Progressing Toward: The Brain-Compatible Classroom
For the past two years, Ann & Nate Levine Academy has been moving its instructional approach toward realizing what is called the "Brain-Compatible" classroom. Drawing from neuroscience research, national conferences attended by Levine staff, and in-service sessions among our faculty, Levine teachers from our Early Childhood Center through Eighth Grade are actively considering how the brain processes and factoring this knowledge into their lesson plans, teaching style and environments.
We know that there are several factors that go into creating a classroom whereby the brain is optimally stimulated and engaged in learning. Here is just a core list of factors that our teachers are considering:
We know that the brain's capacity to learn new information diminishes under stress. The threat of failure is one of the biggest stressors. Our aim is to be sure that in our classrooms, failure is not an option. To guide students away from saying "I don't get it," we want to make sure students feel safe both physically and emotionally. For example, the environment must be okay to take a risk without fear of being ridiculed. Whether the stress is about fear of being wrong, feeling embarrassed, or anxious about a test, the caring teacher must establish a safe and supportive climate whereby stress is reduced and the brain can function best.
Activate Prior Knowledge
Exploring previously learned and understood material helps students build a bridge from the current knowledge to new material. It helps them make connections. The brain has a very limited ability to store information that it perceives as useless, but the brain comes alive and operates optimally when it can connect and relate to material. Connecting material in a personal way can feed the brain as well. Here's an example: Rather than asking students to "turn to page 128 to get some information about Reconstruction," the teacher would have students look at several photographs taken before and after the Civil War, ask them to write down descriptive words that come to mind, share with fellow students, then ask "why is the period right after the Civil War referred to as Reconstruction?" Then the teacher can follow with, "Have there been times in your lives when a period of "reconstruction" has existed either personally or in our country or world?"
The classroom that has a rich, stimulating environment, one with displays so students can make connections and keep previous knowledge alive and present, is a brain compatible classroom. The proper classroom will have places for group learning, break-out spaces, and alcoves. We have so many examples at Levine whereby classrooms have multiple and flexible spaces. One of the best examples, of course, is our futuristic, multi-modular and brightly furnished Fifth and Sixth Grade math classroom, provided to Levine Academy by the Avron and Jolene Levin family and NorvaNivel. Stop by, head upstairs to the Middle School wing, and check out this special classroom when you get a chance!
Multiple Intelligences and Choice
We know from brain research that every brain is different; therefore, every learner has preferred ways of learning that the individual knows to be more effective and reliable for him/her. Our teachers seek to engage students by appealing to their multiple intelligences, whether this be musical, inter-personal, kinesthetic, logical/mathematical, visual, and this list goes on. Giving students a choice in how to move forward on a lesson is also an effective means to enhance motivation or to accommodate a child's special interest or strength.
Additional brain-compatible factors include collaboration, giving adequate time, achieving mastery before moving on, active/hands-on learning, and offering immediate feedback. The aim with our teacher training, with our instructional coaching, and through teacher team meetings, is to move our school along a continuum of progress toward giving students a learning experience that is not just effective, but is also stimulating, enjoyable, and inspiring.