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April 24, 2018

Engaging the New Brain


This week’s teaching advice comes from Barbara Pohlman, a Kindergarten teacher from Baltimore, Maryland. Ms. Pohlman has compiled her very own Top 10 list to help the youngest brains engage!

Top 10 Tips for Engaging the New Brain!

1. Create sense and meaning in every lesson to increase the likelihood of long-term storage.
To create sense, I need to make sure that I am formatively assessing students, so that I can ensure all students understand the concept. To establish meaning in every lesson, I will implement closure in which students must summarize the learning and connect it to real-life. These real-life connections will help students to understand why they are learning the topic, which will increase the probability that the information is transferred to long-term storage.

2. Create “novelty” to engage the new brain.
I need to provide a variety of activities within my lesson to engage my students. This may include the use of humor, movement, multi-sensory instruction, games and music. For example, after learning new sight words, we might do a chant and cheer movement activity to rehearse the spelling of the words.

3. Teach within the working memory’s capacity and time-limit.
I will decrease the number of items in my lesson objective, so that I can keep it within the capacity limit of my students. I will not have my kindergarten students handling more than 3 items in their working memory. I will create a variety of ways to rehearse the new information so that students stay within the lower end of the 5-10 minute time-limit of working memory. This will help to prevent mental fatigue and boredom.

4. Distribute rehearsal of skills/concepts over time to increase long-term retention and mastery.
There are certain skills that I need to be sure my kindergarten students have mastered over the course of the year, such as letter sounds, number recognition, and sight word recognition, to ensure this occurs, I must continue to rehearse these concepts throughout the year. For example, even though we may learn the sight word “here” at the beginning of the year, students still need to rehearse it to ensure mastery. I might have the students go on a scavenger hunt for a word in the classroom or write the word in a sentence.

5. Use the primacy-recency effect.
When I plan my lessons, I will be sure that I introduce the most important concepts at the beginning of the lesson and then have students summarize these important points at the end of the lesson. I will also utilize the kindergarten assistant to take care of administrative tasks, such as taking attendance or handing back papers in students’ mailboxes, so that I don’t use the beginning of class time for this. By calculating the timing of my lesson, I will make sure that practice is occurring during the down-time of my lesson.

6. Avoid teaching similar concepts together.
I can avoid this problem by using a Venn diagram to assist with my planning when I am unsure if two concepts are too similar to be taught together. I will not teach the letters “b” and “d” and “p” and “q” together becausethey look too much alike. I must make sure one letter is mastered before introducing the other. If it is not possible to space out the learning, I need to be sure that I present the differences between the topics first.

7. Incorporate the arts into every lesson.
I can do this by planning a visual art, music, dance or theater element into every lesson. Before implementing each lesson, I will check to make sure there is an arts component. I might have students contribute to a class mural, sing a song to remember important information, create a dance that shows the mood of a book, or role-play the duties of community helpers.

8. Prepare the brain for test taking and other strenuous work.
The brain needs exercise, water, and fuel in the form of glucose to function effectively. I will incorporate movement exercises into all of my plan lessons. I will add water breaks into my daily plan and I will have fruit available to offer students during snack time. Before an assessment, I will take time to incorporate all three of these items, so that long-term memory can function most effectively.

9. Understand the students’ circadian rhythms.
My students and I both reach a trough in our cognitive cycle in the early afternoon. Because students will be less attentive and learning will take more effort, I will have my center time during this hour, so that students are not required to be engaged in strenuous direct instruction. Because my students and I both peak in the morning, I will teach my most important subjects during this time, such as reading and math.

10. Use elaborative rehearsal over rote-rehearsal when appropriate and possible.
I will think about each topic during my planning stage to see if rote or elaborative rehearsal is more appropriate. If I am not presenting factual information that needs to be remembered exactly as it was taught, I will think of a strategy for elaborative rehearsal. This will help students develop a deeper understanding of the concepts. I might have students summarize, paraphrase, question, or predict when using elaborative rehearsal.

This list was created as a result of work done through Learners Edge Course, Brain Works: Better Teaching with the Brain in Mind. We think Ms. Pohlman’s work was exceptional. Do you have any exceptional ideas on the best ways to engage young minds? We’d love to hear your teaching advice. 


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