I taught sixth grade language arts and social studies from 1989 to 1996 in a middle school in my district. From 1996-1998 I worked at the same school as a reading specialist. For the last four years at this school, I was the chairperson of the language arts department. During that tenure, I remember a discussion with teachers about teaching writing and the writing process. I distinctly remember one teacher explaining to me that a child could write a complete sentence until they had mastered the art of distinguishing the difference between noun, verbs, adjective, adverbs, subjects, predicates and much more. Her efforts as middle school ELA teacher was to make sure they could have these distinctions before should could expect her students to write a sentence or even begin to write a paragraph.
I too was guilty of this methodology in my classroom. I remember trying so hard to teach sixth graders how to identify subjects and verbs. I think I spent two weeks and still less than half I felt mastered the concept. It was not until I read Nancy Atwell’s book In the Middle did I understand the how to teach reading. It is the year 2008 and I am amazed how so little progress we have made. We continue to immerse students into small chunks of learning with fear of letting them take the big plunge.
Today we know more than we did in the early 90’s about how students learn. Cognitive science helps us understand how the brain functions and how people learn. The scientific approach have indicated that everyone learns, but schools do not always understand how best to approach each student (Solumon & Schrum, 2007) Geoffrey Caine and Renate Nummela Caine described 12 core principles of brain based learning:
1. The brain is a complex adaptive system.
2. The brain is a social brain.
3. The search for meaning is innate.
4. The search for meaning occurs through patterning.
5. Emotions are critical to patterning.
6. Every brain simultaneously perceives and creates parts and wholes.
7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral attention.
8. Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes.
9. We have at least two ways of organizing memory.
10. Learning is developmental.
11.Complex learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.
12. Every brain is uniquely organized. (Where Did the “12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles” Come From? Caine and Caine)
Caine and Caine conclude that “Optimizing the use of the human brain means using the brain’s infinite capacity to make connections-and understanding what conditions maximize this process.” We are a world of images and I keep preaching to teachers the importance of using images in presenting content. Finding the images takes time and overtime it comes easier. The Internet makes it easy to find images and video. The old cookie cutter teacher was the idea of teaching skill until you were capable of being in the driver’s seat or capable of orchestrating the whole process since one had mastered all the skills.
Caine and Caine also indicate that three interactive elements are essential to this purpose.
1. The teacher must orchestrated the immersion of the learner in multiple, complex, authentic experience. Solomon and Schrum use the example of immersing student in a foreign country to teach them a second language (Solumon & Schrum, 2007) Another example is allowing students to solve a real world problem to learn multiple standards or moving learning to the creation stage in Bloom’s taxonomy. Students are able take ownership in learning when they are able to connect the learning to the real world.
2. Students must have a personal meaningful challenge. Challenges stimulate our brains (Solumon & Schrum, 2007). The learning activity must be of low threat and high challenge (Where Did the “12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles” Come From?). Yesterday I told the group of seventh grades they were charged with making digital posters to give tips to other students how to deal with emotions. What challenges can we offer when we ask students to write an essay on leadership, a former President, etc?
3. There must be an active processing of the experience in order to make meaning from the learning. Students need to know that there are multiple ways of making meaning. The teacher must rethink and offer multiple ways to students to tackle an assignment or tackle presenting the content. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple Intelligences should be in the forethought in planning classroom curriculum.
We understand the fact that student learn in a variety of ways, mainly because our brains are different. We know students process and understand information differently because our brains are different and we each bring different life and cultural experiences to our classrooms. This should matter to the teachers, but the old school of thinking we are back to school and back to teaching and not to back to learning. Teachers too are a part of the learning process. With technology today it helps us target the right approaches for each student. (Solumon & Schrum, 2007) We have a tool that helps students analyze, synthesize, and communicate information. Technology offers ways to apply new pedagogy to make target auditory, visual, and tactile kinesthetic learners. We must find ways to take advantage of these tools. We must find time in our professional lives to learn these tools.
We can use targeted teaching methods to help students analyze, synthesize, and communicate information. We can combine this with Web 2.0 tools. We know so much more today and it seems we are so far away from facing the truths in education. Eric Jensen wrote a great book Teaching with the Brain in Mind that offers more insight with the design of curriculum and teaching with the cognitive science in the forefront of our thinking in transferring brain research to the classroom. Technology and all the tools encompass ways we can move our students forward to the twenty first century.
Solumon, G., & Schrum, L. (2007). Web 2.0 new tools, new schools. Eugene, Washington: ISTE.
Where Did the “12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles” Come From? (n.d.). Retrieved September 5, 2008, from Brain Connection: http://www.brainconnection.com/topics/?main=fa/brain-based3