioritizing relationships that support students in developing skills through observation and interaction
  • Recognizing that stress impacts learning

Knowledge, Skill + Mindset Core Practices:

Select a core practice below to start redesigning:

The Science of Knowledge, Skill and Mindset Building:

Use the following materials to dig deeper into research from the science of learning and development about knowledge, skill and mindset building

Learning Problem Solving and Growth Mindset in a Maker Space


Describe some of the ways skills and mindsets are built through the experiences the educators provide in the video.

How does this video push your beliefs about what students, including very young students, are capable of when given ample support and challenge?

[Video credit: Edutopia]

Building Blocks for Learning


Explore the Building Blocks for Learning Framework

The Learning Centers of the Brain


Learn more about how academic learning and holistic skills and mindsets work together in the brain.


Stress and the Brain


Play this game to explore how stress impacts the learning centers of the brain.


Looking at SoLD through an Equity Lens


Explore how supports for academics, skills and mindsets can contribute to inequitable experiences and outcomes for students if not done with an anti-racist frame.

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