No, I am not quoting Janet Jackson’s 1980’s song, but rather referring to the fact that our brains are hard-wired to seek and respond to pleasure. This was one of the main points I took from this week’s readings and lectures. The discussion around addiction and brain receptors was intriguing. The fact that we have receptor sites to accept neurotransmitters which dull pain and produce euphoria gets us through many hard times as humans. We produce those neurotransmitters naturally, but some have found ways to get around that and take drugs to give them the same effect. Those neurotransmitters also make us want to repeat those behaviors that make us feel better. (Wolfe, p.66-69) This led me to wonder how things that are interesting to us we enjoy, pay more attention to, and also want to repeat. That idea fell in line with Rule #4 in Brain Rules, “we don’t pay attention to boring things”.(Medina, 2008) As a teacher I asked myself, where is the connection here for my students? What can I do to help make our classroom and my teaching enjoyable or at the very least not boring? Patricia Wolfe states in Brain Matters –
An effective classroom climate might be described as one that allows students to naturally increase the endorphin, dopamine, norepinephrine, or serotonin levels in their brains, making the students’ education experiences more pleasurable and rewarding. (Wolfe, p. 69)
I see with my third graders that some are highly engaged while many daydream, lack focus, fiddle with things, and generally look bored. Medina suggests that “emotional arousal helps the brain learn”. He writes that as students (or audiences) begin to “check out” around 10 minutes the key is to engage them back with an emotional story or “hook”. (Medina, p. 90) I can apply this principle easily in my classroom as I teach. I generally break a lesson into segments that get the kids moving after the initial “lecture” portion by adding a story or emotional tie in at that point would engage both the mind and body to respond positively to the continuation of the lesson. They will find more pleasure in what they were doing which will increase attention and their overall experience.
Another point that I found key was in the reading of the parietal lobe. This portion of the brain performs many functions, but the one that I found most interesting and applicable to my classroom was the role it plays in “maintaining focus or spatial attention”. (Wolfe, p. 40) Her example was regarding wearing shoes that were too tight and how our focus is concentrated on our feet due to the pain and discomfort there, but when we take off those shoes, the pain subsides, and our attention can move on to something else. This related to my classroom because I have a huge range of sizes of children and for many of them the desks and chairs we use are too big right now. They can’t touch their feet to the floor! With their dangling legs and arms up to their armpits on their desks I can see the discomfort on their face and know that their parietal lobe is fully engaged in their discomfort and unable to attend to what I am teaching. Unfortunately I can’t get different desks and chairs for them that easily and they will in fact grow into them this year, so in the mean time I have made accommodations for them allowing for them to tuck their legs up under them, stand if they are more comfortable, or move to a back work table if they choose. Allowing them these choices I believe has freed up that parietal lobe and allowed them to better focus to their classwork.
In the end, the pursuit of fully engaged students who are finding pleasure and purpose in their learning is the desire of every great educator and one that I am fully embracing this year.