Who is a Neuroteacher? Are You a Neuroteacher?

by Chris Sturgis

Do you give grades when you give quizzes? Do you start a class by going over homework? Do you end class by teaching all the way to the bell?

If so, then Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education is for you. Because those 3 practices are on the authors’ list of “unconsionable” practices!

It’s also a book for every teacher seeking to build their understanding of the cognitive sciences and the implications for teaching.

The book helps to shift thinking away from the idea of students (and all of us) as an “empty vessel” in which knowledge is poured.  The authors Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher use multiple opportunities to reinforce the idea that for learning to happen, the mind must be active. For example, they explain that “teachers are brain-changers” and that a neuroteacher is “one who intentionally applies research from the field of mind, brain, and education to his or her instructional design and work with every student.”

Here’s the full unconsionable list. I am finding that being able to identify the cognitive research and the psychological research that explains why each practice is unacceptable is a fun little “game” for myself to test how much of my knowledge, the kind I can use and apply, is building.

Unconscionable List

  • Pop quizzes for grade.
  • Starting a class by going over homework.
  • Ending a class by teaching all the way to the bell.
  • Coaching students to use passive studying techniques, such as reviewing for a test by just reading their notes for textbooks.
  • Defining kids by an individual style, such as this person is an auditory learner, that person is a kinesthetic learner.
  • Varying the modality of teaching to match these perceived individual learning styles.
  • Applying simple labels to students, such as ‘lazy’ or ‘smart,’ rather than making judgments based on observations.
  • Believing students have a fixed level of ability
  • Content delivery dominated by lecturing.
  • Assessment dominated by tests, particularly multiple-choice test.
  • Praising achievement rather than effort.
  • Not recognizing the connections between the motion, identity, and healthful learning.

Putting the Research into the Hands of Users

It’s important for teachers to be able to use the research in their daily lives because just knowing the research doesn’t always mean you know how to apply it to help an individual student in a unique context. The research comes from different fields of research so teachers have to be able to put it together. And different research may suggest different strategies so teachers need to be clear on EXACTLY what they are trying to help students do. For example, a math teacher may be working on division but realize that the student also needs help building executive functioning skills. Or a student involved in a project that promotes deeper learning may always be turning things in late. The teacher could focus on helping to improve planning and time management skills. Or they might discover that the student’s fluency in the required scientific concepts might be weak. Thus, more time to support refreshing could be a stronger instructional approach and checking in to see how the student approaches memorization and comprehension to make sure they are using the most effective study habits.

Furthermore, students can use the research on learning themselves. The authors explain, “Research also shows that putting mind, brain, and education science into the hands of young people in ways that are accessible to them actually empowers them to be more efficient, confident, and higher–achieving students.” Thus, a neuroteacher is one who applies the MBE research to instructional design so that their students can apply the MBE research to their learning.

It’s aHere is a partial list of effective practices offered by the authors. You’ll have to reach the book to see the whole thing!

Research-Informed Strategies Every Teacher Should be Doing with Every Student

  1. Class periods should be designed with an understanding that what students will recall most is what takes place in the first part of the class and what students will recall second most will take place in the closing minutes of class.
  2. Student should be given more frequent, formative, low stakes assessments of learning.
  3. Students need more opportunities to reflect and think meta-cognitively on their learning and performance.
  4. Students need to know that the pervasive way they choose to study is actually hurting their ability to learn for the long-term. Testing is much more effective than reading one’s notes.
  5. Students need to know that ‘effort matters most’ and that they have the ability to rewire their brain to make themselves better learners and higher achieving students (the concept of neuroplasticity).
  6. Students need more, but well-judged, opportunities for choice in their learning, which enhances engagement and intrinsic motivation.

You can find links to resources on the research on learning in this article.

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