Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice (1st Edition)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871205179
  • Publisher: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Pages: 207
  • Product dimensions: 7.08 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Table of Contents


Preface and Acknowledgments
Part I: The Structure and Function of the Human Brain
1. Opening the Black Box of the Brain
2. Brain Anatomy—A Short Course: Neurons and Subcortical Structures
3. Brain Anatomy—A Short Course: The Cortex
4. How Neurons Communicate
Part II. From Sensory Input to Information Storage
5. Sensory Memory: Getting Information to the Brain
6. Working Memory: The Conscious Processing of Information
7. Long-Term Memory: The Brain's Storage System
Part III: Matching Instruction to How the Brain Learns Best
8. Making Curriculum Meaningful Through Problems, Projects, and Simulations
9. Using the Visual and Auditory Senses to Enhance Learning
10. A Toolkit of Brain-Compatible Strategies
Glossary
References and Bibliography
Index
About the Author
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Preface

Some scientists and educators think it is too soon to apply brain research to the classroom, because we don't know enough yet. The field is so new, they say, and the discoveries in many cases so narrow in their focus, that we run the risk of making false assumptions and perhaps even dangerous applications.

On the one hand, their caution is warranted. Educators have a history of jumping on bandwagons, and they often have accepted unproven theories as fact and have applied strategies without careful analysis of their effectiveness. There is still a great deal we do not know about how the human brain functions. Neuroscience research is in its infancy, and new studies often refute the previous month's findings.

On the other hand, it would be foolish to wait until all the research is in and we have absolute certainty before beginning our study of the brain and discussing the possible implications and applications of research findings. Much of the research already confirms what experienced educators have long known and used in their classrooms. What the research adds, at this point, is a partial understanding of why certain procedures or strategies work. As a result, we no longer have to operate intuitively but can begin to articulate and explain the rationale for what we do. Madeline Hunter said that the problem with teaching intuitively is that intuition is sterile: It can't be passed on. For this reason, teachers have often had difficulty explaining their craft to others.

* * *

Another reason for educators to study the brain is that it is the focus of their daily work. Saying that we do not need to understand the brain to be able teach it, is like saying that a physician need not understand the body in order to treat it. In the past, people considered the brain a "black box," a mystery that defied comprehension. We could observe what went into it and what came out, but we had no understanding of the internal operations. Now that research is beginning to unlock the mysterious box, we would be imprudent to ignore the research and say it has no implications for teaching and learning. In fact, the better we understand the brain, the better we'll be able to educate it.

We also need a functional understanding of the brain and how it operates to be able to critically analyze the vast amount of neuroscientific information arriving almost daily. Some of this information is reported in depth and is reliable, while other findings have been reduced to "sound bites" that invite misinterpretation. If we are to receive full benefit from this information (and be viewed as professionals), we need to develop a solid knowledge base that reflects an accurate understanding of the research. But to read and understand the research findings, we need to be familiar with the procedures and protocols that were used, and we need to know about the structure and function of the brain. We do not have to become scientific experts, but we do need to look critically at the sources of the information. Too often, the media report "facts" about brain functioning on the basis of one small study or, worse, from poorly conducted studies. This results in what we might call pseudoscience, statements that often begin with, "Research proves . . .," when in actuality the study needs to be replicated in a variety of situations or with other subjects before it can be considered valid or reliable.

I am neither a neuroscientist nor a researcher in the technical sense of the words. I have spent my entire career teaching students at nearly every grade level and, for the past 20 years, working with teachers at nearly every grade level and subject area. My interest in brain research began in the early 1980s when I was a staff developer conducting workshops on effective teaching strategies. In searching for ways to understand why some strategies worked and others didn't, I began to find bits of information from sources that mentioned studies on the brain and how it acquires and stores data. This was exciting! Imagine having some scientific data to back up the classroom activities we were sharing with teachers.

* * *

But it wasn't quite as simple as I had imagined. First, the studies were difficult to locate; and when I found them, the language in which they were written was nearly foreign to me. I had no functional understanding of the brain, so the terms used had little meaning. Second, none of the research said anything about practical applications outside the medical field, let alone specific information about how the findings might apply to the field of education. It was several years before I found a book that discussed brain research in nonscientific terms, The 3-Pound Universe by Hooper and Teresi (1986). Today, my library contains nearly 100 books on the brain, many written for the general public by neuroscientists and some that actually discuss the learning process. There truly has been an explosion of information about the brain and a corresponding explosion of interest in it.

Although most people seem to be fascinated with information about how their brains work, teachers have probably shown the strongest interest in the research. For here at last may be answers to some of the problems we've struggled with for so long: Why do some students learn to read so quickly and others have such a difficult time figuring out the process? How can students sit through an excellent lesson on Monday, and on Tuesday act as if they have never heard the information before? Why are some seemingly simple concepts so difficult for some students to grasp, while others have no trouble with them? What causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism, and how can we help students with these and other disorders?

We still don't have all the answers to these questions, but we are getting closer; and the possibility of having a better base of information about the teaching/learning process is something that educators long for. Although we are not scientists or researchers, we do work in the laboratory called a classroom, and we have a tremendous amount of knowledge and understanding of the teaching/learning process. We have gained this knowledge through experience and from research in educational psychology, cognitive psychology, and teaching methodology. It is up to us to decide how the research from all these sources best informs our practice.

Though I have tried to be accurate in my explanations, they are my own understanding of a complex subject. The implications and applications are (with a few exceptions) of my own creation, based on my own experience and my understanding of the research. This book does not address all the fascinating information about the brain; I have selected only those aspects of the research that I think have the most import for educators.

* * *

This book also contains more caveats than definitive answers, because the field is so new and not all neuroscientists agree on the findings. I believe, however, that focusing staff development on the results of brain research will not only stimulate further interest and study, but will also provide a newer framework for understanding the complex and difficult job of teaching the human brain.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I is a minitextbook on brain-imaging techniques and the anatomy and physiology of the brain. This part contains some rather technical areas, and readers may choose to skim it first, then refer back to it as needed when reading the rest of the book. (The glossary at the back of this book lists and defines terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers.) Part II introduces a model of how the brain processes information and explores some of the implications of this process for classroom practice. Part III presents examples of teaching strategies that match how the brain learns best, through projects, simulations, visuals, music, writing, and mnemonics.

Many people have contributed to what I know and have written in this book. Madeline Hunter was my master teacher, my friend, and my mentor; she helped me understand that there is both a science and an art to teaching. Marian Diamond has shared her vast knowledge and wisdom and challenged me to read analytically and write accurately. Teachers from around the world have generously shared their practices and strategies with me. I am grateful to master teachers Marie Bañuelos, Jean Blaydes, Belinda Borgaard, Joan Carlson, Marilyn Hrycauk, Alice Jackson, James Johnson, Brian Jones, Ellen Ljung, Mary Martin, Ted Migdal, Janet Mendelsohn, Jane Politte, Bonnie Shouse, Ramona Smith, Marny Sorgen, Janet Steinman, Anne Westwater, and Alan Fisk-Williams, all of whose strategies appear in this book.

This book would never have been written if not for Ron Brandt; Joyce McLeod, my development editor at ASCD; and Bob Sylwester, who convinced me I could write even though I was certain I could not. I am very grateful for their encouragement, expert feedback, and support; they have been the best of coaches. If this book is readable, the credit must also be shared with Anne Westwater, Terry Thatcher, and John Wheeler. They unselfishly read every word of the book, provided invaluable feedback on content and style, and helped me get the commas in the right places.

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