Brain-Compatible Classrooms


Robin Fogarty

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Physiology and Brain Science

    Part II: Principles for Teaching and Learning

    Part III: Brain-Friendly Strategies

  • Dedication

    In loving memory of my dad, who knew just how to grow dendrites


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    The exploration of our “universe within” is in full swing. From designer drugs such as Prozac and Zoloft to catchy terms such as EQ and MRIs, the media is abuzz with the almost daily discoveries of how the brain functions and how that functioning can be monitored, improved, and even re-created. Popular magazines publish weekly articles on brain-related stories and feature editions that devote whole issues to the mysteries of the human brain.

    In fact, the nation and the world are fascinated by the findings in brain research, including discoveries about sleep cycles, gender differences in physiology and processing, windows of opportunity and critical periods, and how the brain remembers, reads, and regenerates. Brain references pop up everywhere. People are aware of the dendrites in their brains, the myelination of the axons, the effects of nutrition and exercise on brain functioning, and the balance of the nature/nurture puzzle. The medical world taps into the research and discovers groundbreaking revelations connecting brain chemistry and disease. Many educators are tuning in to brain-friendly strategies for learning.

    With all this interest in the brain and the vast amount of information about the brain inundating the media, the need for an informative and practical book for teachers seems imminent. Thus, it is the purpose of Brain-Compatible Classrooms (3rd edition) to bring the message of brain research and its implications for the classroom to educators in a user-friendly format.

    Yet a word of caution is needed. The landscape of brain research changes almost daily. Be aware that information presented in this book is open to debate and alteration as new insights emerge. Take responsibility to read more on your own, concentrating on the resources cited within the past three years. Be a brain-wise consumer.

    Robin Fogarty
    Chicago, IL


    In my search for understanding about how the brain works and how classrooms can become more brain-friendly, I want to acknowledge some leaders in the field: the pioneering work of Bob Sylwester and the caring advice he gave me, the generous sharing of Pat Wolfe, the wealth of ideas provided by Eric Jensen's books, the richness and freshness of David Sousa's compendium of “brain books,” and the bridge to learning provided by Geoffrey and Renate Caine's principles of brain research.

    In my quest for quality, I want to thank my editing and design staff for this third edition: Jean Ward for our early conversations on this new edition, Hudson Perigo for her direction and resources, and Desiree Enayati for her editorial guidance.

    In my journey of lifelong learning, I want to mention three others: Brian for enduring endless hours of “brain tapes” as we traveled in the car, and Tim and Jeff for their unknowing contributions to my awareness of the brain and its inner workings.

    I am indebted to all of the above.

    Robin Fogarty
    Chicago, IL

    About the Author

    Robin Fogarty received her doctorate in curriculum and human resource development from Loyola University of Chicago. A leading proponent of the thoughtful classroom, Fogarty has trained educators throughout the world in curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies. She has taught at all levels, from kindergarten to college; served as an administrator; and consulted with state departments and ministries of education in the United States, Puerto Rico, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Great Britain, Singapore, Korea, and the Netherlands. She has published articles in Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, and the Journal of Staff Development. She is the author or coauthor of numerous publications, including Brain-Compatible Classrooms (2001), Literacy Matters (2001), How to Integrate the Curricula (2002), The Adult Learner (2007), A Look at Transfer (2007), Close the Achievement Gap (2007), Twelve Brain Principles That Make the Difference (2007), Nine Best Practices That Make the Difference (2007), and From Staff Room to Classroom: A Guide for Planning and Coaching Professional Development (2006).


    In Brief

    To briefly introduce this third edition—and what has been retained and reframed, what is new and renewed—the following summation is offered. It gives a glimpse of what the reader will find in exploring the new edition, whereas the longer, more detailed introduction shows how the material has evolved over time.

    Retained material:

    • The four-corner framework for quality teaching
    • Visuals, quotes, stories, and graphics

    Reframed material:

    • Organization of the book—physiology, principles, strategies
    • Applications—elaborated
    • Research—updated

    New material:

    • Brain foods—a listing
    • Gender research—updated
    • Memory pathways—revised and elaborated
    • Habits of mind—Costa and Kallick

    Renewed material:

    • Brain principles—Caine and Caine
    • Rationale for differentiation—Tomlinson
    • Role of data—Schmoker
    • Research on teacher quality—Strong
    • Four-corner framework—Fogarty/Pete
    • Teachers Make the Difference
    In More Detail

    This third edition of Brain-Compatible Classrooms (BCC) is a book with a bit of a history. The first edition was a reconceptualization of an earlier work titled

    Patterns for Thinking, Patterns for Transfer (Fogarty & Bellanca, 1993). Based on a framework of four elements, Patterns presented a classroom model that advocates teaching for, of, with, and about thinking.

    In essence, that same model was restructured in the second edition of BCC. Officially called the four-corner framework for quality teaching, this model addresses the same four elements: setting the climate for thinking, teaching the skills of thinking, structuring the interaction with thinking, and thinking in a metacognitive or reflective way. However, the second edition of BCC grounded the framework in the emergent brain research as well as in the sound pedagogical theory present in Patterns. Now, in the third edition of the BCC, the bridge between brain science and learning is elaborated and emphasized with a robust look at the principles of the brain and learning. In addition, separate chapters are included on brain science and cognitive science to further accentuate the linkages between what is known about the brain itself and what is known about how the brain learns. Thus, in this third edition the organization of the book has changed and the chapter headings have shifted.

    The book is organized into three parts: Physiology and Brain Science, Principles for Teaching and Learning, and Brain-Friendly Strategies. These three parts create a balance of understanding about how brain science informs educational practices. With some foundational knowledge about the physiology of the human brain, supported by neurocognitive principles of how the brain learns and cognitive translations of what those brain-friendly strategies look like in the K–12 classroom, teachers are armed with an astonishing arsenal of tools for reaching and teaching all children. After all, brain science is the rationale for differentiating learning.

    Part I: Physiology and Brain Science

    Chapter 1 presents the basics of brain science in a brief discussion that is intended to provide an introductory awareness of the human brain and how it works. It begins with a thumbnail sketch of the exterior and interior physiology of the brain and ends with a description and explanation of the brain cell itself. While this opening section begins the conversation about the human brain, hopefully it also serves as a catalyst to further readings in the field of brain research.

    Part II: Principles for Teaching and Learning

    Chapter 2 opens Part II and builds on this research base by applying the findings to the four-corner framework. Using a brilliant synthesis of brain research, Caine and Caine (1991) and Caine, Caine, and Crowell (1994) have developed 12 principles that have compelling implications for the classroom. These principles guide the creation of the framework.

    In sum, the climate for thinking is governed by a safe classroom setting and an enriched environment; skills of thinking encompass not only the types of skills but the developmental path of those skills; interaction with thinking targets active and experiential learning; and thinking about thinking highlights the reflection and assessment aspects of the high-standards classroom.

    Chapter 3 explores the brain–mind connection and the role of cognitive science as it complements brain science. Discussions presented focus on the nature/nurture conundrum, the brain–mind connection, enriched environments, and the role of experience in building brain connections. In addition, windows of opportunity are explored as are the nutrition–cognition connection and the effects of abuse and addiction on the human brain. This chapter also presents information on the emotional brain, theories of the intellect and memory, and learning and the human brain.

    Part III: Brain-Friendly Strategies

    Chapter 4 describes the four-corner framework for a high-standards classroom and sets the stage for quality teaching. Chapters 5–8 extrapolate the principles assigned to each of the four areas. Chapter 5 discusses extensive strategies and options for setting a peak learning climate, and Chapter 6 exposes the essential macro and micro life skills and the natural developmental path from novice to expert to peak performance. Chapter 7 explores explicit strategies for active learners and the curricular models of authentic learning, and Chapter 8 discusses the roles of reflective thinking and balanced assessments needed for learners to demonstrate deep understanding and relevant transfer.

    Within each of these four chapters, certain brain-compatible elements appear:

    Brainwave: Theme

    Big idea that relates to brain research and/or learning theory

    Brainwise: Statements

    Quips, statements, or memorable sayings about the brain and learning

    Braindrops: Strategies

    Strategies, tools, and techniques that help implement instructional methods based on brain research and learning theory

    Brainworks: Activities

    Activities or learning experiences for the reader or workshop participant to do and to actively think about in terms of the presented information

    Brainstorms: Application

    Personally relevant transfer by reader or workshop participant to tailor for immediate use

    Braindrain: Reflection

    Reflection and thought about the ideas and processes

    While the first two chapters provide the soul of the book, these four middle chapters form the heart. They offer a wealth of practical strategies and usable techniques for teachers in today's classrooms. They give life to the theory and are intended to guide immediate application.

    BCC also has two appendices and a glossary.

    The book is designed as a comprehensive treatment of today's high-challenge classroom and the intricate complexities that make up that classroom. It is meant to provide a useful holistic model for teachers to use in designing their own classrooms. Thus, the reader may choose to devour the whole picture—page by page, chapter by chapter, as designed—or to sample bite-sized pieces at a more leisurely pace. In either case, there are certain advantages and disadvantages.

    In approaching BCC as a complete framework for teaching and learning, the reader sees the big picture and the interrelationships among the four areas. The four-corner framework literally affords the reader a look at how it all fits together. On the other hand, by attacking the entire text as one piece, the reader may not have the luxury of immersion in content of specific interest. For example, there may be compelling ideas in the first chapter on the human brain that one wants to pursue before moving on to the practical implications of that information.

    If, from the other perspective, the reader delves into separate sections that have personal relevance, the content may invite further investigation and in-depth exploration. Yet with the deep-dive approach, the framework may never emerge as a unifying thread. It is so easy to get lost within one section and miss the moment to bridge the various elements of BCC into a meaningful whole.

    Still, it seems in keeping with the spirit of the book to trust the inquiring mind of the reader and advocate both approaches—whole to part and part to whole—as equally rewarding. After all, learning is personal, and each reader will do what he or she does naturally, regardless of the wishes or intent of the author. Ultimately, of course, the purpose of BCC is to inspire teachers in the architecture of their own uniquely designed brain-compatible classrooms. So off you go … read on.

  • Appendix A: Suggested Videos to Illustrate the Four-Corner Framework

    Appendix B: The Brain


    Amygdala: the almond-shaped structure in the brain's limbic system that encodes emotional messages to long-term storage

    Axon: the neuron's long and unbranched fiber that carries impulses away from the cell to the next neuron

    Bilateralization: two hemispheres of the brain working together

    Binocular Vision: the ability to coordinate the images from both eyes

    Brain-Compatible: teaching-learning processes that parallel or complement the way the brain/mind makes meaning and remembers

    Brain Stem: one of the three major parts of the brain; receives sensory input and monitors vital functions such as heartbeat, body temperature, and digestion

    Cerebellum: one of the three major parts of the brain; coordinates muscle movement

    Cerebrum: the largest of the three major parts of the brain; controls sensory interpretation, thinking, and memory

    Chemical Signal: neurotransmitters that create connection between neurons (brain cells)

    Chunking: the brain's ability to perceive a coherent group of items as a single item, or a chunk

    Closure: the time when the learner's mind can summarize for itself its perception of what has been learned; when the teacher gives specific directions for what the learner should mentally process and provides adequate time to accomplish it; usually the last opportunity the learner has to attach sense and meaning to the new learning, both of which are critical requirements for retention

    Clustering: free-flowing technique to plot spontaneous verbal associations; used in writing to initiate, focus, or elaborate

    Cooperative Group: small structured group in which members have designated roles and responsibilities

    Cooperative Structures: interactive strategies used in small collaborative group work

    Corpus Callosum: the bridge of nerve fibers that connect the left and right cerebral hemispheres, allowing communication between them

    Critical Thinking: using skills of analysis and evaluation to determine the worth of an idea; critiquing

    Decision Making: judging choices and basing final selection on evaluation of criteria

    Deductive Reasoning: reasoning from a general rule to a specific case (i.e., Does it fit the rule or generalization?)

    Dendrite: the branched extension from the cell body of a neuron that receives impulses from nearby neurons through synaptic contacts

    Direct Instruction Model: Hunter's (1982) model of teaching that involves eight steps: an anticipatory set, a clear objective, instructor input, modeling, check for understanding, guided practice, independent application, and evaluation

    DOVE Guidelines: guidelines to promote an open, nonjudgmental environment for group sharing: defer judgment, opt for original ideas, vast number of ideas, expand by piggybacking on others' ideas

    Electrical Impulse: activity inside the brain cell caused by a nerve impulse or sensory input of some sort

    Embedded Application: use of a skill within a specific context (e.g., applying the skill of keyboarding during a word-processing activity)

    Emotional Intelligence: ability to function effectively in the affective domain

    Flow: state of immersed activity that creates a sense of harmony and effortlessness as defined by Csikszentmihalyi (2008)

    Four-Corner Framework: teaching for, of, with, and about thinking

    Glial Cells: special “glue” cells in the brain that surround each neuron, providing support, protection, and nourishment

    Graphic Organizer: visual format used to organize ideas, concepts, and information; also called visual organizer

    Gray Matter: matter in brain where mental computation occurs and memories are stored; the topsoil of the brain; composed of densely packed neural cell bodies; the decision-making part of the nerve cell or neurons

    Hemisphericity: the notion that the two cerebral hemispheres are specialized and process information differently

    Hippocampus: a brain structure that compares new learning to past learning and encodes information from working memory to long-term storage

    Journal: a student diary consisting of verbal and visual entries, usually including personal reflections, self-assessments, and spontaneous writing

    Left Hemisphere: the logical hemisphere of the brain that monitors the areas for speech, reading, and writing; analyzes and evaluates factual material in a rational way; understands the literal interpretation of words; detects time and sequence; recognizes words, letters, and numbers

    Limbic System: the structures at the base of the cerebrum that control emotions

    Log: a student record consisting of verbal and visual entries reflecting personal reactions to learning, usually in relation to a specific course or topic

    Macroskill: critical and creative processes comprising several microskills (e.g., synthesis requires microskills of analyzing, brainstorming, evaluating, and prioritizing)

    Metacognitive Processing: thinking about thinking; tracking how one thinks using structured discussion or written records

    Microskill: skill taught in isolation (e.g., classifying, sequencing, comparing and contrasting)

    Mirror Neurons: neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior, and their emotions

    Moral Intelligence: ability to know one's way around; to act with wisdom and finesse

    Mrs. Potter's Questions: four questions used to assess students' learning and performance: What was I expected to do? What did I do well? If I did the same task again, what would I do differently? What help do I need?

    Multiple Intelligences: eight intelligences, as delineated by Gardner (1983, 1993, 1999b):

    • Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence: the ability to use with clarity the core operations of language
    • Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence: the ability to use the core set of musical elements
    • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: the ability to use inductive and deductive reasoning, solve abstract problems, and understand complex relationships
    • Interpersonal-Social Intelligence: the ability to get along with, interact with, work with, and motivate others toward a common goal
    • Visual-Spatial Intelligence: the ability to perceive the visual world accurately and recreate one's visual experiences graphically
    • Intrapersonal-Introspective Intelligence: the ability to form an accurate model of oneself and to use that model to operate effectively in life
    • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: the ability to control and interpret body motions, manipulate physical objects, and establish harmony between the body and mind
    • Naturalist-Physical World Intelligence: the ability to see similarities and differences in one's environment and to understand the interrelationships of the ecosystem

    Myelin: a fatty substance that surrounds and insulates a neuron's axon

    Neocortex: the outer layer of the brain; located just below the skull and pertaining to the cerebrum, or thinking brain

    Neural Network or Pattern: a connection among neurons that forms a schema or pathway, which is strengthened through frequent use

    Neural Plasticity: ability of the brain to wire and rewire itself by making and breaking connections between neurons

    Neuron: the basic cell making up the brain and nervous system; consists of a long fiber called an axon, which transmits impulses, and many shorter fibers called dendrites, which receive the impulses

    Neurotransmitter: one of over 50 chemicals stored in axon sacs; transmits impulses from neuron to neuron across the synaptic gap

    Peak Performance: the expert performance or elegant solution

    Portfolio: collection of student work, usually comprising a student's best work or work that shows development; also used to collect a group's or class's work

    Problem Solving: specific strategies that use creative synthesis and critical analysis to generate viable alternatives to perplexing situations

    Purpose: a statement defining why students should accomplish the learning objective (whenever possible, it should refer to how the new learning is related to prior and future learnings to facilitate positive transfer and meaning)

    Reflection: the result of thoughts, ideas, or conclusions expressed in words (written or verbal); responses to thoughtful interludes

    Right Hemisphere: the intuitive hemisphere of the brain; gathers information more from images than words; looks for patterns and can process many kinds of information simultaneously; interprets language through context, body language, and tone of voice, rather than through literal meanings; specializes in spatial perception and is capable of fantasy and creativity; recognizes places, faces, and objects

    Rubric: assessment tool that specifies criteria for different levels of performance

    Self-Assessment: any tool or strategy used by an individual to examine and evaluate his or her own work

    Standard: criterion used to assess performance

    Synapse: the microscopic gap between the axon of one neuron and the dendrite of another

    Three-Story Intellect Verbs or Questions: categorization of verbs to use in formulating questions that elicit responses based on different levels of thinking: one-story verbs prompt factual recall; two-story verbs ask for comparisons, reasoning, and generalizations; and three-story verbs stimulate imagination, hypotheses, and syntheses

    Transfer: a principle of learning described as a two-part process: (1) the effect that past learning has on the processing of new learning and (2) the degree to which the new learning will be useful to the learner in the future

    Triune Brain: an early model of the brain defined by MacLean (1969) as the three different phases of the evolution of the human brain: reptilian, paleomammalian, neomammalian (this model is now suspect; see Chapter 1)

    White Matter: matter that is the bedrock of the brain, underneath the gray matter; composed of millions of communication cables, each one containing an axon, coated with myelin; the axons connect neurons in one region of the brain to another

    ∗SOURCE: Sousa, 1995.

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