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Herson, Laurie A.
Brain-compatible research: using brain-based techniques to positively impact student learning
h [electronic resource] /
by Laurie A. Herson.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: This thesis discusses brain-based methodology and how educators can use brain-based techniques to impact, support, and advance cognitive growth. Current research on learning and memory is enabling educators to better understand how the brain learns and what environmental factors assist in or detract from student learning. Brain-based learning techniques are considered by brain-based researchers as one way to create a learning environment that fosters student learning at individual academic levels while concurrently challenging each student and promoting academic growth. Teachers can further student academic advancement through the direct manipulation of the classroom environment rather than by purchasing a particular program that promises results.
Thesis (Ed.S.)--University of South Florida, 2006.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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Document formatted into pages; contains 35 pages.
Adviser: Carol Mullen, Ph.D.
Elementary teaching techniques.
Brain-based classroom management.
x Educational Leadership
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Brain-Compatible Research: Using Brain-Based Techniques to Po sitively Impact Student Learning By Laurie A. Herson A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment Of the requirements for the degree of Education Specialist Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies College of Education University of South Florida Major Professor: Carol Mullen, Ph.D. William Benjamin, Ph.D. Elizabeth A. Ethridge, Ed.D. Date of Approval: June 19, 2006 Keywords: elementary teaching techniques, elementary education, cognitive-based learning, brain-compatible research, brain-based classroom management Copyright 2006, Laurie A. Herson
Acknowledgements I would like to express my deepest thanks to Dr. Carol Mullen of the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies for her generous and untiring efforts helping me not only with this study, but also fo r her constant mentoring, resolute yet compassionate guidance, and dedication to the educational profession. Her commitment to her students and the professoriate earmarks her as a caring and gifted teacher of the highest caliber, and as an outst anding member of the Universi ty of South Florida faculty. Thanks is also extended to the other members of my committee, Drs. William Benjamin and Elizabeth Ethridge, also e ducation faculty, for their encouragement, support, and insightful suggestions. Those in Dr. Mullens Writers in Training (WIT) doctoral group, especially Carol Burg, Kris ty Cantu, Rahim Jones, Jan Hutinger, and Larry Plank, provided multiple reviews of this manuscript during meetings at Dr. Mullens home: The feedback and constant support of my peer group is much appreciated. In addition to these people, I would like to expr ess gratitude to my family members for their patience and sacrifices during my travels on this educational journey.
This thesis is dedicated to the students I ha ve had the pleasure and honor of teaching over the course of my teaching career as an elemen tary and middle school educator and also to my family who made sacrifices so I could fini sh my degrees.
Table of Contents Abstract iii Introduction 1 Writers Bias 3 Structure and Focus 3 Background Issues 4 Classroom teacher concern 5 What is Brain Based Instruction? 6 Importance of Brain Based Classrooms 8 Focus on the Brain 9 General Brain Based Categories 10 Emotional Intelligence and Safe Environments 12 Body Movement and the Brain 14 Student Choice 16 Elements of Time in the Brain-Based Classroom 19 Enrichment of Environments to Promote Academic Growth 23 Student Assessment and Feedback 26 Student Collaboration 29 Impact on Education 31 Summary and Concluding Thoughts 32 Future Directions of Brain-Based Education 33 i
References 34 ii
Brain-Compatible Research: Using Brain-Based Techniques to Po sitively Impact Student Learning Laurie A. Herson ABSTRACT This thesis discusses brain-based me thodology and how educators can use brainbased techniques to impact, support, and advance cognitive growth. Current research on learning and memory is enabling educators to better understand how th e brain learns and what environmental factors assist in or detract from student learning. Brain-based learning techniques are considered by brain-based researchers to be one way to create a learning environment that fosters student le arning at individual academic levels while concurrently challenging each student and promoting academic growth. Teachers can further student academic advancement through the direct manipulation of the classroom environment rather than by purchasing part icular programs that promise results. iii
Introduction Teachers who utilize brain-based strategies in the classroom to enhance their students performance are seemingly better able to positively impact learners on social, emotional, and cognitive levels. The followi ng two questions guided this thesis. First, what are the main concepts that brain-base d researchers in general are using? Laura Erlaurers (2003) seven fundamental categories provide a list of the recurring themes that brain-based researchers use as documentation and that this thesis will also utilize. Erlauer has been an educator pr actitioner at the kindergarten, 3 rd grade, and 7 th grade levels. She has also served as a coordinator for gifted students. He r research on classroom brain-based learning, experien ces, and masters of science degree, complete with a principal and curriculum license, have all prep ared her for the task of synthesizing the most recent brain-based research; additio nally, she provides fellow educators with practical classroom implementation guidelines. Her knowledge in the area of brain-based education is such that the Un iversity of Wisconsins College of Professional Studies and other colleges, offer graduate and underg raduate level courses based largely upon her work. She has authored and coauthored various articles a nd books on brain-based learning. Erlauer is currently an elementary school principal and ac tively presents brainbased research at conferences (McGraw-Hill, 2000-2005). Erlauers key concepts consist of emotional wellness and safety, body moveme nt, student choice, elements of time, enrichment, assessment and feedback, and collaboration. The second question I ask is how do these brain-based techniques impact student learning in a positive manner? The impact appears to be different than that of curriculum programs still under development which contin ue to permeate educational systems in 1
hopes of improving student learning. Brain-comp atible research is helping teachers to positively impact student learning by explaining to teachers how to support students with their academic and social needs. For example, one of the seven main areas this literature review of brain based strategies delves into is providing a safe and supportive environment for all students. Maintaining an emotionally safe classroom appears to improve student learning through stress reduction. Understanding the concept of emotional wellness may assist educators in understanding how emotions in the school environment can both negatively and positiv ely impact learning (Cain & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; T ileston, 2004). The litera ture shows that it is important that educators become familiar with and understa nd the general categories of brain-based learning techniques as a means to enhance student learning. As Wolfe (2001) clearly states The more we understand the brain, the better we will be able to design instruction to match how it learns best (p. 2). Brain-based learning is generally defined as the unde rstanding of the relationship between the educational environment and th e complexities of the human brain. Brainbased learning requires basic knowledge of the specific areas of the brain that are impacted and then manipulating the classroom to provide a positive learning environment to increase academic growth (Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 1996, 2005; Jones, 2003; Sprenger, 2002; Wolfe, 2001). This thesis examines researched tech niques and strategies of brain-based classrooms, the impact of utilizing these con cepts, and how teachers can incorporate such techniques as providing authen tic learning opportunities that include hands-on activities, 2
making connections to real-life applications and potential career ap plications, and also offering students choices and options throughout the instructional day. Writers Bias I am an elementary and middle school e ducator who has experi enced the constant and often distracting shifting of the curriculum focus towa rds various programs and the never-ending pursuit of new theories designe d to minimize the achievement gap or at least make adequate yearly gains. From this perspective, it is my intention to identify within Erlauers (2003) seven conceptual areas what researchers call brain-based techniques and how teachers might use them to positively impact students. This thesis reviews multiple strategies educators may in corporate into the learning environment in accordance with research that supports brai n-based classrooms as a way to enhance student learning. Structure and Focus Various documents from the body of literature used for this discussion include books, peer-reviewed journals, databases such as LexisNexis and Wilsonweb along with other Internet Web sites. This paper focuses on and explores the current discussion on brain-based research. It shows how brainbased techniques may assist ed ucators in better meeting students needs. Research reveals how impor tant it is for teachers to adapt their classrooms to meet both the emotional and academic needs of students (Cain & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Sprenger, 2002; Wolfe, 2001). Based on previous study of this topic, I located several researchers in the field of learning and memory who specify that negative stress app ears to be the most harmful factor that interferes with 3
learning. It also appears essent ial that teachers possess the necessary skills to create a learning environment that provides safe har bor, trust, and the appropriate level of challenge to eradicate or at best minimize the deleterious effects of negative stress as perceived by students (Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 1998, 2005; Sprenger, 2002). From my current white-middl e class perspective, I view my teaching experiences at predominately low socioeconomic schools, as personal and releva nt experience with students experiencing stress. These stude nts come from neighborhoods and home environments where financial capital is limite d in contrast with my adult experiences. These students stress levels are often compound ed because they have little or no control over their environment. Self-confidence may al so be negatively impacted by stress. As Jones (2003) states, A common concern in challenging child ren, however, is that it can cause stress. Excessive stress is counterprodu ctive to learning, not to mention to the emotional health of the child (p. 86). One researcher specifically suggests that teachers can meet stressed students needs on a daily basis when brain-based techniques are frequently and consistently implemented (Sprenger, 2002). Once teachers experience the positive impact on students from using several brain-based strategies, it is lik ely that they will be able to incorporate other researched techniques, such as reducing classroom stre ss, allowing for appropriate movement and choice, and making curriculum meaningful th rough cognitive challenges, projects, and enrichment, once teachers experience positive impact on students through utilization of several brain-based strategies. Background Issues 4
Researchers suggest that brain-based classrooms positively affect students learning (Cain & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Sprenger, 2002). Such results tend to support my query: How do brain-ba sed techniques positively impact student learning? Here I review the literature on brain-based techniques and how the learning environment can be changed by utilizing brai n-based concepts (Cain & Cain, 1991; Cain, Cain, McClintic, & Klimek, 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 1996, 2005; Sprenger, 2002). Having students learn early in their educational journey abou t their brain and brain-based concepts, such as how to ha ve positive social, stress management, and coping skills, might help produce young citizens who can better contribute to our communities and who will be prepared for the stressful economic global community they will find themselves competing in as they reach adulthood. As Darling-Hammond, Bransford, LePage, Hammerness, and Duffy (2005) st ate, Informational processing is beneficial to help people learn about the cognitive processes that underlie their own abilities to learn and solve problems. This knowledge is often cal led metacognition. (p. 57). These authors further state that explaining metacognition to students has been undertaken where teachers say, You are the owners and operato rs of your own brain. But it came without an instruction book. It pays to learn how it works (p. 57). Classroom Teacher Concerns As an elementary teacher of several y ears, I have found that many elementary school teachers are weary of changing their educational focus as text book adoptions occur. Researchers and curriculum devel opers tout these la test programs as a product that will impact student learning and assist in cl osing the achievement gap. I have taught in several schools and school systems that have invested in numerous products and 5
expended tremendous amounts of time, money, and energy adopting new products, materials, and programs. In my opinion, all t oo often, when the results are not what were expected or a state requirement was not met, a new program is ushered in to account for the short fall, and the cycle repeats. Not only are resources wasted, but many teachers feel little or no sense of accomplishment in terms of real progress, growth, or change in student learning. I have heard many complaints from educat ors that the constant redirecting of the educational focus does not allow for contin uity to achieve acade mic growth. In my opinion formed from personal observations these new programs do not remain in implementation long enough for educators to accurately gauge whether positive results could have been garnered. In the educationa l arena, where immediate results are in high demand, there seems to be little willingness to adhere to a program if academic growth does not meet the local, state, or federal re quirements. Pressure from all levels in the educational system pulls educators from pr oduct to product in hopes of finding a way to educate students that hastens closing the achievement gap. In contrast, brain-based strategies have the proven poten tial to assist teachers to depend more on their own skills to positively impact student learning rather than relying on a revol ving product purchased when dollars are available. What Is Brain-Based Instruction? Brain-based instruction is the process of focusing pr imarily on the learners learning by understanding how the brain functions and incorporates new information into its schema. Jensen (1996) explains this lear ning style as An approach to learning which favors the brains best natura l operational principles, with the goal of attaining maximum 6
attention, understandi ng, meaning and memory (p. i). Th e emphasis is no longer placed on what the teachers lecture is about but rather on what each learner in the classroom is doing or learning (Erlauer, 2003). The educator creates the environment and coordinates the events in that setting in order to meet the learners emotional, social and academic needs. A key concept in brainbased learning is that the le arner requires a challenging, supportive learning environment wh ile the educator facilitate s the learning process as educational activities transpir e (Cain & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jones, 2003; Sprenger, 2002). Erick Jensen is one notable author in the area of brain-based learning and research. In Teaching with the Brain in Mind (2005), he states that If you want to understand human learning youd be tter understand the brain (p. ix). Researchers in this area of study are sending this same message to educators. Many of the authors of the books used in this thesis, began their work with a section that provide s the reader with the physiology of the brain and explains why it is important to have a ba sic understanding of the primary functions and interactions within the brain (Cain & Ca in 1991; Hart, 1983; Jensen 2005; Smilkstein, 2003; Sprenger, 2002; Tileston, 2004; Wolfe, 2001). Research demonstrates that what brain-ba sed researchers classi fy as brain-based techniques have actually been in existence si nce the beginning of education. In essence, educators intuitively noticed what techniques worked best with their students and repeated those efforts. Brain-based research ers are identifying the areas of the brain where activity is present wh en the brain is learning (E rlauer, 2003; Jensen, 1998, 2005; Sprenger, 2002; Wolfe, 2001). Some researcher s are suggesting that ce rtain strategies can be employed in the classroom to replicate the opportunity for the brain to transfer 7
information into short-term memory and fi nally secure the learning into long-term memory (e.g., Jensen, 1998; Wolfe, 2001). Although many teachers naturally use some brain-based techniques, Erlauer (2003) and others show how teachers could use even more from the vast array of researched techniques to impact the lear ning environment for the good of their pupils (Cain & Cain, 1991; Jones, 2003; Smilkst ein, 2003; Sprenger, 2002; Wolfe, 2001). Tileston (2004) encourages teachers to creat e patterns and connections between what the learner already knows and the ne w learning. as well as provi de students with examples and non-examples to help brains build patter ns (p. 44). Respect, challenge, safety and opportunity to learn naturally are some of the brain-based strategies Smilkstein (2003) discusses. Brain-based strategies are not products or programs available for purchase. Rather, researchers propose that brain-base d strategies and techniques are changes in teacher behavior. However, these behavioral ch anges must be long-term if the learner is to be positively impacted. Since a product is not involved, teachers wi ll be responsible for sustaining the change. Researchers say that school-based educators who institute the techniques can impact the learners environment and therefore e nhance the learning of their students (Cain, & Cain, 1991; Erla uer, 2002; Jones, 2003; Sprenger, 2002). Importance of Brain-Based Classrooms Brain research shows that when a student s needs are met, retention of what is taught increases. Much of this gain is attributed to the positive interaction between the student and his or her environment (Cai n & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 1998, 2005; Sprenger, 2002). This research suggests th at educators might benefit from having a 8
basic understanding of the relatio nship between the brain and the learning environment as well as how to better develop and capitalize on a positive classroom. The literature reviewed did not produ ce findings regarding how many teacher education programs are incorporating brain-based instruction into their degree programs. However, Jensen (2005) does have a formal br ain-based program that he provides for the purpose of educator training via professional development, conferences, speaking, and week-long training sessions. Even without form al professional development or college course work on brain-based strategies, e ducators frequently end up implementing key fundamentals of brain-based instruction on their own accord (Erlauer, 2003). But why should each teacher have to learn these skil ls via cause-and-effect over many years when proven brain-based techniques can be taught a nd put into practice al most immediately? Even if teachers choose not to implement br ain-based techniques, researchers imply that the simple act of being aware of brain-base d research and its findings can inform them about the interactions that occur in their own classrooms each day (Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Wolfe, 2001). Focus on the Brain By design, the brain is formatted for l earning (Erlauer, 2003). From reading the literature, it appears that individuals perc eive their environment based on their own perspective. This perception becomes their sens e of reality. It is im perative that educators understand the importance of developing and enhancing each students aptitude. To do so, educators need to understand the brai ns various parts and functions and how environmental factors impact this vital organ (Cain & Cai n, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 1998; Smilkstein, 2003; Sprenger, 2002; Wolfe, 2001). 9
General Brain-Based Categories This thesis explores the current di scussion on brain-based research and how incorporating brain-based stra tegies and techniques from Erlauers (2003) seven general categories (emotional wellness and safety, body movement, student choice, elements of time, enrichment, assessment and feedback, a nd collaboration) can assist with meeting students needs. With so many educational pr oducts available, it is probable that one of the most influential methods in positively im pacting student learning is how the teacher manages the classroom. Some of the classroom management skills that are also brainbased techniques include setting classroom rules and consequences, using rubrics for assignments, establishing goals, and providing timely, positive feedback. These types of skills appear to support positive academic ga ins in a classroom environment (Cain & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Sp renger, 2002). One might expect teachers to increase the use of brain-based techniques in the classroom as research shows positive academic growth in student learning (Cain et al., 2005). Medical and technological improvements in recent years have provided insight useful to education and the various advances in brain rese arch have been applied to current applications in the classroom with excellent results (E rlauer, 2003; Smilkstein, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Erlauer (2003) expands on the utility of using this newly gained brain knowledge based on recent technological gains by stating, More knowledge about the brain has been exposed in the past few years than in mans entire history. Part of this massi ve knowledge gain is directly due to technological advances, especially in devices capable of measuring the living brain as it is functioning. The data gather ed by researchers is showing that the 10
classroom focus needs to be directed onto the actions of the learners, and what the learners are learning, not how the teachers teach, as has been the case in modern education. (p. 1) To become learning experts, Erlauer (2003) encourages educators to know strategies that have always worked and wh at new teaching and learning methods will be even more successful (p. 1). This astute comment sums up the outlook needed for implementing a brain-based classroom: The good news for educators is that a lthough it will take a lot of time and effort to develop a brain-compatible classroom, no teacher is starting from scratch. Every teacher out there is already successfully implementing effective teaching practices. Many tradit ional instructional strategies are, and have always been, brain compatible. (Erlauer, 2003, p. 2) While striving to implement numerous br ain-based techniques that cover the seven general categories may seem daunting at first, researchers such as Cain and Cain, Erlauer, Jensen, Jones, Smilkstein, Wolfe, and others recognize that most teachers are already utilizing strategies that fit under th e brain-based umbrella of techniques. Many teachers may find that their approach to teac hing is, in fact, a form of brain-based learning. For educators that want a permanen t change to take place, implementation of some techniques may not be enough. In fact, as Erlauer ( 2003) argues lasting improvement requires new practices sustained over a long pe riod of time (p. 3). This is different than the adoption of any innovation. Br ain-based instruction helps learners learn when teachers slowly and deliberately learn, share, modify, reflect, and institutionalize this new teaching method (Erlauer, 2003, p. 2). 11
Most brain-based researchers feel it is necessary for teachers to have a general working knowledge of the brain prior to initiating these strategies (Cain, & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 1998, 2005; Smilkst ein, 2003; Sprenger, 2002, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). With this knowledge, teachers can implement techniques that target specific student needs. Emotional Intelligence and Safe Environments A paramount theme of brain-based res earch is how emotional wellness impacts memories, as reported by Erlauer (2003): Because memories are so closely tied to emotions, teachers bear a heavy responsibility every day because they evoke emotions and mold memories in each of their students. The close tie between emotions and memory can be a double-edged sword for educator s. Weve learned that permanent learning almost always has an emotional component. Teachers can use this knowledge productively by fostering positive emotions in their students while learning, thus strengthening the opportunity for remembering the academic concepts. Conversely, teachers who cause or allow stressful, threatening, or fearful occurrences in the classroom are building memories of those negative issues, rather than important academic concepts. (p. 13) A teacher may want to develop an envir onment that is emotional but in a positive way, so that learning becomes permanent. As Jones (2003) states, rich learning tasks plant rich memories. The more parts of the brain involved in a lear ning activity, the more likely a strong memory will result (p. 103). Educators must manage the classroom for the appropriate level of challenge an d enrichment for all the students. 12
Researchers seem to be communicating that while classrooms must be emotional, the classroom should be free of stress or fear Negative environments tend to detract from learning. Teachers must counter harmful situatio ns with positive environmental factors to diminish the effect. In reference to Maslows Hierarchy of Needs, when individuals are attending to safety and security needs that have been neglected, learning is not the primary function of the brain. As reporte d by Sprenger (2003), W hen all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer contro lling thoughts and behaviors, the need for security becomes active. Our students often show the need for safety and security (p. 3). Unfortunately, schools across America ha ve many students who exhibit signs of stress. Multiple brain-based techniques can be used to combat this situation. Two examples include student choice and st udent seating that encourages student collaboration (Erlauer, 2003; Jensen 1996, 1998, 2005; Sprenger, 2003). Erlauer (2003) identifies categories and techniques for teache rs to implement in the class to diminish stress. These general categorie s are in agreement with the research undertaken by Jensen (2005), Sprenger (2003), and other brain-base d researchers (Smilkstein, 2003; Wolfe, 2001), although the wording each uses is unique. When creating a brain-based classroom, Erlauer (2003) states teachers may find it beneficial to weave Da niel Golemans five emotional intelligence tips into everyday classroom life (p. 14). Insights from the research highlight that teaching emotional self-control to stud ents diminishes stress at the individual level, supports classroom harmony, and supports cognitive growth: Self-awareness (monitor ones own feelings). Self-management (manage the feelings so they do not disrupt life). Self-motivation (maintaining a positive, productive state). 13
Other-awareness (detecting emotions in others and feeling empathetic). Relationship management (interacting sm oothly with others creates positive social skills). (Erlau er, 2003; Sprenger, 2003). Teachers can foster self-esteem by providing meaningful tasks for students to accomplish. Helping students set reasonable goals enables them to build a sense of pride. It also teaches them stress management techniques, such as time management, deep breathing, conflict resolution skills, positive social skills and visualiz ation (Cain et al., 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Jone s, 2003; Smilkstein, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Research has also shown that establis hing classroom rituals and routines for students takes some of the stressful unknow ns out of the school day. Acknowledging individual and group efforts and special events through cel ebrations, community service projects, and programs help foster a sens e of belonging. Actions like having a school mascot, song and colors help create a benefi cial, inclusive community for all students (Cain et al., 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Smilkstein, 2003). Having clear academic and behavioral expectations allows students to predict what is expected of them during school hours. Insisting on respectful behavior toward all people in the school and encouraging students to participate in developing class rules allows them to take ownership of their behavior and develop an attachment to the school (Erlauer, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Body Movement and the Brain Being a role model will always be an important teaching tool for educators, not only in terms of educational issues but for exemplifying healthy living (Erlauer, 2003). The brain is a vital organ that needs the best nutrient-rich foods available. Researchers 14
suggest, as do many nutritionists and doctors, that vegetables, water, sleep, movement, and oxygen are all critical for a healthy brai n primed for learning (Erlauer, 2003, Jensen, 2005; Sprenger, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). One brain-based philosophy is to teac h parents and students about proper nutritionnutrition that will nourish the brain. Many times there are too many hours between breakfast and lunch. Allowing time for a healthy snack in the morning and possibly in the afternoon supports providing nutrition to the brain more frequently. Teachers might also allow students to keep water bottles at their desks for frequent hydration and they should set an example by drinking water. In Were Born to Learn, Smilkstein (2003) shares how The brain is less than 3% of the body we ight. However, it uses 20% of the bodys energy or fuel. There are two sources of this energy or fuel: the glucose in the carbohydrates we eat in food and the oxygen we breathe in from the air and drink in water. (p. 69) Good nutrition and healthy safe environments are essential for academic growth (Jensen, 2005; Smilkstein, 2003; Sprenger, 2003). Just as we want to teach parents about healthy food choices, parents could assist teachers by ensuring that their children get a full 8 hours of sleep each night. Missed sleep cycles equate to the missed transfer of learning into long-t erm memory (Erlauer, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Teachers need to champion opportunities for frequent movement throughout the school day. This activity includes physical e ducation classes, activ e lessons, standing, and stretching exercises. Changing the location of lessons provides vivid memory triggers 15
(Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Jones, 2003). One important research finding about movement is detailed by Jones (2003): Beyond change of state, honoring lear ning preferences, and multisensory input, there are yet other considerations for mindful use of movement in learning tasks. The basal ganglia and cerebellum, important brain regions for control of muscle movement, also help coordinate thought via connections with the frontal lobe (Hannaford, 1995). There now is evidence that the cerebellum stimulates many more areas of the brain than previously thought, including those a ssociated with cognitive function. Movement and learning have constant interplay. (p. 35) Teachers can also enhance the classroo m environment by introducing specific objects into the room. Opening windows to replace stale air and placing plants in classrooms to increase oxygen levels are a dvantages for brain-based classrooms, as oxygen is critical for brain function. Nati onal Aeronautics and Space Administration research shows dracaena, ficus, and chrysa nthemums produce relatively large amounts of oxygen (Jensen, 1998). Through research I have found that teachers need to keep all the aspects of body and brain in mind as they convey knowledge Some minor changes may make learning more permanent. These helpful practices ma y optimize learning and make the difference between gaining a lifelong understanding of a concept or muddling through a lesson one more day. Student Choice 16
Educators should take student curricul um choices into consideration as a motivational force. As Cain and colleagues (2005) inform us, students can learn more effectively when their interests and id eas are engaged and honored (p. 67). One researcher known for his work on rewards is Kohn (1993): he states, Deprive children of self-determination and you deprive them of motivation. If learning is a matter of following orders, students simply will not take to it in the way they would if they had some say (p. 221). Research shows that The human brain likes interesting activi ties, relevant knowledge, and choices. Consequently, students do benefit from having meaningful choices in their learning and school environment because when people are allowed to make choices, interest, motivation, and effort are all increased while stress is decreased. (Erlauer, 2003, p. 74) The belief that students need bac kground knowledge as a foundation for new learning is widely accepted in the teaching profession. Educators are currently in position to benefit from the wealth of new knowledge available because of brain research. Fusing content relevance with choice motivates student s, especially when discussions apply to future careers. A brain-based teacher emphasi zes the direct and indirect links between curricular areas for students, and explains how content overlaps. This style of teaching includes choices for experien tial, authentic learning opportunities through hands-on learning simulations, guest sp eakers, and field trips (Cai n et al., 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jones, 2003). 17
Educators can use the element of stud ent choice to build background knowledge. Typically students are more motivated to learn if they have a say in the topic. Jensen (2003) sums up the student choice and motivation connection this way, Brain states rule our motivations a nd behaviors. Start with meaningful, developmentally appropriate curric ulum, and add learner choice and positive social groupings. Create the challenge, build a supportive environment with compelling biases and get out of the way! (p. 111) Teaching students about multiple intellig ences, learning styles, and how their brain functions may help with metacogniti on. Brain-based teachers consider planning lessons to accommodate students individua l needs (Cain et al., 2005; Sprenger, 2002, 2003). One teaching technique that incorporates multiple intelligences is project-based learning. This method regularly allows for indi vidual choices and fost ers research skills. In her book Differentiation through Learning Styles and Memory (2003), Marilee Sprenger explains how differences in learning styles occur: Just as most of us develop a prefer ence for using one hand or the other, and that becomes dominant, many people likewise appear to have dominate sensory pathways. Throug h their experiences, genetics, and brain development, one of these sens es has come to operate better for them than others. (p. 33) This might explain the need for teachers to provide options for differentiated levels or expectations of assignments to acc ount for those who need an extra challenge or have learning difficulties. Teachers need to identify when student learning is not happening. Knowing how the brain chunks and categorizes information is useful to 18
teachers in helping students connect new info rmation to prior knowledge (Erlauer, 2003; Jones, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Teachers also need to know their student s learning needs and how to adjust the learning environment to accommodate those needs. Otherwise, the actual amount of learning may be reduced becau se the learner is not motivated or plainly does not understand what is to be learned (Jones, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Elements of Time in th e Brain-Based Classroom Time is the one resource that can neve r be replaced and the one thing teachers never seem to have enough of in a day. The th ree recurring main points in the literature dealing with time are time on task, need fo r more time, and opportune time periods for learning (Erlauer, 2003; Smilkstein, 2003). Erlauer (2003) highli ghts research that shows that students need a break in mental activity as often as every 20 minutes. This mental break can be as simple as a change in the way students are working with the topic at hand. For example, if a teacher has lectured, then a short time for students to discuss the topic with a nei ghbor will allow the students brains to shift. The students will still be on topic, however in a new way that will enable the brain to remain focused. (p. 77) Because time is irreplaceable and needed for learning to go from short-term to long-term memory, teachers must be conscious of the clock. Smilkstein states that those teachers cognizant with brain-based strategi es would give students more opportunities and time to grow their knowledge structures through sufficient spec ific practicing and processing (p. 128). Erlaue rs research shows that Practice over time for mastery of a ne w skill. After four practice sessions, students will reach a competence level of 47.9[%] of complete mastery. It 19
will take students 20 more practice sessions, about 24 times in all, to reach 80[%] competency. For stor age into long-term memory, it is bette r to learn a few concepts very thoroughly than many concepts vaguely. (p. 82) The use of hands-on activities can assi st with the thorough exploration of new concepts. For years, manipulatives have b een encouraged in all educational subjects because they allow abstract concepts to b ecome concrete for the learner (Cain et al., 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Smilkst ein, 2003; Sprenger, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Brain researchers are finding that teaching practices that help students make the greatest gains are not the rote practice drills, but rather ha nds-on learning activities that include discussions, projects, reflection, looki ng for patterns, enrichment, sharing with peers, and comparing and cont rasting, or problem solving (Cain et al., 2005; Jensen, 2005; Smilkstein, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). Teachers us ually forgo all the extras for the rote practice to learn a subjects co ntent. Research has shown th at practice through application of the higher-level thinking skills positively a ffects the brains long-term memory (Cain et al., 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jense n, 2005; Jones, 2003; Sprenger, 2003). One of the more interesti ng aspects about time is th e concept that there are opportune time periods for l earning within a persons lif e (Erlauer, 2003, p. 86). David Sousa and other researchers are finding that these favorab le periods are like open windows during certain spans of time in maturation for optimum learning to occur. While skills may be learned at many points during a persons life, there are specific phases where certain skills seem to be more readily learned (Cain et al., 2005 ). What I found that impacts the teaching profession most from Erla uers research on brain-based strategies is that the windows for maximum learning open an d close for all of the following skills 20
prior to the age of 10. That would be fourth grade for the following: Math/Spatial (1 years), Language/Vocabulary (9 months years), Gross Motor Skills (14 months years), Emotions (birth.5 years old), S econd Language (1 year years), Fine Motor Skills (5 years), Playing Music (3 years), Visual and Auditory Acuity (3 months 6 months), Logical Reasoning (7 0 years), and Reading (4.5years). Erlauer (2003) emphasizes that these are not the only opportunities to learn these skills; rather, these are the primary periods fo r growth for these skil ls. Children develop at different rates, and therefor e, enter or exit these periods at different paces. These are only the general time frames for each to occur. Just as there are opportune times to learn, there are critical times during a lesson when l earning takes place. Th e first 20 minutes of a lesson are golden. After this timeframe, the br ain needs a break from the task at hand. This means teachers might want to switch ac tivities to accommodate the brains need to process learning (Erlauer, 2003; Jones, 2003). In effect, then, students may not be able to pay attention to any one form of instruction for more than 20 minutes. Addre ssing students attention shift with a new teaching method before their attention travels away from the topic at hand is one brainbased technique that can be used to help enha nce greater student focu s. When learning is interesting and fun, students typically want to stay on task. Another brain-based technique to keep students engaged is to call on them randomly rather than selecting only those with raised hands. In a brain-based setting random selection would be instituted in a supportive manner, not conducted in a stressf ul way (Erlauer, 2003; Jones, 2003). One way teachers can accomplish random questioning without placing undue stress on 21
students is to use open-ended que stioning techniques that refl ect respect for all types of responses. Reviewing concepts taught is important to brain-based teaching. Some concepts take 24 repetitions before mastery is ach ieved. Time for reflection during everyday classroom practice allows students brains to develop meaning and personal relevance from the concepts introduced (Jones, 2003). Integrating a subjects content into other academic areas shows the student the cross-curriculum relevance. The more connections made, the more the brain is able to make sens e of learning. The more the brain is able to make more sense of learning, the more time is available for higher-level thinking and thorough application of the lessons skills (Cai n et al., 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Sprenger, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). The use of the 20-2-20 rule may help students retain learning, re-explain within 20 minutes, review and apply within 2 days, reflect upon and further apply within 20 days (Erlauer, 2003, p. 96). Because brain-based researchers such as Erlauer, Sousa and others suggest that there are opportune time periods for learning, educators at all levels might want to find ways to convey this knowledge about learni ng and development to parents, caregivers, and guardians. Time is required for the brain to fully develop and function at its highest level. Placing premature, excessively high e xpectations on students is not a sound brainbased practice. Arranging the classroom schedule with circadian rhythms in mind might maximize the use of the brains most alert times. All four school dist ricts I have taught in (North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Flor ida) have required or highly suggested teachers to instruct the most important lesson first thing in the morning when the brain is 22
most fresh. Educators should try to incor porate active learning dur ing the downtime of the day (early afternoon) to keep the brain and body e ngaged in learning. Rotating various subjects during the down time of the day will lessen the focus solely on one subject. The novelty of a sliding subject sc hedule may encourage students to keep their brain focused, while some students may not ha ndle the constant change. Teachers using brain-based strategies would be wise to take into consideration the overriding educational impact. Brain-based educators should also be aware of the ideal time periods for learning within a teachers lesson. As Erlaue r (2003) and Sousa (1998) point out, Think of lessons in 22or 44-minute bl ocks of time depending on the learners age. Help the learners by using the first 10 minutes (1st prime time) of each lesson for teaching the newest and or most important information. Do not use that time for review or non-instructional tasks. Alter the mode of learning during the twofour minutes of downtime in the middl e of the lesson to provide a break to the brain. Use the last 10 minutes (2nd prime time) of each lesson for tying the new information to past learning, or for a pplication of the new concepts by using hands on techniques if possible (Erlauer, 2003, p. 96). Educators may never have all the time th ey want or need to positively impact cognitive growth of students, but by deve loping time management skills vital to maximize learning, teachers might see their students achieve higher academic growth. Practicing strategies that maximize time is most important. Time is limited, and it is crucial that teachers make the most of what is available to them. Enrichment of Environments to Promote Academic Growth 23
Enrichment for the brain is the proce ss of growing hundreds of dendrites, much like the image of a tree root ball, through the process of providing problem solving and musical activity, as well as providing for a physical envi ronment that is intriguing (Erlauer, 2003). Problem solving, as Erlaue r (2003) describes in relation to a study by another researcher (Rob ert Slywester), is, Most beneficial when it invol ves various sections of the brain at the same time; multiple neural pathways are developed in students minds when we facilitate problem solving by pairing a class discu ssion with building a model, sketching a picture, or watching a demonstr ation. Plus, the brain really does not care if it ever discovers a solution or not; it is the highlevel thinking process that develops new dendrites in the brain, making it gr ow more intelligent. (p. 98) Teachers in the brain-based classroom primar ily play the role of facilitator and/or supporter as students grapple with problems and issues (Erlauer, 2003; Sprenger, 2003). It is when students problem solve and inve stigate possible outcomes that the brain develops alternative neural pathways. These pathways have come to be evidence of the brain functioning in an enrich ed environment. The student must do the mental exercises for the growth to occur (Cain et al., 2005; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Sprenger, 2003; Wolfe, 2001). One common way to enrich the learning e nvironment is through the use of music. Music is known to impact peoples emoti ons and moods. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans have been used to track areas of the brain that are activ ated based on the type of music that is played and by what emotions surface as a result of the music. Music has the capacity to cause the brai n to release endorphins, a na tural pain reliever for the body 24
(Erlauer, 2003; Jones, 2003; Sprenger, 2003). One interesting fact research has uncovered is that in all cultures observe rs were able to identify th e intended mood the music was supposed to illicit (Erlauer, 2003). Other objects to bring into the brain-base d classroom to positively impact learning include word walls and other curriculum-b ased posters. Such items may be helping teachers more than previously suspected or known. Two brain-based researchers findings tell us that over half of what a st udent learns does not come from what the teacher is saying but rather from the surr ounding environment (Jensen, 1998; Erlauer, 2003, p. 105). This may very well coincide with the attention span of children. As minds shift from listening to instruc tion, students could be focusing on the print material of their environment or anything else that catches their eye in the room. Erlauer (2003) has shown that even the aromas of a classroom have been identified as environmental impacts. She explai ns that Fresh air is preferable, and scents such as peppermint, lavender, lemon, jasmin e, and lily of the valley have shown to improve performance and increase alertness and productivity (p. 111) Erlauers (2003) research has found that some scientists have indicated that smell might affect the limbic system in the brain, which controls some of the emotional and memory operations. This means smells can generate memories and strong emotional responses (p. 111). I was astounded to learn, th at by age 5, childrens brai ns are well on their way to being weeded of unused dendrites. Regrowing or growing dendrites re quires more effort from learners and especially educators to crea te the environment for the growth to occur, particularly if the windows of opportunity disc ussed earlier have passed or if the child is 25
under stress. How many of our st udents do not have any stress at all? This is how Erlauer (2003) summarizes this maturation process, If brain cells are not sp arked to grow new dendrit es through learning, they will die. That is why babies are born w ith trillions of brain cells, yet adults have only a couple hundred billion left. Sadly, trained educators typically have very little influence over childr en from infancy through 5 years old, when those trillions of brain cells are especially hungry for growth. However, it is never too late to grow new dendrites by learning new information and skills. Teachers have an awesome and exciting responsibility for changing students lives by helping them to learn. (p. 111). Student Assessment and Feedback States and districts are holding teach ers accountable for teaching essential curriculum, and state tests are monitoring that instruction via stat e test scores. Brainbased researchers also see teaching essential kno wledge and social skills as important to brain-based instruction. Erlauer (2003) states how assessment is important, As the paradigm shifts in education toward teaching more meaningful concepts and skills, assessment practi ces must change as well. In-depth evaluation of learning means assessment must be an ongoing part of the learning process and, as often as possibl e, should be as authentic as the learning. (p. 114) Teachers typically use in-class assessment s aligned with their instruction. These assessments may represent the students actual learning much more clearly than 26
standardized tests. Th rough careful analysis of standa rdized test data, instructional strengths and weaknesses may be more likely to be appropriately identified and corrected. Erlauer (2003) disti nguishes between tests and a ssessment: Tests are a form of assessment. Alternative assessments are all forms of assessment other than standardized tests. Alternative assessment s are student-centered and curriculum-based and are therefore far more brain-compatib le than standardized tests (p. 116). One of the critical aspects of assessment is to know what kind of assessment, why assessment is occurring, and what the data reveal to the analyz er. In the National Academy of Educations (2005) book A Good Teacher in Every Classroom the point is made that the demands on teachers have gr own with the advent of standards-based reforms that presume that teachers will use data about student learni ng to help students acquire skills they have missed or are strugg ling to learn (p. 15). Of course teachers need to conduct assessments th at match the instructional de livery method used to teach the content. The results may then be used to drive the instructional decisions and choices. Teachers must always consider how valid assessments are before using them (Berk, 2001; Erlauer, 2003). The most informal form of assessment in the brain-based classroom is to simply watch and listen to students. These day to day, real-time observations are what teachers focus on to analyze and make decisions for the academic goals, the styl es of instructional delivery, and specific content decisions that are ultimately made. In contrast to the informal assessment process is formal assessment. This is product-based assessment, such as essays, performances, short answer questions, oral 27
presentations, portfolios, exhibitions, and demonstrations. One im portant distinction Erlauer (2003) highlights is that, To be considered authentic, or brain co mpatible, an assessment should involve the students in meaningful, significant tasks th at are open-ended, occur over time, and allow for the demonstration of competence in more than one way. This form of assessment involves high-level thinki ng and usually problem solving, with predetermined high standards that are known by both the teacher and the student. (p. 119) Brain-based assessments take into account many different avenues for students to demonstrate what they have learned, not just through multiple choice questions. As we know, tests are just one form of assessment. The use of product-based assessments in addition to or instead of written tests can give the evaluator a better understanding of what the student really understands, not just what he or she is able to recall from shortterm memory. To obtain a greate r understanding of what a stude nt has learned, it is better for educators to implement a wide range of assessment practices, both formal and informal (Berk, 2001; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen, 2005). Assessment is not the end of learning but should guide continued learning. Some suggested ways to implement varying assessment is to match assessment to the instruction, and conversely, to consider students differing multiple intelligences when designing assessment methods, infusing asse ssment into daily practices, and making assessments as authentic or real-world as possible. Important brain-based assessment skills for teachers include having students synthesize, evaluate or apply the new 28
knowledge and promoting emotional wellness and safe environment principles in assessment situations (Berk, 2001; Erlaue r, 2003; Jensen, 2005; Jones, 2003). In the brain-based classroom, the other half of assessment is effective feedback. Jensen (2005) explains that getting enough good-quality, accurate feedback may be the single greatest variable for improving learning. The feedback must be corrective and positive enough to tell the student what the desired change must be (p. 55). Feedback can be either planned or spontaneous in natu re. Educators may choose to give individual or whole group feedback, but it is important th at it is prompt and specific. Allowing for logical, natural feedback to o ccur is also important. Examples given for this included the crash of a paper airplane model to the appl ause from peers. Erlauer (2003) adds that educators can make immediate, interactive feedback part of the learning process so students can avoid learning a nd practicing something that is incorrect. This has implications in assigning homework. Erlaue r recommends that students should never be allowed to practice skills they have not b een taught. This is different from problem solving and struggling through one problem to discover knowledge (Berk, 2001; Jensen, 2005; Jones, 2003). Student Collaboration Collaboration is the process of lear ning through social communication with others, self-reflection, and gr oup reflection based on cooperation in an intellectual effort, such as cooperative learning. Erlauer (2003) supports the premise put forth by Cain and Cain (1991) that the cooperative learning m odel is brain-base compatible because as Erlauer reports, 29
An innate function for the brain is to search for meaning. Collaborative learning provides the brain with the means to explore new information in a problem solving situation. Humans are social and, therefore, like to learn from others and with others. Working with other people tends to elic it stronger emotional responses to the work. . Emotionally laden informati on tends to be remembered by the brain easily and permanently. Humans like to contemplate varying vi ewpoints. Multiple viewpoints tend to occur regularly in collaborative learning. Working toward a common goal is ingrai ned in collaborative teamwork. The brain tends to function well with the ch allenge of a goal, and students like the feeling of success after reaching a goal. People can understand a large, general concept while simultaneously learning and working with related specific detail. Collaborative groups are designed to be supportive and cooperative by nature; competition and the threat these evoke are not present. We know the brain functions best in a non-threatening setting because it can focus on high-level thinking using its frontal cortex, rather than its reptilian brain which operates under fight-or-flight condition. (pp. 136) Working collaboratively does not come naturally to most students; therefore, they need to be taught the social sk ills to be able to do so. They also need to know the how and why of collaboration. Cl ear goals are essential for groups to be successful on designated academic tasks. Erlauer further states 30
Collaborative teamwork occurs when the group has a goal to reach and is cooperatively striving to accomplish the task s at hand in order to achieve success with the goal. Students will do this, too, as long as they know the purpose and the expectations for the work. (p. 145) Brain-based teachers predetermine a goal or purpose for the work giving a sense of purpose for the brain to work toward (C ain & Cain, 1991; Erlaue r, 2003). The teacher partners students frequently, and in varying teams, even letting students choose, sometimes with the teacher choosing, and so metimes using random assignment. Teachers instruct students on active listening skills. The use of pair-share is also a collaborative brain-based strategy used to minimize student st ress in risking an answer in front of the entire class (Cain & Cain, 1991; Erlauer, 2003). Impact on Education What the research on brain-based educatio nal techniques seems to indicate is that teachers should continue to learn how to implement classroom techniques that support students growth both socially and academi cally. There is nothing suggested from the resources reviewed that would harm student s or educators. However, as with any technique or program that is carried out to an extreme, an unhealthy educational atmosphere could develop. When one looks ove r the strategies that are recommended as well as proven to have a positive impact on the education of children, it is hard to comprehend how any educator could determine brain-based educational techniques, used appropriately, would be unacceptable for the classroom environment. From my research on the topic, I be lieve it is important for educational researchers to adopt and adapt current brain research so that the classroom teacher may 31
better and more effectively meet the emotiona l and academic needs of the students. In the United States, far too many students are droppin g out of education at the earliest legally allowed age, hurting them and ultimately our society. Education must begin to foster a positive environment that interests students in the academic task long enough to provide the most basic high school equivalent educ ation possible. The impact on these students and our country as a whole would likely prove to be negati ve should we fail. Summary and Concluding Thoughts There seems to be many small but signifi cant steps, strategies, techniques, and considerations that educator s need to be aware of to assist in enhancing the young students brain and cognitive development. From reviewing the literature, it appears that the sooner teachers implement brain-compatib le techniques in their classrooms, the stronger the learning outcomes will be. A caution to new practitioners of brain-based strategies is to view the tec hniques not as recipes to fix stude nts but rather as techniques to be practiced in a reflective, thoughtful, and knowledgeable manner in order to assist students obtain positive academic and social growth. It may appear overwhelming when one looks at all the tips and techniques that go into creating a functioning brain-based learning environment. It can almost appear unattainable at first glance; however, upon refl ection, one can find that multiple layers of brain activities are ongoing in the classroom With much concentration and planning, brain-based applications seem to be natura lly infused into teac hing practices and on a daily basis. Making the transformation into a brain-based supportive environment will require dedicated, long-range planning and flexibility in teaching and assessment styles. It is 32
possible, but teachers, including myself, must be reflective enough to realize whether we are actually implementing change s that fit this research-based model of instruction and learning. Future Directions of Brain-Based Education This review of the literature lends itself to a follow-up work that would include a study of the brain based techniques that elem entary teachers perceive they are using. Other future areas of intere st to educators might include the growing body of knowledge in the areas of gender differences and multiple intelligences, and how the differences both physically and physiologically impact male a nd female brains in the classroom. A brain based classroom may be the optimal learni ng environment that incorporates these differences in learning modalities. One would hope that further studies and discoveries about the workings of the brain and memory would provide greater opport unities for educators to create educational environments where a larger number of student s individual learning needs would be met. The ability to positively impact the achiev ement gap through further brain based study, one that supports learning and increases academic gains in the classroom, should be a goal that future neurological re searchers strive towards as part of their efforts to unlock the secrets of cognition. The more we learn about how the brain learns the more able we will be to prepare Americas children for cl assroom success and also to rise to the economic challenges endemic with globalization. 33
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