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The Perfect Music for Brain-Based Learning

Music to use in the classroom

How You Can Choose the Perfect Music Every Time

Here is how to decide what music to play in your classroom to help with brain-based learning. While you could use an endless number of criteria, these  are a good start. I recommend using an iPod with a Bose Sound Dock player. You get the best of all worlds.

1) State. What emotional state are you trying to elicit? Pay attention to what happens to your own body and mind as you listen to a song. Pay attention to the beats per minute (BPM). Songs in the 35- 50 BPM range will be more calming, while those in the middle 55-70 BPM will be more moderate for seatwork. For activities, the pace might be 70-100 and for energizers, maybe 100-160 BPM will REALLY rev it up.

The state is also the feelings you want to have within your students. When students complete an assignment, project or even a simple task, I want upbeat celebration music. When we are doing a class stretching or reflective writing, I want slower, uncluttered, calming music. When we are about to start out on a big task, I want inspirational, upbeat, even marching music. In short, use music as a second teacher in the classroom to support the mood.

2) Age of Listener. What generation am I working with? Stay within your generation! The way to decide is ask this simple question: If they’re adults, what music did they listen to in high school and college? If they’re age 14 or less, what are the current soundtracks to movies that are hot?

3) Type of Music. Do I use music with words or instrumentals only? In general, use words only if it’s for transitions, games that require them or special occasions. Most of the time, instrumentals are better. If you use only one kind of music you’re missing out on some great alternatives. Read more

When Clear Instruction And Visual Aids Are Not Enough

Why Gesturing is Far More Important Than You Ever Thought

Technology is moving quickly into every child’s education. The computers are filled with text and pictures, cartoons and drawings. Yet, in spite of all the amazing things that technology can do, some kids still don’t “get it.” What are some possible missing ingredients?

The more you know about learning the better. Here’s one item to consider: the nonverbals by the instructor are often missing from the menu in many kinds of technology. Gestures reveal unspoken messages and can reflect additional knowledge in both child and adult learners.

For example…

Years ago, UCLA pioneer Albert Mehrabian did landmark studies on nonverbal communication. He was the first to put numbers to the research, showing that the majority of ALL interpersonal communication is from nonverbal messages (1967). He described the tonality, facial expressions and a host of other nonverbal avenues that influence the message.

Just a subset of all possible nonverbals, gestures have been recently studied in the role of classroom learning. Gestures can also play a role in changing how the child or the adult REPRESENTS thoughts, either directly or indirectly.

Because gesturing reflects thoughts, it’s also an early marker of a change in thinking or emotional state. In this way, it can be used as a DIAGNOSTIC tool, since many problems will show us as improper, or missing, gestures. When students cannot gesture a thought, they may be having trouble conceptualizing it, too. In fact, gesturing (or its lack) may be the first sign of future developmental difficulty. And because gesturing can change thought, it may prove to be useful in the home, the classroom, and the clinic as a way to alter the pace, and perhaps the course, of learning and development.

Wow!

Children frequently gesture when they explain what they know, and their gestures sometimes convey different information than their speech does. This suggests that gesturing is indeed a vehicle through which children express their understanding. The knowledge children express uniquely in the form of gestures is accessible on other tasks, and in this sense, is not tied to the hands.

Gesturing might encourage children to extract meaning implicit in their hand movements. If so, children should be sensitive to the particular movements they produce and learn accordingly. Recently, investigators manipulated student gesturing during a math lesson. Children required to produce correct gestures LEARNED MORE than children required to produce only partially correct gestures, or NONE AT ALL. Hence, research findings suggest that a child’s body movements are involved not only in processing old ideas, but also in creating new ones.

Why do gestures work? One theory is that gesturing actually lightens cognitive load while a person is thinking of what to say. There is scientific support for this theory (see all of the references below). Another possible reason (my own theory) is that it makes the brain work harder to CHANGE THE REPRESENTATION from an abstract idea to a CONCRETE thought, hence, they learn better.

Telling children to gesture encourages them to convey previously unexpressed, implicit ideas; which, in turn, makes them receptive to instruction that leads to learning. Previous studies have shown that gesturing improves learning. In summary, researchers found that children told to move their hands in a fully correct rendition of a particular problem-solving strategy (grouping) during a math lesson solved dramatically more math problems correctly. More in “Applications” below.

Want better math scores? Lean in and let’s “flesh out” what we learned from the studies above.

Read more

Brain-Based Learning: Practical Applications For Teachers

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.

  1. The ritual must solve a recurring problem.
  2. It must include and engage everyone.
  3. The ritual must be simple and easy to do.
  4. It must be highly predictable and the students know when it’s going to happen.
  5. The actual event must end up in a positive emotional state.

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!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Polska Zielona Sieć