Brain Targeted Teaching Model

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Brain Targeted Teaching Model Overview on Punita Learning

Do you know about the Brain Targeted Teaching Model? It’s an education approach developed by Dr. Mariale Hardiman, who is currently the clinical professor of education at Johns Hopkins University School of Education (where I am).

It focuses on (1) the learning climate, (2) the physical learning environment, (3) instructional design, (4) approaches to teaching for mastery, (5) approaches to teaching for application, and (6) approaches to evaluating learning creatively and effectively. There are six major components of the brain targeted teaching model. Each of these components guides the way we educate students.

Brain Target 1: Emotional Climate for Learning

The first component of the model suggests teachers should be mindful of how emotions influence learning. The classroom should foster a positive climate that allows students to more easily learn content and connect to their learning environment.

TEACHER BELIEFS, PRAISING EFFORT, AND BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

While some (mild) levels of stress can be healthy, and can contribute to more productivity (Hardiman, 2015; Walker, 2015), high levels of stress, and particularly toxic or bad stress, are detrimental. There are three vital things teachers can do to help ensure the school environment is a protective factor, and not a contributing factor for stress. The first is to hold beliefs about teacher efficacy that support the idea that all students can learn and grow as a result of effective instruction (Hardiman, 2012; JohnBull, 2015). The second is to ensure they praise student effort, not student intelligence (Hardiman, 2015). The third is to build positive relationships with students (Hardiman, 2012).

First, when teachers believe they are able to make an impactful difference in students’ lives regardless of student background or personal biases, they are more likely to act in a manner that will bring about that difference (JohnBull, Hardiman, & Rinne, 2013; JohnBull, 2015). This means when teachers approach students believing they are capable of learning, and believing in their own ability to successfully teach them, the students are likely to perceive that attitude, and are likely to have increased confidence in their own ability; this means the students may feel less negative stress (Sakiz, Pape, & Hoy, 2012).

Second, if teachers praise students’ effort (rather than intelligence), the students are more likely to continue to work hard, exhibiting the ‘good kind’ of stress (Hardiman, 2015).

Finally, building positive emotional environments for students by building positive relationships with them is also an essential part of decreasing students’ levels of bad stress (Hardiman, 2012). Relationship-building is beneficial for three major reasons:

  1. Relationship-building can help students who face high amounts of stress — including, but not limited to poverty — in their lives outside of school to overcome many of their stresses (JohnBull, 2015)
  2. It can support students’ sense of overall belonging and comfort within the school (Sakiz, et al., 2012)
  3. It helps promote their connectedness in the biological system of the school (Hardiman, 2015; Walker, 2015).

If schools better foster teacher effectiveness, as well as students’ sense of belonging, they can better create a positive emotional climate that facilitates student learning and achievement.

Brain Target 2: Physical Learning Environment

Educators should consider how students’ actual physical learning environment fosters student learning.

Physical Learning Environment – Recognize that novelty is attractive to learners, comfort is important, artwork and beauty can be valuable, and structure is also very important. Consider how a well-lit, attractive, and comfortable environment influences student learning.

Physical Environment and Careful Scheduling – To promote students’ sustained attention and learning, schools’ program plans must include a positive physical environment to promote learning and attention, and a structured schedule that allows  opportunities to promote students’ self-regulation and alertness.

“Educational facilities should be viewed as a collection of environments that influence learning,” since in many ways, “where students learn is as important as many aspects of the curriculum” (Tanner, 2008, p. 446).

An ideal physical learning space should be well-lit, visually appealing, comfortable, quiet, uncluttered, and should include novelty. This is important for sustaining attention since students’ “physical environment influences student attitudes and behavior” (Tanner, 2008, p. 446). Unfortunately, many characteristics of an ideal learning environment are rare in the United States (Tanner, 2008).

To train students’ mind states to be more attentive and to allow students to self-regulate better, schedules need to be carefully planned. Since meditation can be used to develop a brain state that can improve self-regulation and stress reduction (Posner, Rothbart, & Tang, 2013), it may even be worth considering incorporating quiet meditation time in a school day. Schools should include physical activity in the schedule, since it has a positive effect on cognition for children and young adults (Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer, 2008).

Additionally, school schedules must account for students’ need for sleep and rest, especially since students’ sleep schedules are in direct conflict with school starting hours (Menna-Baretto & Wey, 2008). If school start times cannot be changed, then physical activity time and quiet time should be incorporated into the day.

Brain Target 3: Designing the Learning Experience

Teachers should design their actual instruction (the learning experience) to best support student learning (duh). This means lessons should not only engage prior knowledge, but should also show students how all the content they are learning comes together as a cohesive unit. In fact, 40% of students who see the general idea before learning content have a better understanding of that content. After all, the brain doesn’t learn bit-by-bit, but understands things best when it gets the gist. A great analogy shared in the video (below) was about a jigsaw puzzle:

It’s much easier to solve a jigsaw puzzle when you’ve seen it completed. Knowing what the big picture should look like when it’s completed helps you understand how each “piece” fits into the big picture.

Brain Target 3 focuses on quality instructional design, which often means providing students with a broad, yet thorough, understanding of how various concepts fit together; this often means developing visual concept maps with students. I am a huge fan of this approach to teaching, since it allows students to really connect to what they are learning.

Brain Target 4: Teaching for Mastery of Skills, Content, and Concepts

Teachers should teach content so that students can master skills, content, and concepts, and use strategies that support this mastery. One of the recommended approaches involves using repetition to support student learning — but not repetition for repetition’s sake, and not repetition that feels like rote memorization — instead, interesting and exciting ways of using the arts as a medium for repetition to help make content stick.

Teachers should teach content so that students can master skills, content, and concepts, and use strategies that support this mastery. One of the recommended approaches involves using repetition to support student learning — but not repetition for repetition’s sake, and not repetition that feels like rote memorization — instead, interesting and exciting ways of using the arts as a medium for repetition to help make content stick. In my own classroom, I use call-and-response strategies, have students develop rhymes, and more recently, use what I call my soundboard activity to get students to remember relationships between terms and ideas.

Brain Target 5: Teaching for Application and Extension of Knowledge

Teachers should focus on having students apply their hard-won knowledge to real-life contexts. This helps them extend what they have learned and find real-world applications for it — which, in turn, expands on their creative thinking abilities, their ability to generate new ideas and solutions (divergent thinking), and their problem solving abilities. In many ways, this is the fundamental reason for teaching philosophical reasoning skills to young students as well — it teaches them to take abstract concepts they have learned and apply them.

What does teaching for application and extension of knowledge mean?

Teachers should focus on having students apply their hard-won knowledge to real-life contexts. This helps them extend what they have learned and find real-world applications for it — which, in turn, expands on their creative thinking abilities, their ability to generate new ideas and solutions (divergent thinking), and their problem solving abilities. In many ways, this is the fundamental reason for teaching philosophical reasoning skills to young students as well — it teaches them to take abstract concepts they have learned and apply them.

Teaching teachers & students to think creatively

Creativity is an essential part of learning and growing. While creative thinking is difficult to measure (Fink, Benedek, Grabner, Staudt, Neubauer, 2006), there are ways to increase promote opportunities for open-ended, creative thinking and problem solving in the classroom, and thus the brain activity associated with it. Educators should ideally provide their students with instructional activities that allow students to apply a new concept or skill to multiple scenarios, so students can develop their adaptive expertise. Activities used should encourage the students to make new connections between disparate concepts and ideas in order to promote creative thinking (Gregory, Hardiman, Yarmolinskaya, Rinne, & Limb, 2013). I have used this approach in my own classroom when teaching things that do not seem directly relevant to instruction (like the movie Invictus, or about the Technological Singularity), and have found it to be incredibly valuable.

In the context of developing interventions to my problem of practice, I may need to start collecting data to build a framework for understanding Indian American culture, build a professional development module for imparting this knowledge to educators, and/or develop an approach for imparting self-advocacy skills instruction to the students. In any of these interventions, but particularly in the last two, I will need to consider how to allow the learner to apply their new knowledge to multiple scenarios. Whether it is a teacher in professional development, or a student learning self advocacy, the learner should be able to demonstrate their knowledge through convergent thinking, he or she should not constantly take multiple choice tests on their newfound knowledge. Instead, the learner should engage in divergent thinking, or “little c” creativity, with the knowledge, and consider how it might apply to various situations.

If I find myself developing a professional development module or strategy for teachers to engage in learning about Indian American culture, I will need to structure the learning so that it supports creative thinking. After all, there is little value in teachers knowing a series of facts about Indian culture without being able to apply their new knowledge to various situations in which Indian American students might benefit from classroom support and culturally responsive teaching. As such, instruction in this field could involve interactive group collaboration in which participants work together on complex, multi-part strategizing about ways to support the students in various situations. This approach, prescribed by Gregory, et al. (2013) allows individuals in groups to think more creatively about complicated problems.

Brain Target 6: Evaluating Learning

The final focus of Brain Based Teaching is on evaluation: teachers should evaluate student learning in effective and creative ways. Tests have their place, but assessing what students know can be done through arts integration, and can involve maps, organizers, skits, and various other art forms that allow students to demonstrate their mastery. At the very least, tests should be well designed, authentic, and should provide valuable (and timely) feedback.

Improving standardized tests using Brain Target 6

The high-stakes tests associated with the rollout of Common Core State Standards, such as the PARCC tests, currently seem to generate stress for students and teachers. Not only are such high-stakes tests, with their many multiple-choice questions, not innovative, they increase students’ stress levels (Hardiman & Whitman, 2014), and are difficult for stakeholders to support.

Teachers have difficulty buying in to the tests since the goals of the testing are unclear, and it is unclear how they should prepare students for them. If the tests actually assess mastery of skills in the way that good assessments should (Hardiman & Whitman, 2014), then teachers should get the chance to provide direct instruction in the skills being assessed. This would improve student preparedness and increase the value of the assessments themselves, which would increase teacher buy-in. Ensuring teachers understand the point of the test and that they support it would be valuable.

Students have difficulty buying in to the value of the tests since the meaning of the scores they do receive is currently very unclear, and the delay in receiving that feedback may negatively impact their performance (Hardiman & Whitman, 2014; Kettle & Häubl, 2010). Making sure the feedback is clear, valuable, and received in a timely manner, would help reduce students’ stress levels and even help improve their performance (Hardiman & Whitman, 2014).

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p style=”text-align: center;”>[expand title=”Click here to see all the references from this post”]

Fink, A., Benedek, M., Grabner, R. H., Staudt, B., Neubauer, A. C. (2007). Creativity meets neuroscience: Experimental tasks for the neuroscientific study of creative thinking. Methods, 42, 68-76. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ymeth.2006.12.001

Gregory, E., Hardiman, M., Yarmolinskaya, J., Rinne, L. & Limb, C. (2013). Building creative thinking in the classroom: From research to practice.International Journal of Educational Research, 62, 43-50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2013.06.003

Hardiman, M. (2012). Brain-targeted teaching for 21st century schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hardiman, M. & Whitman, G. (2013). Assessment and the learning brain. Independent School- Journal of the National Association of Independent Schools, 73(2), 36-41.

Hillman, C. H., Erickson, K. I., & Kramer, A. F. (2008). Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Neuroscience, 9, 58-65. doi:10.1038/nrn2298

JohnBull, R. M., Hardiman, M., & Rinne, L. (2013, April). Professional development effects on teacher efficacy: Exploring how knowledge of neuro- and cognitive sciences changes beliefs and practices. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

Kettle, K. L. & Häubl, G. (2010). Motivation by anticipation: Expecting rapid feedback enhances performance. Psychological Science, 21(4), 545-547. doi:0.1177/0956797610363541

Menna-Barreto, L., & Wey, D. (2008). Time constraints in the school environment: What does a sleepy student tell us? Mind, Brain, & Education, 2(1), 24-28.

Posner, M. I., Rothbart, M. K., & Tang, Y. (2013). Developing self-regulation in early childhood.  Trends in Neuroscience and Education. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211949313000288

Sakiz, G., Pape, S. J., & Hoy, A. W. (2012). Does perceived teacher affective support matter for middle school student in mathematics classrooms?Journal of School Psychology, 50, 235-255.

Tanner, C. K. (2008). Explaining relationships among student outcomes and the school’s physical environment. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19, 444-471.

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PS – You can buy Dr. Hardiman’s book here.

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