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Brain-Based Learning: Practical Applications For Teachers

Let’s pop all these ingredients in our “brain-compatible classroom activity generator” and let it help us get practical. We want to combine the science behind emotions, physical movement and socialization. Presto! It just so happens that one of the brain-based learning strategies I use is the engagement of rituals.

Here are the five ingredients of a quality classroom ritual. If you do anything less than ALL five, it will dramatically degrade your results.

  1. The ritual must solve a recurring problem.
  2. It must include and engage everyone.
  3. The ritual must be simple and easy to do.
  4. It must be highly predictable and the students know when it’s going to happen.
  5. The actual event must end up in a positive emotional state.

The use of rituals can make your life easier. If rituals don’t actually solve a problem, kids will lose interest, because there’s no point in doing them. Let’s use, as an example, the problem of starting class, on time, with a good attitude, every single day, for weeks and months on end.

That means you need a ritual, so let’s create one and then we’ll break it down.

Problem to solve: You need to start class.

Ritual name: “Startup response”

When it’s used: Use when students arrive at school from home, or back from recess or lunch.

What do I do: I play a pre-designated “call-back song” and the second it’s over, I say, “If you made it back on time, raise your hand please and say, ‘Yes!'” I also role model the behavior and raise my own hand, saying, “Yes!” Then I say, “Now turn to your neighbor and say, ‘Happy Monday to you!'” (Or, if they’re getting back from recess, it’s, “Welcome back!”)

What the students do: They raise their hand and say, “Yes!” Then they turn to the person nearest himself or herself and say “Happy Monday to you!” (or “Welcome back”.) This silly little process solved a critical problem: to get students quiet, to remind them of the social conditions and get into a positive state. It took 4 seconds and cost you nothing.

I use 10-15 rituals in the “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” 6-Day workshop. This is the best place for you to learn about brain-based learning rituals and other strategies, because you get to experience them live! The best book on rituals is Super Teaching (2008), available from Corwin Press.

This process of integrating brain-based learning rituals into your school (macro) and the classroom (micro) reminds us to cut to the chase: everything you do in your classroom is likely to have SOME effect on the brain.

Brain-based education says, “Be purposeful about it.” Now, go have some fun and make another miracle happen!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Polska Zielona Sieć

The Challenges Involved in Brain-Based Learning



Every New Discipline Has Challenges

Typical challenges involved in brain-based learning include:

  1. finding people and sources you can trust to learn from (websites, famous people, etc.)
  2. deciding on the format or vehicle for learning (in person, on-line, books?)
  3. prioritizing the time to make it happen (learning plus the implementation)

Sorry, there are no shortcuts with the last one of the three. But the other two, we can help you with those challenges involved in brain-based learning. First, here’s how to find people you can trust. First, do they “walk the talk?” This means, when you attend one of their workshops, do they actually role model and use the strategies they are proposing? Jensen workshops will always model what is being taught because:

  1. it shows we believe in what we do, and
  2. it’s easier for you to understand it when you can see it used.

Additionally, Jensen always cites his sources. You can rest assured that every single thing offered, proposed or used is research based, cited and classroom tested. That means you can trust the learning, knowledge and skills you get at every Jensen workshop.

The second of the two challenges refers to the type of “learning format.” We suggest the “PPPA” format.

The first “P” means “paper.” Get one of Jensen’s books on the topic you want to learn about and learn the background, so you already have your brain pre-exposed to the topic.

The second “P” means “in person.” There’s no better way than to get the content in a workshop where you can see, hear and practice every skill.

The third “P” is to go back to your “paper notes” from the workshop when you return to school. Use them as a guide for the final “A”.

“A” is for “apply.” This is where you implement the ideas and experience the joy of success.

All of this new knowledge is based on a brand-new paradigm. The paradigm began with the research, which was eventually aggregated into simple, but powerful principles. Let’s get a quick introduction to the principles because they help you overcome the challenges of brain-based learning.

The challenges come about the same way challenges come about for anything that is new and innovative. The questions are asked, and they can be answered. With the proper research, testing, and validation, we all can find better paths to achievement.

The principles behind the technique…

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Limitations of Brain-based Learning


Nothing is perfect. Limitations of brain-based learning do exist.  No one process or paradigm can solve ALL of the problems in education. The brain itself has limitations, and all of us are part of the process. They are no more difficult than the limitations you find in any other teaching and learning situation. It will take exposure, awareness, skill-building, and time to become adept. But it can be learned in a fun and supportive way.

You can learn the skills and strategies to control how well your students learn.

What is brain-based learning?

Brain-based learning is a new paradigm in teaching that integrates instruction with the optimal method in which the brain learns and stores information. If there weren’t limitations of brain-based learning, as with all learning, then everyone could potentially know everything there is to know.

To understand what it is all about, it is the:

  1. engagement of,
  2. strategies based on, and
  3. principles of how our brain works.

Although brain-based learning takes into consideration the way the brain best retains information, it also is subject to its flaws and weaknesses. The human brain is not optimally designed, nor did it evolve for the purposes of formalized classroom instruction. Thus, there truly are limitations of brain-based learning because it takes people (like you) to implement it and we all have limits on our time and resources.

Here are a couple of examples of limits in a classroom. (more…)