What About Your School’s Test Results?

Let’s address HOW to deal with the test scores that you get.


It turns out that the way school leadership, as well as the staff, thinks about, discusses, and frames the conversations about test scores actually affects future scores.

How does this happen and how should a staff debrief the testing?

The Research

The way that your staff frames their results and frames their work is critical to the ongoing success at your school.

A “framing effect” is usually said to occur when varied, but usually equivalent descriptions (of a product/experience/decision or problem) lead to very different decisions. We’ve all known this as, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

New research done at the University of Michigan by Juth and Helgesson (2012) suggests that your expectations and predictions shape your future efforts via the “framing effect.”

If we started a hypothetical group of elementary children, all earning the same letter grades (ex. A, B, … F), here is how their expectations matter. In those children expecting to become a teacher, an engineer, or a nurse when they grew up, this study successfully predicted that they’d work harder in school.

In this same study, nine out of ten children expected they would attend at least a two-year college, but less than half saw themselves as having an educational degree-dependent job. This is why it is so important to tie their dreams to an actual job, not just to college.

At the secondary level, researchers presented two different options of information to two groups of students. They heard about either: (more…)

How Are You Coping Right Now?

Risk and Reward

Reducing Risk and Building Resilience

Studies in positive psychology have shown that resilience rates high among attitude-based protective factors that help children achieve academic success in environments where, statistically speaking, the odds are against them.

In 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development showed that preschoolers facing eight or more environmental risk factors such as maternal mental illness or single parenthood, minority status or stressful life events, scored more than 30 points below children with no risk factors on tests of IQ. Yet, they consistently found that groups of high resilient children in high-risk environments still outperformed their peers.

But how do we develop high resilience in our kids and ourselves?

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

School testing

This month, we’ll focus on how to prepare for existing state and national tests. 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 these three: 1) brain chemistry, 2) priming, and 3) episodic memory triggers. Some of these suggestions got so many rave reviews that they are reproduced from an earlier bulletin!

The Research

Ten Minutes to Better Scores

Two laboratory and two randomized field studies tested a psychological intervention designed to improve students’ scores on high-stakes exams. These simple ten-minute activities can raise test scores. One well-designed study showed that writing about testing worries prior to taking the exam boosts exam performance in the classroom.

The study authors expected that sitting for an important exam leads to worries about the situation and its consequences that undermine test performance. What the authors tested was… whether having students write down their thoughts about an upcoming test could improve test performance. (more…)

Magic and the Brain

Here’s a fun video on Brain Magic… by Keith Barry

TV host and “technologist” Keith Barry shows you some unbelievable magic and “how easy it is to manipulate the human mind once you know how.” Keith Barry shows how to trick the human brain with routines that exploit its bugs and loopholes, and offering a revealing look at the software between our ears.


Barry’s repertoire ranges from outrageous stunts — driving a car at full speed blindfolded — to mind control, including hypnosis and mindreading. The Irish magician’s relaxed style has made him an audience favorite worldwide, both in live shows and on his European television series, Close Encounters with Keith Barry, which aired in 28 countries. He’s had specials on MTV and CBS, and tried his hand at acting as a murder suspect on CSI: Miami. There are rumors of a Las Vegas residency later in 2008.

Exploding Common Myths in Education

brain based teaching strategy

Myth: Kids Talk Too Much At School

Do your students talk too much? Some teachers think kids talk TOO much at school, and they spend a portion of their day trying to “manage the noise”.

Actually, that’s false! It seems we are social before we are born and that some schools artificially suppress our social side. Researchers believe that brains may be hard-wired to be social (autism is an exception, of course). We know newborns come into the world wired to socially interact. But is this a propensity to socially oriented action already present before birth? Twin pregnancies provide a unique opportunity to investigate the social pre-wiring hypothesis.

A new study shows that by the 14th week of gestation twin fetuses do not only display movements directed towards the uterine wall and self-directed movements, but also movements specifically aimed at the co-twin, the proportion of which increases between the 14th and 18th gestational week. These inter-twin responses are not coincidental, the research shows. The intra-pair contact is the result of motor planning rather then the accidental outcome of bumping each other due to spatial proximity. By the 14th week of gestation twin fetuses clearly execute movements specifically aimed at purposeful (vs. random) interacting with the co-twin. This supports a large body of postnatal evidence for a relational bias. (more…)

Visiting China’s Best Kept Secret

Diane and I traveled to Guilin, China following the International Mind and Brain EXPO in Hong Kong this February, and I thought I’d share a few pictures of the trip…

One of the best-kept secrets in the travel world is the city of Guilin in mainland China. It’s about 325 miles NW of Hong Kong. In Guilin, there is a fabulous panda enclosure. We were the only visitors that morning.”

Guilan China

This is an amazing natural park in Guilin. It’s has waterfalls, epic scenery, beautiful walkways, monkeys running around and places to be at one with your thoughts. Here we are on the bridge, about to cross into the park.”

Eric and Diane Jensen in China

This remote city is Yangshu, as beautiful as it gets. A few hotels, but mostly bustling shops and restaurants. We took our class in cooking school here and learned how to make some very tasty Chinese treats.

Yangshu, China

Understanding Brain-Based Learning

brain based teaching explained

What is Brain-Based Teaching?

I get asked this question a lot… so  I am going to provide an explanation of what Brain-Based teaching is, as well as clear up any myths or misconceptions about it.

Brain-Based education is the active engagement of practical strategies based on learning and behavioral principles derived from neuroscience.

All teachers use strategies; the difference here is that you’re using strategies based on real science, not because someone said that they work.

An example of a principle would be…”Brains change based on experience.” The science tells us HOW they change in response to experience. The strategies are based on what we’ve learned from studies on how brains change.

Questions are often raised about the reliability of brain research for training or classroom applications. Cautious, conservative skeptics will, by nature, be hesitant to embrace new things. Overzealous or impulsive risk-takers will, by nature, try almost anything, founded or not.

Our position is let the science do the talking

A better-informed educator usually makes better decisions. We collect the research, form conclusions and make suggestions. Every effort is made to select from reliable sources with supporting data. If the studies are conflicting, we’ll either say so or not present it to you. You’ll need to be the ultimate judge as to whether and how the research fits in your particular learning climate.

One must be cautious and prudent in how research is interpreted and ultimately used. Our policy is to look for both the basic neuroscience research and match it with data from applied psychology or cognitive science. When there are multiple studies, with good samples and clear evidence, you’ll hear about it.

We will never say, “Brain research proves….” because it does not prove anything. It may however suggest the value of a particular pathway. We have heard five basic criticisms about brain-based education. Here’s what they are and our answers to them. (more…)