A Neurologist Makes the Case for Teaching Teachers About the Brain | Edutopia

A Neurologist Makes the Case for Teaching Teachers About the Brain | Edutopia.

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What does teacher authenticity and the culture of fear hinder student learning?

When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my own unexamined life—and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well. ~ Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

The dictionary defines authenticity as: “accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable…. Palmer in his notable book the Courage to Teach expresses it this way: “We teach who we are.” I can hear you arguing with me, well Gladys, what are you saying that teachers are not authentic in their dealings with students, furthermore, are you telling me, and that there is something wrong with me, that I should not be a teacher?

Well, now that I have your attention let me state my case using Palmer’s quote:” We teach who we are”

First question that comes to mind is Do you know who you are, really? Have you explored and reflected on the reasons that motivate you to become a teacher?

Many of us come to teaching for diverse reasons and the love of learning and teaching is not always it. Let’s be honest. Were you raised in a family where subtle messages were imprinted about what’s proper and what’s not in terms of race, social status, religion, education? “But of course Gladys”, you are responding through your clenched teeth.

The bottom line here is that our thoughts are influenced by what we learn and I know I have not told anything earth shattering yet, but if you do not reflect and have a solid conviction that your vocation is to teach; I have an urgent message for you. Run away from the classroom as fast as you can and find another modus vivendi. Why? Because being an authentic person is important in all aspects of our life, but as a teacher is indispensable. To substantiate my claim let me giving some food for thought from The Courage to Teach:

“Teaching holds a mirror to the soul”. ~

I think I have posited my case with clarity in terms of authenticity. Now let’s talk about the culture of fear.

The culture of fear

The culture of fear has been with us for a long time, but it was intensified as a result of the events of 9/11/2001. Since then, we have turned paranoid, judging by how many pills we consume daily. (Not a scientific opinion). Let me illustrate this point with an anecdote from the school system. Just three decades ago, students showed respect for their teachers, parents supported their children’s teachers when their children misbehaved in class. But today, ask teachers what they fear most by returning to school this fall: Students misbehavior and parents attitudes towards them.     There is open season on teachers!!!!!

Teachers are vulnerable to the most insidious attacks by members and non-members of a particular community. No wonder our best and brightest leave before year reaching their five-year tenure to find something less dangerous.

Dr. Palmer in his book The Courage to Teach describes the culture of fear as: “We fear encounters in which the other is free to be itself, to speak its own truth, to tell us what we may not wish to hear. We want those encounters on our own terms, so that we can control their outcomes, so that they will not threaten our view of world and self. ~ He also describes one of the devastating consequences of this fear: “To avoid a live encounter with teachers, students can hide behind their notebooks and their silence. To avoid a live encounter with students, teachers can hide behind their podiums, their credentials, and their power. ~

Do you understand where this fear is taking us?

The third leg of this post will explore how this culture of fear and lack of self-knowledge and authenticity by the classroom teacher hinders student achievement. But today, I am going to act like a great teacher and let you come up with your own conclusions. I eagerly wait to read your thoughts.

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What does the courage to teach and equity in education have in common?

Few months ago, I wrote that equity and social justice in education is work of the heart.  I thought not many people would understand my plea because I am not God to change a heart. However, I know now I am not alone in this quest. After reading The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, I learned that there are others like me searching for a way to promote equity and social justice in education. The thesis of the book as I understand it will require teachers to look at their hearts to find if they are working in the right field and/or to renew their passion for their calling.

Here are some of the assumptions in the book that encouraged me not give up:

  1. “Until we realize that the capacity to translate private feelings into public issues, when warranted, has been an engine of every movement for social change”.
  2. “When students go year after year as passive recipients of education, small wonder that they carry their passivity into the work place. What they have learned at school is that keeping one’s mouth shut is a way to stay safe. (That’s referring to us teachers and administrators). But they have not learned (us)….that opening one’s mouth to challenge what is wrong is a way to stay sane.”
  3. “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique, good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of teacher” ( You have to read the book to understand this concept)
  4. “The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than is able…”
  5. “Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life” ” ( You must to read the book to understand this concept)

I am deeply encouraged by Dr. Palmer’s work. If you are a teacher and you are reading this, do yourself a favor read the book, reflect on its message and begin to work on what God and your heart lead you to.

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Photo: compartirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

The translation from this poster is simple but poignant, here it is: ” a piece of chalk is less expensive than a bullet…Do not ask for more law enforcement officers but for a free, unbiased, equitable education! Of course, this is not a literal translation but I feel compelled to put my two cents. What do you think?

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What is the correlation among these variables: engagement, relevance and equity?

 

Engagement has to do with relevance. Relevance is the condition of” being connected” or when something is pertinent. In other words students are engage in a lesson when there is something for them.  How do we achieve engagement? I don’t know, but maybe this anecdote will help you understand relevance better. One particular year, I was struggling to get my fifth grade students to understand the concept of percentages in math. I tried everything in the book to help them understand without success.

At my wit’s end, God illuminated me and I asked the students to let me know how much their parents earned and how much they had to pay for rent, utilities and groceries. Surprisingly for me, these fifth graders knew this information. We worked their budgets on the board and in about 20 minutes my students not only understood about percentages but also how much it would cost their parents to buy them Jordan’s sneakers that were “in”, at that time.

So what can we conclude? Here are my two cents: Effective teachers must engage students in their lessons by providing relevant activities to their teaching, when they do that we achieve equity.

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Field trips and “hands on” activities: experiences which grow dendrites

I read an article about Brian Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning Theory and their connection to Brain/Mind Principles (Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 31, #1, Fall 2003). In this article I found three issues in a learning classroom which have the potential to affect equity.

Let me give you some background on the Conditions of Learning Theory. According to the authors, there are eight conditions that affect student learning, they are: Immersion, Demonstration, Engagement, Expectation, Responsibility, Employment, Approximation, and Response. He states that these conditions are necessary for student learning. Each one of these conditions has a connection with a principle on how the brain learns. After, I read the article I chose three of these principles/conditions and linked to equity in education. It is interesting to notice how the lack of implementation of these principles in the classroom can lead a teacher to promote inequity in his classroom. I am working with the subject in an inquiry manner.

Last week I wrote about immersion, this week I am writing on the concept of experience, learning by doing.

Condition of learning #2: Demonstration and the brain principle that is linked to it states that, “The brain changes as a result of experience”. This concept is not new.  In the early 1800’s Kant, stated “we learn by experience whether anything is useful or harmful to man”. (p.7) Dewey shared similar thoughts in 1915: “From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while in the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily live what he is learning at school (p.46)”. If I interpret Kant’s and Dewey’s thoughts correctly schools ought to be laboratories where children construct new knowledge not by “hearing” but by “doing”, that’s how the brain grows dendrites (Rushton et.al 2003).

So, what experiences do our children need to have access to in school in order to have a fighting chance in learning? Can you think of anything? Today is May 12, 2012, here are my first 2: educational field trips, and more hands on experiences in the classroom. Oh no! I am sorry, these two required two things we do not have in our public schools: time and money, thus inequity in our public schools continue.

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How are Oreo cookies and milk linked to inequity in education?

I read an article about Brian Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning Theory and their connection to Brain/Mind Principles (Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 31, #1, Fall 2003). In this article I found three issues in a learning classroom which have the potential to affect equity. Today, I’d like to discuss one of them.

Let me give you some background on the Conditions of Learning Theory. According to the authors, there are eight conditions that affect student learning, they are: Immersion, Demonstration, Engagement, Expectation, Responsibility, Employment, Approximation, and Response. He states that these conditions are necessary for student learning. Each one of these conditions has a connection with a principle on how the brain learns. After, I read the article I chose three of these principles/conditions and linked to equity in education. It is interesting to notice how the lack of implementation of these principles in the classroom can lead a teacher to promote inequity in his classroom. I am working with the subject in an inquiry manner.

First condition of learning is immersion and the brain principle states that, “An enriched learning environment increases cell weight, branching of dendrites and synaptic process with in the brain”. The question for us to ponder is, are we immersing our students in learning experiences, or are we in the business of “exposure”.  I am trying to create an image for your brain here. How are Oreo cookies and milk linked to inequity in education? I think Oreo cookies are dipped more times into a glass of milk than students in our public school system into learning experiences. Why?

Let me explain. Right now, in education teachers are in frenzy, trying to “cover” the material that may appear on the test. As teachers “cover” the material, who guarantees learning? We cannot guarantee learning because each one of us learn at a different  pace and the idea of “covering” does not ensure deep learning because there is no time for deep learning!

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Discouraged 2!

Discouraged 2!.

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Discouraged 2!

Writing about equity is not easy task. There are many equity related issues in our public school system. It is difficult to keep my mind in research and advocate mode in the mist of chaos.
I have read articles and blogs from people that think like me. I see their passion and their struggle as they wrestle to provide students with the best equitable education they can. I am a different person today that at the beginning of this journey as blogger for equity. I know we can make a difference, but this journey is not for the weak at heart or for those who are looking for an easy fix.
As educators we have a major responsibility, to educate the children under our care. However, every day I see evidence of how those in leadership positions in education prevent teachers from doing their best for children. I believe that until our hearts are in the right place teachers must make dents at social injustice in education one tiny bite at a time.

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What does the word readicide and inequity have in common?

Readicide ReadicideRead-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. Reading is dying in our schools. Educators are familiar with many of the factors that have contributed to the decline — poverty, second-language issues, and the ever-expanding choices of electronic entertainment. In this provocative new book, Kelly Gallagher suggests, however, that it is time to recognize a new and significant contributor to the death of reading: our schools.
In Readicide, Kelly argues that American schools are actively (though unwittingly) furthering the decline of reading. Specifically, he contends that the standard instructional practices used in most schools are killing reading by: • Valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers; • Mandating breadth over depth in instruction; • Requiring students to read difficult texts without proper instructional support; • Insisting that students focus solely on academic texts; • Drowning great books with sticky notes, double-entry journals, and marginalia; • Ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading; • And losing sight of authentic instruction in the shadow of political pressures.
Kelly doesn’t settle for only identifying the problems. Readicide provides teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators with specific steps to reverse the downward spiral in reading—steps that will help prevent the loss of another generation of readers.
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