During his time as a special education teacher with Bartow County Public Schools in Cartersville, Georgia, D’Jon McNair used BrainSMART teaching strategies supporting the concepts of state, meaning, attention, retention, and transfer to help students improve their performance in the classroom.
“I was excited and stunned to learn that cognitive skills can be learned,” he said in an interview for the BrainSMART publication, Effective Teaching, Successful Students. “Teaching kids cognitive skills has been instrumental in helping them feel successful in what they’re doing and getting them motivated to learn.”
Mr. McNair, who went on to become an assistant principal at Woodland High School, recalled how focusing on cognitive assets helped one struggling student improve his academic performance. The teacher worked one-on-one with the child, reading to him The More You Do, The More You Can Do to underscore the importance of hard work and persistence to achieve one’s goals.
In addition, Mr. McNair tied the student’s personal interests into classroom lessons, asking him, for instance, to consider what it would have been like to fly a prop plane as an explorer in the 1800s during America’s time of territorial expansion. “I had to allow him some literary freedom to write about what it would be like to fly over a covered wagon,” he explained. “He could tie necessary facts to something more expressive.”
Because the student didn’t read on grade level, he was significantly behind. Mr. McNair allowed him to do verbal lessons. The results of that differentiated instruction were that the student “went from being reevaluated for a behavioral disability to learning what he needed to learn and even won an award from a local civic group in only nine weeks.”
Mr. McNair has applied the BrainSMART content in other ways, such as designing an activity to help students hone their math and living skills by going shopping to find the best bargains. His class studied advertising flyers from three stores to compare prices and calculate how much they could save with coupons and two-for-one offers.
“My philosophy is this: Regardless of who the kid is, what their family circumstance, what issues they bring to the school, positive or negative, once they enter that door, they’re ours,” Mr. McNair said in his ETSS interview. “We have to do everything we can possibly do in the five or six hours we have them to help them achieve to their potential.”