Eric Jensen’s Extreme Schools: How Miracles Happen


This is an update on an “Extreme School” in Los Angeles County, California. Not long ago, this high K-5 poverty school had neighborhood drug dealers coming ON CAMPUS. The outside aesthetics of the school were deplorable, with deteriorating buildings. The district rates schools (academically) on a scale from 1-10 (with 10 as highest). This school was a “1” out of ten (the lowest possible ranking.

RESULTS? Today, it is the envy of the school district! What did they do and how did it turn out? Are you ready for another miracle? Read more

The Science Behind Why Arts Should Be In Every Kid’s School Experience

So many who work in the arts have asked me if the arts are good for learning and the brain. It is common knowledge that arts can arouse passions.

The brain-based approach is to check out how it interfaces with the brain. Some believe that arts should be in school simply because many students thoroughly enjoy them. Others advocate a higher curriculum standing for arts on equal footing with math, science and language arts.

There’s real science behind why arts should be in every kid’s school experience, every day. There is now substantial evidence that arts are a stand-alone discipline. I would argue that arts support the neurobiological development of the brain in ways that enhance the social and academic performance of our students.

You’ll see that arts alter the neurobiological trajectory of the brain in ways that strengthen the academic and social skills unlike any other intervention. Arts change the brain like no other discipline. When schools reject arts, kids lose out. For students to do well in school, their brain must function in ways that are academically and socially useful.

What do the arts bring to the table?

The teachers are constantly trying new classroom strategies learned from books, trainings and conferences. The administrators are constantly inspiring, motivating and coaching their staff in endless ways to sharpen their collective saw. Unfortunately, this approach of trying to get better performance from students and staff can become overwhelming.

There seems to be no limit to the quantity of available strategies, so it becomes very much of a hit or miss approach. This results in a dizzying and endless stream of programs, themes, missions, projects and, ultimately, burnout among many educators.

But what if there was another way to go about this process. What if you could do less and get more? What is actually different in the brain that matters in the school context? The brain-based approach is to find out what works in the brain that runs academic achievement.

I suggest the existence of multiple operating systems in the human brain, each of which actually determine success in school. These operating systems (e.g. academic, social, athletic, survival) contribute towards your student success. But ultimately, since schools are all expected to reach performance goals, the academic operating system is of most relevance. Understanding this system is critical to a school’s success. Read more

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. Read more

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