“How are you helping your students optimize their brains for future success? How are we helping them make connections from short term to long term?” (T. Williams, personal communication, February 3, 2013). Students’ background, prior knowledge, mindsets, and experiences impact the way they process information. A teacher’s response and ability to recognize student knowledge is key in helping students make connections to new learning. Blakemore and Frith (2008) state, “At the very least, to be effective, the teacher has to estimate the appropriate state of knowledge of the student and the degree of interest that the student brings to the task, and their receptiveness to teaching” (p. 118,119).
I think increasing opportunities for students to actively participate in the learning and feel successful is valuable in motivating students to engage in the learning. Wolfe (2012) states, “What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing. Concrete experience is one of the best ways to make strong, long-lasting neural connections” (p. 188). One way my students actively participate in the learning is through peer teaching. Wolfe (2012) states, “Teaching a concept or a skill to someone else requires a fairly high level of understanding. Peer teaching allows the students an opportunity to rehearse what they have learned, thus strengthening their neural pathways. Students are likely to give more attention to the lesson knowing they’ll be required to share the information” (p. 185, 186). I use think-pair-share activities to provide a safe structure for students to share strategies, understandings and questions. Students also have many opportunities to rehearse the information and explain their thinking.
“Elaborative rehearsal strategies encourage the learner to elaborate on information in a manner that enhances understanding and retention of that information. Elaborative strategies increase memory by making the information more meaningful or relevant to the learner” (Wolfe, 2012, p. 102). One strategy is to have students write about their learning. “Students’ understanding of mathematical concepts can be enhanced by writing about what they are studying. When students write their own word problems, the problems have more meaning” (Wolfe, 2012, p. 171). In my classroom, students write their own addition and subtraction word problems. Students have to have a high level of understanding of the parts of each story type in order to write them accurately. Other students than have practice identifying and solving their peers’ story problems, which increases motivation and engagement. Students also have to explain their learning when practicing addition and subtraction with regrouping. Artifact 5 shows students working with the conceptual model on the place value mat by lining up the blocks according to place and regrouping the blocks when needed. I then used observation and interviews so students could explain how and why they regrouped. Students then applied this model to the algorithm and explained how they matched. Artifact 6 shows three examples of student work and my interview notes as they completed each problem. This is an opportunity for students to teach the learning to someone else and is used as formative assessment that guides my next steps for instruction.
In addition to using a constructivist approach to enhance students’ ability to process information, I think it is valuable to also teach for wisdom. Sternberg (2008) states, “In a wisdom-based approach to teaching, students will need to take a more active role. It is not just students constructing knowledge from their point of view, but from the point of view of others” (p. 145). As we prepare students to perform well on standardized tests, I agree that we often don’t make enough time for this important piece. My goal is to make a conscious effort to engage students in opportunities to practice critical thinking that benefits multiple points of view.
Patricia, W. (2001). Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Robert , S., Blakemore, S., & Frith, U. (2008). The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..