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How to Get the Brains of Your Students to Change

brain based learning

I am on a mission to help more educators become extraordinary this year. In this article, you will get an insight into how our brain works. Stay a learner for a moment and we can help you achieve the best professional year of your life.

Today, we will lock down one of the most core understandings about the human brain: how to get it to change. Let’s learn how to do this right. The reason you may care about this is because… Read more

Extreme Schools in an Extreme Interview

 Teacher Q&A

Instead of our usual featured “Extreme School” (of which we have many), we are featuring an unusual question-answer session. These were posed by real staff members from two real Title 1 schools. The questions cut right to the core of what it takes to succeed, but the answers may surprise you.

In fact, the answers apply to every single school, including yours. I have combined two school interviews so there’s enough variety for everyone. By the way, everything here applies to ALL schools, not just those in poverty. Enjoy! Read more

Getting Priorities Right

What should your priorities be this year? From a personal standpoint, managing your health through good food, exercise, and stress management are pretty smart paths to follow. After all, if you’re not at your best, both you and your students miss out.

From a professional standpoint, ensuring that students become strong learners should be a top priority.

Since you don’t have time for every idea on earth, what factors will support your student’s growth the most? For now, we’ll focus on just one of the top five factors that drive student achievement. The study we draw from is grounded in work from several thousand teachers, so the sample size is impressive.

Focusing on what matters most is one sure way to “disaster-proof” your teaching.

PART ONE: Research

A human being is born less able to cope on its own than any other mammal. However, this provides the brain with extraordinary flexibility to adapt to its environment. The method it uses is a monster’s appetite for environmental adaption based on experience. Yet, I’ve always said that our brain is primarily a “gist processor.” That means that we are more interested in being effective (goal acquisition) than we are being efficient, being a deep thinker, or knowing a lot of background. In the classroom, this means that most kids (unless we shape their brains differently) would much rather get quirky headlines, YouTube clips, and do activities all day.

To become effective, the brain relies on an exquisite collection of feedback processors. Read more

Teaching Kids In Poverty.

Host a staff development workshop on your own, using Jensen Learning’s workshop to go. It’s a program that you can deliver school-wide with positive, practical, research-based methods that can skyrocket student achievement scores.

Click here to find out how your school can overcome the challenges of teaching kids in poverty.

Teaching Strategies: The Use of Social and Emotional Activities


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.

Creative Commons License photo credit: krystal.pritchett

The Challenges Involved in Brain-Based Learning



Every New Discipline Has Challenges

Typical challenges involved in brain-based learning include:

  1. finding people and sources you can trust to learn from (websites, famous people, etc.)
  2. deciding on the format or vehicle for learning (in person, on-line, books?)
  3. prioritizing the time to make it happen (learning plus the implementation)

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:

  1. it shows we believe in what we do, and
  2. it’s easier for you to understand it when you can see it used.

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…

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