Our classrooms and curriculum design are based on the eight brain compatible components identified by brain research to enhance learning.
Absence of Threat
Learning is not just a mental activity. Our learning and it's meaning are controlled by feelings. Bad emotions negatively flavor all attempts at learning. Good feelings create an excitement and love of learning. A portion of our brain always remains alert for any and all threats whether they are real or perceived. When the brain feels a threat present, it becomes focused on survival issues and it becomes very difficult for learning to take place.
The first step toward creating a brain-compatible classroom is to create an environment with an absence of threat. All other instructional efforts by a teacher could be a waste of time. This can be accomplished by modeling the Lifelong Guidelines and the Lifeskills, as well as, daily usage of procedures and agendas.
In an effort to increase our teaching time and student learning time, we have modified our schedules to allow for uninterrupted blocks of instructional time. A less fragmented day allows for us to plan more in-depth lessons.Teachers who are teaming have their planning periods at the same time to create an opportunity for team planning.
Allowing the students to make choices from a variety of learning activities based upon the seven intelligences as identified by Howard Gardner, prevents the occurrence of stress or frustration due to boredom or failure from interfering with learning. Being able to make choices increases the likelihood that the learner will be able to detect similarity to or relationships between new information/situations with existing patterns and mental programs.
As we design our theme for the year, we attempt to provide as many opportunities as possible to immerse our students in the "real world". "Being-there" study trips provide students with firsthand experiences and prior knowledge to provide a foundation for the unit of study to follow. In the classroom, immersion is continued by providing numerous hands-on experiences, books, pictures, models and other supplementary materials. Every attempt is made to engage as many of the senses as possible.
Great thought and planning is placed on the environment of the classroom itself. This room becomes the home of the students for seven hours a day. We try to make the areas welcoming and comfortable. Oxygen enriching plants are in abundance as well as indirect lighting sources, music, comfortable seating areas and other amenities. Colors are chosen to creating a soothing presence and wall displays are planned to work as part of the instructional environment and not just to display students' work.
Immediate feedback is important to enhance learning. Feedback, both accurate and immediate, is needed at the time of the learning in order for the student to ensure that the learning is accurate. We have implemented numerous changes to build immediate feedback into our classrooms:
Instruction begins with the real world and "being there" experiences sliced off into manageable chunks. Such firsthand feedback through the real world setting is instantaneous and more intrinsic, and therefore more powerful.
Cooperative learning is an integral part of the design of our instructional day. When students work together in the completion of an assignment, they receive feedback from their peers which reinforces the learning.
Direct instruction time is limited. This enables the teacher to circulate among the students giving them immediate feedback on the learning activity. This is a time for re-teaching, for further explanation, and one-on-one discussion. The circulation of the teacher among the students provides an opportunity for the teacher to immediately assess the effectiveness of the direct instruction and the subsequent assignment.
Unlearning something incorrectly stored in the brain is much more difficult than learning it right the first time.
Three criteria determine mastery: the work should be complete, correct, and comprehensive. We have many evaluation tools we use to assess our students' learning. The 2001-2002 school year began with a diagnostic instrument designed to determine reading and writing skills. In addition, traditional teacher-made tests, standardized tests and performance assessments are utilized to assess the level of mastery. Teachers have begun to implement rubrics to evaluate student projects and are working toward authentic assessment. Authentic assessment is used to show that students understand how to apply what they have learned to the real world.
All teachers incorporate a period of Community Circle time into their daily schedule to foster inclusion, influence and affection. The faculty underwent "Tribes" training to further this attempt to teach students to work collaboratively.
It is also important to consider collaboration as a tool for professionals to use to enhance curriculum development. Staff will be conducting monthly peer visits to observe a lesson for at least 20 minutes. The visitation provides the staff member with an opportunity to grow, to get a new idea, or to learn a different way of teaching a concept. Teachers are encouraged to visit different grade levels and subject areas. Also, the services of the district level facilitator will be sought out.