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6 Quick Brain-Based Teaching Strategies

So many teachers want the quick strategies they can use the very next day. Unfortunately, many of those are just more of the same. Sometimes what makes a strategy work (or not work) is HOW the teacher “sets up” the activity. Other times it works because of the timing or the environmental factors.

In short, it not about just the strategy. But for a moment, let’s say, you’ve already taken one of my amazing multi-day brain-based courses. The following might be good for a quick reminder:

1. The saying “too much, too fast,” means we won’t integrate and recall the information if you teach is quickly. Instead, chunk down the learning into small chunks; allow processing and settling time with partners or as reflective journal time.

2. Because every brain is different—genes + experience, plus the interplay between the two, recall the importance of honoring uniqueness, respecting differences. That means use huge variety to maximize learning. Use visual, with illustrations, and podcasts and DVDs. Then use movement with drama, hands on and energizers. Also use plenty of call-response with partner dialogs.

3. Most subjects can be learned under moderate stress; think of it as “healthy concern.” To ramp that up, use constant accountability. After every learning chunk, have kids create a quiz question, stand up, quiz their neighbor or create a short quiz of 10 questions. Use teams, peer pressure and deadlines to add concern. Remember the material better with an emotion embedded with it. After the quiz, celebrate the progress.

4. Thinking about thinking builds learning skills as active processing time. Add the process of journaling, discussion and learning logs valuable for better learning. Give students starter sentences such as “What I was curious (or stressed over) about today was”… Or, “What I learned today was… and, the way I learned it best was when I.” Until patterns emerge, learning is often random and messy, following no clear path over time, the patterns become more obvious. Pattern making is more complex in second languages like math and music.

5. Remember the value in non-learning or “settling” time, to consolidate the content. Take breaks, recess, lunch, relax time, walks, for passive processing. Even a quick energizer that’s fun and playful can be a good break.

6. Our brain can memorize, but our best learning is the trial & error learning; it’s a key to complex learning–there’s value in games done well, so use games, computers, competition, building, initiatives, etc. Games like hopscotch, relays, or just let kids quiz each other. Brains rarely get it right the first time—learning complexity is built over time Using checklists, peer teaching, computers, asking Qs, are all examples of using trial and error.

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Brain-Based Learning Resources

Brain-Based Teaching Resources

Creative Commons License photo credit: :Bron:

Also read Working memory

Can We Raise Test Scores (Again)?

Let’s explore how you can boost test scores by making small interventions and simple changes at the last moment.

First, a simple disclaimer: I don’t support 95% of all the testing being done on kids. I love accountability, but not crazy-making testing that gives self-serving data; data that helps you do better on the next test, instead of in real life where the tests should be targeting. Having said that, things are what they are. Let’s focus on the here and now.

Here is a plan that will help you maximize testing for your students.

Research: Recent Discovery on Testing

You have only five variables you can tweak in the days, hours and minutes before the actual test time. The biggest variable is how well kids have learned what will be on the test. If you haven’t taken care of that variable all year long, you have fewer options. It’s too late to add much content when you get real close to test time.

The single best thing you can do in the weeks and days before the testing is…have students take tests. Testing produced better overall recall than did restudying (Roediger and Karpicke, 2006). Give them small chunks of “mock tests” that will mimic the real ones. But the research gets a bit more complicated from here out.

What about getting feedback on the mock tests?

When tests are NOT accompanied by feedback, some items (i.e., those that were not correctly retrieved) might not benefit from testing (Pashler et al., 2005).

This tells you feedback has two sides: if you get it wrong, you NEED feedback. If it’s right, it’s less important to get feedback.

The debriefing should begin as a social event with the teacher and classmates involved. Then shift it to a personal assignment. Let students improve their “mock” test cores with a reflective test analysis. Here, students write about each question they got wrong: 1) what was their approach, 2) how they came up with the wrong answer, and 3) what they would do differently next time. Give students partial credit for each debriefed corrected answer. This empowers students by helping them become more thoughtful tests takers and reduces their stress by putting more of the process in their control.

Read carefully to what a team of cognitive psychologists says;

“Information that has been tested will be remembered better over time than information that has been restudied. This test-induced benefit is apparently stronger when repeated tests over the same information are provided. These results suggest that tests should be utilized often in educational contexts to maximize retention of information over long time periods.” (Carpenter, et al., 2008, page 446).

Encourage (even mandate) the asking of questions in the weeks and days leading up to the test. Students who are struggling academically are rarely asking the most questions in class. Researchers have found that low-achieving students are often the most reluctant to seek assistance and that a negative or fearful perception of “help seeking” is to blame (Ryan, et al. 1998).

The Ryan study involved 500 students and 25 teachers in 63 sixth-grade math classes throughout 10 Michigan middle schools. The researchers found that low-achieving students tend to perceive question asking as a sign of inability and associate it with feeling “dumb.” Conversely, high achievers with greater confidence are less likely to worry about what others think and tend to focus on the benefits of seeking help, notes the study.

Advise learners to take inventory of their projected goals, time-management skills, and study habits; and to reorganize them appropriately. Students who give their academic concerns top priority and allow ample time for studying (including exam preparation) often perform best (Yaworski, 1998). If help is needed in establishing a personal study schedule, or if chronic procrastination persists, encourage learners to seek the advice of a guidance counselor or related professional.

Next, in the days coming up to the testing, students often get stressed (the teachers are, of course, totally relaxed!)

The three best ways to get kids more relaxed are each about control (it’s the counterbalance to stress.) First, help them take more control over the process of making choices for when, what type of, and where to prepare. (You pre-select the options.) For example, let them choose which content sections they want to prep for first. Second, teach them self-regulation strategies such as slow deep breathing to relax. Third, teach them how to reframe the testing experience, to help them be more in charge of it. Tell your students, “Tests are a school’s way to assess their schooling success. We want to find out what we’re doing well and what we need to do differently. The tests tell us what changes we can make to develop your brain as best as possible.” Read 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. Read more