10 Best Teaching Practices: How Brain Research and Learning Styles Define Teaching Competencies


Donna Walker Tileston

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  • Dedication

    To my sons, Christopher Scott McBrayer and Kevin Lane McBrayer, and in memory of their brother, Chad Michael McBrayer


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    When I first wrote this book, I said that we live in a time in which a revolution in education is occurring; that is still true, but it is now happening at warp speed. We are racing to keep up with advances in technology and new sciences such as neuroplasticity. For the first time in history students know how to use the technology of the classroom before their teachers—and, for the most part, they are better at it.

    The faces of the classroom have changed dramatically from those of predominantly Anglo-Saxon background to a collage of cultures and races. Poverty is rampant in this country, and with it come all of the issues involved. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2024, the majority race in public schools will be Hispanic followed by African American. Given that national test scores tell us we're already doing a poor job of teaching English language learners, how effective will we be when they're the majority?

    The information in this book has changed by at least 65 percent since the second edition in order to incorporate all the new research since 2005. It is important to note, however, that despite these rapid changes in our nation's classrooms and in our understanding of how the brain learns, the distillation of 10 basic best practices that I developed a decade ago has not changed. The implementation of these practices sometimes looks very different, involving new technologies, for instance, as well as strategies particularly designed to better incorporate English learners. But the essence of good teaching remains quite consistent. As I wrote in the first edition:

    I have identified 10 teaching practices that have tremendous power in the classroom when we incorporate the best of research with their implementation. These teaching strategies are based on the best research in the field and on real classroom experience by practitioners. More than 20 years ago, I began a dynamic field study on the factors that enhance learning and the factors that impede it. Along with a group of teachers, I used the research that was available at that time to help restructure a school in trouble. Positive results could be seen almost immediately and have been sustained over the years. Today, the school that once had low test scores, a high dropout rate, and many discipline problems enjoys some of the highest test scores in the state, SAT and ACT scores well above the state and national average, and low incidences of discipline problems. What is significant about this study is that the results have been sustained over time—it was not a one-shot quick fix but a systemic process that has grown. The new research on how the brain learns has validated the structures that we put in place and built over the past two decades.

    Chapter 1 looks at the importance of a climate that is enriched and emotionally supportive. As we examine the implications of cultures outside the dominant culture of the classroom, it has become evident that learners today need us to create a relationship first—before the substance of the learning. For some cultures such as African American it is essential that I build a relationship of trust first, especially if I am of a different culture. The new brain research on the effects of how students feel about the classroom and the learning as well as the brain's capacity to learn is critical. We now know that not only can we reverse the effects of an early negative environment, but, according to Sousa (2006), we can actually increase the IQ scores of students by as much as 20 points by enhancing the environment for learning. I consider this chapter to be critical, because if we cannot create a climate in which all students feel physically and emotionally secure, the rest doesn't matter.

    Chapter 2 addresses the need for a wide repertoire of teaching techniques so that all students, regardless of how they learn best, will be successful. Schools of the past taught mainly to the auditory learners; schools of the future must teach to all learners. New research shows that as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of the classroom may be made up of students who don't learn auditorily (Sousa, 2006). We must examine not only the three most used modalities for incoming information, but the rhythm of the teaching as well. The attention span of the brain follows a rhythm that, if incorporated into the time frame of teaching, ensures greater response from students. Several years ago, I would have said that students from age 14 through adult will listen actively for 15 minutes before the brain begins to wander. Today, researchers such as Jensen (2010) tell us technology has narrowed down that time frame to about 10 minutes. To be effective teachers we must learn to use time as a tool that can be placed into teachable 10-minute segments with process skills utilized between.

    Chapter 3 looks at the critical element of connections or transfers in learning. The brain is a seeker of connections, and where they do not exist, there seems to be a break in the learning while the brain creates a connection. Our job as educators is to build on connections that already exist and to help create connections where there are none. This chapter offers hope to the parents, teachers, and students as they search for ways to put learning into long-term memory. Since the last edition of this book, we have reexamined the idea of short-term and long-term memory. We now believe that there are two phases of short-term memory rather than just one and that each of those phases has a separate function and time clock in learning.

    Chapter 4 is an investigation into the workings of the memory system. How does the brain decide what to toss and what to keep? More important, how can we take this new knowledge to the classroom? All of us, as educators, have experienced those agonizing moments when we realized that although we taught our hearts out, the students just didn't get it. With the mystery of how we learn and remember solved, teachers of the future have the opportunity to make learning more meaningful than at any other time in history. In this chapter we delve more deeply into what happens in the brain as our students make critical decisions about what is important to learn and what is not.

    Chapter 5 looks at the need to provide motivating, challenging work in the classroom. Time is too precious a commodity to waste in the classroom. Our students will enter a world in which computers can do rote memory tasks. We must prepare them for the things computers cannot do—problem solving, complex thinking, and collaboration. We must see that every child—regardless of socioeconomic status—has access to a quality education. When students lack skills or have gaps in the learning then we must use scaffolding so that they can learn at a high level while we close the gaps.

    Chapter 6 is a discussion of the power of true collaborative learning. In the global world, the need for articulation skills, the ability to work with a variety of people, and the ability to collaborate on problem solving is critical. One of the important skills of this century is the ability to talk to anyone, regardless of whether we agree with them or not (Pink, 2009). In a global world, people who can listen and who can seek to understand why are of great value.

    Chapter 7 discusses the importance of success for all learners. We must take a hard look at student data in its desegregated form. We must look at cultural differences and the research on what works and what does not. It's time to bring in the experts and be honest about what is not working. Response to Intervention has the power to finally keep students from falling through the cracks and from being incorrectly placed in special education. It has the power but will not accomplish its goal unless we change the way we assess, the way we teach, and the way that we differentiate for culture.

    Chapter 8 identifies what authentic assessment is and what it is not. Much is being written today about formative assessment and its role in helping all students to be successful. This chapter looks at some of the new research.

    Chapter 9 looks at relevance as it applies to learning. Like climate, this is one of the most powerful areas of influence on how and whether the brain learns and remembers. It is the answer for those who ask, “When are we ever going to use this?” How can we take classroom skills to the real world, and how can we help students to see the possibilities?

    Chapter 10 is a look into the future to an anytime, anywhere learning space. Technology is an integral part of the home and workplace. Technology is the tool of this century, just as a pen or pencil has been in former centuries. It should be an integral part of the classroom so that students don't have to “power down” when they come to school.

    In Chapter 11, I provide some closing remarks based on the findings in this book and on the research from the school that we restructured more than 15 years ago. A true test for any restructured school is whether students are successful and, if so, whether they are successful over time. Students in our school began to show remarkable improvement almost immediately and have built on that success over time. When we began years ago to restructure this school, we did it based on the knowledge available at that time. We did not know many of the things that we now know about how the brain works; we applied what we knew worked for kids and then built on it as new information became available. Our instincts were correct. As these principles apply in that school, I believe they can apply in any school in the country.

    Publisher's Acknowledgment

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Beth Madison, Principal, George Middle School, Portland, Oregon.

    About the Author

    Donna Walker Tileston is a veteran teacher of three decades, a best-selling and award-winning author, and a full-time consultant. She is the president of Strategic Teaching & Learning, which provides services to schools throughout the United States, Canada, and worldwide. She is the author of more than 20 books, including What Every Teacher Should Know: The 10-Book Collection (Corwin, 2004), which won the Association of Educational Publishers' 2004 Distinguished Achievement Award as a Professional Development Handbook. She has also written the following for Corwin:

    • Closing the Poverty and Culture Gap: Strategies to Reach Every Student (2009)
    • Teaching Strategies That Prepare Students for High-Stakes Tests (2008)
    • Teaching Strategies for Active Learning: Five Essentials for Your Teaching Plan (2007)
    • What Every Parent Should Know About Schools, Standards, and High-Stakes Tests (2006)
    • Ten Best Teaching Practices: How Brain Research, Learning Styles, and Standards Define Teaching Competencies, Second Edition (2005)
    • Training Manual for What Every Teacher Should Know (2005)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Learning, Memory, and the Brain (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Diverse Learners (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Instructional Planning (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Effective Teaching Strategies (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Classroom Management and Discipline (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Student Assessment (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Special Learners (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About Media and Technology (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know About the Profession and Politics of Teaching (2004)
    • What Every Teacher Should Know: The 10-Book Collection (2004)
    • Strategies for Teaching Differently: On the Block or Not (1998)

    She received her bachelor's degree from The University of North Texas, her master's from East Texas State University, and her doctorate from Texas A&M University, Commerce. She may be reached at http://www.wetsk.com.

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