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Spotlight on Education: ODA Studies Mind / Brain Education

This summer ODA faculty were tasked to read “Neuroteach,” by Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher. This book pairs research about neuroplasticity and learning with concrete classroom strategies. It is a roadmap for research-informed pedagogy that applies to educational practices for students of all ages. Here is a breakdown of some of the book’s highlights.

The Brain and The Mind
Often, we consider the mind and the brain to be one in the same. However, in “Neuroteach,” we learn that there is a difference. Whitman and Kelleher describe the brain as a “complex biological organ processing immense computational capability,” while the mind “is a set of operations carried out by our brain.” According to neuroscience, educators are capable of rewiring the brain to improve the performance of the mind. What does this mean in a classroom? It means that using research to inform teaching can increase student learning over a longer period of time. The book even suggests that students should learn early and often how their brains work, how they develop and grow, and how that growth affects their ability to learn.

Neuromyths
After an introduction, readers of “Neuroteach” are challenged with a list of True/False statements that act as a pretest for the information within the book. Many of the truths behind these statements contradict what has been considered best teaching practices for decades. For example, are you left-brained or right-brained? Through the science of the brain, “Neuroteach” proves that this concept is false stating, “We all use both hemispheres of our brain. Most tasks we set in our brains use different parts that are often located on different sides of the brain, so that most tasks use both sides of the brain.” This is only one of the many neuromyths exposed in the book. If interested, this link will take you to the True/False activity, which you can take yourself.

Growth Mindset and Effort
Whitman and Kelleher argue that one cannot achieve ultimate neuroplasticity and learning potential without a growth mindset. They refer to this as the “yet sensibility.” The “yet sensibility” for students turns the “I can’t do it” to “I can’t do it yet.” Teachers foster this mindset by setting high expectations and believing that all students can meet them. Coupled with the growth mindset is the idea that effort toward learning strategies that actually work is more important than a grade. The book encourages teachers to allow students to grapple with different learning strategies, reflect on the ones that work best for them, and praise them specifically for their effort in finding and embracing the strategy. It is the effort, not the grade, that improves learning. To learn more about growth mindset, I encourage you to watch this Ted Talk.

ODA teachers have used and will continue to use their Professional Development days to take a deep dive into the tenets of “Neuroteach,” as there is much to consider and explore within its chapters. Further, several teachers will take part in the summer institute which takes this work into an even higher level. We understand the importance of this work. As Whitman and Kelleher describe in their closing: “Every student deserves a teacher who understands how the brain learns best–what we know about how learning occurs, which strategies are effective and which are not, and what myths we need to fight against. Settling for anything less would be unconscionable.” 
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