Sparking Student Synapses 9–12: Think Critically and Accelerate Learning


Rich Allen & Nigel Scozzi

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    Rich Allen dedicates this book to …

    My sister, Karen Walden, for meeting life's challenges with grace, dignity, and extraordinary courage.

    Larry Walden, for holding her hand every step of the way.

    Nigel Scozzi dedicates this book to …

    My ever-proud parents.

    An early mentor, Mr. Bob Grant, for his confidence in me.

    My principal, Dr. Tim Wright, for challenging all of his staff to constantly question how we teach, and for supporting my professional development with Eric Jensen and Dr. Rich Allen, whose influence continues to inform my teaching.

    The amazing staff at Shore school, for their willingness to experiment. (Keeping it real—it's a Shore thing!)

    My Geography staff, for their encouragement—I have a great admiration for you.

    My two children, Jye and Priscilla, for being the examples of why I love teaching and for always asking questions.

    And, finally, my beautiful wife, Danielle, for your saintly patience and love.


    View Copyright Page

    Foreword: The Story of Nigel

    This book is a practical guide to help high school educators adapt to a curriculum with an increasing focus on critical thinking. The following story explains how it came to be written and what it covers.

    In many ways, Shore School is a dream teaching assignment. It stands on a hilltop in the heart of Sydney, Australia. Walking around its manicured, century-old grounds, you glimpse magnificent views of Sydney harbor. The boys at this private school wear gray suits and old-fashioned straw boater hats. They stand respectfully when a teacher or visitor enters the room; they call their teachers Sir and Miss.

    Yet, despite excellent facilities and well-mannered students, Shore has the same basic educational challenges facing every other high school in the developed world: How do you keep digital natives engaged? How do you keep up with the demands of a new and constantly changing curriculum? How do you balance the need to sustain your scores in state-based testing with your goal of delivering a well-rounded education?

    In 2006, the biggest challenge facing Shore's Head of Geography, Nigel Scozzi, was the following: How do you deal with the shift in high school curriculum toward critical thinking? State tests were increasingly asking questions that required more than rote learning—students were required to demonstrate that they could think about and apply the knowledge in different contexts. In Nigel's experience, it was as much as his department could do to get students to simply learn all the content—when would they possibly find time to teach the students to think critically about the new information?

    With this question at the back of his mind, Nigel attended a brain-based teaching conference in Australia, where Eric Jensen's keynote on “teaching with the brain in mind” was a revelation. For the first time, Nigel heard about smarter, more purposeful teaching strategies—based on how the brain takes in, processes, and remembers information—that could reach a greater number of students faster! Intrigued, he signed up for a 5-day practical course with Jensen Learning in San Diego, led by Dr. Rich Allen.

    After a week of learning how to incorporate movement, music, positive emotions, conversation, and memory strategies into his teaching practice, Nigel returned to Australia and rewrote his department's lessons. Taking a fundamentally new approach, he deliberately used what Rich called Green Light teaching strategies, including engagement and memorization techniques, to quickly create student understanding and recall of the topic's core content. His theory was that if he could accelerate the process of getting students to grasp and remember the core content, it would be much easier to build on this foundational understanding and guide his students to develop and demonstrate the critical thinking required in state-based testing.

    This is why, three years ago, Nigel's students found themselves attending a very different type of geography lesson. Rather than sitting quietly, listening to lectures and working from the textbook, students were given challenges that got them up, moving, talking, laughing, and thinking. Every lesson had a sound track. Nigel frequently arrived brandishing props or in storytelling mode. Students competed in games based on TV programs or popular sports. And then, once every student had a firm grasp on the core information, they were challenged to think critically about it—to develop lines of reasoning, to test ideas against their own values, and to understand how content related to the real world.

    From the students' perspective, the change was met with wholesale enthusiasm. Student surveys mandated by the school revealed overwhelmingly positive feedback—no one was ever bored in geography! As word spread, geography, previously not one of the most popular elective subjects, was inundated with applications. Today, the Shore Geography Department has the highest retention rate of any school in the state; an astonishing 40% of students choose to continue to study geography as an elective subject through their senior year.

    Of course, although student enthusiasm for learning is an important measure of educational success, it is not the one that counts in today's educational systems. However, Nigel's new teaching strategy didn't just win over his students; it also delivered outstanding test results.

    In 2009, Shore's geography students achieved an average 86.5 in Australia's High School Certificate examinations—12% above the state average and often substantially above their scores in other school subjects. In 2008 and 2009, three of the state's top 10 geography students came from Shore. Today, geography is one of the school's flagship departments, and Nigel has served as the Shore Mentor of Learning and Teaching.

    This book came about as a result of Nigel's experience in the mentor's role. Because, as Nigel started to share his strategies throughout the school, he encountered a stumbling block. Although teachers were delighted with the lessons he created, they often struggled to develop lessons of their own. As Nigel says, “These are excellent, dedicated teachers, keen to embrace something new, yet they couldn't easily see how to transform traditional, lecture-based content into engaging lessons that would accelerate learning.”

    To address this issue, Nigel developed a step-by-step process to turn any secondary content into an engaging and highly memorable lesson as well as techniques and practical tips to encourage students in the art of critical thinking. He also adapted a number of Rich Allen's Green Light strategies for the high school classroom to make each lesson more effective.

    This book shares these proven processes and strategies with you. Although it also briefly explains the brain-based theories on which they are based, at its heart, it is a practical guide. This book's purpose is to encourage and support you in developing dynamic Green Light lessons that accelerate learning, empower critical thinking, and improve test results. Rich Allen and Nigel Scozzi hope you will have the courage to try out some of these ideas in your high school classroom.


    The authors wish to thank the following people for their vital contributions to the development of this manuscript:

    • Karen Pryor, editor. Yes, you are an astonishingly talented editor, and yet you gave much, much more to this particular project. Thank you for all of the incredibly valuable things you added to every phrase of the writing process. This book truly stands as a testament to your ability to balance a wide variety of details while firmly holding in place the overarching vision. Again, thank you.
    • Wayne Logue, illustrator. Your images have never been more powerful and evocative over the course of our 20-year collaboration than they are here. Thank you for adding that critical extra layer of visual impact, which is so vital to so many of our readers.
    • Cheryl Dick, researcher. Your work throughout the growth of this project has been nothing less than inspirational. The credibility of this manuscript is very much a product of the work you did with us. For that, we thank you!

    We also thank the creative teachers who generously contributed the original ideas for the additional lessons to this book:

    • J. P. Friend
    • Derrice Randall
    • Rob Gulson
    • Natasha Terry-Armstrong
    • Joel C. Palmer
    • John Tzantzaris
    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Phil Martin
    • Teacher
    • Campbell High School
    • Litchfield, NH
    • Amanda McKee
    • Mathematics Teacher
    • Johnsonville High School
    • Johnsonville, SC
    • Michelle Strom, NBCT
    • Middle School Language Arts Teacher
    • Fort Riley Middle School
    • Fort Riley, KS

    About the Authors

    Rich Allen, Ph.D., is a highly regarded educator with more than 25 years of experience coaching teachers. Founder and President of Green Light Education, he is the author of numerous popular educational books, including, most recently, High-Five Teaching K–5: Using Green Light Strategies to Create Dynamic, Student-Focused Classrooms (2011), High-Impact Teaching Strategies for the “XYZ” Era of Education (2010), Green Light Classrooms: Teaching Techniques That Accelerate Learning (2008), and TrainSmart: Effective Trainings Every Time, 2nd ed. (2008). He has shared his dynamic instructional strategies not only in the United States and Canada, but also in such diverse countries as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Russia, Jordan, and Brazil. Dr. Allen is also a popular keynote speaker at international education conferences and works with schools and school districts to embed effective teaching methods into the mainstream curriculum.

    Dr. Allen first took to the stage as an off-Broadway actor, before starting his educational career as a high school math and drama teacher. In 1985 he became a lead facilitator for SuperCamp—an accelerated learning program for teens—and has since worked with more than 25,000 students worldwide. Dr. Allen completed his doctorate in educational psychology at Arizona State University, where he studied how the human brain receives, processes, and recalls information—knowledge that informs all aspects of his teaching strategies. The author divides his time between his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands on the sun-kissed paradise of St. Croix and his fiancée's home in Sydney, Australia, where he is learning to be a stepfather. He can be reached at his e-mail address:

    Nigel Scozzi, PGCE, is the Department Chairman of Geography and has served as the Mentor of Learning and Teaching at Shore School in Sydney, Australia. In this role he is responsible for guiding more than a hundred teachers in their teaching methodology.

    Nigel began his teaching career in Great Britain, where he gained a postgraduate degree in Education from Swansea University. Despite having taught for more than two decades, he continues to be inspired by his students and is forever learning new things himself. He brings to his classroom passion, energy, a huge (if sometimes misguided) sense of humor, and a fierce love for teaching.

    Nigel lives with his wife and two children on the Northern Beaches in Sydney, where he indulges in his passion for surfing.

  • Authors' Final Note

    You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

    —Martin Luther King

    As authors, we cherish a fond fantasy that teachers will read this book and immediately change many aspects of their lessons, coming up with creative translation activities; letting students talk more; using memory strategies in every lesson; and prompting and modeling critical thinking.

    However, we are also well aware of the extreme challenges facing high school educators. Many secondary teachers do not have their own classrooms. Others battle serious, and often frightening, behavioral issues. Most are responsible for many additional activities beyond their own curriculum. Few have enough preparation time. Under these circumstances, we know that making the time and effort to change your teaching strategies seems overwhelming, even if you can see the possibilities in changing your approach. As secondary teachers ourselves, we both fully understand the yawning chasm between thinking “That's a good idea” and actually going through the pain of doing something different.

    Therefore, our more realistic hope for you, our reader, is simply this:

    Act on what makes sense to you.

    In other words, if, when you were reading this book and the sample lessons it contains, something struck you as a potentially useful idea, that's where you should begin. Rather than attempting to make multiple, simultaneous changes to your teaching style, it might be good to begin by doing something as simple as adjusting the physical arrangement of your classroom, with the goal of prompting more student interaction. Or you might add a very deliberate memory strategy into those topics that, in the past, your students have struggled to understand. Or you could include one or two critical thinking questions in your lessons each week.

    Act on what makes sense to you, and watch to see if these small changes bear fruit. Are your students learning new material faster, remembering it longer, and performing better on tests? Are they more engaged in your classroom? Are they thinking more deeply about your content?

    Once you see one strategy working, perhaps you'll be inspired to come back and choose another one to try out. In this way, over time—even in the complex, convoluted, and challenging world of secondary teaching—you really can create positive, valuable, and lasting change in your classroom. Taking that first small step forward can lead you rapidly—perhaps much more rapidly than you thought—toward becoming a Green Light teacher, making your classroom an even more successful learning environment.

    Whether your journey toward Green Light teaching starts with one small step or a dramatic leap three at a time up the staircase, we'd be delighted to hear about your experience. Please send any Green Light stories to


    Allen, R. (2008). Green light classrooms: Teaching techniques that accelerate learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
    Allen, R. (2010). High-impact teaching strategies for the “XYZ” era of education. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
    Ausubel, D. P. (1967). Learning theory and classroom practice [Bulletin No. 1]. Toronto: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
    Bartlett, F. (1932). Remembering. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    Burko, H., & Elliot, R. (1997). Hands-on pedagogy vs. hands-off accountability. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(5), 394–400.
    Clark, A. C. (1973). Hazards of prophecy: The failure of imagination. In Profiles of the future: An enquiry into the limits of the possible (
    Rev ed.
    , pp. 14, 21, 36). Ventura, CA: Bantam Books.
    Costa, A. (2008). The thought-filled curriculum. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 20–24.
    Education Bureau. (2002). Basic education curriculum guide. Wan Chai, Hong Kong: Author.
    Epstein, A. (2008). An early start on thinking. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 38–42.
    Garner, B. K. (2007). Getting to got it! Helping struggling students learn how to learn. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Green, J. (2005). The Green book of songs by subject: The thematic guide to popular music (
    5th ed.
    ). Nashville, TN: Professional Desk References.
    Head, H. (1920). Studies in neurology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
    Jensen, E. (1996). Brain-based learning. Del Mar, CA: Turning Point Publishing.
    Jensen, E. (2000). Music with the brain in mind. San Diego, CA: The Brain Store.
    Jensen, E. (2001). Arts with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind (
    2nd ed.
    ). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Kagan, S. (2000). Silly sports and goofy games. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.
    Kagan, S., & Kagan, M. (2009). Kagan cooperative learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.
    Kirsch, I. (1999). The response expectancy: An introduction. In I.Kirsch (Ed.), How expectancies shape experiences (p. 7). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
    Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Marzano, R. J. (2009). Teaching with interactive whiteboards. Educational Leadership, 67(3), 80–82.
    Marzano, R. J., & Haystead, M. (2009). Final report on the evaluation of the Promethean technology. Englewood, CO: Marzano Research Laboratory.
    Nichols, S. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2008). Testing the joy out of learning. Educational Leadership, 65(6), 14–18.
    Piaget, J. (1926). The language and thought of the child. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace.
    Slavin, R. E. (1988). Educational psychology: Theory into practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
    Sprenger, M. (2009). Focusing the digital brain. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 34–39.
    Swartz, R. (2008). Energizing learning. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 26–31.
    Tulving, E. (1984). Precis of elements of episodic memory. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 7, 223–268.
    U.S. Department of Education. (2010). Under Secretary Martha Kanter's remarks at the Association of American Colleges and Universities annual meeting. Retrieved from
    Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2008). Put understanding first. Educational Leadership, 65(8), 36–41.

    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.”

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website