Help Your Students Score Higher on Your Upcoming BIG Tests

Can Relevant Research Help Your Students Score Higher on Your Upcoming BIG Tests?

Let’s focus on something I ordinarily NEVER focus on: testing. As much as I dislike the types, timing, policies, content and uses of existing state and national tests (is there anything I left out?), the reality is, we’d rather our students get higher than lower scores.

I’ll focus on three things that can help your students improve their chances to score up to their potential.

By the way, kids never score above their potential; they’re just not going to randomly make enough lucky right answers time after time after time. (In statistics, it’s called regression to the mean.) But, they often underperform for a host of reasons, even when they should perform much better.

While we could focus on dozens of variables that influence standardized testing, we’ll focus on 1) brain chemistry 2) priming and 3) episodic memory triggers.

Brain Chemistry and Testing
There are three chemicals to focus on for optimal testing results: 1) dopamine (It generally facilitates informational transfer within limbic and cortical networks to promote working memory and reward-seeking behavior, says Luciana, et al. 1998), 2) noradrenaline (It generally promotes a more narrowed focus, sharper attention and improved memory. This system plays a specific role in the regulation of cognitive functions, including sustained attention, working memory, impulse control, and the planning of voluntary behavior.), and 3) glucose (It provides short term energy and, in low to moderate doses, promotes enhanced memory. (Krebs DL, Parent MB., 2005.)

The Power of Priming and Positive Suggestion
Can you influence testing outcomes by “prepping” their brain for success? It has long been proposed that motivational responses that were subtle could serve as priming to affect academic performance. A recent study showed that yes, priming can help students do better. You can prep the brain several ways. One is by showing and asking the students to write them the letter “A” in advance in a certain way. We’ll tell you “how” in a moment. The other one of our two “prepping” strategies is to give peppermints to all kids for your final review, then use peppermints again at the time of the big test (Barker, et al. 2003.) This raises attentional levels and provides glucose for learning and memory.

Location of the Test Itself
We feel stressed when we are in a novel location. Not surprisingly, stress impaired memory when kids were assessed in an unfamiliar surrounding, but not when assessed in the original learning location. (Schwabe L., and Wolf OT., 2009.) In short, if your students can’t be in the test-givers room to learn the material, at least bring them into the testing room and do a review in that room days before the event.

In the paragraphs above, we’ve offered three “angles” for improving the testing outcome. First, the science is solid when you consider each strategy separately. But combined, these strategies may help you get to the next level. The chef, Emeril, would say they could give you “BAM!”… Power. (more…)

Student Engagement Tips: Getting Attention

Better Attentional Sets.

Create some anticipation for students or yourself before speaking. Use a train whistle, gong or party noisemaker. It just has to be fun, short and consistent. Rotate each week to avoid habituation by your students.

Or, whenever someone is ready to speak to your group or class, he or she will use a pre-established activity. Any established call-response can work. As an example, the speaker, before saying a word, will stand up, clap three times and wait. The audience responds with 3 claps and sends, with their hands, a big “whoosh” of positive energy their way. This back and forth exchange tells the audience the teacher is ready to speak, and the audience tells he or she that they are giving both attention and support.

Start-up Call-Response.

These are the auditory-kinesthetic routines that you set up with the class as a way to prepare to learn. It can help get the whole group aligned and put all in a common, excited state of “I can!” Before class, first prepare an overhead or write the call-response on a whiteboard or chalkboard, divided into two columns. One column on the left has the “call” and the right column has the “response.” Ask the whole group to stand and take in a deep breath. Then tell the group that you’ll do the call, they do the response.

Examples include: You say, “Who’s here today?” They respond, “I’m here!” They do this both by sound and by adding the same beat of a foot stomp. You say, “Here for what?” They stomp and say, “To learn and have fun!” You say, “When do we start?” They stomp and say, “Right now!” You say, “How do we start?” They stomp and say, “Work hard, Learn smart!” This simple routine is best done quickly, with high-energy the first time by you so you can role model it.

Join is at our summer workshop on Tools For Maximum Engagement here. It’s filling fast and is one of our more powerful teacher workshops.

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Poverty and Its Effects on Learning: Why it Matters

A huge base of literature shows the inverse relationships between poverty or low socioeconomic status and health, but very few understand the connections with poverty. You can get help teaching kids in poverty. How? Start by learning about poverty and its effect on learning and behavior.

Multiple studies have examined longitudinal relations between duration of poverty exposure since birth, cumulative risk exposure, and cognitive performance. One measure of cumulative risk exposure is basal blood pressure and overnight cortisol levels. Typically cortisol is lowest in the early morning and levels pick up during the day. In kids from poverty, the levels are elevated 24/7.

This is pretty easy to understand, since many from poverty are exposed to poor housing conditions, crowded conditions, unsafe conditions, etc. Typical risk exposure is measured by multiple physical (e.g., substandard housing) and social (e.g., family turmoil) factors. The greater the number of years spent living in poverty, the more elevated was overnight cortisol and the more dysregulated was the cardiovascular response (i.e., muted reactivity).

As a teacher working with kids from poverty, why should you care about this?

There are two reasons, both with enormous consequences. First, cumulative stress is HIGHLY correlated with behavior issues at school. In our in-depth workshop on Teaching with Poverty in Mind, we’ll give you 7 priceless solutions for this challenge. Never, ever, give up on these students. You can learn exactly HOW to deal with behavior issues in simple, strategic ways.

Second, cumulative stress is associated with worse academic performance. Why? Chronic levels of stress inhibit working memory, process speed, sequencing capacity and attentional skills. Every one of those factors is a major determinant of underachievement. You’ll get specific, practical, easy-to-implement strategies that can mitigate the effects of stress. Eric Jensen’s new book, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” offers specific strategies you can use, too.

Join us each year for our in-depth workshop on Teaching with Poverty in Mind, we’ll give you the exact research-based solution for this challenge. Remember, you don’t usually get to select the kids you teach, but you can choose HOW you teach. Brains are designed the adapt to experience. If the experiences you are giving them in school are strong, focused, and “on point,” they will change the brain for the better.

Teaching kids in poverty

Creative Commons License photo credit: break.things

Student Engagement Tips to Try

Each week we’ll publish tips on Sunday to hep jump start and stimulate your classroom. The tips will also demonstrate how simple engagement strategies can pay big dividends in the classroom…

Stop reading information to students.

Give them a role. Every day, multiple students can have the roles of morning announcements, previews of coming attractions or reviewing key points from the day. When they do the reviewing, other students can repeat after them to boost recall.

Instead of you reading it, condense it into a short paragraph. Then show the information, followed by a simple question. For quick recall, use a multiple choice. For more in-depth processing, use open ended Qs. Our frontal lobes release dopamine when we complete challenging problems. It’s nature’s way of
rewarding us for doing well. Plus, the dopamine that is released will then support tasks that require working memory.

Repetitive gross motor movement.

You may have noticed that when you go for a walk, it’s hard to return in a bad mood. Activities that stimulate repetitive gross motor movement include swimming, walking, cycling and marching. In general, it takes from three to ten minutes to get the dopamine going, depending on a host of variables. If students need a “pick-me-up” send them out on a ten-minute walk with a structured positive conversation. They’ll return in better state of mind. Add music to the student’s marching time. Great marching music includes: Anchors away or the Triumphal March (Verdi).

Look on Your Neighbor’s Paper

Many of the tools of engagement are, rightfully so, tools for increased accountability. This one is simple, “Look on to your neighbors paper. If they wrote down all three points we just mentioned, congratulate them and raise your hand.” Or, “Look on to your neighbor’s paper. If they have less than the last three items we’ve just reviewed, tell them what their missing ones are.”

Also, check out our summer workshop on Tools For Maximum Engagement here. It’s filling fast and is one of our more powerful teacher workshops.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Martin Tod

Teachers: How Much Testing is Too Much?

You May Be Surprised at What the Research Says

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear an educator grumble about “the evils of testing.” You know what I mean: the evil empire of state and national tests that drive staff and kids into stressful zombies who learn only test-taking skills and to dislike school.

Along with, “How’s the weather?” the testing complaints have become the single common denominator in conversations about kids and learning. But what if everything you believed about testing was wrong? What if the actual science behind it was different than what you thought?

Is your school a Title 1 or Title II school? Are you struggling with raising achievement in kids who grow up in poverty?

One solution is the new ASCD book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind just released. But several, brand-new discoveries in neuroscience are now spring-boarding a revolution in how we can change the student and the school for low-income students. I’ve just had to completely reinvent my already cutting-edge workshop on poverty.

You can get it two ways: 1) Attend our 4-day event this summer for details) or, 2) bring me to your school. Yes, I am now offering this breakthrough event to individual schools (like yours). My available dates are scarce, but the kids at your school deserve to achieve. I’ll show your staff exactly how to do it. If you want to start seeing dramatic results at your school, contact my wife Diane at

Here’s what the genuine “real deal” research says about our brain, testing and learning.

First of all, let’s be clear about it: there are many, many types of testing. We don’t need to list them all here, but there are as many types of testing as there are types of learning.

The list might include:

1) objective and subjective
2) abstract and concrete
3) deductive and inductive
4) classroom or “on-site” real world
5) recall or constructive knowledge
6) priming quality or in-depth knowledge and
7) etc.

In short, one must be very, very careful about generalizing the results of one type of testing to ALL types of testing.

So, given these variables, what does the research say? (more…)

Working Memory: Time for a Research Update

“Could you remind me, what did you just say?

Part 1: Research

Have you ever been in one room of the house and started walking towards another room with a goal in mind… Usually, you’re thinking of a task such as, “Ive got to get that file or book from the bedroom.” Halfway to the other room, you forget what you were going to get! Then you have to go back to the original room to remind yourself!

All teachers have heard of our working memory or short-term memory. By the way, even researchers act confused when I ask for the difference. The best I can get is this: working memory refers to the “cognitive load” (or the amount of “stuff”) that your brain is holding in your brain while you do a task. But short-term memory refers to the time element of that cognitive load. Usually, short-term memory is from 5-20″. If we do not process that content, it often vaporizes. But, does it necessarily have to disappear? The answer is no.

Among the many amazing things about our brain is its plasticity. This refers to the capacity to change through neural reorganization. Memory (working OR short-term) can be enhanced through several strategies. Why would you care? There are many reasons: kids follow directions better they solve problems better, make better decisions and score higher on achievement tests. But generally, class is more fun to teach. Besides, you can enhance working memory for very little effort. I’ll bet you’d like to know how…

The OLD school of thinking, based on George Miller’s classic 1956 study suggested we can hold 7 _/+ 2 items in our head. That’s out of date and you want to be up to date, right? The new research suggests 2-4 (at the most) for chunks in our working memory (Cowan, et al.). If you are not currently strengthening the working memory of your students, don’t complain about it. No one else is going to do this, so it’s your choice: improve it, or you lose the right to complain about kids not having it.

Working memory can be enhanced two ways. Strengthening neural networks (through practice) and strengthening the efficacy of the “real-time” holding capacity with chemicals are your only two choices. The neural networks get strengthened through practice. That means the use of games and activities that build this skill. As an example, if you want to get good at playing cards, a strong working memory is a must. But, how about if we set aside gambling for a moment? There are better choices we’ll get to later. (more…)

Teaching with the Brain in Mind Workshop

We recently finished the “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program. Wow! What an amazing event.

Some came to it concerned about the challenges of brain-based learning. Others wanted brain-based strategies. Only a few were brain-skeptics. Most just wanted to deepen or widen their skill set and knowledge base. Suffice it to say, all left the program excited and ready to make changes.

“This is the best professional development experience I’ve had in 27 years of teaching. I will use so much of what I learned here and I am eager to return to my students and work with them in a more enlightened approach.” Patricia Gefert, Ohio.

Student learned the most critical brain principles. By the way, these are NOT the principles you’ll find in any book. These are the most updated, cutting edge principles anywhere. Every principle is illustrated, unpacked, debriefed and role-modeled. On top of that, there are the demonstrations, interactions and, yes, even a “field trip.”

One of the highlights was the visit to Dr. Daniel Amen’s Brain Clinic, where participants got to see inside the actual patient clinic that has been grabbing headlines for years. Amen has been “ahead of the crowd”, just as Eric Jensen has been.

Spect scans of the author's brain taken at Amen Clinic in Newport Beach, California. In the four surface views on the left, the less active regions of the brain show up as holes or dents. The scans on the right show the most active 15 percent of the brain in red and white. Photo: Daniel Amen

At the end, when asked for suggestions to others, who might be considering the program, one participant said, “Do it! It will change your teaching forever.” Kelly Small, Alberta, CA

Another highlight was the appearance, in person, of Dr. Larry Cahill, a pioneer in memory, emotions and gender. His lab has made not one, but three breakthroughs in neuroscience. Everyone was riveted to his talk on how emotions and gender influence our memory. Everyone was spellbound!

“Every single concept, activity and interaction was of great value to me.” Lois Cameron. Shaker Heights, OH.

The “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program gives you the scientific background, the strategies that can transform the classroom and once again, the actual demonstration of the strategy. This way, you can see it, hear and feel how it works. This makes it the most practical, and yet, research-based program on the brain anywhere.

The next “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program happens in San Antonio, Texas. The content will be awesome, the guest speaker is riveting and the field trip is over the top good.

If you have not yet taken the “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program, this is your only chance. Find out how to meet the challenges of brain-based learning and teaching. Meet other like-minded participants. And, most of get inspired and rocket-propelled to teach smarter, with less stress.

See you in San Antonio!

Click here for details.

Student Poverty – ASCD Conference – Eric Jensen On Overcoming The Challenges Of Teaching Students In Poverty

For those that didn’t make the ASCD Conference on March 7th, the recorded session on how to overcome the challenges of poverty in the classroom is now available.

The presentation is 1:57, so grab a coffee and enjoy the presentation (TIP: Start the video first, then pause it, so it buffers…)

If you are faced with the challenges that poverty creates in the classroom, you’ll pick up a few great ideas.

If you’d like to have Eric Jensen work with your school on creating a comprehensive poverty program to boost your student’s achievement, please contact us for more information: or call us at (808) 552-0110.

We also have the following resources for educators wanting to address student achievement goals:

PowerPoint for staff development training:

teaching poverty challengesOvercoming Poverty Challenges: Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Learn the newest research on what poverty does to kids brains. Find out what are the four biggest factors that impact the brains of poverty.

Discover the real potential for change in every student’s brain. This updated presentation that helps teachers connect the research with the classroom-practical strategies. You get the brain scans, the key principles and most importantly, the teacher-tested ideas you can use immediately.

This 143-slide session has color, passion, science and still answers the question, “What do I do on Monday?” This shows links to differentiation, enrichment, learning and memory strategies. It is long enough for either a 2 hour, half-day or full day session. Staff will be talking about this presentation for weeks! The support book recommended for this presentation is Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.


Do-It-Yourself Workshop

Enriching the Brains of Students In Poverty – An Eric Jensen Workshop to Go!

Enriching The Brain Of Poverty DVD Workshop

Order  Eric Jensen Brain Based Teaching DVDs

Neuroscience Research: Why Do We Eat WAY More Than We Should?

Why Do We Eat WAY More Than We Should?

What Does the Neuroscience Research Say?

Let’s take a side street from the classroom and go directly into your kitchen and dining room. I thought I would give you the science behind eating and over eating. Would this apply to you?

If you know me, you know I am skinny as a rail. But, while I might make it look easy, it’s NOT! I watch what I eat. I rarely ever eat desserts. I eat no artificial sweeteners, no artificial colorings and rarely any preservatives in my food. On top of that, I go out of my way to avoid so called natural sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

All I’ve told you so far is a “no brainer”. But I haven’t told you the most shocking thing yet!

This might surprise you; I DO eat like a pig sometimes (though not usually.)

The question is “How can I get away with it?” And, even more importantly, what can you do to keep the waistline where you want it? I’ll get to the answers in a moment. First, you should know the science behind all the weight gains that adults experience.

At each developmental and maturation age, the body and brain are trying to help you survive. As a female, you don’t need a bit of extra fat at age 10, but by puberty, your body tries to add some, since childbearing is becoming a real possibility. Extra fat helps ensure a food source for the pregnant mom. So why would your body try to add fat when you’re over forty, past the likely childbearing years? The answer is it doesn’t try to do that! If anything, your body is trying to get leaner as you grow into middle age. Baloney you say! So what’s happening?

Here are the top 5 myths and the truth to help you get you back to your slim and sexy self. (Guys, this applies to you, as well!) (more…)

Factors that Contribute Most to Student Achievement

Brain Based Learning

What Does the Neuroscience Say Are the Factors that Contribute Most to Student Achievement?

Almost every teacher I meet has a theory about kids. Well, actually, he or she has many theories.

But if I ask the million dollar question, “What is it that contributes most to student learning?” the teacher usually gets quiet. I like that response. It’s good to be thoughtful about questions like that. The great news is that recent neuroscientific studies are opening up the brain of the student and telling us what matters most in learning. You might be surprised at what they’re finding.

While a HUGE numbers of variables may influence the brain on the macro level (physical environment, food, safety in the classroom, interest in the content, etc.) it turns out that very few factors influence student learning inside our head at the micro level. In fact, the number of factors is so few, I highlighted them in the new ASCD book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind. But let’s say you want just a few goodies from the book. I trust you; I know you’ll want to buy it soon!

Let me share just four with you.  Let’s start with how we learn.

While we naturally and accidentally “pick up” millions of bits of information daily, our focused attention is what tells our brain to “log this in and save it.” Part of the brain tells you to “save” the learning, the nucleus basalis. This skill, locked in attention, can be taught. Second, our brain has to be able to process what is occurring, making the processing and reasoning pathways highly valuable. This skill can be, and must be, taught. But much of these tasks ask you to juggle more than one item in your working memory.

The strength of the working memory is another critical variable in learning. This must also be taught. Each of these neural events has to occur in a sequence, so it turns out that the temporal ordering of every step is critical.

Now, I’m the first to admit that other variables come into play. We know that students need to feel safe to take risks and a host of other variables. But the so-called environmental factors each influence these neural events. For example, unless I feel safe in the classroom, I might not be able to pay attention. So, for the moment, trust me. Those four neural events would be near the top of any neuroscientist’s list for learning. How do I know that? What makes me so sold on those four? Well, you know I love the research, so here it is.

First, the science is solid when you consider each system separately. But they work synergistically. When one of them is off, others falter. That’s why kids with serious AD/HD (low executive function) struggle in all areas academically.

Now, the information I’m going to share with you is exceptionally powerful. However, only 1 in 100 educators who reads email this will actually implement these findings. Why? In spite of the solid science behind what I am sharing with you and, in spite of the “miracles” that these applications can produce in your kids, many of the policy-makers have gotten so lost in filling out forms, inept mandates, feel-good “professional” communities, that they forgot the real goal of education: prepare kids for the real world with social skills and thinking skills.

OK, enough of that. What can you do to boost these four brain functions? (more…)

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