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whole brain teaching

Classroom Management

Whole Brain Teaching: What It Is and How I Use It In My Classroom

March 7, 2017

As a student teacher, I worked in a district that used the “Whole Brain Teaching” instructional system. Fundamentally, “Whole Brain Teaching” (WBT) is a set of behavior management techniques and engagement strategies designed to teach in a way the brain understands best. It combines call and response with physical movement to teach the curriculum and get the students’ attention. To someone passing by my room, it can be quite noisy! I am not the only one talking, the kiddos are chanting, standing on their chairs, and using hand motions to practice vocabulary words. Whole Brain Teaching can seem intimidating, especially when you watch YouTube videos of teachers who have fully implemented all of the techniques; however, my favorite part of WBT is that you can pick and choose what works for you and use the strategies to add to the amazing things you already do.  I choose to implement some aspects of the Whole Brain Teaching philosophy and simply don’t use others. I have had success using the following techniques with my third graders.

  1. Classroom Rules- The Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) system uses a set of rules that can be used with any age group, in any classroom. The rules are very general and can be applied to so many situations. Every day my class starts their morning by reciting the classroom rules. Each rule has a hand signal to accompany it. For example, when they recite rule number four, make smart choices, they use their finger to point to their brain. I display my colorful rule posters on my bulletin board and the children reference them throughout the day. The posters can be downloaded (for free!) from Teachers Pay Teachers
  2. “Class? Yes!” – Class? Yes! is by far the best way to get my class’s attention. I taught this on the first day of school and they know whenever I say “class” they say “yes” and stop what they are doing and look at me. For example: if I say “class, class, class” they say “yes, yes, yes”. If I say “howdy class” they say “howdy yes” and so on. I keep them on their toes by switching it up and adding snaps, claps, and goofy combinations, ensuring their attention is on me.
  3. “Hands and Eyes” – When I say give me hands and eyes they know to stop what they are doing and look at me with their hands still, and that it is my turn to talk and their turn to look at me and listen.
  4. “Mirror with Words” – Mirror with Words is how we learn new vocabulary in my classroom. Students simply “mirror” my movements and repeat what I say. To introduce mirror and words we started with the “mirror” aspect. I told my students they had to mirror exactly what I did after I did it. I would touch my head, then they would touch theirs. I would draw a circle in front of my face; they would follow. Next, we added in the “words.” They would watch me say a word like perimeter as I drew a shape with my finger. Then they did the same. We use “mirror with words” for all subjects! Sometimes my motions are goofy but it helps them remember the words for months!

Whole Brain Teaching can be daunting to implement, but by picking and choosing my favorite aspects of the program I am able to teach content and manage behavior effectively. If you aren’t ready to uproot your entire classroom management system yet, consider adding in “class yes”…it is a great place to begin! If you want to learn more about the system, check out the book Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle.

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Practical Ways to Incorporate Whole Brain Learning

May 21, 2017

Why Whole Brain Learning?

I recently completed my doctorate.  As a student as well as a full-time teacher, I gained a new perspective and empathy for my students.  My classes met each Friday night from 6-10 and from 8-5 on Saturdays.  After teaching all week, I was exhausted on Friday night classes.  Lecture after lecture usually lulled me to sleep by 8:30.  One particular Friday class, we received a text from our professor that asked us to wear a coat and comfortable shoes.  She went on to inform us that we were going on a scavenger hunt around the campus.  I remember dancing for joy that I would not have to sit the whole night.  Then it hit me, if I felt this way as an adult learner, how much more must my students feel?

What is Whole Brain Learning?

The human brain and its ability for retrieval have been a new frontier in education over the last few decades. Whole Brain Learning is the engagement of strategies based on principles derived from an understanding of the brain (Jensen, 2008). It encompasses multiple learning modalities that produce higher retention and engagement of students. In order for learning to occur, the brain must fire thousands of neurons.  These neurons require activation to fire, or it will remain dormant and activation of memory will not take place.  Whole brain teaching fires more neutrons in the brain for learning.  Plainly put, the more ways you introduce new learning, the additional pathways a student has in the retrieval process. When learning encompasses multiple learning styles, the information will hold a better chance for retention.

How Do I Incorporate Whole Brain Teaching into my Classroom?  

 For additional information, see Teaching the Unteachable Blog.

  1. Experience the Standards-More experts and research than I care to list, maintain that when students have authentic, tangible, and meaningful experiences, student retention is 65% compared to 10% through lecture or didactic learning (Bannerman, 2009 & Garner, 2007). For example, rather than instruct measurement through a worksheet, give students real world practice by taking them outside to find the area or perimeter of the playground or flowerbed or teaching about D-Day by playing a structured capture the flag game.
  2. Move to Learn: One of the best pathways for memory is to learn by doing. Anytime you can get students up and moving, they are more apt to engage and therefore retain information taught.  A simple way to add movement into a lesson is by adding hand motions to an otherwise boring topic.  For example, when teaching the aspects of narrative writing, teach students S.T.O.R.Y.  S-Starring duh da duh da…my characters (dramatic with jazz hands)

T-Talking or Dialogue (hands talking to each other)

O-Opening and Closing (using hands opening and closing a door)

R-Rising Action (start at the bottom and rise up)

Y-Yummy Details (rub belly and use Sumo Wrestler voice).

  1. Proximity Learning: Location, Location, Location….Each time you teach a particular skill or standard, try standing in the same location each time.  After a while, students will remember the information simply by the location.  I had a student that had difficulty with memory.  When I asked him to retrieve information, he first said he did not know, but knew it was in the right corner of the room.  He shut his eyes, visualized me standing there, and was able to remember the information.
  2. Trick Kids into Processing: How many times have your students blurt out the answers without thinking through it?  What typically happens is the higher achieving students shout out the answer while other student’s thinking is effectively shut down.

Try this instead.  Have the students think about the answer.  You may drop hints such as it is a long word…or the synonym is …Then have students close their eyes, visualize it, open their eyes, blow the answer into their hands, and when the teacher says 1-2-3-they throw the answer.  This gives all students an opportunity to think through their answer as well as giving all students an opportunity to learn.  For example, the teacher may ask what is the process in which all plants receive their food through the sun.  The teacher may ask what letter it starts with…or describe this as a long word…have them close their eyes and picture the word very bright….and have the students make camera clicking noises….by the time you have them blow the answer in their hands, most students have visualized it, made movements with the word, and verbalized it.

Still Want More:

 There are so many more whole brain-teaching techniques; I couldn’t possibly list them all in this blog post.  Start with a few activities and reflect what worked.  There are thousands of YouTube videos on the subject including my own.

For a list of great books and resources, feel free to email me.

Morale Motivation

Teaching the Unteachable Students

May 5, 2017

“You are too stupid to learn this.”

“You are not college material.”

“You will never amount to anything in life.”

These comments were commonplace for me as a student.  I failed most tests and had to attend special education classes.  As typical with low achieving students, my behavior was less than stellar.  My desk was always beside the teacher’s desk. I was the student all teachers cringed when my name appeared on their class list.  I struggled all through school.

Years later, my mother saw my fifth-grade teacher out shopping.  After exchanging niceties, Mrs. Long asked about me (I am sure she thought I would be in jail or working a menial job.).  My mother said, “She is actually a fifth-grade teacher.”  The look of complete and utter shock and disbelief appeared on her face.  She, like others, wondered how did I make it this far.

My struggles were actually the catalyst for becoming a teacher and shaped my educator pedagogy.

One thing I did have going for me was a stubborn personality.  I was determined to become a teacher to help students like me.  Of course, in order to do that, I had to find a way to pass college.  I began trying to teach myself various ways to remember information.  I turned information into songs, stories, hand motions, acronyms, drawing pictures, and any other way of remembering the needed information.  Not only did those methods work, but also for the first time in my life, I was successful. I graduated with honors, and I went on to get my masters and doctorate degrees both with a 4.0 GPA.

As a teacher, I utilized the same strategies that worked for me and observed student achievement soar. After attending trainings and completing research on whole brain teaching, I realized that many of the strategies I used to achieve success for myself and my students were strikingly similar.  Whether you are an ahem “seasoned” teacher like myself or a novice teacher, these multisensory, multidiscipline, and whole brain teaching strategies work.  There are too many to describe in one blog post, so here are a few.  Stay tuned next month to receive more helpful tips.

  1. Utilize MULTIPLE Senses: Garner’s outdated practice of Multiple Intelligence has been refuted in the past few years. A person is not simply one type of learner.  For example, I am not merely a visual learner, but also a kinesthetic, spatial, musical, and verbal learner.  If teachers instruct students in only one modality, they have stifled other valuable pathways for learning to occur.  Instead, utilize multiple sensory activities and a variety of multiple intelligences.  Neurologist and middle school teacher, Judy Willis conducted numerous studies on the brain and the retrieval process.  Her research concluded when educators teach a subject through multiple experiences, it will activate numerous dendritic pathways for retrieval (Willis, 2007).  For example, when teaching students fractions, have them physically hop on a masking tape number line in your room, draw it, act it out—The denominator (in your best terminator voice) says I will break “YOU” up or “I ate the WHOLE thing”, the numerator says, I REPRESENT (like a rapper) the number of parts, raps, songs, hand motions, real-world applications, and the list goes on and on.  When I encounter a standard, one of the first things I do is write M.O.V.E.

M-Music-make up silly songs or jingles

O-Out of their Seats-simply using hand motions or acting it out

V-Verbals-synthesize the information in their own words-peer teach

E-Envision-Picture it to Remember it

Plan your lessons with those in mind to reach more students.

  1. Repeat to Remember– Brain research indicates that reviewing the same information sequentially for several days in a row will transfer information from short-term to long-term memory. Spiral or cumulative reviews daily is another way to retain information long-term.  Ask students to repeat directions or key information to you.  Chunk information into short five-minute intervals.  Then have students repeat or teach a partner the information as well.  This will serve two purposes.  One, it will have students repeating information and synthesizing it in their own words.  Second, it will provide a structured brain break that will better prepare their brains for the next interval of information.

Subscribe to Tenspire to make sure you do not miss Part 2 of “Whole Brain Teaching: Ten Strategies I Can Incorporate into my Teaching Today”.

Classroom Management Featured New Teacher

Behavior Management Boosters

May 19, 2017

As the weather gets warmer and the sun begins to shine the only thing on my students’ mind is summer vacation. Except the only problem is… summer vacation is still weeks away! Summer has been on my students’ mind since the first day of March and behavior management hasn’t been as easy as it once was back in the fall. While I still rely on my old tricks, I have added a few new fun things to keep my kids motivated to make good choices every day.

Score Board 

In my past posts, I shared how I use Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom (check out the post here) and one of the easiest behavior management techniques in the book “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” is called the Scoreboard. The Scoreboard is SO simple and effective. Each day I draw a T-Chart on my white board, one side is the happy side the other is the sad side. The goal is to end the day with more happy points than sad points…that’s it!

Throughout the day I award happy points and sad points depending on what I see. Are students talking out of turn? They earn a sad point! Are students following directions the first time asked? They earn a positive Point! The trick is to keep the score close to keep them on edge 🙂 In addition to tallying points, I always have a small incentive on the line like extra recces or Go-Noodle time. This small reward doesn’t take a lot of time or money, but is an extra way to reward good behavior.

VIP Bucket

All over Instagram I saw teachers using a “VIP Table” to award students for good behavior and thought this would be perfect for my classroom….if only I had the space. While I don’t have room to create a separate VIP table I was able to modify the idea to fit the needs of my classroom. Instead of a VIP table I filled a shower caddy with Mr. Sketch markers, stickers, mechanical pencils, and all of those extra Target Dollar Spot erasers we all hoard.

The VIP bin is awarded to a student each afternoon and is taken to the student’s desk to be used the next day. Instead of choosing a student at the end of the day, I draw a student’s name and it is a secret that is revealed at dismissal. If the student made good choices, they earn the VIP award, but f they don’t I do not reveal the name and their name is put back in the drawing. My student’s love to guess who is going to be VIP and the privilege of using my fancy supplies is enough to keep even my toughest kids motivated to stay on track.

What are some ways that you boost your behavior management system at the end of the year?