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Brain Compatible Learning: Another New Program... or Is It?

by Kim Tracy

Educators tend to see a trend in programs that promote "according to research, THIS is the best program for your classroom. Guaranteed to raise scores!" Educators often roll their eyes and taunt that "been there, done that" mentality while administrators are scrambling to find money to fund this new program. Programs tend to flow in a cyclic process and educators often feel they want to be left alone to teach what they know is best in their classroom.

The latest trend is Brain Compatible Learning. Isn't all learning brain compatible? Unfortunately, the answer to that is NO! If it were, then the country would be producing Einsteins continuously. Is Brain Compatible Learning just another program that has fallen in that cyclic process? Fortunately, for educators, the answer to that is NO! Brain Compatible Learning is taking the latest research from neuroscientists and developing strategies for learning based upon those findings.

Educators often want hard proof theories for practices they promote in the classroom. Brain Compatible Learning is not a program; it will not guarantee anything for anyone. Brain Compatible Learning is strategies to make the students more productive and the teacher less frustrated. Often educators strive for programs that fit the mold of every student. If it were that easy, educators would have the easiest profession. Everyone has a different body, a unique fingerprint, and different hair follicles. Everyone also has a different brain. Because of the solidarity of each individual's brain, educators have to decide what is best for each student. Brain Compatible Learning is not a "one size fits all." It is, however, an approach to learning that will change the way educators view their students and will change teaching styles for the better.

One educator at a recent Brain Compatible Learning conference stated, "I was completely amazed at how BCL changed my way of thinking as an educator. I have taught for 20 years and have never been rejuvenated in the classroom as I am now." What caused this paradigm shift for this educator? This teacher implemented strategies such as allowing water access for her students and walk-n-talks.

The human brain is over 80 % water. When becoming dehydrated, the brain starts to shut down. Educators often have access to something cool to drink during the day or even in workshops. If that is not available, educators are antsy about sitting in a two hour conference and often are thinking of other things such as, what ballgame the kids have to be taken to that night, or what is on the grocery list. Students operate in the same manner. Reducing some of those feelings of searching for a basic need, such as water, the student will bring learning back into focus. Allowing students access to water bottles or jugs of water with small cups, helps the brains physiologically need respond in a productive manner instead of an adverse manner. As with anything in the classroom, modeling the appropriate ways to have a water bottle at the desk, or modeling how to handle pouring water correctly, and showing students what is acceptable is the key to positive implementation. Many educators often respond that the usage of the bathroom will become a problem, however once implementing this strategy, educators find that the novelty of the experience and the privilege of water access outweigh any other deterrent.

Walk-n-Talk is another strategy that is easy to implement in the classroom but provides an incredible response from the learner. Educators pair students up and give them a topic, subtopics, and categories to discuss. Setting out around the school grounds or somewhere inside, such as the cafeteria, students discuss with their partners the given topics. Again, for successful implementation, educators must model how to handle a walk-n-talk. To model this, the educator should choose a partner, have other students gather around the pair, and walk around the destination discussing a certain topic. This provides insight for the other students by showing them that they must stick to the topic and shows how new ideas are generated by talking to someone else. "I didn't think my first graders would be able to handle this," responded one teacher recently. "I was thrilled the students caught on immediately, stuck to the topic, and beg to do this often before writing assignments or other activities." A high school teacher agreed by saying, "I thought I would be having to file a report of missing students if I allowed my students out and about. By providing a limited area, modeling exactly how to conduct the walk-n-talk, the students love to do this activity before tests or discussions or writing assignments."

Spanning the grade levels, many brain compatible learning strategies are easy to implement, costs little or no money, and produce incredible results. Students become more productive problem solvers and thinkers, and teachers become less frustrated. The more neuroscientists research the brain, the more educators are finding ways to implement strategies that are productive in the classroom. Understanding that the brain learns in certain ways naturally, the educator is given the opportunity to implement better learning and teaching strategies.

Brain Compatible Learning is giving educators a new outlook on the profession. The research from neuroscientists combined with the strategies by educators has opened the doors to unlimited possibilities for the classroom environment. Teachers are each other's best resources. By nurturing the growth of this new phenomenon and providing the latest research, the learning communities will become stronger and more productive. Best of all, Brain Compatible Learning can help educators produce more successful, problem solving citizens for the future.