Teaching with the brain in mind by decree


									Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

The New Winds of Change
Chapter 1

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Unfortunately, I have become a bit cynical about brain compatible learning is SBISD.
When I began the chapter and read how Jensen believes “The revolution will change
school start times…” I had to laugh. I have fought the “bus” battle, and I didn‟t win (and
don‟t see where that is going to change…) And, again I have to laugh at one of his
closing statements “Brain compatible learning is here to stay.” I‟m sorry, but I think it
left SBISD when Judy Stevens left.

I do believe that most of Jensen‟s conclusions are valid. I can appreciate the timeline4 of
models of education. I fail to see where we have been successful in changing the model
from that of the 50‟s and 60‟s – behaviorism. While technology plays an important role in
other facets of life, I don‟t see the impact yet in education. Our district seems stuck in the
administrivia model.

While I have a good deal of training in Integrated Thematic Instruction by Susan
Kovalik, I can see where the Triune Brain theory is a bit too simplistic. However, most of
the major concepts of her model are still valid. I agree that we need more research, but I
fail to see with the current direction our district is taking how we could even validate (not
a good choice of vocabulary) the time and energy it would take to conduct such research.

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
  1. Do we need to wait for the pendulum to swing back?
  2. Who would be an action agent for brain compatible learning in SBISD?
  3. How could we get some research going in SBISD?

How would I use these important learnings in the classroom?
Well, I must admit I have tried a lot of this in the classroom. It was challenging, yet fun. I
think many of the strategies made me a better teacher. If I thought I could STAND all the
accountability and testing, there is a part of me that would like to return to the classroom
and try again. However, with the current state of affairs in SBISD, I doubt it would be
Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

The Learning Brain
Chapter 2

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
There is a lot of pressure on teachers today. We are supposed to know how to “fix”
children, yet as a group, little or no training is provided. Additionally, neuroscientists
don‟t have all the answers yet, so why/how should/could we?

The brain is a complex organ that scientists are just beginning to understand. The
hemispheres are not seen as separate entities any more – learning flows between the
hemispheres often and freely. Certain brain functions (vision, language, speaking, motor
control, problem-solving, etc.) are related to specific “lobes” (areas) of the brain.

Information flows in one direction – from the cell boy down the axon to the synapse.
Learning requires groups of neurons – one cannot do it alone – they must “allow flow”
from one to another. Learning occurs when some stimulus (varies – brainstorm or new
experience) starts the process. Then, cells change their receptivity to messges based upon
previous stimulation. Memory is partially gene controlled – there is a specific gene that
activates critical memory formation.

While the brain controls learning, our behaviors are probably going to be determined by
our emotions and memories. This explains that while we may KNOW how to present
material in a more compatible way, due to fears and good memories of previous times we
taught the lesson and the results it may have achieved, we continue to be the “sage on the

How do we learn better? We need to grow more synaptic connections between brain cells
while not losing the existing ones. Your brain has been “customized” for you! While the
parts we use daily are fairly well distributed throughout, we only use about 1% of 1%.
Our brain is highly adaptive; classrooms that encourage the exploration of alternative
thinking, creative insights and multiple responses is healthier for a growing brain than a
typical classroom which focuses on singular approaches and the “right answer.”

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
  1. How on earth are we ever going to get the public (our clients) who are less
      educated than us to see the real picture?
  2. How can we even get all teachers on board?
  3. How do we find the time to develop quality curriculum? Our district is putting a
      lot of time into creating lessons for teachers. But, just as students need to “make
      the learning their own – lean it in their own way, own pace, etc,” teachers need to
      do the same. I have found it doesn‟t work to hand me someone else‟s lesson. I
      need to “tweak” it and make it my own.
   4. How do we find the time to allow students the freedom to explore and learn at
      their own pace? What if it is too slow (as determined by the state)?

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
Teaching less content but more in-depth seemed to work well. Students were able to truly
explore and creating their own neural pathways rather than spitting back what they
thought you wanted to hear. Students were encouraged to learn from one another; the
classroom was much less threatening. Multiple ways to solve problems was encouraged;
students shared “their ways” with one another. Students were given “breaks” in the action
– time to “rest their brains.”

Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

Getting Students Ready to Learn
Chapter 3

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
While we see today‟s children as having advantages there is some evidence that students
today are less prepared for school than earlier generations. Some attribute this to the lack
of emotional support children receive given today‟s working families-not enough motor
stimulation, connected interaction and handling, and troubled early relationships. The
first 48 months are critical in the brain‟s development-much of the brain‟s infrastructure
is formed by then. Since the brain is such a responsive organ, children who are exposed
to lots of experiences are at an advantage other children.

Vision is pretty much developed by the end of the first year. While television may been
considered a visual medium, its two-dimensionality and fast moving pace make it a poor
substitute for sensory-motor development. Thinking skills develop as early as 9 months.
Sounds that are heard frequently in infancy form the early survival sounds map. It is so
customized that children are “functionally deaf” to sounds outside of the home
environments. Stressful pregnancies are associated with language problems. If parents
talk frequently to their infants, they will develop better language skills. There is no
absolute timetable for learning to read. Differences of 3 years are normal. It is just best to
wait until the brain is ready rather than to force it.

Puberty causes changes in the body‟s chemistry that affects adolescent sleeping patterns.
The best solution appears to be that secondary campuses start later than elementary. The
foods that are good for growth aren‟t necessarily the foods that are good for the brain.
And, dehydration is a problem that has been linked to poor learning. When water levels
drop, salt levels increase which in turn raise blood pressure and stress. So, when water is
available in the classroom, stress levels decrease.
We need to educate our students, staff and our community about the brain. Teach our
students about nutrition and how learning occurs – what stimulates better thinking and be
a good role model. Allow water freely in the classroom. Influence the menu in our
schools and school hours. Educate our parents about good nutrition for leaning. Reach
out to the community to help educate parents about readiness for school.

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
  1. Why does our district ignore some of the recommendations made in this chapter?
      Some high school classes start at 7 AM. Foreign language development doesn‟t
      begin until secondary.
  2. When kids do come to school unprepared, how can we create time for them?
      Those students fall further and further behind…
  3. We keep hearing how educators are struggling to gain and keep the attention of
      their students because we aren‟t as fast-paced and entertaining as their technology
      driven games. Yet, this chapter suggests that parents and educators need to
      refocus their children away from television and technology if they want to get
      their children‟s brains developed for school. How on earth can we turn back the

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
Our first unit of the year was about the brain, how you learn best, how emotions play an
important role in learning, etc. We stopped class mid morning, exercised and ate healthy
snacks. Students were allowed/encouraged to have water bottles on their desks and sip
often. We tried to create activities that focused on all the intelligences.

Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

Enriched Environments and the Brain
Chapter 4

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Heredity provides about 30 to 60% of our brain‟s wiring and 40 to 70% is the
environmental impact; it depends upon what specific trait or behavior you‟re examining.
It is most important to remove threats from the environment in order to consider how the
brain reacts to influences.

The brain is very malleable. When the environment is stimulating, the brain grows new
connections. This can happen within 48 hours of the stimulation. So, as you vary the type
of environment, the brain varies the way it develops. The brain learns fastest and easiest
during the early school years. Enriched environments should be available for all students,
not just the gifted; you never get another opportunity!
The critical ingredients for enrichment are challenge and feedback. You need to have the
“right” amount of challenge – too much-the student will give up, too little-the student
will be bored. Novelty is also important. Change the appearance of the room often. The
brain is designed to operate on feedback. Cooperative groups are a great vehicle for
social and academic feedback.

Reading and Language – Children need exposure to new works. It helps develop the
auditory cortex to better discriminate between and among sounds. After puberty the
potential cells for language development have been used by other functions, so you need
to use them prior to that time. Cursive is easier than printing. Doesn‟t make sense to teach
kids to print first.

Motor Stimulation – Beneficial throughout a child‟s education and the rest of his life.
Schools ought to make a planned program of specific motor stimulation mandatory in K-
1 grades and integrate physical activity across the curriculum.

Thinking and Problem solving – It‟s critical to expose students to a variety of approaches
to solving problems. Challenging problem solving is the single best way to grow a better
brain. There are lots of different ways to solve problems and just because you‟re good at
some, it doesn‟t mean you‟ll be good at all.

Arts – can lay the foundation for later academic and career success. Art builds creativity,
concentration, problem solving, self-efficacy, coordination, and fosters self discipline and
attention. Music is a tool for arousal, carrier of words, primer for brain activity. Music is
a language.

There needs to be a range of challenge because what is the “right” amount of challenge
for one student may not be “right” for another.

Boredom for teens may be doing more than boring them – it may be thinning their brains!

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
Why do we wait for second languages until secondary?
Why is our district cutting back on the arts and health fitness?
Can a range of “acceptable” outcomes (varying grades) be enough of a choice for the

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
I tried to offer challenge and novelty in my classroom. It is hard to create activites that
challenge all students. I grappled with how to assess all kids using rubrics (or any sort of
performance measure) knowing that what is one child‟s personal best may not be that of
another…Do you know what I mean? I also attempted to create activites that involved the
arts and motor stimulation (when appropriate).
Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

The Brain as a Meaning-Maker
Chapter 10

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Some classes deliver so much content that kids stress out from information overload. One
solution is to ensure the quality of information, and forget about quantity.

There are two types of meaning – reference and sense meaning. Many deep feelings are
in essence hard wired into our brains, but constructed meaning is a little trickier.
Different types of meaning activate different parts of the brain. The following factors
play an important role for memory. Relevance – connections from existing neurons.
Emotions are triggered by the brain‟s chemistry, context triggers pattern making. All
meanings have at least one of these 3 ingredients, but the reverse is not true. Something
can be relevant, but meaningless.

Relevance is one of the easiest types of meaning. An already existing neuron simply
“connects” with a nearby neuron. Many times classrooms lack the personal relevance for
most students to make meaning. Just because something is relevant to you, it doesn‟t
make it relevant for your kids. Students must be given time to make their own
connections – link to prior knowledge. Attempt to personalize learning through current
events, family history, stories, etc for students. Encourage students to share.

Intense emotions release chemicals. Emotions and meaning are linked. Emotions engage
meaning and predict future learning because they involve goals, beliefs,
expectations…You must learn to orchestrate classroom events around emotions „cause
they are always around.

Engaging productive emotions can help students develop more “deeply felt” meaning.
Have a place where students can deposit negative emotions and/or provide students time
to share (TRIBES). Engage students in role-playing, drama, simulations. Have students
become emotional involved by creating high-stakes opportunities – public presentation,
etc. Introduce novelty into the classroom, rearrange, redesign,etc. Use collaborative
learning. Create relationships. Do big, complex integrated projects.

Patterns give meaning to information. The brain makes meaning out of recognizable
patterns through associating new information with old and restructuring. New learners
and experienced learners brains have different capability of seeing patterns because the
experienced brains have accumulated knowledge that ties it all together. The patterns
become more complex after the brain has gathered sufficient data with which to make a
meaningful connection. As a result, thematic curriculum may be more useful to older
students than younger ones. It‟s the ability to see ideas in relation to others as well as how
individual facts become meaningful in a larger field of information.
Using „how” questions will draw out the patterns in kids‟ minds.

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
How on earth do we get buy-in from administrators who are focused on state standards?
How do we engage students who don‟t see much relevance in school (and I find some of
it difficult to see myself)?
How do we “cover” or account for all the different emotions that are happening on our
classrooms. Certainly, we‟ll miss someone..

 How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
We did try to focus on relevance. But, I believe I understand it all more clearly right now,
so I would be interested to try again. Incorporating TRIBES activities into the classroom
helped to provide a vehicle for sharing of emotions. I think I would try to give students
more opportunity to create their own connections – I think I still tried to control the
learning too much.

Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

How Threat and Stress Affect Learning
Chapter 6

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Chronic stress impairs a student‟s ability to sort out what‟s important and what‟s not.
Chronic stress makes student more susceptible to illness. A stressful student environment
is linked to student failure. Factors such as crowded conditions, poor relationships, and
lighting can matter. Using classroom computers or watching videos also may be stressful
for the eyes. Social situations and environments can be sources of stress. To avoid some,
like environment, be predictable-have routines and procedures in place so students know
expectations. Some stress is not bad for learning – in fact low to moderate stress is best.

People ultimately respond to threats differently. However, the brain automatically jumps
into high gear when it senses threat. The list of possible threats for students is endless.
When threatened, learning narrows to memorization of isolated facts.

Learned helplessness is a chronic and devastating condition.

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
How do you eliminate stress in this current environment of assess, assess, assess?
How can teachers eliminate crowded conditions?

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
In the classroom, I worked hard to be consistent with routines and procedures –
especially at the beginning of the year. I wrote student handbooks that we reviewed so the
expectations were clear. We worked hard on developing relationships within the
classroom and treated others with kindness and respect. There was an understanding that
if something happened a student could remove himself from the situation to “cool off.”

Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

Chapter 9

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Movement is important for learning. The cerebellum takes up just 1/10 of the brain by
volume, but it contains over half of all its neurons. The cerebellum is more involved in
learning than previously thought. It not only processes movement, but also processes
learning. There is constant interplay. The cerebellum is also involved in „complex
emotional behavior.”

Exercise strengthens key areas of the brain just as it shapes up muscles, heart, lungs, etc.
Children who engage in daily physical activity show superior motor fitness and academic
performance. The case for doing something physical every day is growing.

Having fun decreases stress and improves functioning of the immune system.

Arts education facilitates language development, enhances creativity, boosts reading
readiness, helps social development, general intellectual achievement, and fosters
positive attitudes towards school.

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
Knowing all this, how do administrators place such little importance on physical

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
We took morning exercise breaks where students lead the class in movement activities.
When possible, we offered tasks/activities that involved movement.
Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

Chapter 7

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
The brain responds differently to rewards than educators believed in the 50‟s and 60‟s.
Stimulus-response rewards were effective only for simple physical actions. For complex
problem-solving tasks, rewards are detrimental. The brain constantly seeks novelty and
responds positively to it.

Students can be momentarily in an apathetic state, or the demotivation may be chronic
and debilitating (Learned helplessness). Momentary demotivation can be caused by:
    Associations from the past-teacher‟s voice, gestures, repeated failures
    Unsuitable learning styles, lack of resources, language barriers, lack of choice,
       cultural taboos, fear of embarrassment, lack or feedback, etc.
    His or her relationship with the future.-no clear defined goals, lack of belief

The brain makes its own rewards-opiates. The brain is satisfied to pursue novelty and
curiosity, embrace relevance, bathe in feedback of successes. External rewards are not
good for the brain because you can‟t determine how each student‟s internal reward
system is wired. What constitutes a reward? Predictability and market value. Repeated
rewards keep uping the ante-each time a more valuable reward will be desired.

How do you foster inner drive – intrinsic motivation? Compelling goals, positive beliefs
and productive emotions. The 5 key strategies to help student uncover their intrinsic
    Eliminate threat
    Goal setting
    Influence (positively) students‟ beliefs about themselves and the learning
    Manage student emotions through the productive use of rituals, drama,
       movement, and celebration
    Provide feedback

Temporary demotivation is common!

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
I think his SuperCamp model is interesting and sounds great. Of course, I‟m gonna say
that kids know the difference between 10 days of something and 170 days of the same
thing. Just the short time frame allowed for much more novelty and positive feelings than
a regular school year.

I also agree that creating those emotional bridges – transitions from one setting to another
– is important. However, I think we need to restructure our secondary schools. Think that
even 5 minutes of time in a 45 minute classtime is a fairly large percentage of
instructional time.

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
We spent time at least every nine weeks setting goals. I think if I could structure my class
better (don‟t know how to find the time) so that our direction was always clear, that kids
knew the afternoon before what to expect tomorrow that they could come in every
morning and we could spend some time setting goals. I feel fairly confident that I‟m
pretty good at reducing threat… I also don‟t believe in rewards. We do celebrations,

Teaching with the brain in mind
Eric Jensen

Chapter 8

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Emotions, thinking and learning are linked. Emotions drive attention, create meaning,
and have their own memory pathways. We think differently about emotions due to new
The physical pathways and priorities of emotions.
Findings about the brain‟s chemicals involved in emotions.
Link between these pathways and chemicals to everyday learning and memory.

Neuroscientists make a distinction between emotions and feelings. Emotions are
generated from biologically automated pathways. Feelings are culturally and
environmentally developed responses to circumstances. Feelings travel a slower route
through the body – no real need for immediacy. Emotions take the brain‟s

The amygdala is most involved in handling emotions in the brain. It has 12 to 15 distinct
emotive regions on it. It is essential for creative play, imagination, key decision making
and the nuances of emotions that drive the arts, humor, imagination, love, music and

All values are simply emotional states. Everything we experience has an emotional tone
to it, from calm to rage, from pain to pleasure, and from relaxed to threatened. Our
emotions are the framework for our day. Good learning does not avoid emotions, it
embraces them.

Triggering emotions randomly is counterproductive. Extremes of emotions are generally
counterproductive to school goals, yet a lack of emotions is equally bad. Engage
emotions as a part of the learning – not as an add-on.
Use music, games, drama, storytelling, celebrations, a controversy, physical rituals,
introspection. Be a role model. Display the love of learning.

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
I don‟t really have any questions. I do think that we need to be cognizant of students and
they emotions they come to school with each day. Sometimes, they may have gotten off
to a bad start.

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
Emotions even drive the execution of our goals and plans. That‟s why it is important to
ask our students WHY they want to reach the goal they set. I will try to do better at this.
Planning good lessons with a variety of activities to engage students will help too.

Getting the Brain’s Attention
Chapter 5

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Well, in the past, teaching was standing at the front of the room and having all students
looking and “tuning” into you. Jensen is saying that the brain is not equipped to do that –
at least for very long. The purpose of attention is promote survival and to extend
pleasurable states.

The two primary determinants of attention are the sensory input and the brain‟s chemical
input. The attention process consists of alarm, orientation, identification, and decision. So
the brain more or less says to itself, “Something‟s happening, Where?, What is it?”

The input from the visual system is a two way street. Somehow the brain corrects
incoming images to help you stay attentive. The brain‟s susceptibility to paying attention
is very much influenced by priming. Selective attention depends on suppression of
irrelevant data and the amplification of relevant data.

The chemical in the brain that is most involved in attention is norepinephrine. When
we‟re drowsy or “out of it” our norepinephirine levels are usually low. Under stress and
threat, the dominant chemicals in the brain include coritsol, vasopressin, and
endorophins. A change in chemicals means a likely change in behavior.

Your attention cycle lasts about 90-110 minutes, which means we have about 16 cycles
during a 24 hour period. The brain shifts its cognitive abilities on those high and low
cycles. There‟s a change in blood flow and breathing during these cycles that affects
learning. Researchers say mental breaks of up to 20 minutes several times a day increase

In the classroom, 3 reasons why constant attention is counterproductive are:
Much of what we learn cannot be processed consciously; it happens too fast.
In order to create new meaning, we need internal time
After each new learning experience, we need time for the learning to “imprint.”

Because meaning is generated internally, external input conflicts with learners making
meaning of what they have just “learned.” In other words, you can have your learners‟
attention or they can be making meaning, but never both at the same time. So, having
periods of processing – down time – is important. Allow for several minutes of reflection
time after new learning. Teachers must encourage personal processing time after new
learning for material to solidify. In addition, TEACHERS need more personal and better
quality down time during the day.

There is no clear treatment and diagnosis of ADD.

For teachers:
A change in location is one of the easiest ways to get attention.
Provide a rich balance of novelty and ritual.

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
Again, all my questions focus on why our district is totally disregarding this information
on how the brain learns? We have gone from a model in elementary schools that
encouraged brain compatible strategies back to the model of cramming content into the
empty heads of students. Our nine week plans to “cover” to TEKS are ridiculous.

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
I worked hard to offer short mini-lessons and then had projects and centers in which
students worked to support the learning. We varied instruction and locations when we
could. We had a morning snack/downtime for students. We also tried had to provide
reflection time, but I must admit that it was the first time to go when you got behind. It
takes a great deal of discipline to consistently have reflection time.

Memory and Recall
Chapter 11

What did I read that I believe is important to know?
Memory is a process and there is no single location in the brain for all our memories.
Because the storage locations and the systems for retrieving them are so varied, students
can have great recall for one subject and poor for another. Most researchers believe the
physical evidence of memory is stored as changes in neurons along specific pathways.
The retrieval process activates dormant neurons to trigger our memories. The number one
way to elicit or trigger recall is by association.

The chemistry of our body is a critical element in the triggering of our recall. Learning
acquired under a particular state is most easily recalled when the person is in that same
There are two theories of memory reconstruction. One is that we have “indexes” that
contain instructions for the brain on how to rekindle content. The “convergence zones
help tie together the pieces so that you have appropriate retrieval. The other theory is that
memories are frozen patterns waiting for a resonating signal to awaken them.

We can retrieve most everything we have paid attention to originally, but the retrieval is
dependent upon state, time and context. Students need to learn the right system in the
right way to experience better recall of their learning.

There are two pathways for memory. One is explicit. Used most in schools when we ask
for exam-type recall or essay. The two basic forms of explicit memory are: semantic
memory and episodic memory.
     word-based, includes names, facts, figures, and textbook information
     Distributed fairly well throughout the cerebrum
     Our brain may not be equipped to routinely retrieve this type of information
     Weakest of our retrieval systems
     Some of our semantic learning is inaccessible because the original learning was
       too complex, not relevant enough, etc.
     The retrieval process is affected by “when‟ as much as by “what” is learned.
     Activated by association, similarities or contrasts
     Requires strong intrinsic motivation
     Students need some of this type of learning.

Strategies for Semantic Memory Recall
     Rhymes, visualizations, mnemonics, music, discussions
     Take notes
     Oral or written review
     Keep chunks to a minimum
     Mind-maps
     Whole before parts – global understanding
     Cliffhangers

    Spatial, event, contextual recall
    Thematic map of your daily experiences
    Involved the hippocampus and medial temporal lobe
    Enhanced by intensified sensory input, such as sights, sounds, smells, taste and
    Unlimited capacity, forms quickly, easily updated, requires no practice, is
    Used naturally by everyone
    Associated with sights, sounds, smells, locations, touch, and emotions
    Can become contaminated by too many events in same location
      Multiple choice tests provide the prompts that students sometimes need to retrieve
       the information

Strategies for Episodic Memory Recall
     Field trips, music, disasters, guest speakers, novel learning locations
     Teach how to manage their own emotional states
     Use reviews in a variety of states
     Test students in same room in which the material was learned
     Create theme days/weeks

Implicit memory is that stuff we know but we don‟t know we know it. It is broken down
into procedural and reflexive.

    Motor memory, body learning, habit memory
    Appears to have unlimited storage, requires minimal review, little intrinsic
    To brain sees itself and the body as one unit-hands-on learning
    Physical learning is highly likely to be recalled.

Strategies for Procedural Memory Recall
     Movement
     Embed emotions

    Instant associations
    Repetition
    Good to link learning to emotions – better recall

Strategies for Reflexive Memory Recall
     Fill in the blank test
     Practice to “automate” the learning
     Rap

What questions do I have regarding the reading?
None from this chapter. It all makes sense.

How did I use these important learnings in the classroom?
I tried many of the different strategies – yet didn‟t know what type of recall I was aiming
for at the time. So, this knowledge could be beneficial in the future.

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