Monday, July 13, 2015

Worksheets don't grow dendrites

Over the years I have read about and taken webinars on brain based learning strategies. Jensen and Willis have a plethora of materials available in book, video and internet sources that discuss links between what your brain experiences and what you learn. Marcia L. Tate's book, Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: 20 Instructional Strategies that Engage the Brain, Second Edition, is a book I have been waiting to get to for a while. I was surprised at its lack of a diagram of a brain and descriptions of learning and neuroscience. This book is much more down to earth and practical than that. If you want the neuroscience, go to either of the other authors, they will provide it. This book is about how to teach in a way that utilizes the information.

The organization of the book is interesting. The Introduction is a critical piece of the reading- it explains the format and background of the book. This is followed by twenty short "chapters," each discussing a strategy. The first part is a brief definition of the strategy, often showcased with a vignette. Then she includes a summary of the research that supports the use of the strategy. This is followed by multiple examples of how to implement the strategy in a classroom. Examples are present for every grade, subject and position in a lesson. She wraps up each chapter with a teacher worksheet that asks the reader to think about ways to implement the strategy in her specific classroom. The last section, an addition from the first edition, is a sample brain-based strategy lesson plan. The chapters are short, the language inviting and practical. This book is an easy read resource for a teacher.

The title of the book comes from knowledge of neurons. Neurons are nerve cells. The brain is composed of a variety of neurons. Neurons have three parts- a cell body where the nucleus is, an axon- the long myelin coated section that stretches across distances and receives chemical messages and the dendrites- finger-like appendages opposite the axon that deliver messages. The more dendrites a cell has, the more connections it can make. These connections are what provide for memory and learning. If you grow dendrites, you increase your learning and the ease of retrieving information. Students need to grow dendrites in order to learn what we teach.

I really liked the lesson plan format that she presents. It can be found online here on the fourth page. I think it would be a great tool for working at incorporating these strategies into your lesson plans. Once the strategies became automatic, a teacher could forego the complete plan.

I found her storytelling strategy particularly inspiring. She included a story to remember the continents and one to remember to how to solve two step algebra equations. Many business texts discuss the value of stories to inspire and teach. We as teachers need to incorporate this ideal at least as much as business leaders do. Just about anything can the be the inspiration for a story. Stories link the learning to the real world applications, provide a structure to establish the memory and interest for attention.

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