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Whole Brain Teaching

An increasingly popular and versatile instructional system used by teachers across the US, whole brain teaching has an emphasis on engaging children in active learning.

Evolving from multiple studies surrounding how the human brain develops, this instructional method of education has some scientific basis. With research suggesting that utilizing both left and right hemispheres of the brain allows for better connections, the techniques involved are designed to stimulate the parts of the brain that matter for learning purposes.

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One of the fundamental principals of whole brain learning in the classroom is enhancing how students learn. Examples of whole brain learning methods could be anything from playing music in the background during instruction, or even utilizing guided meditation strategies to create a relaxing atmosphere. This is combined with activities such as drawing, acting or even visualizing the subject matter they are learning.

On a technical level, whole brain learning takes teaching to the next level by making use of the whole brain – as the name suggests. It takes existing teaching strategies and planning and offers a new spin to create something unique, powerful and easy to incorporate into any classroom.

Once teachers have a good understanding of the theory behind whole brain teaching, and why exactly it’s so effective, they can then implement the techniques into their classroom. Here is an example of an innovative way in which teachers can utilize whole brain teaching with their students:

1. The Yes strategy

Before the beginning of each lesson or class, the teacher can make use of an attention getter, a way to gain deliberate focus from students. In this case, the teacher says a single word in any tone or style that they feel. Class is a common choice for this, as it’s a distinctive word that quickly grabs attention. In response to this, students must then mimic the tone or voice put on by the teacher with their own answer: Yes.

There are many ways to shake up this game and make it more engaging to students, including varying the number of times the word is said. For example, Class, Class, Classity, Class would require the response Yes, Yes, Yessity, Yes. This can be performed with many different variations, and different tones or voices can be used to attract the attention of students further. This also encourages better awareness, as the student will then be listening out for the specific word from the teacher. Once the complete attention of the class has been achieved, it’s time to move to the second step.

2. Rules of the classroom

Once stage one has been completed, you are almost ready for instruction and the real lesson to begin. In this step, students are introduced, or reintroduced, to five distinct rules for the classroom that they must adhere to. Every practice should include a demonstration or different gesture to further encourage learning by utilizing whole brain teaching. Examples of these rules are:

  1. Follow all directions given quickly and effectively – accompanied by a fish swimming motion forwards
  2. Ask for permission to speak by raising your hand – accompanied by a hand-up motion paired with the other hand talking at the mouth
  3. Ask for permission to leave your chair by raising your hand – accompanied by a hand-up motion paired with waving fingers
  4. Make smarter choices and think ahead – accompanied by a tapping side of head motion
  5. Make your teacher happy every day – accompanied by fingers to corners of mouth motion to form a smile

By accompanying each of these rules with a specific motion, students are better able to make the connection and achieve higher learning objectives over time. For whole brain teaching, incorporating movements that allow the other side of the brain to be triggered is a vital element.

3. Group work and teach

The bulk of the instructional part of a whole brain teaching lesson takes place in this stage. The teacher must first break students up into smaller groups. They must then provide the students with information while integrating different movements, gestures or other forms of motion into the information-giving portion of the lesson. Alternatives include using a song, poems or even chants as a way to incorporate whole brain teaching.

Once this segment of time is complete, the teacher must then chant another word, for example, Teach. The students must then respond in kind with an OK. Following this, each student must turn to a partner within their group and mimic the previous information they were taught through the teacher. It’s at this time that the teacher and any assistants should be carefully monitoring for signs of retention of comprehension.

This process, of small bites of information provided in tandem with motion, song or other forms of movement or notable creative formats, should be repeated for every portion of the lesson. Through consistency, students can learn exactly what is required of them through this new teaching methodology.

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4. The switch

Used alongside the third step of group work combined with the Teach/OK method, the switch process enables students to be more interactive with their learning among themselves. When each student teaches to their classmate – following the passing of information from the teacher in the above step – they must take it in turns. This allows both students ample time to prove their comprehension.

The switch can be achieved quickly and painlessly within the classroom by separating the students into 1s and 2s. At one time, all number one students will teach, and when the teacher announces Switch, this changes to number two students. With this method, all children can take part in the lesson provided equally.

5. The scoreboard

Scoreboards are an excellent motivational tool for use with the whole brain teaching method. How that scoreboard is formatted will depend on the grade of your class. These two examples offer an idea of what each could look like:

Kindergarten – Age 4

Students in this age bracket will benefit most from a smile/frown type of scoreboard. Each student will receive points either on the smile or frown face, depending on their performance. Each time the teacher adds a point (up to three), the teacher must also include a motion or chant, such as Party time! for excellent performance and Oh dear for bad performance.

Students should then respond in kind, as with the above steps. If at the end of the school day the excellent performance points are higher than the bad, then the students with positive performance will receive extra playtime.

Age 5 – Age 12

Similar to the rules for the above age group, in this case, no negative points are applied, just the chance to earn smile points. The reward for positive behavior and achievement can be anything from getting out of homework to getting a few extra minutes of playtime.

6. Hands, eyes and mirrors

At times when the teacher needs to gain immediate attention from students, this method is highly effective. In this example, the teacher could say something like hands and eyes, making a motion alongside. Students must then mimic the words and movement caused by the teacher. Similarly, mirror, mirror is another excellent example of mimic that students can accomplish during class time when accompanied by a motion to copy.

The joy of whole brain teaching is the fact that it is what you make it. Whether you incorporate a few steps into your existing classroom routine, or you choose to try something completely different, that’s up to you. As a method that’s proven to achieve results, there’s no harm in giving it a try – even in small, simple ways such as with the implementation of scoreboards.

Does whole brain teaching sound like an excellent addition to your classroom, or is there something else you find works better to engage your students?