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Here's a TIP! Theory into Practice
Brain Research-Based, Brain-friendly, Brain-Compatible Learning, or Brain-Antagonistic!?

In a recent ASCD Education Update newsletter (Volume 47, No. 6, June 2005), there was an article titled, "Mental Mileage: How Teachers Are Putting Brain Research to Use." Commenting on that important topic, here's a great excerpt from Martha Kaufeldt's new book, "Teachers, Change Your Bait! Brain-Compatible Differentiated Instruction," (c2005 Crown House Publishing, Williston, VT)

The idea of designing classroom practices, strategies, and even schools on specific findings from neuroscience may seem a bit reckless, and a giant leap to some skeptics. I have found, however, that even small revelations from brain research may be translated by clever teachers into classroom strategies that elicit huge results for many students. I refrain from using the term "brain-based" when describing the learning theories I embrace. If the brain is the organ for learning, then wouldn't all teaching strategies be brain-based? Making statements such as, "Brain research proves." doesn't work either, because the research alone doesn't prove anything. What I do believe is that valuable information being discovered everyday about our brains and minds. I encourage teachers to learn as much as they can about current understandings and research. As a responsible educator, I am committed to designing curriculum, strategies, and environments that are most compatible with what we currently understand about how our brains function and learn.

The growing field of cognitive neuroscience will continue to provide answers to questions about both the biology of the brain and the influence it has on our behaviors and thoughts. Neuroscientists at prestigious universities are conducting fascinating studies on how brains grow, solve problems,, remember, deteriorate, change, pay attention, and influence behavior. Unfortunately, there are two main drawbacks to the usability of the recent brain research: The types of studies being conducted demand that the variables be carefully controlled; thus using animal subjects is the norm. Incredible findings are determined from observing rat, primate and even sea-slug brains. Conducting what is referred to as "translational research," behavioral studies are then arranged, and eventually, usually years later, the initial theory is interpreted and ultimately suggestions for application are disseminated. Whew! I don't think my students can wait that long.

Aside from this delay in putting research into practice with human brains, there are important areas in neuroscience that must take priority. Studies regarding the causes and effects of devastating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and depression are essential and answers must be found soon.

Consequently, neuroscientists don't have many suggestions ready for classroom teachers on how an average brain (if there is such a thing!) might best learn and remember information. "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." those famous words of Neil Armstrong as he walked on the moon, reflect my philosophy about using recent brain research to influence everyday classroom practice. I believe that well-informed educators can take a small step from brain research and create and apply a reasonable strategy in the classroom that will help many students take a giant leap in their learning.

With all of the findings from research about how our brains react to stress, lack of stimulation, poor nutrition and physical activity, and emotional or traumatic experiences, one can more easily determine what things can diminish proper brain function. I have found that in my classrooms, I am mostly trying to create a learning environment that at the very least is NOT brain-antagonistic! I don't want the abilities of my students' brains to be minimized - I want them maximized! Perhaps it should be referred to as brain-friendly education.

We can't wait for the neuroscientists to tell us what to do with our classes of unique learners. Knowledge about our brains is growing exponentially. Brain biology can offer some new directions and inspiration to educators. We must continue to read and discuss the findings and do our own action research in our classrooms. This is what I have been doing for over 20 years. I can assure you that building your teaching around strategies that are most compatible with how the brain learns will be a rewarding experience for your students and for you!

Interested in the latest cognitive neuroscience studies? Keep an eye on these researchers and their work. Several have written books that you will find fascinating:

Larry Cahill, Ph.D., Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at University of California, Irvine;

Harry Chugani, M.D., Department of Neurology, Wayne State University;

Antonio Damasio, M.D. Ph.D. Department of Neurology, University of Iowa;

Daniel C. Dennett, Ph.D., Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University;

Michael Gazzaniga, Ph.D., Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College;

Barbara K. Given, Ph.D., Adolescent Learning Research Center Krasnow Institute and Graduate School of Education, George Mason University;

Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley;

Patricia Goldman-Rakic, Ph.D., Department of Neurobiology, Yale University;

William T. Greenough, Ph.D. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign;

Eric Kandel, M.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute;

Kenneth Kosik, M.D., Harvard Medical School;

Joseph Le Doux, Ph.D., New York University;

Helen Neville, Ph.D., Psychology Department. University of Oregon;

Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D., Neuroendocrinologist, Stanford University;

Arnold Scheibel, M.D., Professor of Neurobiology and Psychiatry, UCLA Medical Center;

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., Center for Culture, Brain and Development, UCLA;

Larry R. Squire, Ph. D. University of California, San Diego;

Paula Tallal, Ph.D., Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, Scientific Learning Corporation;

Stuart M. Zola, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, UC San Diego, School of Medicine;

and James Zull, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry, Case Western University.

Reprinted with permission from Crown House Publishing, Ltd. www.crownhouse.co.uk



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