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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

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Also read Working memory

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.

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