Brain research is providing educators with important information as to how children’s brains grow and develop. Having attended a class with Dr. Kathie Nunley regarding brain research, I am very interested in how we, as educators, integrate what brain research is telling us to more effectively teach our students. So I was excited to read a recent article from the January issue of OhioSchools magazine entitled “Bringing brain research into the classroom” by Eric Jensen. Over the next few blogs, I would like to convey to those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to read this article some of its salient points.
Eric Jensen is an internationally known educator who has written over 20 books, including Teaching with the Brain in Mind, and who leads workshops which emphasize the connection of brain research to student achievement. His simple premise is: “The brain is intimately involved in, and connected with, everything educators and students do at school. Any disconnect is a recipe for frustration and potentially disaster. Brain-based education is best understood in three words: engagement, strategies, and principles. You must engage your learners and do it with strategies that are based on real science.” In this article, Jensen breaks down brain-based education into ten strategies. I will deal with the first three in this blog.
“Strategy #1: Physical education, recess and movement are critical to learning.” The growing of neurons, which can occur throughout our lifetime, can be regulated by everyday behaviors, one of which is exercise. These neurons correlate with memory, mood, and learning. Research shows that the best activities to grow neurons are voluntary gross motor activities such as running, dance, team sports, power walks, games, etc. New research shows that during early childhood, “movement wires up the brain to make more efficient connections.”
So how do schools apply this research? “Support more, not less physical activity, recess and classroom movement. It raises the good chemicals for thinking, focus, learning and memory.” Jensen recommends 30-60 minutes per day of voluntary physical activity. He claims it will lower stress response and boost neurogenesis, the formation and development of nerve cells, and learning. He recommends starting out the school year offering a variety of physical activities and eventually allowing students to choose the type of physical activity they enjoy because forced activity can cause an overproduction of cortisol, a steroid hormone which is released in response to stress.
“Strategy #2: Social conditions influence our brain in multiple ways we never knew before.” Jensen points out that school behaviors become encoded through our sense of pleasure, coherence, stress, reward, acceptance, and affinity because they are highly social experiences. While educators are aware that poor social conditions have an adverse affect upon students in the classroom, research now shows that a sense of isolation or social defeat are correlated with fewer brain cells.
How does this apply to the classroom? Jensen says, “Do not allow random social groupings for more than 10-20 percent of the school day.” He suggests the use of diverse groupings that are targeted and well-planned allowing for mentoring, teams, and buddies. He also recommends creating and strengthening positive social conditions between students and between the teacher and students.
“Strategy #3: The brain changes!” Here’s an incredible fact: the brain changes every day, which means our students’ brains are changing daily right before our eyes. This process can be influenced through reading, the arts, skill-building, meditation, career building, and improved thinking skills. The better our skill-building approach, the faster the brain can change. Jensen explains: “We used to think about the paradigm as either genes or experience. We now know it can be a hybrid of both. We now know that environments can trigger genes to express themselves in ways we never would have predicted-if you know what to do. You can upgrade a student’s capacity for memory, processing, sequencing, attention and impulsivity regulation.”
Jensen recommends that teachers take 30-90 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week to improve student skill sets. He suggests teaching attention, memory, and processing skills at least 30 minutes a day to ensure student progress.
I will refrain from discussing how or if Jensen’s strategies can be integrated into current teaching strategies which are, by necessity, based around state testing, until I have reported on each strategy. Until then, this is to be continued…