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My Ideal Brain Compatible Classroom
Brain based learning and brain compatible teaching strategies should be on the front burner of every educator. By understanding the way the brain works, teachers can help students achieve their highest potential. According to brain researcher and educator Eric Jensen, the brain is nature’s engine. He explains, “Brain based education considers how the brain learns best…If you want to maximize learning, you first need to discover how nature’s engine works” (2008). It is imperative for teachers to know what research shows about brain compatible teaching and for each to use this research as well as brain compatible strategies to give learners what they need to be successful in the classroom. In my ideal brain compatible kindergarten classroom, students are the center and focus of all aspects.
A brain compatible classroom begins with the physical make up of the room itself. Kindergarten students should have well defined areas and size appropriate, comfortable furniture. When a person is not physically comfortable, the brain cannot truly focus on learning. A classroom should be enriching for students (Jensen, 1998). Enrichment through physical environment is easily achieved according to the Brain Compatible Classroom website. It suggests using lamps, music, and plants to make the environment pleasant, decorating with compatible and calming colors, and a clutter free environment. In my classroom, students would be seated in comfortable chairs at tables with other students. The room would be painted a calming blue green and there would be natural and lamp light throughout the space. (no fluorescent lighting allowed!) The temperature would be set according to the needs of the students. There would be a restroom and water fountain available for students to use as needed. There would be computers available as well as SMART boards and technology. Technology is a great way to gain and maintain student attention in class, and it can also be a powerful memory tool (Willis, 2006). There would be a reading area with comfortable places to sit and a novelty reading space such as a tub full of pillows or a tee-pee for reading. In addition, there would be a plush carpet area for students to comfortably gather during group instruction and story times.
Kindergartners also need spaces for play, so there would be a dramatic play area equipped with a kitchen set, table and chairs, dolls, dress up clothes, etc. I would have a puppet theater, a block area with a rug to help with noise, a game and puzzle area and in all of these, the items would be placed at the students’ level so they have access to all items on the shelves. There would be multiple areas for writing throughout the classroom, so students who have great ideas while playing or working can write or illustrate them before forgetting. There would be student work displayed and anchor charts would be meaningfully displayed. Many manipulatives would be available for students to explore hands-on. “Tactile, or 'hands-on', activities benefit everyone and should be plentiful and encouraged with all students. The reason for this relates to the two different memory systems in our heads…semantic and episodic memory” (Nunley, n.d.). Both the semantic and episodic memories are stimulated by hands-on play. There would be enough space for students to participate in movement and kinesthetic activities, which is another effective way to strengthen neurons and enhance memory (Jensen, 2004). The physical elements of the classroom would set students up for success and for optimal learning and memory support.
Another aspect of the kindergarten classroom is the way it feels to students. My ideal brain compatible classroom would be a loving place and would feel safe and inviting. Students would be taught how to do the right thing and treat people right, which is always my class motto. This would translate into students being willing to take risks without fear and letting all students know that it is okay to make mistakes. While I cannot eliminate stressors from the lives of the students, I can drastically reduce the stressors at school. Neurologist and classroom teacher Judy Willis believes that teachers can “purposefully plan for the ideal emotional atmosphere” and that “before students can focus on academics, they must feel physically safe and emotionally secure” (2004). Stress and anxiety can hinder student learning. Willis also states that “Stress in the classroom or elsewhere, especially when associated with anxiety or fear, releases a chemical called TMT into the brain. TMT disrupts brain cell development” (2004). Less brain cells mean less learning and long term memory of what is being taught in class.
Students would feel emotionally supported as well as connected to me and to one another in my ideal classroom. They would be encouraged to express feelings appropriately and listen to each other. I would model these behaviors for students often. I would regularly use team building exercises with the students as well as class meetings in which students could honestly express feelings and concerns without fear. In the article How Can Research on the Brain Inform Education? it states “Studies that explore the effects of attitudes and emotions on learning indicate that stress and constant fear, at any age, can circumvent the brain's normal circuits. A person's physical and emotional well-being are closely linked to the ability to think and to learn effectively” (n.d.).
The last aspect of the brain compatible kindergarten classroom is what would be going on throughout the day. I would provide the students with predictability of a routine, but would manipulate activities within the routine so students would not get bored. Students would be working at their own pace on developmentally appropriate materials. Each student would receive one on one attention and each one would receive differentiation to make lessons work for them. I would utilize Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences to make lessons more compatible for all students. This would include the use of “words (linguistic intelligence), numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence), pictures (spatial intelligence), music (musical intelligence), self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence), a physical experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence), a social experience (interpersonal intelligence), and/or an experience in the natural world. (naturalist intelligence)” (Armstrong, n.d.)
If someone were to walk in, they would see me using humor, music, games and movement with students. Students would be learning through play. A person would see us using the SMART board, story telling, brain storming, and guided imagery. Students would be writing in journals, creating artwork, exploring manipulatives, and using cooperative and peer assisted learning strategies. One would see students singing, dancing, conducting experiments, and role playing as they learn. Students would be leading discussions and leading activities, with support from me and from peers. I would be treating all students with love and respect and students would be doing the same.
Students would be assessed in multiple ways, and given many opportunities to show me what they know. They would not be nervous or worried by these assessments, but excited to share all they have learned and accomplished. “Well designed assessments give teachers the information necessary to fairly and accurately evaluate the depth of students’ understanding” (Willis, 2004). Through portfolios, performance assessments, traditional methods of testing and projects, students will be able to demonstrate their learning. Marilee Sprenger discusses assessment in terms of separate “memory lanes.” These include episodic memory, procedural memory, automatic, emotional and semantic, and because there are a variety of memory types, there should be a variety of assessments as well. She argues “retrieved memories are the only proof we have that learning has taken place” (1999). If teachers create and/or use assessments that incorporate imagination and higher level thinking, “assessments become learning experiences that grow more dendrites!” (Willis, 2004). Using assessments to enhance learning is a wonderful concept.
Much of what I have described as my ideal brain compatible classroom is already in place. I will continue to modify my classroom in ways that promote memory and brain compatible learning as I journey through this course and through my career as an educator. For me, teaching is ultimately about doing what is best for kids, and brain based learning is an area that is fast becoming my greatest passion. I look forward to making all of my ideas into realities to give my students what they need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.
Armstrong, T. (n.d.) Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/multiple_intelligences.htm Brain based (compatible) learning. (n.d.) retrieved from http://www.eduscapes.com/tap/topic70.htm
Erlauer, L. (2003). Brain-compatible classroom: using what we know about learning to improve teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
How can research on the brain inform education? (n.d.). retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/scimath/compass/v03n02/brain.html
Jensen, E. (2008) Brain based learning: the new paradigm of teaching. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Jensen, E. (2004) Brain compatible strategies. (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: The Brain Store.
Jensen, E. (1998) Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Nunley, K.F. (n.d.) Stress- a land mine for the brain. Retrieved from http://help4teachers.com/stress.htm
Nunley, K.F. (n.d.) Why hands-on tasks are good. Retrieved from http://help4teachers.com/hands.htm
Sprenger, M. (1999) Learning & memory: the brain in action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tate, M. (2003). Worksheets don’t grow dendrites. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
The brain compatible classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://xnet.rrc.mb.ca/glenh/newpage124.htm
Willis, J. (2006) Research-based strategies to ignite student learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.