Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kovalik, S. J., & Olsen, K. D. (2005). Exceeding Expectations: A User's Guide to Implementing Brain Research in the Classroom. Federal Way: Susan Kovalik & Associates, Inc..

Chapter 1- Intelligence as a Function of Experience: After an insightful overview of the ITI Model, which lays the foundation for the rest of the book, Kovalik and Olsen present the “biology of learning.” They explain the fundamental changes that take place in the learning brain and refute the idea that genetics determine one’s ability to learn. Quoting Dr. John Ratey, “We are not prisoners of our genes or our environment. Poverty, alienation, drugs, hormonal imbalances, and depression do not dictate failure. Wealth, acceptance, vegetables, and exercise don’t guarantee success. Our own free will may be the strongest force directing the development of our brains, and therefore our lives… the brain, [child and adult] is both plastic and resilient, and always eager to learn. Experiences, thoughts, actions, and emotions actually change the structure of our brains.” The brain becomes measurably more dense and heavier in response to rich sensory input from an enriched environment, and conversely one’s brains can measurably shrink in a reduced enrichment. Kovalik and Olsen go on to translate all of this research into action in the form of nine “body-brain compatible elements.” (1.6)

  1. Enriched Environment
  2. Meaningful Content
  3. Collaboration
  4. Movement
  5. Choices
  6. Adequate Time
  7. Immediate Feedback
  8. Mastery
  9. Absence of Threat/Nurturing Reflective Thinking

Each of the nine elements is then described fully with connections to curriculum development and instructional strategies for the classroom. To provide the most sensory input, and therefore the greatest amount of learning, students should be given real world opportunities and connections to their learning. They should be working in groups based on skills and interests, have the opportunity to move around, and be given choice to enhance their intelligence. Students need time, positive and immediate feedback, and a nurturing environment to achieve mastery of the skills and knowledge that we expect of them.

Linking brain research with good teaching practices and effective curriculum design makes too much sense. In public education, so much time and money is thrown at the next big thing, but it seems like very little time or money is spent finding out what is really going to be effective in ensuring that every child learns and succeeds. The idea that an impoverished brain has the capability for growth once immersed in an enriched environment must be the cornerstone in developing curriculum for students who are less than proficient. According to their research, everything we do at our school for these students is in direct opposition to the recommendations for optimal learning. We are giving them nothing but secondhand input, content that has no connection or meaning to their real lives, and little opportunity to work together or make choices about their learning.

“[Our brains] grow many more connections than they need and then get rid of those that are not used.” (1.5)

“…20 words used in a real-world conversation at a being there location. Inviting the brain to associate words meanings in multiple locations in the brain makes the learning and recall easier, faster, and increased the number of memory “hooks” that can be used to recall.” (1.5)

“The two kinds of input least used in classrooms, being there and immersion, provide the most sensory input. Conversely, the two most commonly used, secondhand and symbolic, provide the least sensory input.” (1.7)

“The only way to overcome the disparity of experiences that students bring to the classroom is to provide the sensory input that leads to concept development through being there experiences. If we were truly committed to leveling the playing field for students, we would focus time and resources on those subjects that allow us to overcome gaps in students’ prior experiences most quickly.” (1.14)

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