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…)
Last week Andre Bauer, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina and a candidate to become the state’s next governor, compared providing government assistance to those in need – including school kids eligible for free or reduced price lunches – to feeding stray animals. He claimed that providing such services only encourage breeding and facilitate the problem.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their version of the facts. Bauer has it completely wrong.
We need to put to rest the idea that the only way those in need will enjoy improved outcomes in life is for them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and do it all on their own – especially when it comes to kids. Our brains don’t grow up and flourish inside a test tube. Given the integrated way in which our brains work, it’s simply wrong to expect hungry kids or kids who aren’t exposed to healthy environments to show up at school ready to learn.
Research is compelling; the brains runs on oxygen, glucose and nutrients. Unless kids get this at home, schools must provide it. Research shows that good nutrition not only keeps kids healthy – it also contributes to better learning. Take a look at just some of the evidence:
• In a large-scale analysis of approximately 1 million students enrolled in New York City schools, researchers examined IQ scores before and after preservatives, dyes, colorings, and artificial flavors were removed from lunch offerings. Prior to the dietary changes, 120,000 of the students were performing two or more grade levels below average. Afterward, the figure dropped to 50,000. Ceci, S. J. (2001).
• In another study, elementary school children were provided with one of three breakfast options: a good breakfast, a fast-food breakfast, or no breakfast. The results replicated previous findings showing that breakfast intake enhances cognitive performance. But the study also showed differential effects based on breakfast type. Children who ate the healthy breakfast frequently demonstrated enhanced spatial memory, improved short-term memory, and better auditory attention. (Fernald L, Ani CC, Grantham-Mcgregor S., 1997)
• Adequate intake of minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and vitamins also makes a difference. School age children who received such nutrients over the course of a year behaved better (meaning they gave teachers more “on task time”) and scored higher on achievement tests than their peers who just received placebos. (Grantham-McGregor S, Baker-Henningham H. (2005).
The real takeaway here is that providing kids with healthy meals and other services and supports really can make a difference.
Assumptions that disadvantaged students underperform in school because their parents aren’t educated, their home environments are substandard, or their parents just don’t care only perpetuate the problem because they excuse schools and other adults in kids’ lives from making a difference.
There’s no question that poverty changes the brain, which can negatively affect behavior and student performance. But the brain can also change for the better when kids are exposed to healthy, safe, engaging, and challenging environments.
In thousands of the top performing schools across the country, only those providing nutrition for kids from poverty are meeting or exceeding the standards. Are the governor’s statements suggesting an ignorance of the facts or is it simply prejudice? Let the voters be the judge.
Eric Jensen, author of the new ASCD book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind. He’s been featured as a guest on ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast, and he’s presenting at ASCD’s Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
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.
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!
Valentines, Feelings and Affect: The Use of Social and Emotional Activities
Here’s how they work together: The emotions research always starts with the classics. An older, brilliant study done was done by emotions pioneer Paul Ekman. You may know the Fox TV series “Lie to Me” is based on his skill set and life’s work. Ekman found that when we artificially generated certain facial expressions, it induced the corresponding ‘genuine’ feelings (Levenson, et al. 1990). Act a certain way, and the emotions will follow.
But this door goes both ways. This means, getting kids emotionally aroused can enhance their physical effort (Schmidt, et al, 2009). And when we enhance both, like combine the emotions of social contact with shaking hands, we remember the event better (Nielson and Jensen, 1994). Emotions and physiology are fully linked.
Translated, when we arouse emotions in our kids, they are more likely to get off their ‘you know what’ and start engaging more. Even when seated, emotional responses enhance our memory of the details of the event. But wait; it gets better. If you can focus on engaging the class leaders (the ones that others follow), you have a good chance of bringing on board the rest of the students. Why? Have you ever noticed that when one person yawns, others around often yawn? Actually, some research suggests that emotions are contagious (Wild, et al.2001).
Now, when you put all this together (mind, body, emotions, class leaders and peer pressure), you can get classroom miracles. How?
There’s a whole new field developing. It’s called cultural neuroscience. It’s the field of how cultures change our brain. Your school creates a culture. A classroom will have a culture whether you orchestrate it or not. Many teachers actively shape their culture, while those that struggle complain about their class culture.
Successful schools consciously shape their cultures while the schools that struggle complain about “how the kids are these days.” A great primer on this field was Wexler’s book Brain and Culture (2006).
Recent studies show that when you use rituals well, you can shape behaviors. In fact, rituals can activate students to do things that require personal sacrifice (wow) because of the peer-power and social effects. This allows teachers to erase problems with task activation, socializing and discipline. The bottom line is that anthropology is now being influenced by neuroscience. Well, you know I love the research, so here it is on our emotional, social and physical states, and the brain’s activation for functionality and organizing dynamics.
REFERENCES Brown RA, Seligman R. Anthropology and cultural neuroscience: creating productive intersections in parallel fields. Prog Brain Res. 2009;178:31-42. Cahill L, Haier RJ, Fallon J, Alkire MT, Tang C, Keator D, Wu J, McGaugh JL. (1996) Amygdala activity at encoding correlated with long-term, free recall of emotional information. Proc Natl Acad Science U S A. Jul 23;93(15):8016-2. Levenson, RW, Ekman P, Friesen WV. (1990) Voluntary facial action generates emotion-specific autonomic nervous system activity. Psychophysiology. Jul;27(4):363-84. Nielson KA, Jensen RA. (1994) Beta-adrenergic receptor antagonist antihypertensive medications impair arousal-induced modulation of working memory in elderly humans. Behav Neural Biol. 1994 Nov;62(3):190-200. Phan, KL, Wagner T., Taylor, SF, Liberzon, I (2002) Functional neuroanatomy of emotion: A meta-analysis of emotion activation studies in PET and fMRI. Neuroimage 16: 331-348. Schmidt L, Cléry-Melin ML, Lafargue G, Valabrègue R, Fossati P, Dubois B, Pessiglione M. (2009) Get aroused and be stronger: emotional facilitation of physical effort in the human brain. J Neurosci. Jul 29;29(30):9450-7. Wild B, Erb M, Bartels M. (2001) Are emotions contagious? Evoked emotions while viewing emotionally expressive faces: quality, quantity, time course and gender differences. Psychiatry Res. Jun 1;102(2):109-24. Wiltermuth SS, Heath C. (2009)Synchrony and cooperation. Psychol Sci. Jan;20(1):1-5.
ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast: Changing the Conversation About Education:
Each student brings a unique set of interests, needs, strengths, and circumstances to school… and teachers often struggle to connect with students, especially those facing the greatest challenges. Yet research and common sense tell us that educators positively impact student learning and achievement when they connect their students’ lives outside of school to their learning and the larger school community.
On this podcast, from ASCD – The Whole Child you’ll hear strategies for meeting students where they are now, while preparing them for the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.
Click Here to listen to the podcast:
Founded in 1943, ASCD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents more than 175,000 educators from 119 countries and nearly 60 affiliates who advocate sound policies and share best practices to achieve the success of each learner.
ASCD has launched a public engagement and advocacy campaign to encourage schools and communities to work together to ensure that each student has access to a challenging curriculum in a healthy and supportive climate.
ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative:
In today’s world, budgets are tighter than ever. Principals are now tasked with a great amount of staff training.
When preparing a presentation for your teaching staff, the most difficult element is getting that &*%$ PowerPoint finalized.
We’ve all been there.
After receiving numerous requests for copies of Eric Jensen’s presentations that he’s held in our workshops, we’ve decided that we’d organize all of the top topics, and offer them to you.
Some of the topics covered are:
…and many more.
Eric Jensen has prepared these PowerPoint presentations to help deliver a powerful, concise presentation…
Those who have asked us for PowerPoint presentations are most often:
1. Trainers who work with groups of 20 or more
2. Staff developers who really want to make a difference in the lives of others
3. Teachers who want a more energizing classroom and
4. Anyone who currently or will in the future, spend a lot time in front of groups.
The staff development presentations will have title slides and closing slides. Average presentation will be 75-125 slides, depending on the topic.
You may customize (in fact, you are encouraged to do so), your slides by adding your own titles, key themes, strategies, persons of interest, school pictures and activities.
So save yourself time, and headache, and check out the PowerPoint presentations available here.
You might have experienced some very cold temps in the last few weeks. Cognitively, brains work best in cooler (but not cold) temperatures. But the rest of our body sure likes it a bit warmer.
If you were thinking of “warming up” to some “very hot” learning, I’ve got something pretty amazing for you, and it’s in a warm place!
In fact, you can get a huge savings on your hotel where the winter rates are slashed-but not for long.
I do this amazing course only twice a year. It’s the world’s “gold standard” for brain-based learning. Fortunately, you can add exciting, fresh new content (AND MAXIMUM STRATEGIES) into your skill set.
This workshop is an enriching, high energy, research-based, team-working experience. The heart and soul of this program is joyful immersion. Learn with like-minded people, in an optimal environment, with state-of-the-art resources and a first-class facilitator.
You can expect inspiration, camaraderie and potent, roll-up your sleeves ideas that will last for years.
Oh wait… Did I mention you’ll get to ask questions of a world-renowned neuroscientist in person? You will. But it gets even better… but first:
What is Brain-Based Learning? You may be shocked to find out! Not 1 in 1000 Educators REALLY Knows!
Unfortunately, most educators think brain-based learning is simply knowing about axons, dendrites and synapses. That’s “old school” and it’s ridiculous! Brain-based learning is the process of thoughtfully implementing purposeful strategies based on research derived from a synergy of sizzling cutting-edge disciplines. They include, but are not limited to: cognitive neuroscience, chemistry, nutrition, social neurosciences, biology, pharmacology, computational sciences, quantum systems thinking, and artificial intelligence modeling.
More has been discovered about the brain and mind in the last 20 years than in all of recorded history. Yet, most teachers have no clear understanding of how the brain learns, remembers and behaves except on a superficial basis. Sadly, this lack of knowledge leaves the average educator with an education formulated in, and designed for, the last century. But there’s hope.
When you attend a Jensen Learning program, you’ll discover the genuine “Brain-based Learning” in a completely new way.
Your presenter, Eric Jensen is a twenty-year veteran of the brain-based field. He’s trained more people, written more books and innovated more than anyone in the field. Every principle, every idea and strategy is role-modeled so you can see it, hear it and feel HOW it works.
“(This workshop is) way better, more useful than most graduate courses.” -R.Z. Vernon, NJ
This program is literally, teaching with the brain in mind. It is purposeful, dynamic and easy to implement. The scientific, research-based teaching that BBL advocates involves the use of ten fundamental brain-mind principles. Each of these has been well supported by rigorous, quality scientific studies. These principles are revealed to you through activities, case study, lectures, video and discussion. Each of these principles is so powerful, that implementing even half of them will make a mind-blowing difference in your work.
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what one of our participants has said…
“I took your workshop a couple of years ago and have been training other teachers. I had just turned around another group of skeptical teachers. As we were packing up, my new training partner said, “OK, it works. I was skeptical and didn’t agree with all the things you were doing, but I’m convinced that it makes a huge difference.” She never questioned what I was doing after that. She just began questioning why so she could understand it better too.” B. Felip, Trenton, NJ
This program is a dynamic overview of Eric Jensen’s revised book Teaching with the Brain in Mind. This course provides specific, practical brain-compatible strategies for all educators. All teachers influence their students. Now you can discover what it takes for students to acquire complex learning and achieve their best. You’ll want to learn these essential rules for how our brain works.
Kids from poverty do not need a “dumbed down” curriculum.
These are the three “As” that matter” most: arts, AP (advanced placement curriculum) and activity (P.E., recess, sports).
Before these kids even get to school, they have been subjected to years of “doing without.” Poor children are half as likely to be taken to museums, theaters, or to the library and are less likely to go on culturally enriching outings. Low-income children have fewer or smaller designated play areas in the home and spend more time watching television and less time exercising than non-poor children.
Financial limitations of parents also often exclude low-income kids from healthy after-school activities such as music, athletics, dance or drama. In addition, kids from poverty are more prone to depression.
This is critical information for educators because school sports, recess and physical activity all reduce the likelihood of depression in kids via increasing neurogenesis. In fact, part of depression is the inability to recognize novelty, which makes them disinterested in class and harder to teach.
Boosting neurogenesis is the ultimate low-budget anti-depressant… (more…)
Every New Discipline Has Challenges
Typical challenges involved in brain-based learning include:
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:
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…
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.
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:
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…)