Do you wonder why some students pay attention to everything but you? Learn how brain-based teaching strategies can enhance your effectiveness and lower your stress.

How can we use our understanding of the brain to promote better teaching and learning? An essential understanding about brain-based education is that most neuroscientists don’t teach and most teachers don’t do research. It’s unrealistic to expect neuroscientists to reveal which classroom strategies will work best. That’s not appropriate for neuroscientists, and most don’t do that. Many critics could cite this as a weakness, but it’s not. Neuroscience and many related disciplines (e.g., genetics, chemistry, endocrinology) are what we refer to as basic science. The work is done in labs, and the science is more likely to provide general guidelines or suggest future directions for research. Of all the neuroscience studies published each month, only a small fraction of them have potential educational relevance. Brain-based teaching is the active engagement of practical strategies based on principles derived from brain-related sciences. All teachers use strategies; the difference here is that you’re using strategies based on real science, not rumor or mythology.

Here are just three examples that are highly relevant. First, it appears that there are very few emotions “built-in” or “hard-wired” in our DNA. Several dozen researchers have studied this issue and, while their numbers vary, it appears that we are born with less than a dozen emotions. The relevance of this is simple: What we are not born with, we must be taught. School demands the presence of emotional responses such as respect, patience, empathy, shame, gratitude, and remorse. But some kids hit other kids in school and show no remorse. Other kids talk back to teachers and have no concept of respect for adults or shame for doing something wrong. This means the K-5 teachers must teach appropriate emotional responses, not criticize kids who lack them. Teachers who understand this stop demanding that kids act a certain way and instead start teaching them how to respond.

The second example involves attention. The brain is hard-wired to pay attention to anything that is related to survival. That includes kids walking by and flying objects movement), gross bodily sounds (novelty), other kids (affiliation or mating opportunities), and other things you may view as distractions. Stop telling, begging, or imploring kids to pay attention: They already pay attention to everything that is important to them. To get students’ attention, create “buy-in,” and give students a goal to reach. Attention will take care of itself. Younger kids will need to have their attention redirected more often than older ones. Teachers who understand this principle change how they introduce things to kids. They use more curiosity-builders and have less stressful days while kids learn more.

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