As my course work in Human Development and Principles of Learning comes to a close, I think it’s valuable to focus on the application of my new learning. How can I use what I now know about neuroscience to improve my teaching? Patricia Wolfe, author of Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice, summarizes what brain-compatible instruction looks like in the classroom.
Wolfe (2010) states,
“Brain-compatible instruction provides as much experiential learning as possible. The more “real-life” problems you give students to solve, the more hands-on activities in which they are involved, and the more modalities involved in the learning, the more likely the information to be understood, retained, and used in the world outside of school” (p. 221).
One way I provide students with real-life application is to access prior knowledge. Wolfe (2010) states, “Brain-compatible instruction should build on prior knowledge. The brain seeks meaningful patterns. Every new experience causes the brain to search through its existing networks to find a connection” (p.221). My classroom has a range of academic abilities and behaviors. In my instruction, I access prior knowledge and connect new learning to experiences they may have had. 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 11, example 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.” Example 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.
Each day during the morning routine I check in with students. This allows me to learn about student interests and experiences. I am able to use this knowledge to create examples from real life experiences that connect to new learning. Before each reading theme students share about experiences they have that connect with the theme. For example, for the theme “Celebrating Traditions” students shared and wrote about traditions they have with their families. Artifact 12, Example 4 shows a student writing about her family’s tradition of celebrating Christmas. She then designed a quilt square with symbols and words based on the book, “The Keeping Quilt.” As a class we created a quilt representing the many traditions we celebrate. This home-school connection allowed students to apply their own understanding of traditions and learn about their classmates. Students also apply their own experiences while learning writing styles. In example 1, the student is learning personal narrative while sharing a story about her experience writing a horse. Example 2 is a sample focused on topic, main idea and details. Each student’s topic was, “What I am thankful for.” In this ex. paragraph she writes she is thankful for her family. Example 3 is a prompt that was given before a story about voyages to access prior knowledge. This student writes about wanting to go on a voyage to Mexico because her abuelo and mom are part Mexican. Students also apply the learning in their own lives. Students learned the importance of giving and shared ways they have given to others. Students gave to their families by completing a Giving Tree chart that showed ways they gave to their family. As a class, we donated canned foods and clothing to a local food/clothing drive. Students make connections through stories through the year by comparing their own experiences and sharing background knowledge through think-pair-share activities and group work.
Brain-compatible instruction should also take place in a safe psychological environment (Wolfe, 2010, p. 223). Wolfe (2010) states, “Lessons should be rigorous but nonthreatening to obtain the best effort and thinking of all students” (p. 223). In my classroom, I spend time developing students procedural memory. Wolfe (2010) describes procedural as repeating something over and over (p. 222). Wolfe (2010) states, “This works well to get a habit or skill to the point of automaticity” (p.222). When I establish procedures and routines in my classroom I make sure students understand the reason for the routine. The routines are reinforced and students have the opportunity to rehearse. Students apply their knowledge of routines and procedures by creating expectations and roles for group work. Students practice the routines for each role so they are prepared to work productively in a group setting. Artifact 13 is an example of students assessing their contributions. This ensures that students are held to high expectations and are taking responsibility for their behavior. The goal is that this will contribute to a safe psychological environment where students are encouraged to give their best effort.
Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.