As a Teacher Leader is it not only important to understand instruction and assessment, we need to understand and analyze how humans learn in order to promote growth in our students. Studying the human brain and the acquisition of knowledge was a first step in meeting this standard.
In the beginning of our course, Human Development and Principles of Learning (EDU 6655), we took a Neuromyths quiz. I had studied the brain and learning acquisition previously so I thought I would do well, but I scored a 21/32 which showed me I was still believing commonly held myths about the brain. I wanted to finish the course where we began by retaking my Neuromyths quiz. I improved my score to 27/32. I learned many things including that there is no such thing as being fully right or left brained as seen here –
Yet, this neuromyth pervades our culture. However, there are a few questions on the quiz that I feel are debatable and based on the readings from our course and other research based information, could be answered in different ways. For example, Question 6 – When a brain region is damaged other parts of the brain can take up its function. The quiz says this is false, but in my research and readings I found numerous pieces of evidence which prove this to be true. Below is one such mention –
The research, conducted by UCLA’s Michael Fanselow and Moriel Zelikowsky in collaboration with Bryce Vissel, a group leader of the neuroscience research program at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, appears this week in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers found that parts of the prefrontal cortex take over when the hippocampus, the brain’s key center of learning and memory formation, is disabled. Their breakthrough discovery, the first demonstration of such neural-circuit plasticity, could potentially help scientists develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions involving damage to the brain. (UCLA, 2013)
As you can see the teachings in this class have caused me to question “research based” materials. I find myself constantly checking and rechecking resources to vedt their validity.
The readings, lectures, and videos in this course took me down many paths, but two key themes emerged: 1. neuroscience vs. behavioral science and 2. the brain based classroom; integrating neuroscience research into best teaching practices.
Neuroscience vs. Behavioral Science
I realized during this course that much of what we do in education is based on behavioral sciences; Piaget, Vygotsky, and others. While Vygotsky it could be argued “bridges the gap” between the two disciplines, it remains to be two areas that are largely divided. One of the most thought provoking quotes of the quarter came from the Jossey Bass reader on The Brain and Learning. In chapter 19, Math Skills. After a comparison of the neuroscience and the behavioral science behind math knowledge acquisition and application of math skills, Byrnes makes the assertion that “we cannot yet be confidant about the math related claims made by neuroscientists. As such, it would be most prudent to base all instructional implications on the psychological perspective (at least until more neuroscientific studies are conducted). (Byrnes, 2001) He goes on to suggest many applications for math instruction in the classroom. The key word for me was “all”. It seemed in conflict with what we had learned previously in our other readings. Both Brain Matters (Wolfe, 2010) and Brain Rules (Medina, 2008) blend neuroscience and behavioral sciences in a comprehensive overview of the human brain and its functions. Each book makes suggestions of how to apply this knowledge into practice in the classroom. Through this study I have realized that contrary to Byrnes suggestion, it is actually a blending of the two sciences which leads to the best practices in our classrooms.
Whether it was pleasure seeking (or pain avoiding), memory, brain development and learning acquisition, repetition and practice, or specific learning disabilities and the brain anatomy affected, the impact on our classrooms was profound based on the readings and learning in this course. As evidenced in my post, Mind, Brain, Relationships, (https://kerigetshermasters.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/edu-6655-mind-brain-relationships/)
One big theme was memory and the formation of the knowledge base in ourselves and our students. As teachers, we try to activate prior knowledge to then build on that with new learning, moving our students closer to mastery (expert) level. So my question is, what if they don’t have that prior knowledge? How can we build it and level that playing field for our kids? This is where vision is key. Wolfe uses the work of psychiatrist Dan Siegel to give us a great example of how we use vision to form memories and even when we don’t see that image in front of us we use our “mind’s eye”. (Wolfe, p. 108-109). Asked to picture the Eiffel Tower, the brain using the temporal (decoding) and occipital lobes (visual processing) to create the image in our mind and we “see” the Eiffel Tower. “It is interesting that when you recall a visual image of something you previously viewed, you are activating many of the same neural networks that were activated originally (Begley, 2008).” (Wolfe, p. 109) Wolfe goes on to share examples of how some psychologists, neuroscientists, and psychiatrists can agree that “neurons that fire together, survive together, and wire together (Siegel, 2000)”.
Vision was also the topic of my Brain Rules project. In Chapter 10 of Brain Rules, Medina explains why vision “trumps all other senses” and how we “see with our brains, not our eyes”. (Medina, 2008) The use of visuals is especially important in the classroom. Medina asserts that teachers need to know why pictures grab attention and use that knowledge to increase student engagement. The use of computer animation and less words but more visuals are two suggestions he makes. (Medina, p. 237) Brain Rules Presentation –
Another key idea from the readings was pleasure seeking and addiction, principally the pleasure seeking portions of our brain. I wrote about this in The Pleasure Principal (https://kerigetshermasters.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/edu-6655-the-pleasure-principle/), discussing how student engagement can be linked to the classroom environment and specifically linking learning to a pleasure seeking activity. 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.
As the PGE Teacher Leader for my building, I have trained and taught others in the new teacher evaluation system (TPEP). At the center of the new system is monitoring and analyzing learning to promote student growth. A distinguished teacher relinquishes control of the learning to the student and is instead an expert guide for their learning. Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, is a “scholar whose work is being put into practice” (Williams, 2013) in the areas of teacher preparation and teacher evaluation. This portion of the readings for our course led me to choose, Teacher Evaluation: Old Way vs. New Way, as the topic for my final project for this course. EDU 6655 Final Presentation.
The learning I have done around TL Standard 2 – Analyzing Learning to Promote Student Growth has been some of the most rewarding and most applied in the past two years. I find that I am constantly referring to how our students learn and not just my teaching instruction, but that of my 3rd grade team has changed because of it. We try to incorporate more visuals whenever possible. We find stories, video, and other “emotional hooks” to include in our lessons. For spring we created a rotation system where the students are rotating classes, subjects, and teachers. Getting them moving and learning in short time spans keeps their brain activated and engaged during these squirrely spring months.
My future work in regards to this standard will include apply what I have learned to benefit all students in our school. As a principal intern next year I have already had conversations with my principal around our master schedule. I see incorporating my working knowledge and experience in this standard will apply to making a master schedule which takes into account a student’s day and when and how they will learn best. Building decisions such as use of classroom space and design, how to utilize shared spaces best, and even scheduling of certain assemblies and the timing there of all relate to this standard. Knowing how our students learn best we can create a system and an environment for them to thrive in.
Bransford, John. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 2000. Print.
Danielson, Charlotte, and Thomas L. McGreal. Teacher Evaluation to Enhance Professional
Practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,
Hattie, John A. C. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London:
Routledge, 2012. Print.
The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Print.
Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and
School. Seattle, WA: Pear, 2008. Print.
University of California – Los Angeles (2013, May 15). Brain rewires itself after damage or Ii injury, life scientists discover. ScienceDaily. Retrieved
Wolfe, Patricia. Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. 2nd ed.
Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2010. Print.