Brains as a Guide in Class
by Sarah Larson, The Intelligencer, March 31, 2004
For more articles like this
At Laura Erlauer
Myrah's Wisconsin elementary school, teachers don't start class
behind their desks.
Instead, they are in their doorways, shaking students' hands and
patting their shoulders, chatting about weekends and activities
In the well-to-do Minneapolis suburb of Edina, the high school
has pushed back its start time from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.,
based on medical research - and a plea from the Minnesota
Medical Association - that showed that teenagers' natural sleep
patterns of late-to-bed, late-to-rise make early morning
learning nearly impossible.
And in Texas, language teachers at Wichita Falls schools
developed new ways to teach vocabulary and language to
pre-kindergarten to second-grade students. Five years later,
those children outperformed the state average in reading scores
by 3 points on state standardized tests.
In all three examples, teachers took what researchers know about
how the brain works and applied it to their own classrooms.
On Tuesday, more than 110 area teachers, administrators, social
workers and home-schooling parents heard those techniques and
more at a conference organized by the Bucks County Intermediate
Unit, a regional education agency that works with the county's
13 school districts.
Ted Davis, who organizes the IU's professional development
workshops, said the conference grew out of requests from school
"They said to us, 'In order for us to be effective and keep up
with the best practices, we need to get information on the
cutting-edge brain research into our classrooms," Davis said.
Myrah, the keynote speaker, is intimately familiar with the
topic. She wrote the newly published book "The Brain-Compatible
Classroom: Using What We Know About Learning to Improve
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it actually is a
revolutionary concept, Myrah said, because education in this
country is not always learner-friendly.
Take most high school classes. Many teachers still rely on
straight lecture and written worksheets and tests to impart and
assess knowledge, Myrah said.
Yet, research has shown that retention improves the more
involved a student is in the learning process. Students
remembered only 1 percent of what they saw or did on a
worksheet, but 30 percent of what they saw in a physical
demonstration and 75 percent of what they did themselves, she
Plus, research has shown that the average adult's attention span
is only 20 minutes, maximum, and teachers can expect one minute
of concentrated attention for every year of a child's age. That
means 8-year-olds are with you for eight minutes, she said, and
14-year-olds for about 14.
After that, said presenter Michael Kuczala, forget it.
"The brain is always paying attention," said Kuczala in a
workshop on improving learning by incorporating movement into
lessons. "Just not always to you."
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