Friday, June 30, 2017

Brain-based teaching- special classes

Marilee Sprenger's book, Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age, discusses the impact of the digital exposure on the brain. The second chapter brings up a special point- specials matter. Much research demonstrated that with the onset of 3-8 testing through NCLB, time spent on untested areas went down. Special education teachers and related services such as physical therapy pull from non-critical time in school (if this isn't a joke I don't know what is)- social studies, science, art, music, recess and PE all suffered as a result of the increased accountability in reading and math. There is a cost associated with the reductions in those specials, and Marilee clearly points it out.

Exercise- think PE and recess:
  • Improves attention and motivation by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
  • Decreases impulsivity by activation of frontal lobe structures that inhibit random, divergent actions and thoughts through the release of more dopamine and serotonin.
  • Creates more positive moods, lowers anxiety, and raises self-esteem through the release of more serotonin and norepinephrine.
  • Helps overcome learned helplessness by improving resilience, improving self-confidence, and raising the ability to withstand stress and frustration.
  • Causes stem cells in the brain to divide, which creates the possibility for making new brain cells.
  • Adds new brain cells to the hippocampus (the memory control area) and may also add to the frontal cortex, where executive functioning takes place.
  • Adds to the "chemical soup" that promotes the growth and survival of new neurons. (p. 21-2)
When we think about sleepy teenagers who cannot keep their heads up, we should think about motion to get their blood flowing and to stimulate their brains. When kids have tests, we can start the experience with yoga or an exercise to help prep them for the experience. When we work with new learnings, a bout of movement will help them to focus on information. Studies have demonstrated that a movement period a day increases tests scores even if time on task is decreased. Research has also shown that for students with ADHD spending 45 minutes a day in aerobic exercise significantly improves their ability to regulate their behavior. In Finland students have 15 minutes of break time for every 45 minutes of instruction. Their students excel on international tests. Movement makes sense, especially for boys whose brains are more likely to be wired to learn better with movement.

Art- this really is fine arts- both traditional art and music classes as well as dance and drama.
  • Music training has a positive relation to mathematics reasoning, particularly in geometry.
  • Music training is closely correlated with improvements in reading fluency, reading attainment, and sequence learning.
  • Music training and acting are associated with improvements in working memory.
  • Learning to dance by watching others may be as effective as learning through physical movement; this observation may also transfer to other cognitive abilities. (p. 23)
Other research also supports this idea. Nick Rabkin points out in his review of the research:
in the visual arts, there are findings about how drawing supports writing skills and how visualization training supports interpretation of text. In music, researchers found strong connections to spatial reasoning and math, and between instrument instruction and SAT scores. Dance instruction was connected to fluency in creative thinking and to reading skills. Drama in the form of dramatic enactment was connected to story comprehension, character understanding, and writing proficiency, and is shown to be a better way for students to process a story than teacher-led discussion. Multi-arts programs, as you might expect, had multiple connections: to reading, verbal, and math skills, and to creative thinking. ... Dance is connected to self-confidence and persistence; music to self-efficacy and self-concept; drama to concentration, comprehension, conflict resolution, and self-concept; multi-arts to achievement motivation, cognitive engagement, self-confidence, risk-taking, perseverance, and leadership. Several studies show that children become more engaged in their studies when the arts are integrated into their lessons. Others show that at-risk students often find pathways through the arts to broader academic successes.
It is crazy that we do not see these subjects as critical to learning. They are not just enrichment, they are the basis of success.

Stimulating the brain in many ways is essential to its growth. If you do not knead dough by stretching all of it in many directions you do not get a good loaf of bread. Similarly, if you do not push and pull the brain in different ways you do not get as good a result. Lynne Kenney uses the idea that the arts, especially music and movement are essential to learning in her book, 70 Play Activities. We need to defend our children's specials as essential to their performance in school. We need to integrate arts and movement into classroom instruction. We need to see the importance in getting kids off their chairs, away from their screens and into active learning.

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