Fall 2010

Teachers of the Future

Whole Brain Teaching: Learning the Way the Brain is Designed

Whole Brain Teaching: Learning the Way the Brain is Designed

For a new teacher going into your first classroom is a prospect that is both exciting and frightening. Training and practical experience under the tutelage of professors and experienced teachers is all well and good, but those people are not with you when you walk into that room and look into the expectant faces of your very own students. The methods you use can make your classroom experience enormously rewarding, or enormously stressful, often both at the same time. However, there are ways to approach your interaction with your classes that can make the experience both more fun and less stressful for you, and your students at the same time.

For a new teacher going into your first classroom is a prospect that is both exciting and frightening. Training and practical experience under the tutelage of professors and experienced teachers is all well and good, but those people are not with you when you walk into that room and look into the expectant faces of your very own students. The methods you use can make your classroom experience enormously rewarding, or enormously stressful, often both at the same time. However, there are ways to approach your interaction with your classes that can make the experience both more fun and less stressful for you, and your students at the same time.

Whole Brain Teaching is an approach designed toward maximizing student engagement, and focusing on the way the brain is really designed to learn. It is an integrated method combining effective classroom management and pedagogically sound approaches to student engagement that are effective with a wide range of student learning populations vetted through 15 years of classroom application. From this research and experimentation Whole Brain Teaching was born.

Whole Brain Teaching can, and is being used at every level of instruction, kindergarten through college, with tremendous positive results.

Learning an effective, flexible approach like this, particularly one that integrates classroom management with effective teaching techniques, can give new teachers a tremendous advantage in their ability to deal with the stresses of the teaching profession.

Whole Brain Teaching is intended to be flexible, adaptable by any teacher to their own teaching methods. It is based on seven core components, referred to as The Big Seven. The speed with which a teacher introduces these to a class depends on the comfort level of the teacher and the students. Never try to add something new until both the teacher and the class are ready to move on. Only a few of these components will be discussed here.

The first element of the Big Seven is the Class-Yes,

and is intended to get the attention of your class with one word. There are a lot of attention getters out there, from flashing the lights, to raising a hand and waiting for the class to stop talking and listen. All of these are missing one critical element to be effective- the students! In most of these methods the teacher is the sole active participant, and the students are completely passive. Students are taught that when the teacher says ‘class!’ they respond ‘yes!’ The hook is that the students have to say yes in the same way the teacher says class. For example, if the teacher says ‘class-class’ the students’ respond ‘yes-yes’. Teachers should use as many variations of ‘class’ as they can think of. This keeps the technique interesting and unpredictable for the students. Most importantly they have an important role to play and are an active part of securing everyone’s attention for the instructions to come from the teacher.

The next element is the Five Rules.

Rules are an important element in any effective classroom. A new teacher in particular needs to establish expectations for behavior. The problem many teachers have is that they post their rules on a poster, or a bulletin board, go over them a time or two near the beginning of the year, and then are surprised when the students do not know the rules months later. Once again the students are not a part of the rules. In Whole Brain Teaching there are five simple rules, each has a gesture associated with it, and each one is an intimate part of the classroom learning environment. For example, Rule Two is ‘raise your hand for permission to speak.’ As you practice the rule you raise your hand, and then bring it down and make a hand-puppet like speaking motion with your hand. As one might imagine, it is the most violated rule in a classroom setting. Typically, if a student is speaking while the teacher is addressing the class, the teacher calls the student down and asks them to stop speaking. This can open up a power struggle that can derail the class, or at least lead to hard feeling by the student for the teacher. With this approach instead the teacher addresses the class, calling them up with a class-yes, then the teacher says ‘Rule Two!’ and the whole class practices Rule Two. This way the teacher has not embarrassed the speaker, every student is involved in practicing the rule, and class has been interrupted for a matter of seconds with no possibility for power struggles. In this approach the students master the rules quickly, and the rules are an active part of class.

One of the most important elements is the Scoreboard Game.

This is a classroom engagement game that your students want you to play, but the teacher cannot really lose. In the Scoreboard Game a scoreboard is drawn on one side of the board, and can be divided for different classes for secondary teachers or teachers who rotate classes. Elementary scoreboards are set up with Smiley versus Frowny. Secondary classrooms are set up teacher versus students. This ‘game’ rewards kids for doing what the teacher expects. In the secondary environment the only way for a rebellious teenager to rebel is to do what they teacher asks, scoring for the students, keeping the teacher from getting a point. Teachers usually provide a reward for students winning the game on a daily, or weekly basis. However, the rewards are not extrinsic. Recommended rewards include a little less homework, the ability for students to choose their own seats, or time to play a game. The Scoreboard Game will work for most students, but Whole Brain Teaching does have other disciplinary elements that are effective, even with the most difficult students.

Try Teach-OK and then add Switch.

For any teacher maximizing student comprehension is a vital part of the job. Most teachers rely on the traditional methods that were used when they were coming through school themselves. Typical activities in the traditional approach, worksheets, notes, or lecture, engage only one portion of a student’s brain when creating memories for content. Students can learn information using all of their senses, but they may learn through some senses more easily than others. A valuable approach for a teacher would obviously be an approach that provides the information to the students using more than one sensory system. The Teach-OK element of Whole Brain Teaching does just that. Using this method a teacher talks about an important concept or idea for a couple of minutes. Then the teacher has the class copy his/her gestures, and teaches the main ideas contained in that short segment of lecture. Then the students turn to face their partner, and teach their partners the same information that the teacher just covered, and they can then take a note on the information if the teacher desires. The students are now part of the teaching that is going on, and they are delivering content to one another using all their senses. As any teacher knows, you learn the most about any content when you are the one who has to teach it. An additional benefit of this technique is that, unlike most traditional instruments, the teacher can tell at a glance if every student is engaged in the lesson or not.

Once the students have learned the Teach-OK approach the teacher can add Switch. The Teach-OK is performed that same as listed above, however, this time one student partner teaches while the other mimics the teacher partner’s gestures. In a moment when the teacher calls out ‘switch!’ the students respond ‘switch!’ and the teaching partners switch roles. This insures that students who are reluctant to talk are actually teaching their partners.

These are just a few of the elements of Whole Brain Teaching that provide teachers, especially those new to the classroom, with a method that integrates both effective, fun, low stress classroom management and exciting teaching methods that produce enhanced retention and comprehension of content. This has been only a very basic introduction to the things that can be accomplished using Whole Brain Teaching. The flexibility and utility of this approach is limited only by the imagination of the teacher. To learn more about this approach, and talk to hundreds of teachers who use this approach everyday in their classrooms, visit www.wholebrainteaching.com. All of the videos, and e-books detailing this method are free to teachers.

Jeff Battle is an 8th grade science and social studies teacher at Canton Middle School, in Canton, NC. He holds an M.A.T. with certifications in science and social studies. Battle has been teaching for over 17 years. He has taught diverse populations including academically gifted, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, learning disabled, inclusion, and regular education.