Read this for a 3 minute overview on how to enhance your teaching practice to engage your students and help them connect the knowledge: https://www.teachthought.com/learning/6-targets-teach-way-brain-learns/
This year, the National Retail Federation estimates a total spend of $4.9 billion dollars (USD) on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes, with an average of $114 per K-12 child.
$114 may not seem that bad. After all, that’s only $11 per month of school.
But, inevitably, there’s the ask from teachers for school supplies to be donated - the extra pencils, crayons, and the inevitable truck load of glue sticks (no, they’re not eating it).
Numerous conversations with parents reveal a resentment, tinged with shades of guilt, for the resentment. The conversation always goes back to school taxes, as in, “I pay my school taxes. I don’t understand why I need to donate school supplies. I’ve expenses just like everyone else and I’m not asking for anyone to help me pay them.”
Then I read the shocking news story about Teresa Danks, a Columbus, OH teacher, who decided to panhandle for the money she needed to purchase school supplies for her classroom.
Here’s the thing - you’re sending your child to school with the requisite supplies. Maybe someone else couldn’t. Maybe their child is one of the 51% of US public school students who live in poverty.
Buying extra supplies is one way to alleviate stress in the classroom, for teachers, and for students in need. If a student is stressed, they’re not learning. They’re thinking about whatever it is, that’s stressing them out. As in, “Crap. I don’t have any more paper. Gotta ask Mom to get me some. How much does paper cost anyway? She’ll probably say I was wasting it and she doesn’t have any money to buy it anyway. I wonder who I can borrow some from. Who haven’t I asked yet?”
Let’s keep our learners focused on learning. And let’s keep our teachers teaching.
So the next time you see that list come home with the extra supplies request, or you take a few tags from the giving tree at preschool/early elementary, relish the chance to be a good neighbor…think of it as your personal Santa Claus moment. You'll feel good and lower your stress.
And if your state participates in the tax free weekend for school supply shopping, take advantage. Here’s a list of the participating states and times: http://hip2save.com/2017/06/26/2017-tax-free-shopping-dates-save-on-back-to-school-shopping-select-states-only/
For more on how schools are funded, check out this piece from NPR; it is a complex and multifaceted story, subject to frequent changes.
Words can break a student or build a student. What words are are you using in your classroom? Are they building words like “You’re getting better at this” or “I like your persistence” or are they breaking words like “Seriously” or “I can’t believe you don’t remember this”.
We’ve all had those moments where we mentally wonder if our students are ever going to get it. What feels like the millionth time we’ve explained a concept or helped them to sound a word out for the correct spelling; maybe it’s remembering their multiplication tables. And, without meaning to, you might say something like, “Are you kidding me?”
Now maybe you caught yourself and rephrased, in an attempt to not show just how frustrated you are.
Or maybe you didn’t even notice.
But your student did.
That singular moment for the teacher, one of a million in their average day, is now embedded in that student’s mind.
And it’ll stay there.
Nagging at them.
Feeding their insecurity.
And making them doubt their ability.
Well past their school days, they’ll most likely, recall that one moment with that one teacher, who said “Are you kidding me?”
Words are like spells. What spell are you casting in your classroom?
Setting the emotional tone of your classroom is the most important thing a teacher does.” (Dr.Mariale Hardiman, founder of the Brain Targeted Teaching Model)
Grey Matters was recently included in a teacher training on social emotional learning, in particular, how to work with stressed children.
Stress is a funny beast. It’s kind of like chocolate - small amounts are fine, but it’s the larger quantities that can do you in. Here’s what we know about stress - large and consistent exposure to stress shrinks the hippocampus, the region of your brain involved in memory, and neurons in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of your brain responsible for problem-solving. Read the research here.
So what does this mean for your classroom?
It’s simple - stressed brains aren’t learning.
If a kid shows up to your classroom, having started their day with stress or encountered stress along the way, they are going to be sitting in that stress. A simple “shake it off” or “slip into a learning mindset” or “let’s leave our baggage at the door” isn’t going to shift their brain from the “protective fight or flight mode” into the “thinking thoughtful mode”.
Social-Emotional Learning offers teachers a basic understanding of emotions and the brain and equips teachers with tools and strategies to help students move out of the stress and their emotions, and into the learning day.
In the film Grey Matters, we see the Peace Path used by Justin Holbrook in his Grade 4 classroom, offers students and teachers, a way acknowledge their emotions, communicate calmly and make a resolution for future behaviours. Holbrook designated a space in the rear of his classroom for his Peace Path which offered students a way to vocalize what was troubling them. Maybe someone had called them a mean name, or grabbed something from them. “My kids know that they can go to the Peace Path at anytime, even if I’m teaching. I’ve had kids ask me to go the Peace Path and I’ve asked kids to go to the Peace Path,” Holbrook explains.
One of the biggest things teachers talk about is how to handle external situations that result in stressed students. From home life to peer relationships - there are a lot of things that teachers can’t control. Yet, those outside the classroom situations, often spill over to the classroom.
Do you deal with it? Or ignore it, in hopes it’ll sort it self out?
Turns out neither of those.
A 2007 research study suggests acknowledging the emotion and redirecting the student (barring a life-threatening issue) may be the most effective approach. In action, that could look like, “Did you want to chat after class or do you want to have lunch with me?”, effectively creating some distance between the student and the emotion.
But what if you can’t tell when a student is upset?
Here’s what one teacher did and this piece is excerpted from “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for the 21st Century School” by Dr. Hardiman, “She designed a simple emotional temperature form with a row of emotions and corresponding adjectives (e.g. good, bad). Students circled how they felt that day and wrote a word or sentence or drew a picture to express his or her emotion. They would take the form, complete it, and return it to a basket, before beginning their work Two things came out of this approach - kids had the opportunity to acknowledge the emotion which helped them to detach. And the teacher was able to quickly spot where further follow-up or intervention might be needed.
Yours in learning and filmmaking.
I recently read J.D.Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (fascinating read and I highly recommend) where he credits his academic turnaround in high school to the stability he gained after he moves in with his grandmother. Throughout the latter part of the book Vance talks about the importance of role models and expectations - thinking that you can do something - and most of all, how a support network can help, even in the most challenging of family situations.
One of the things touched on in Grey Matters is the impact of stress on learning. Keep in mind, all stress is not equal. The stress of a kid not having their favorite cereal versus hoping there’s something to have for breakfast this morning. Or the stress of not finding their new jeans versus hoping there are clean clothes. It’s an omnipresent stress. If a student is stressed, they’re not focused on learning. Research has found stress physically changes the brain, shrinking the hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory.
Dr.Mariale Hardiman, author of the book, “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for the 21st Century School,” the basis of Grey Matters, discusses stress and learning in Brain Target 1 - establishing the emotional component for learning. When a teacher prioritizes establishing a positive emotional classroom climate and striving to connect with their students, it “broadens cognitive associations and results in better performance on creative thinking measures” (Fredrickson B.L.)
So what does this look like in a classroom, when a teacher understands how severely stress impacts on learning? Jeremy Mettler, a high school teacher at Batavia High School, a rustbelt city in upstate New York, aims to eliminate the barriers to learning in his classroom. “I keep pens, pencils, snacks, and water in his classroom. It’s there. They know where it is. If they need something printed, I can do that. I want them to know that I care. Because when they know I care about them, I can get them to go so much further in my classroom.
For Vicky Krug, a developmental education professor at Westmoreland County Community College, it’s a tougher crowd. Students in her classes arrive angry, because they’ve tested, and unfairly they feel, into her class. For Krug, when she was a student, the most important thing to her was knowing that she mattered and she wants her students to know they matter. Despite feeling like they’re starting their college career off at a disadvantage.
Hardiman’s book quotes research studies that show “students who report having personal connections with adults in school have stronger academic performance (WIlson, 2004), attendance (Croninger and Lee, 2001), and school completion rates (Connell, Halpern-Felsher, Clifford, Crichlow, & Usinger, 1995; Finn & Rock, 1997). They are also less likely to engage in disruptive behavior and violence in school (Goodenow, 1993; Lonczak, Abbott, Hawkins, Kosterman, & Catalano, 2002).
If you want your students to care about learning, let them know they matter.
Show your students, you care about them.
Yours in learning and filmmaking.
Brain-targeted teaching is not a quick fix. I can't fix in 10 weeks, students who've struggled for 10 years. Students come to me 3 weeks before finals and I tell them I can't magically erase their struggles for the last three semesters. It's not a magic wand.
Except, here's what I'm seeing. I have students right now who have struggled through high school and according to New York State, we haven't gotten them there yet but I'm seeing tremendous growth and improvement. They're actually starting to talk about the topic because they're learning finally comprehending what's being discussed. These are kids who wouldn't ask questions because they just didn't understand the content. One of the things I've changed after learning about how the brain functions and learns, and adopting this (brain-targeted teaching) method, is to slow down and go deeper, unpacking things more. We start with a plan of this is what you're going to learn and this is how we're going to do that, rather than take these notes and memorise them.
I think the pseudo-science got a hold of the whole "brain" thing just to make the quick buck off of it.
Testing - just what do they really know and how do they stack up?
We all want to know how our students are doing. That need to compare. Are they really getting it or am I just wasting my breath talking? Is it going in one ear and out the other? Are they making connections? So we test. And sometimes, in order to prove they know it, we teach exactly what we know is going to be tested. But there is rarely one way to do anything and assessments are no different.
While you can't escape the tests driven by policy, you can control the other assessment periods. The challenge is to balance single-answer tests with those that call for students to construct open-ended responses, solve problems, and apply knowledge. (Hardiman, 2012).
What does this look like in practice?
Portfolios or bodies of work over a term or year; projects; a student in Vicky Krug's developmental writing class illustrated her knowledge of process paragraphs by bringing in a cake and sharing the recipe (process paragraphs explains how to do something).
If you like what you're reading, show your support. Donate here: http://t.co/BuEOrRcOuX
Have you ever tried to put together a puzzle without having the end result image to reference? It's hard to do. Yet that's what we do with students all the time. We give them work, content, and leave out the connections - telling them how it all fits together. The brain is designed to look for connections and if those connections aren't being made or facilitated, students will tune out.
Keep them engaged by helping them look for connections. Help them to relate it to previous material they've learnt or are learning; to their lives; to other classes; to pop culture. It's all connected. Think web.
Support this documentary here:
In conversation with Justin Holbrook:
If they're learning something in class that they can't use in the real world or they can't find the connection to the real world, I feel like it's a waste of time. And it's my job to facilitate those connections.
Resources & Conversations:
Donate to this film: http://t.co/Pom8Kfqnzq
When Justin Holbrook is tackling a new topic in his class, he searches for real situations where the lesson is applicable, "I have to keep in mind, everyone's background knowledge is different so I can't just assume this will make sense for everyone." This taps into the brain's tendency to look for patterns and associations between information at the forefront of thought and information stored in memory (Posner & Rothbart, 2007, p.205). "You have to connect the known to the unknown," Vicky Krug explains in layman's terms. See the trailer at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/grey-matters-teaching-the-way-the-brain-learns/x/2765447.