Thousands of years of history support one major concept: When students are actively engaged in experiences with content, they stand a much better chance of learning and remembering what we want them to know. For more than 20 years, I have been studying the awesome functions of brain cells. Through my extensive reading, participation in workshops and courses with experts on the topic, and my observations of best practices in classrooms throughout the world, I have synthesized these instructional strategies into 20 methods for delivering instruction. These strategies work for the three following reasons:
- They increase academic achievement for all of the following students: students who are in elementary, middle, high school, and college; students who are in gifted classes, regular education classes, and special education classes; students for whom English is a second language; and students who are learning across the curriculum.
- They decrease behavior problems by minimizing the boredom factor in class and increasing the confidence factors in those students who use their inadequacy as a cause for misbehavior.
- They make teaching and learning fun for all grade levels so that even students taking calculus are just as excited about learning as the kindergarten students on the first day of school
Over the course of the next few months, I will be focusing on each of these 20 methods on my weekly blog.
#1: Brainstorming and Discussion
Participants in my workshops can be some of the chattiest people in the world. This fact is based on my more than 25 years of teaching teachers and administrators. Yet some of those same people who love to and should talk to one another in my classes, will not let their students participate in the same behavior in their own classrooms. Many students get in trouble for doing something that comes so naturally to the human brain – talking.
When people open their mouths to speak, they send more oxygen to the brain. If the brain is deprived of oxygen for three or more minutes, it can be declared dead. I’ve observed some classrooms where students are breathing, but it’s hard to tell. Those classrooms always remind me of this:
Talking facilitates the growth of dendrites. Have students discuss the answers to open-ended questions, express opinions, or brainstorm a variety of ideas is advantageous to the brain.
Make It Happen
- Give students a content-area question to which there is more than one appropriate answer. Students brainstorm as many ideas as possible in a designated time while complying with the following DOVE guidelines:
- Defer judgment when other students are contributing ideas.
- One idea at a time is presented.
- A Variety of ideas are encouraged.
- Energy is directed to the task at hand.
- Have students work with peers in families of four to six. During the lesson, stop periodically and have families discuss answers to questions related to what is being taught. For example, in math class, students could compare their answers to the homework assignment, and when answers differ, they could engage in a discussion to reach consensus as to the correct answer. Have students stay together with their families long enough to build relationships and then change the composition of the families
For more examples of instructional activities that engage students in brainstorming and discussion, consult the 3rd edition of my best-selling book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.