“Call this educational movement “brain-based,” if you like; the key factor is motivation. And that is also what deliberate enrichment is about: pursuing activities that are fun, interesting, even exciting to a child that provide challenge and stimulation while requiring active involvement” (Diamond & Hopson, 2008, p. 87). It is becoming clear as I learn more about brain-based information that children need to learn in an environment that is engaging and motivating. Greene (Diamond & Hopson, 2008) states, “Kids learn and retain things when they are actively involved… that’s how I define ‘brain-based education.’ You can call it ‘teaching to the multiple intelligences,’ or before that, that ‘everybody has their own unique learning style’ ” (p. 83). The goal is to engage students in learning that they will remember beyond the standardized test. This is often a challenge in my own classroom, within my own grade level, and within my own district. Constructivist learning takes time and time is something we run out of quickly as we approach the standardized tests.
Our new math curriculum is designed to develop students’ conceptual understanding. Students use many models to construct their understanding of math concepts. What is frustrating to teachers at the primary level is that students are developing strategies and concepts but are not prepared to solve an algorithm or the multitude of problem types on the MSP. As teachers feel the pressure of the MSP and revise the pacing guide they struggle with questions like, “At what point do we move away from the strategy and teach the content directly? Should we continue to spend time developing these concepts or ensure that all of the standards are taught prior to the MSP?” I struggle with the answers to these questions. It is understood that we might see a drop in scores in the primary grades but the conceptual models students are building will benefit them in high school. It is difficult to make decisions about what to teach next when we know we are ultimately responsible for our students passing the standardized test. In response to the question, “Do these innovative approaches produce better learners?,” Green (Diamond & Hopson, 2008) replies, “I don’t have a doubt in my mind, but it depends on what the measure is. If it is how successful they are going to be in the real world, definitely. If it’s how well they perform on standardized tests, not necessarily” (p.84). Our constructivist approach to math has allowed us to reach all learners at their level. The conceptual models have helped students who struggle to solve an algorithm or solve a fact. When comparing American and Japanese-style lessons Diamond & Hopson (2008) state, “The American lesson required mostly memorization and guesswork” (p.77). Green says she was a great memorizer and learned a process, but remembered nothing after the test. Her husband was a self-taught learner and read what interested him. Years later he is still able to carry on a conversation about his learning (Diamond & Hopson, 2008, p. 84). This validates the value of engaging all students in conceptual learning including students who can solve the algorithm quickly or have their facts memorized. They may continue to be successful throughout their education but will have difficulty transferring their learning beyond their schooling.
My next step for instruction is to consistently incorporate strategies for activating prior knowledge. Wolfe (2001) states, “The two factors, meaning and emotion, strongly influence whether the brain initially attends to arriving information” (p.83). “One of the most effective ways to make information meaningful is to associate or compare the new concept with a known concept, to hook the unfamiliar with something familiar” (p.104). I plan to include KWL charts, graphic organizers, think-pair-share, time to preview texts, and read alouds that connect to the content. Here is an artifact of a graphic organizer I use to activate prior knowledge before a lesson. Students complete an exit slip before and after a lesson. Before the lesson students list prior knowledge that will help them with the new learning. This allows students to apply new knowledge to their existing schema in order to develop a deeper understanding of the learning. In artifact 4 Ex.1, the student states prior knowledge that will help him with subtracting across a 0. He wrote, “I already know to start with the ones place, write problem vertical, label each place, and to subtract top to bottom.” In my instruction, it is important that I access prior knowledge and connect new learning to experiences they may have had. Artifact 4 Ex.2 shows a student writing about prior knowledge that may help them with multi-step problems. Ex. 2 shows what the student already knows from solving math facts and story problems (choose a strategy, find key words, write problem vertical, label each place, regroup if needed). Adding to their schema helps students make connections to new learning.
Marian, D., & Hopson, J. (2008). The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
Patricia, W. (2001). Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.