Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Brain Movies: When Readers Can Picture It, They Understand It


Note: This article is adapted from a blog post that first appeared on Edutopia on May 13, 2014.

The images that form in your mind as you read—we call them "brain movies"—can be more exciting and memorable than a Hollywood film. More to the point for teachers and parents, guiding youth to visualize as they read is an engaging and enjoyable way to boost comprehension and retention.

Learning to create brain movies can help students make sense of complex nonfiction subject matter and "see" the characters, setting, and action in stories. Teachers who use our strategy tell us their students seem to have more fun—and success—as they read. These anecdotes are supported by research showing that students who are taught to develop mental imagery of text do better than control groups on tests of comprehension and recall.

The research basis for the usefulness of transforming text into mental images can be found in Allan Paivio's dual coding theory, which holds that cognition consists of both a verbal system for language and a nonverbal, visual-spatial one for images. By creating mental images from the words on a page or screen, we tap into both the verbal and visual-spatial representational systems, making abstract concepts more concrete and thus more meaningful and memorable.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Motivating Students to Read


Note: This article is adapted from a blog post that first appeared on Edutopia on July 17, 2017.

Children travel at different speeds on the road to reading success. Earlier in my (Donna’s) career as a teacher and school psychologist, I noticed that even on the first day of kindergarten the gap between the highest and lowest performers on measures of reading readiness and ability could be as much as six years. So, creating reading experiences so that all students have the opportunity to use multiple brain pathways in the reading classroom throughout their school years is key to motivating them to read and improve.

Below are strategies that teachers and parents alike can use to help students become more successful readers.

Enacting a Favorite Character


Guide students to select a character from a book they’re reading. Once they’ve made their choice, have them create a simple costume or find props that depict the character, and then prepare and deliver a one- to two-minute monologue introducing the character to the class.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Metacognition: A Skill Strong Readers Share

Note: This article is adapted from a blog post that first appeared on Edutopia on August 10, 2017.

A key difference between children who can read well and those who cannot is the ability to use metacognition, which can be understood as being thoughtful about what you read. Continue on to learn more about this key skill and how to help youth develop it.

Metacognition can be regarded as a conversation readers have with themselves about what they are reading. Metacognitive readers enjoy reading because they can find meaning in texts and think deeply to comprehend what they’re reading.

Those who have not yet learned to be metacognitive often have trouble reading fluently and comprehending what they read. Virtually all students can learn how to become metacognitive readers when they are explicitly taught. Here are some tools for teaching students how to become metacognitive readers.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

W.V. High School Teachers Use Our Work to Address Barriers to Learning

We are pleased to see that our work, Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains, was used in year-long programming in which West Virginia high school teachers helped identify barriers to learning.

Teams of teachers from four Harrison County High Schools participated in the program, which also entailed testing solutions to address the barriers they identified.

According to an article that appeared on the WVnews.com website, Eve and Joetta Schneider of JS Educational Consulting, met with the teams monthly for feedback, strategy discussion and data analysis. As part of the programming, the teams also participated in a book study in which Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains was the featured work.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Educators Benefit from Regular Exercise

To coincide with National Women’s Health Week, we wanted to bring attention to our message that strength training, regular exercise, and better rest are all important components for assuring that teachers remain fit, alert, and up for the physically demanding job of teaching.

Marcus and I made this point in a blog post for Edutopia, entitled “Good News for Teachers: Exercise Builds Brain Power, Too.”

Among the facts you should consider to increase your well-being as well as teaching effectiveness:

  • Regular physical activity is associated with increased production of the neurochemical BDNF, which supports the production of new neurons and synapses in your brain.
  • Exercise increases mass in areas of the brain involved in executive function, memory, and spatial processing.
  • The cardiovascular health effects of exercise increase the growth of blood vessels that improve oxygen flow to the brain.
  • Regular workouts help relieve stress, alleviate symptoms of depression, and enhance a positive outlook.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Engaging Parental Support for Smarter Thinking

Given that students spend much more time outside of school than in the classroom, partnering with parents can be an effective way to help children and youth enhance their executive function. Reinforcing messages and strategies related to taking charge of their thinking at home also illustrates how truly useful it can be to be the boss of your brain.

Many parents won't be familiar with the concept of executive function—or indeed the idea of guiding students to learn how to learn. In their own K-12 education, today's parents likely never encountered lessons about how the human brain learns and how people can become more effective learners. As a result, it will be helpful to share three key messages with parents:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

How To Help Your Child Understand Their Developing Brain

(The following blog post, written by Marcus and me, appears on the Parent Toolkit website, produced by NBC News Learn and supported by Pearson)

Did you know learning actually changes your child’s brain as it’s developing? What if they understood this concept? Helping kids understand their brains can contribute to the development of a “growth mindset,” which enables kids to overcome obstacles and believe they can improve. That mindset leads to higher levels of motivation and academic achievement—and it starts with metacognition.

Metacognition is thinking about thinking. When kids learn metacognitive skills, they can benefit academically. In fact, research suggests that metacognition is a crucial characteristic for high academic achievers. The Education Endowment Foundation reports that students can gain almost a full school year of progress—about an average of seven months of additional progress—compared with those not taught this skillset.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Positive Brains are Smarter Brains

Editor's Note: This blog post, co-authored by Marcus Conyers, originally appeared on Edutopia.

Teaching is important and rewarding work, but it can also be extremely stressful. Excessive stress may lead to burnout, which is characterized by exhaustion, anxiety, and feelings of being overwhelmed and isolated. Other common symptoms of burnout are a loss of creativity, good humor, patience, and enthusiasm for life all of which are crucial attributes for effective teaching.

Fortunately, the human brain has tremendous capacity to change and grow. We can train our malleable, dynamic brains specifically, the left prefrontal cortex, which figures prominently in emotional outlook to become happier and more optimistic through deliberate practice.

 

5 Positive Strategies


Research suggests that happy people are more likely to have positive relationships with family, friends, and colleagues; to perform better on the job; and even to enjoy greater physical health than those with negative outlooks.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Nutrition Tips for Busy Educators: Feeding the Teacher's Brain


 (Note: The following article was featured in Teachers Matter magazine, published by Spectrum Education Ltd., which is based in New Zealand.)

By Drs. Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers

Teaching is a cognitively complicated profession. In the course of a single school day, an educator must make hundreds of decisions and respond quickly to the many unpredicted turns that life in the classroom may take. You have a high-energy job, so it's essential to prime your brain and body with the right fuel.

But in the busy life of a teacher, who has time to think about healthy eating, much less sorting through the sometimes-conflicting claims about the nutritional value of various food choices?

Unfortunately, the less we think about what we eat, the worse our diets may beespecially if we default to snacking on so-called convenience foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats and low in nutrient-dense ingredients that sustain our energy levels.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Primary and Nursery School in England Uses Our "Flourishing" Approach

We are delighted to learn that Millbrook Primary and Nursery School in Manchester, England, is using our book, Flourishing in the First Five Years: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to the Development of Young Children, to underpin their educational approach to learning and teaching.

We wrote Flourishing in the First Five Years to take readers on a fascinating journey of discovery about what can be done to help young children realize more of their unique potential for learning. The educators at Millbrook have rightly zeroed in on our treatment of the topic of teaching young children how to become self-regulated learners, one of the main ideas from our book.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

4 Ways to Create an Optimistic School Culture


Imagine if each school day every teacher arrived with a contagious, optimistic attitude. Research suggests that positive emotions can help solve problems, reinforce resilience, strengthen relationships, and even improve educational outcomes. An important aspect of effective leadership is creating and supporting environments that cultivate optimism, and the start of a brand new year is a great time to cultivate this attitude in your practice!

Here are four of our practical strategies for creating a positive and optimistic school culture.

1. Practice self-care.


Educators do the essential and difficult work of schooling young people, so it is important for them to remember to practice self-care. After one of our leadership workshops, a principal asked, “What can I do to reduce my stress?” He said he felt pressure to perform at peak levels—all day, every day—when meeting with teachers and interacting with students. We shared that leaders can benefit from practicing the be-great-for-eight-and-take-a-break strategy. When possible, focus on leadership work for eight minutes then take a short pause to reflect. The principal stated that he loved this idea, and a big smile appeared on his face. He said, “This is a much better idea than what I usually attempt to do, which is to be full on full time, which makes me frustrated and exhausted.”