Begin with the Brain: Orchestrating the Learner-Centered Classroom

Books

Martha Kaufeldt

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    This book is dedicated to my husband, Rick Burros, stepson, Greg Burros, and my sons Kurt and Kris Kaufeldt.

    Thank you for your love and support as I do the work I am passionate about with other educators.

    Copyright

    View Copyright Page

    Preface

    Over a decade has passed since I began writing the first edition of Begin With the Brain: Orchestrating the Learner-Centered Classroom. At the time, I had just left my classroom teaching position and was launching my next career in professional development and teacher training.

    We were in the midst of the so-called Decade of the Brain; the field of cognitive neuroscience was growing rapidly, and research studies were uncovering exciting new information about the human brain, much of it of profound interest to teachers. Some critics, however, felt that it was too early to base educational practice on the initial findings of cognitive neuroscience, and a few even suggested that teachers really weren't qualified to integrate the findings into classroom practice.

    As a teacher working on the “front lines,” I felt differently; for some years, I had been seeking out the research on my own, analyzing my own current practices and then creating new strategies based on what seemed to me to be commonsense adaptations of the best current research. Because of the positive results I'd achieved with my own students during these years of “action research,” I became more and more certain that my experiences and strategies could provide valuable information to other educators. Since I'd already been integrating early brain research and practical teaching and learning strategies for years, I was proud to be part of the first generation of what was beginning to be known as the brain-based education movement. Today, I prefer to use the term brain-compatible. As Pat Wolfe and others have pointed out, the phrase brain-based implies the existence of other educational methods—such as liver-based or intestine-based!

    In this revised and expanded edition of the original book, I continue to encourage and celebrate all of the commonsense strategies that can enhance a classroom environment, engage students, and promote meaningful learning. The reasons these techniques are successful, I believe, is that they reflect what science and recent research have concluded regarding the conditions for how human brains learn best and most efficiently. I want to take this opportunity to encourage educators to constantly reevaluate their current practices and see for themselves whether they are aligned with what we currently know about how our brains learn and remember. I would also urge teachers to modify the strategies they are using now to reflect the latest insights on how a student's brain might better be stimulated and engaged.

    I realize that educators may never become “brain experts.” I do maintain, however, that classroom teachers will continue to conduct valuable action research as they implement brain-compatible techniques—just as I did when I was a classroom teacher and continue to do when I work with adult learners.

    Teaching, of course, is not a science, but an art. This new edition of Begin With the Brain is offered in support of the following proposition:

    To maximize education, the art of teaching should be compatible with how brains learn.

    Acknowledgments

    When I wrote this book, I was overwhelmed by the realization of how as a teacher I have synthesized information and ideas from such a wide variety of people and sources. Throughout my career, I have had incredible associations and wonderful opportunities to work with gifted educators and researchers. As I attempted to compile and publish my strategies for success in the classroom, I was able to reflect on the various workshops, trainings, collaborations, and mentors from whom I have benefited.

    In the area of brain research and learning theory, the following people have been instrumental in influencing me through their writings and in many cases their personal connections: Thomas Armstrong, Pat Belvel, Tony Buzan, Geoffrey and Renate Caine, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Linda Darling-Hammond, Marion Diamond, David Elkind, Howard Gardner, Jeanne Gibbs, William Glasser, Daniel Goleman, Leslie Hart, Jane Healy, Eric Jensen, Spencer Kagan, Susan Kovalik, Alfie Kohn, Joseph LeDoux, Larry Lowery, Jane Nelsen, Candace Pert, Frank Smith, David Sousa, Robert Sylwester, Pat Wolfe, and Harry Wong. I encourage every educator to become a life-long learner and investigate this growing field of knowledge.

    As I added relevant cognitive neuroscience updates to this edition, I needed an expert to review and clarify some of the recent brain research. I was able to count on my friend and mentor for many years, Bob Sylwester, professor emeritus, author, speaker, and one of the most generous human beings on the planet, to offer his wise insights and deep knowledge on brainy stuff.

    Over the years, there have been dozens of colleagues and friends who have been mentors and associates on a wide variety of projects. Robert Ellingsen, my dear friend and partner teacher at Monarch School, deserves special recognition as a collaborator, sounding board, innovator, tireless cohort, and absolutely dedicated educator!

    Throughout this book, I refer frequently to Monarch Community School. It was during my tenure there that I learned, applied, tested, improved, and tweaked many of the tools I initially explored in this book. In the last 10 years, I have primarily been working as a teacher trainer and staff developer. To keep myself alert and aware of the current teaching profession, I have rotated into the classroom as a guest teacher or long-term substitute when I can. I have also taught summer school classes when I had newer strategies I wanted to implement and revise. I suspect I always learn far more from the students than they learn from me.

    The first edition of this book was launched with the vision of Joey Tanner, former publisher at Zephyr Press, and the constant support, assistance, and encouragement of Veronica Durie, the managing editor. This second edition is now realized with the help of Carol Collins, Senior Editor, Brett Ory, and many others at Corwin Press.

    A special thanks goes to LuLane Harrison, my trusty assistant for over 10 years, who always keeps things together when I am traveling and is my sounding board and friend.

    I have been a member of the Burros family for eight years and continue to be amazed at the creative talents that so many of them possess. When I needed help the most, my new nephew-in-law Brandon Toropov, a brilliant author and editor, guided me through the last rewrite with his great insight and suggestions. My new sister-in-law, Judith Burros, an incredible artist in a variety of media, tackled the job of drawing me some brainy illustrations that beautifully add to this second edition. My husband, Rick Burros, kept me going with laughter and his sage advice when I was the most frustrated: “Cut it loose!”

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Janice Bradley, PhD

    Project Coordinator

    New Mexico State University

    Las Cruces, NM

    Barbara Clark, EdD

    Professor Emeritus

    California State University, Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA

    Mari Gates

    5th Grade Regular Education Inclusion Teacher

    Henry B. Burkland Intermediate School

    Middleboro, MA

    Mike Scaddan

    CEO, Brain Stems Ltd

    Tauranga, New Zealand

    Bess Scott, PhD

    Director of Elementary Education

    Lincoln Public Schools

    Lincoln, NE

    Leah Welte

    Teacher

    Alpine School District

    American Fork, UT

    About the Author

    Martha Kaufeldt began her teaching career in 1977. She has taught a variety of grades at the elementary level and language arts programs in middle school and high school. She began her research of brain-compatible teaching and learning strategies while working with several school districts to develop gifted, talented, and extended-learning programs. With a master's degree in human behavior, she believes that all educators should know more about how the brain learns. Martha continues to keep up to date on recent cognitive neuroscience research and incorporates new knowledge into her teaching practices and workshops. She considers herself a “brain research interpreter for educators.”

    In 1985, Martha designed and implemented a Concept-in-a-Day program to teach the concept of long division in a single day. This award-winning video documents an innovative immersion program and is used by teachers internationally. The success of the program introduced Martha as a powerful and dynamic workshop presenter.

    Martha served as the Program Director, trainer, and coach for the Bay Area Middle Schools Project, and then during the 1992–1993 school year, Martha returned to the middle school classroom to get a reality check. As a seventh-grade humanities core teacher, Martha was able to work on an interdisciplinary teaching team implementing thematic curriculum. As a new challenge, Martha then worked for four years as the restructuring coordinator and the lead teacher at an alternative K–6 public elementary school in Santa Cruz, California. This unique program emphasized brain-compatible teaching strategies, differentiated instruction, multiage classes, authentic assessment, parent participation, and conflict resolution strategies. When her busy schedule allows it, Martha continues to rotate back into the classroom as a long-term substitute or guest teacher to help build up her “tackle box of strategies,” and to remind her of the challenges educators face everyday in schools across North America.

    Martha travels internationally giving energizing motivational presentations and dynamic workshops that address the fundamentals of brain-compatible learning theory, differentiated instruction, classroom management, and assessment for all grade levels. Martha's unique experiences and background have provided her with many examples and suggestions for teachers who are ready to hear about the incredible possibilities that await their students. She is also the author of Teachers, Change Your Bait! Brain-Compatible Differentiated Instruction (2005). Martha can be reached at Martha@beginwiththebrain.com or on her Web site at http://www.beginwiththebrain.com.

  • Epilogue: Develop Your “Teaching Compass”

    The complex art of teaching is much more than content knowledge and instructional methodology. Each day in a classroom involves observation, conversation, reflection, improvisation, and innovation. There are always multiple “adjustment opportunities” within each lesson. The ability to anticipate what the next interaction should be for each student is a gift for some teachers, but it is an acquired skill that many of us must develop.

    The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards lists five core principals that teachers should know and be able to do. The first standard is simply stated: “Teachers are committed to students and their learning.” The standard states that teachers:

    • Act on the belief that all students can learn;
    • Treat students equitably, recognizing the individual differences that distinguish one student from another and taking account of these differences in their practice;
    • Adjust their practice based on observation and knowledge of their students' interests, abilities, skills, knowledge, family circumstances, and peer relationships;
    • Understand how students develop and learn;
    • Incorporate the prevailing theories of cognition and intelligence in their practice;
    • Are aware of the influence of context and culture on behavior;
    • Develop students' cognitive capacity and their respect for learning; and
    • Foster students' self-esteem, motivation, character, and civic responsibility.
    Adapted from National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2002.

    To manifest this standard in practice is a huge undertaking that requires teachers to have a guiding pedagogy. I call this your teaching compass. A compass is a consistent and true indicator of physical direction. It provides information so that you can calculate decisions about what direction you should take. Not only will a dynamic teacher have a tackle box of strategies to draw from, she will also have a belief system about children and learning that informs and guides her daily instructional decisions. As situations emerge in the classroom, your personal teaching compass can help you find your way through.

    Begin with the brain. Understanding how brains learn, react under stress, and respond to experiences can help you develop your teaching compass. When each adjustment opportunity presents itself, I recommend that you turn to your growing knowledge about the brain and the field of cognitive neuroscience. By knowing about instructional practices designed to be most compatible with how children's brains learn naturally and most efficiently, you will be able to determine what strategy or process will be the best direction to take. As you design lessons, ask yourself the following questions:

    • Will this strategy be too intimidating for this learner (i.e., be perceived as a threat)?
    • Have I included clear procedures, so that the learner knows the expected behaviors?
    • Does the classroom environment promote learning, exploration, and reflection?
    • Does the classroom climate feel safe and secure?
    • Have the students' basic needs been met?
    • Would this learner benefit from some movement opportunities?
    • Is the classroom a joyful place to be? Have we laughed recently?
    • How might I modify, adapt, or extend this lesson to better suit this student's current capabilities?
    • Are there opportunities for student choice?
    • Will students be able to get immediate feedback as they learn?

    What will your classroom be like a year from now? Where are you headed? What additional knowledge will you use as your teaching compass? As a life-long learner, examine your current practices and repertoire and seek to expand your knowledge and understanding about brain-compatible teaching and learning. I wish you well on your journey.

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    Recommended Reading

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    Blakemore, S. J., & Frith, U. (2005). The learning brain: Lessons for education. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
    Brown, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Avery/Penguin.
    Caine, G., Caine, R. N., & Crowell, S. (1999). MindShifts: A brain-based process for restructuring schools and renewing education (
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    Caine, R. N., Caine, G., McClintic, C., & Klimek, K. (2005). 12 brain/mind learning principles in action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
    Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.
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    Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
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    Sylwester, R. (2007). The adolescent brain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
    Venolia, C. (1988). Healing environments. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
    Willis, J. (2008). How your child learns best: Brain-friendly strategies you can use to ignite your child's learning and increase school success. Napierville, IL: Sourcebooks.
    Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain matters: Translating research into classroom practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Wong, H., & Wong, R. T. (2005). The first days of school. Mountain View, CA: Wong.
    Zapolsky, R. M. (1999). Why zebras don't get ulcers. New York: Freeman & Co.

    Corwin: A SAGE Company

    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”


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