Brain Strategies

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1. Music alters brain chemistry. It can be used to energize, calm, or increase effective functioning on tasks. It can be used as a call back, as a timer, a transition, or to constructively increase suspense or tension. 2. Start class sessions with a greeting, an overview, or some other class ritual. 3. Begin each class session with meaningful information and activities rather than taking attendance, making announcements, or doing other “housekeeping” chores. 4. Create positive expectations by framing activities properly. Tell students what’s in it for them. For example, “Today you’re going to learn about determining the main idea, a comprehension skill that will help you be more successful in virtually every course you take in college.” 5. Whenever possible, give students a choice so that locus of control remains with them. This is especially important to adult learners. For example: “Which would you rather do next?” “How would you prefer to proceed?” “Would you rather list the main points or draw a concept map?” “Which item would you like for us to do together as an example?” Choice lowers stress and triggers the release of good brain chemicals. 6. The brain links all new learning to existing knowledge, so start with the known, from the knowledge and information students already possess. If necessary, supply or help them obtain the background knowledge they need. Check to see what they already know or understand. Doing this enables students to be more successful from the start, and it’s motivating to students to start with a no-fail activity. 7. Pose a problem for students to solve. For example, ask them, “Can you figure this out?” or “What would happen if…?” The brain grows by trying to solve problems, and not by having the correct answer. The goal is to find the level of “doable challenge,” right at the edge of what they can do. Things that are too easy or already known bore students; things that are too hard merely frustrate them. Neither situation is conducive to learning. 8. Use novelty in the way you present material. The brain craves novelty, so use game formats (even better, have students create some of them); pair or group students in novel ways; impose an appropriate, but slightly challenging time limit; use props, costumes, music, and so forth.

© Janet Elder, Ph.D.


9. Use sound: It might be music, story telling, tapes, “talk-alouds” that reveal the mental processing the person is doing, oral repetition, or sound effects (a train whistle, chimes). Vary your own voice tone, volume, and rate of speaking. 10. Use color. Use it on transparencies. Use colored markers on the white board. Have students use color when making concept maps. Have students use two different color highlighters, such as pink for the topic and yellow for the stated main idea sentence. Print tests and other important handouts on colored paper. 11. Use collaborative and cooperative learning techniques. Move from individual to pairs/small group to whole class debriefing. For students to make the information theirs, they need to discuss it or explain it to someone else. Cooperative learning appeals to adults, who learn well from each other. Also, young adults, especially “Millennials,” are used to working together in teams, and they feel supported and comfortable in a group context. Cooperative learning is brain-friendly because the brain is inherently social. Moreover, if structured properly, this learning strategy can provide the safety, novelty, and challenge the brain craves. Familiarize yourself with this approach: There’s much more to it than just putting students in groups! 12. Move from familiar contexts to new/unfamiliar contexts. For example, in a reading class move from inferences based on interpreting cartoons and song lyrics to inferences based on written material. Also, for maximum understanding, students need opportunities to apply the same skill in a variety...
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