Teaching can be hard...really hard! Sometimes it feels like we are banging our head against a wall. Why aren't they getting it? I know I've felt that way more times than I want to think about! What I am discovering is that the problem just might be the way lessons are delivered. As humans, our brains work in a particular way. We have to make sense of things, be social, and move! We're wired that way. SOOOOO to teach smarter instead of harder, lessons need to reflect the brain research that has come to light over the last few years. It means our students will learn more, enjoy it more, and we'll have fewer discipline problems. Let's look at some of the research about reading and the brain.
(By the way ... a lot of it can be used for any other school subject too!)
What Makes Reading Easy for Some, Hard for Others?
First of all, reading does not come naturally. There's no "reading" area in the brain. We are hardwired for sight, hearing, and the like, but there's no single area for reading inside the brain. Reading disabilites aren't only genetic, they can happen because of environmental influences. That means that during the learning process, reading instruction went terribly wrong for the child. To fix it, we need to work with the brain, not against it!
Why Use Brain Research?
Many studies have shown that brain based teaching not only increases academic achievent, but increases motivation, mood, and class effort and interest. What else could a teacher want?
Brain based suggestions for teaching readingWhat Research Says
1. The National Reading Panel found that in order for reading instruction to be effective, it had to be taught comprehensively, systematically and explicitly. Good phonics development is crucial. Students need to play with words, know the sounds of letters, and how they can change. Students must be able to easily understand and use phoneme manipulation, and all letter sounds. Don't go too fast with these skills. If they are missed, they don't magically appear later. I have often had a third grader that doesn't have even first grade phoncs down very well. We have to go back and fix the problems, before moving on. Here's what I find fascinating. With good brain based instruction, even struggling readers can change the neural pathways used in reading from those that are ineffective, to those that look more like the pathways used by profecient readers.
Personal Connections to Reading:
2. Students find it easier to comprehend reading material when it relates it to their own life experiences. That's because our brain is great at using memories and connecting them to new leaning. The brain pays more attention and is more alert when it sees a connection to the learning going on and real-life applications. That's what kept our stone-age ancestors alive! Start a lesson with a demonstration, or student activity that shows how the topic is a real-life concern. For example, if you are teaching about character traits, relate the lesson to a well-known tv or movie character. Then move to how it all works in books.
The connection to reflection
3. The "Gum and Chew" of learning. The gum is the content, the chew is the process. If we don't give kids time to chew it over, reflect and connect, the learning just isn't as meaningful. That means engaging students in activities such as an art centered activity (drawing what might happen next, making a cartoon of the plot line of a story), doing a foldable, or other hands-on activities to give students time for needed reflection. That's what makes lasting connections. Some people see these "extra" activities as non-essential and something that only takes time away from test preparation. Nothing is farther from the truth.
Want to go fast? Then Slow Down!
4. If you want to hit a target in darts, bow and arrow or whatever, do you just sling as many darts as possible toward the bulls-eye, or do you take your time to aim, then let it go? Teaching reading (or anything) is like that. Teach a point or two at a time, make sure the kids get it, then move on. It's so much easier than teaching too much at once, then needing to go over it time and time and time again.
Make it Fun
5. As often as you can, include a joke, games, classroom activities and anything else you can think of that is fun, the brain will learn and retain all of that information better. In reading, choose a really fun book to read aloud, and "ham" it up. I love reading All About Sam by Lois Lowry to my third graders. Another favorite is The Best Christmas Pagent Ever. Any book that starts with the sentence, "The Herdmans were the worst kids in the history of the world." has got to be good! What are you teaching? You're teaching what fluency sounds like, you're tickling their interest in reading more by that author, and you're making them love school.
Focus time is generally the students' age in minutes. For a nine year old third grader, have a lesson presentation by you that is no longer than nine minutes, then choose a follow-up activity that gets them moving in some way, group work, partner activity, game, whatever as long as they have to move.
7. Do it Together:
We are social animals, and that doesn't stop at the schoolroom door. Use this natural need to talk and be with others by using group and partner activities such as think-pair-share. The very best way to learn something is to teach someone else. Ask students to get with a partner and explain a concept that has just been presented to them. Often, if one student is "fuzzy" on the idea, hearing a peer explain it just might be the ticket to understanding. PLUS the student who explained it will "get it" even better. For example, after discussing the elements of a non-fiction text, ask the two members of each pair of students to get a different nonfiction book. They then go through their book showing and describing to their partner the elements of their book, such as captions, index and so on.
If you have any other suggestions, please add them in the comment section! I'd love to hear them!!
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