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Classroom Miracles Made Simple

Hero Teacher Martha Rivera Alanis

Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: How to involve, include and inspire every student, every day.

One teacher told me about her class. At the start of every school year she asks her young elementary level kids, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

One year a kid responded, “I wanna be like my daddy and be on welfare.” Some teachers would have rolled their eyes and thought, “How am I supposed to teach kids in poverty that have a home life like his?”

But this teacher refused to lower her goals or her standards for her kids. She does what high performing teachers often do.

Her strategy? What did she do?

The answer is, “Broaden the kid’s horizons and help him think bigger!” 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

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