In our assignments for this week we watched an ASCD Webinar, Dr. Judy Willis focuses her discussion on how to increase reading motivation in students. She spends a great deal of time discussing best practices and wonderful activities to try in your classroom. My biggest takeaway from this webinar was, connecting what she mentioned and being able to apply it to every subject area that I teach. Being a kindergarten teacher it is also crucial to be knowledgable on early brain development to understand how to better prepare your students for success.
Dr. Willis mentioned in her Webinar that it is important to make your lessons enjoyable, you need to have what she called, the “buy-in” method. Making your lessons relevant for your students allows them to immediately connect and engage. They should understand what she called the “here-me-now” not only in reading, but in every subject area. At any age, students should be able to answer: what will this information or skill offer me, here, at this time. This information is nothing new for me and many other teachers in my school district. As educators in Lake Washington School District, we have always been advised to have learning objectives posted in our room for all subject areas for students to recall on and use each day. In Brain Matters Wolfe explains “Occipital Lobes are the primary brain centers for processing visual stimuli (Wolfe 2010).” The visual stimuli connects with stored cognitive associations which makes what is being seen, meaningful. So why is it so important for learning objectives to be posted and shared with students? Wolfe shares, “This is why preparing students by telling them the objective of an activity is usually desirable. It allows the brain to anticipate critical features or ideas, and it increases the likelihood that the brain will focus on essential information (Wolfe 2010).”
Like I mentioned above, early childhood teachers need to understand the developing brain and what type of interactions are helpful for children that will set them up for success. The quotes mentioned above from Brain Matters and Dr. Willis’s Webinar really connected to the second reading by Wolfe, Early Brain Development. This reading lists 10 “need to knows” about brain development. There were a few that I was able to immediately connect into my classroom. In #3 Wolfe states, the brain is largely sculpted by its environment. Provide many options from which children can choose their activities. Watch what interests them and engage them in talk about their discoveries (Wolfe 2013). In my school, my team and I spend a lot of time discussing how we can give our students more choice in what they do for multiple subject areas. Students have choice options for order of completion in assignments, to free time activities, some writing topics in writing workshop, as well as brainstorming our classroom rules.
Another piece that I connected with was #4, Language Development. Talk, talk, talk! In this part of the reading it mentions the importance of language development during the first 3 years. However, I feel that the importance of language development continues well into kindergarten. Research has shown students benefit from talking about what they know and what they have learned. “Research studies show that children raised in rich language environments have much larger vocabularies than those raised in language impoverished environments (Wolfe 2013).” I have pulled this into my classroom by sending home Conversation Starters each Friday. I created Conversation Starters to help parents know exactly what we learned in different subject areas to be able to continue educational language in their home. They are questions parents can ask their child at dinner, in the car etc to help supplement learning at home. Having meaningful conversations with their parents allows them to use newly learned vocabulary and hold the student responsible for their learning through discussion.
“Young children learn best through concrete experience. It is important to provide hands-on learning to strengthen natural interactions in natural settings (Wolfe 2013).” Get your students out in the real world! Assignments don’t have to be limited to paper and pencil. This is another method I was able to connect to my classroom. I have my students out in natural settings to gain experiences. They help parents write grocery lists, they cut out words from food labels, bags, magazines to add to our classroom word wall. They go on nature walks with their parents to connect to science curriculum. Like I mentioned in Dr. Willis’s webinar, she talks a lot about making learning relevant to your students. It can be difficult to make learning in all subject areas relevant to kindergarteners who have not had many natural experiences in the world. I have enjoyed the challenge of incorporating this into my classroom over the past 4 years to really give my students a “buy-in” for their learning and how they can apply it to the now of theirlife.
The last piece I want to discuss is #9 in the online reading, the importance of exercise. Wolfe states, research from Harvard University has shown that exercise plays a critical role in brain functioning (Wolfe 2013). Being 5, my students like to wiggle and it has required me to get very creative with methods to keep their attention. I was very pleased to read in John Medina’s Brain Rules that “kids pay better attention to their subjects when they’ve been active. Kids are also less likely to be disruptive in terms of their classroom behavior when they’re active (Medina 2008)”. Not only are they less disruptive but they “feel better about themselves, have higher self-esteem, less depression, less anxiety. All of those things can impair academic performance and attentiveness (Medina 2008)”. Science and my readings have proved that taking time in my day to do our Get Fit- Count to 100s song, stretching, doing breathing exercises, and having them do children’s yoga are all benefiting the learning of my students. It has been a great way to get the blood flow and oxygen to their brain to help get them ready to learn. I have really noticed a difference in their level of engagement after such activities.
I really enjoyed how I was able to connect each reading and videos that were assigned this week to one another as well as directly into my classroom.
Wolfe, P. (2010). Brain Matters. (2nd ed.,pp.16-69). Arlington, VA: ASCD
Wolfe, P. (2013). Early Brain Development. A position paper for the 9th Bridge Early Childhood Program in Las Vegas.
Medina, J. (2008). Exercise. Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school (pp. 14-18). Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Willis, J. (n.d.). ASCD Webinars – Judy Willis, Brain-Based Learning Strategies. Membership, policy, and professional development for educators – ASCD. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from http://www.ascd.org/professional-development/webinars/judy-willis-brain-and-learning-webinars.aspx