5 Ways to a Better Life and Better Brain in 2018

Brain Based

Still deciding what to add to your list of New Year’s resolutions? If you are like many, you might have set a goal that has something to do with health, weight, or fitness. As you wonder whether you really want to spend the next 12 months staring at a Fitbit, a scale, or health goals list, may I suggest you flip that scale upside down and set a new goal to bring your numbers WAY up?

Up?? Seriously??? That’s right!

I’m suggesting you work this year to increase one of the most important numbers in your body and brain that researchers have ever discovered. Before you think I completely lost my mind over the holiday season, hear me out… Read more

How to Improve Brain Function and Reverse Poverty’s Impact on Student Learning

Brian Based

Poverty is everyone’s problem. The “new normal” in U.S. public schools is that 51 percent of all students come from low-income families. This has far-reaching consequences because of poverty’s effect on a child’s brain.

For years, research has shown that socioeconomic status is associated with differences in school readiness, cognitive development and achievement. Recent work by two sets of researchers have further demonstrated how poverty is tied to structural differences in the brain, with the largest influence observed among children from the poorest households. These differences include the areas of the brain responsible for working memory, impulse regulation, visuospatial skills, language and cognitive control.

While simply asking students to “try harder” isn’t an effective solution, the good news is that the influence of poverty on learning and achievement can be mediated by improving children’s brain development and function. Here are three ways to jumpstart learning for students of poverty.

Build Cognitive Capacity Every Day

Cognitive skills are like apps that run the brain. For students who struggle, including children of poverty, telling them to pay attention or try harder isn’t going to accomplish much if their brains are not working effectively or efficiently.

Cognitive capacity is a core skill. It is the sum of our concurrent mental actions that learn, process, recall, calculate, reason and make decisions. Fortunately, cognitive skills can be taught, and the best place to start is with working memory.

Think of working memory like the brain’s workspace. It is a skill regulated by the brain that allows us to retain and manipulate information from different sources at the same time. Working memory is required for every higher order thinking process, no matter what the subject area.

Children who live in poverty are especially at risk because stress can limit working memory. In many schools, children with weak working memory are labeled as inattentive, restless or unmotivated, when they may simply be forgetting basic instructions or information before they begin the task at hand.

Teachers can be trained in brain-based learning to help students build and strengthen working memory. They can also implement simple strategies in the classroom, such as giving directions in multiple formats, organizing information into smaller chunks, making it multisensory or involving students in peer teaching.

Neuroscience-based interventions, such as the Fast ForWord software program, can also help build cognitive capacity, including working memory, attention and processing skills. Many districts report that technology-based programs are particularly useful because building working memory requires consistency and intensity, which can be difficult for teachers with limited time and a classroom full of students with diverse needs.

Engage the Rules of Neuroplasticity

Whether it is teachers or research-based software programs tasked with building students’ cognitive capacity, they must engage the rules of neuroplasticity:

  • Students must buy into it. If the brain isn’t buying it, the brain isn’t changing.
  • The skill must be coherent to the student, with increasing challenge and complexity.
  • The best formats are game-like.
  • Students’ brains need quality error-correction.
  • Students need 30 to 50 minutes a day, three to five days a week for a minimum of three months.
  • Once students get it right, they still need practice.

Indeed, personalized, intensive practice is what changes the brain and creates new connections—and it can happen fast. The impact of working memory training on gray matter can be seen in as little as five days. In a single school year, working memory training can yield gains equal to 1.5 to 2.5 years of progress.

Create a Systemic Mindset

Building brain capacity in children requires systemic change. A quick glance at student performance in many districts illustrates that giving students “more of the same” is not working. The reality is that most interventions do not fundamentally address cognitive capacity, and they are not working quickly enough. This is particularly true for students of poverty, who arrive at and often leave elementary school years below grade level.

To close that gap, students need to make at least 1.5 to 2 years of academic progress for each school year. While a year of growth per school year is good, it is not going to work for children who enter school two or three years behind grade level.

It is important to keep in mind that there is nothing deficient about the brains of children from poverty; they simply need more practice with the right skills. Today’s districts need school board members, district and school leaders, and teachers who have a higher vision about how to help students using high-yield strategies, such as building working memory.

So the question is, what is your district’s plan to move your students forward? Instead of telling students what to do—like “pay attention” or “work harder”—teach students how to do it. This is what successful school districts are doing.

What to Do Next

The two largest contributing factors to student achievement are well researched. First, it is essential to create a sense of collective staff efficacy. Staff must have a common belief that, “We can succeed in spite of all other factors when we work together.”

Second, the district and each of its schools must foster the vehicle to make the changes: high-performing teams. Effective teams have a data-driven focus on both personalizing and improving instruction with deliberate practice. That’s it: a school culture of success and teams to make it happen.

Focus on what matters most; the school culture and teams that foster better instruction. This is where the change will show up first and last the longest.

Eric Jensen’s article originally appeared on www.edsurge.com

5 Things Every Educator Should Know About Cognitive Capacity

Now, it seems like everybody wants to boost their student’s cognitive skills these days, so let’s explore what every educator should know about the topic.

How to Boost Engagement and Effort in 3 Simple Steps (Part 3 of 4)

Brain Based Teaching

Starting up after the holidays can be a bit of a challenge. But this month’s newsletter has answers for you. This will be the 3rd of a four-part series on the real “how to” for student engagement and effort. Read more

Boost Student Engagement and Effort in 6 Simple Steps

student engagement brain-based

You may not have big challenges getting your students to work hard in school, but many of your colleagues DO have a tough time. At least that’s what they tell me! This is the first of a 4-part series on the real “how to” for student engagement and effort.

The first six steps you should know about are… Read more

You Can Be Running Your Own Brain Even Better…

Brain Based Teaching 

Discover the Hidden “Map” of Your Emotions

You may not know this man’s name, yet you see the results of his work all the time. His work shows up when you go through a TSA security line at the airport. His work shows up in the movie you loved watching (“Inside Out” by Disney/Pixar) and his work shows up in the classroom where you can get an insight into student behaviors. He has influenced the Dali Lama and met with him many times.

The one researcher you should know about is…

The Research

The one researcher you should know about is Dr. Paul Ekman. Why?

In the classroom, teachers often get upset with a student’s behavior. Inappropriate behaviors will likely puzzle, frustrate, or irritate teachers who have less experience teaching students raised differently than themselves. Still, it’s important to avoid labeling, demeaning, or blaming students. Truth is, many students simply do NOT know HOW to behave. Read more

Facilitating change within schools

WALKERTOWN, N.C. — School isn’t in session yet, but hundreds of educators with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System are already hard at work. Everyone gathered at Walkertown High School is participating in the 2nd Annual Collaborative Learning Conference.

Keynote Speaker Eric Jensen’s message focused on facilitating change within schools and helping the most vulnerable population-students living in poverty- succeed. “My message to teachers is you have far more influence than you think you do, and working with students from poverty can actually be meaningful and even joyful once you have the skillset that can make it all happen,” Jensen said.

“Kids really learn when you bring it to life for them,” Craps said. “We spend so much time teaching the outside world from the inside and being immersed in it for 9 days really helped me realize that I need to take my students outside into the natural world to let them learn about what`s out there, and to explore and let them be curious.”

1,200 staff members attended the conference over a two-day period in early August.

PD Transfer

Professional Development for Teachers

Sometimes readers like you (or I) TRY SO HARD to make changes, then, something simple comes along that seems to make it appear to be so much easier.

Whether you attended my June or July sessions this summer, or ANY other professional development in the last two months, this article is for you. This issue speaks to the power of one or two persons who can make an amazing difference in a school. Yes, that’s all it took to start good things at this high poverty school.

You want to know WHAT they did and HOW they did it? Read more

Dicover How Poverty Changes a Child’s Brain and Ability to Learn

poverty-new-realityPoverty’s Effect on Working Memory

Article from Scientific Learning

If you have a student who simply doesn’t respond well to your directions, listen up.

The student may have weak working memory, a skill that cognition experts say we should be increasingly concerned about because it’s a leading predictor of poor academic success. Eric Jensen, Ph.D., an educator, author and human development specialist who studies brain cognition, says students who appear not to be trying hard enough may see dramatic improvement when we focus on cognitive skills.

Educators, he says, can actually improve cognitive capacity, specifically, working memory and even IQ by using relevant teaching strategies. “DNA is not your destiny”, he adds, saying that students from poverty do not need to repeat their parents’ lack of educational success.  Read more