I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed all of the assigned online articles and readings from our required books Brain Matters, Jossey Bass and Brain Rules this quarter. There are so many important pieces that go into teaching and education. Before this class, I feel that I was always focused on the curriculum as well as supplementing that curriculum to give my students the best education I possibly could. Now, I feel that my original focal point is being shared with a new large piece. I am not only focused on those aspects of the teaching field regarding curriculum, but now, I am focusing more on best practices. These best practices are based on solid research regarding how students learn and retain information.
Both Brain Matters and Jossey Bass do a wonderful job explaining the brain. These two texts covered a lot of similar information such as; the structure and functions of the human brain, the development of the brain, sensory input, information storage and how the brain learns best. As an educator, I was able to take away and apply many pieces of these books into my classroom immediately. However, there were a few topics of discussion during this quarter that I feel really grabbed my attention that I would like to discuss. I really connected with and would like to talk about the “buy in” at the start of each lesson and its importance. I would also like to discuss using the arts in my teaching. Another large take away was, teaching using concrete experiences. I will also touch on the benefits of exercise in the classroom, student’s memory, and the importance of using visuals in the classroom.
In a webinar Dr. Willis, an educational researcher, mentioned 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. In Brain Matters Wolfe explains, “Occipital Lobes are the primary brain centers for processing visual stimuli (Wolfe 2010).” The visual stimulus connects with stored cognitive associations which make what is being seen, meaningful. So what does this mean in my classroom? Making sure my learning targets are always posted and up to date for my students to see. It also means making learning meaningful to my students, and giving them concrete experiences (which I will discuss later). I see the best learning and highest success in my students when I have provided a great buy in to my lesson and then continue with a highly interactive, hands on activities. Looking back into chapter 11, Wolfe states, “We learn some things by experiencing them concretely, others symbolically, and still others in abstract terms (Wolfe 166).” I was recently introduced to a program called BTiC: Bringing Theater into the Classroom. It is a program that teaches you ways to integrate drama into your entire curriculum. I was able to immediately implement my learning into my classroom. I played around using a type of acting called tableaus. I had my students use a tableau to demonstrate their understanding and comprehension of a story we had read that they were struggling with retelling. I was amazed at how well they did and the results showed they were able to retain and pull great content from our lesson using this exercise. Research proves that the arts allow students to explore, learn from peers and learn how to explore and express emotions. The arts provide students with skills which are not directly taught in content based classes, but which are required to have and use in content based classes. For example: observation, spatial relationships, kinesthetic, symbolism, imagination, abstractions, cooperation (Sousa, 335-336). Using a buy in, music and theater in our classrooms more often could ultimately be the new “best teaching practice”.
Another big takeaway for me this quarter was the idea of getting my students out into the real world. That all not all of my assignments have to be pencil and paper based, like our curriculums seem to have them. “Young children learn best through concrete experience. It is important to provide hands-on learning to strengthen natural interactions in natural settings (Wolfe 6).” In chapter 11 of Brain Matters Wolfe mentions,“ Many of our strongest neural networks are formed by actual experience (Wolfe 169).” Looking and researching further, it is beneficial and more interesting to find actual problems in our own school or community for students to problem solve and work together to find possibly solutions. Teaching kindergarten and having my students be so young I find other ways to help give them concrete experiences at home too. 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. I look forward to incorporating real world problem solving strategies into my classroom!
A big interest of mine has always been the benefits for students and the research behind exercise within the classroom. In John Medina’s Brain Rules, he states 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 18)”. 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 14)”. So how can I take this into my classroom? Well, each morning in my class, we are now taking the time to do our Get Fit- Count to 100s song, stretching, doing breathing exercises, and having them do children’s yoga to help set my students up for a successful morning and day. It has been a great way to get the blood flowing and get more oxygen to their brain. I have really noticed a difference in their level of engagement after such activities. In the book Brain Matters, Wolfe talks about research that Harvard University did that shows that exercise plays a critical role in brain functioning (Wolfe 94). Having a lot of research backing up and supporting my choice of adding 20+ minutes of exercise each morning and again in small periods throughout my day lessens the stressful feeling that I am “wasting” teach time because I am, in actuality, helping their learning.
A large chunk of our time this quarter was researching and completing readings about our memory, long-term, short-term memory and the inner workings of each. During our Brain Rules presentations we learned that most memories we make are lost within minutes (Medina 147). Hearing that students are likely to lose a large percentage of the information taught each day is a scary and concerning thing for any teacher to hear. So what is the solution? How do we make sure our lessons and hours upon hours teaching each day are not wasted? Our memory experts Wolfe and Medina suggest if teachers “want something to stick in students’ long-term memory, then teachers must build elaborative rehearsal strategies into their instruction. Building elaborative rehearsal strategies allows students’ time to process the information. This increases the strength of students’ learning because the strategies allow consolidation to take place (Wolfe, 157.) It was brought up in class discussion after a Brain Rules presentation that it is best for teachers to plan lessons where content is incorporated gradually and then repeated in intervals. At the beginning of each year, teachers spend time looking at their specialist schedules hoping and trying to work their days where they can have large chunks of teach time during ideal parts of the day. I feel that I have always had an inconsistent specialist time and I never really have more than a small block of time for teaching a lesson before recess or a specialist interrupts it. Well, research has shown that leaving a lesson and revisiting that material is actually doing your students a service. The best way to retain information in your memory is to rehearse and revisit as much as possible. I am now using my choppy daily schedule to my advantage to really reiterate my main teach points.
The last piece of information that I found extremely valuable, that I would like to discuss is the importance of visuals used in your daily lessons and in the classroom. We learned through class discussions and our readings that images help us learn and remember more than just written words. This immediately made me think back to my own classroom and what I could change in my lessons to fit this model that is more visual based. Medina says, “Vision trumps all other senses…We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.” (Medina, 223) In a sense, less is more. Teaching kindergarten my classroom is filled with pictures and word labels for my ELL students and non-readers. For my kiddo’s on IEP’s I have several picture schedules that allows consistency for them. I have always been aware at how beneficial images are for ELL students and students on IEP’s but I had never understood how important images were for increasing understanding for the whole class. Wolfe discusses in chapter 12, “Not only are visuals powerful retention aids, but they also serve to increase understanding,” (Wolfe, 184). This will be a constant challenge for me in my teaching career. To look at my lessons each day and find ways to scale down the amount of text and increase the visuals.
I am excited to see what another quarter or even year of new learning will bring to my classroom. I am happy to say that I feel like I have been able to make many changes so far this year in my room to better the learning for my students. Although sometimes make a change or adding something new that I might not feel 100% comfortable with, like theater and drama, can be intimidating it is proving to be effective and really helping my student learning. What is most important in my eyes as an educator, is to remain open minded and open to suggestions that could best benefit your students. Always be willing to take risks, and better yourself as an educator, because we have to remember, it is all about the students!
Bringing theater into the classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.seattlerep.org/Programs/Education/BTIC/Default
Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school (pp. 14-147). Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Sousa, David A. (2008). The jossey-bass reader on the brain and learning. (1st ed., pp. 95-336). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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
Wolfe, P. (2010). Brain Matters. (2nd ed.,pp.16-223). Arlington, VA: ASCD
Wolfe, P. (2013). Early Brain Development. (pp.1-10) A position paper for the 9th Bridge Early Childhood Program in Las Vegas.