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Classroom strategies

Homepage Forums Brain-Based Learning Q&A Classroom strategies

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    • #1057
      Eric Jensen

      Discuss strategies to best integrate brain-based learning in the classroom

    • #1065
      Eric Jensen

      The Food-behavior Link

      The importance of resisting the attraction of small immediate rewards when larger rewards are available after a delay was evidenced from the famous Stanford “marshmallow test” experiment, in which 4-year- old children could receive one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they waited a few minutes.

      Ten years later, those who resisted the immediate temptation were more academically and socially competent than their more impulsive counterparts (Shoda, et al., 1990). At your school, the patient kids will be able to focus on the long-term, not immediate rewards.

      First, this study was done with real people, eating real foods. Second, the study was trying to get an effect, so the diets were strongly weighted towards either carbohydrate or protein diets. Nine overnight-fasted subjects consumed a carbohydrate-rich (70g carbohydrate and 5g protein) for their first sample.

      Then days later, they had a protein-rich (15g carbohydrate and 47 g protein) breakfast. Same subjects, diet was switched again (the cross-over design) to keep the data clean. Blood samples collected at baseline and after 40, 80, 120, and 240 min. for the various levels of glucose, tyrosine or tryptophan.

      Two things emerged from the data: the effect is real and significant and 2) your meal may have to be strongly skewed towards either protein (maximum alertness) or carbos (greater calm) to get the effect.

      This new study shows that the ability to delay gratification is correlated with serotonin levels. In fact, low-serotonin levels increase impulsivity, as indicated by a greater quantity of immediate reward choices. Moderate to high serotonin levels led to an increase in the ability to go with delayed rewards. High-serotonin levels, however, produced no detectable changes in the quality of the reward choice (it doesn’t make you smarter).

      Of particular interest in this human study, was that they were manipulating serotonin levels through diet (the ingestion of either tryptophan–a dietary precursor to serotonin) or a placebo drink.

      This suggests to you that the foods you eat and the foods you feed to your kids can influence how well temptation is resisted. More protein usually means more active and less thoughtful. But more complex carbos or tryptophan in the diet can mean better ability to resist temptations!

      What are parents feeding kids? What are schools feeding kids? You can’t ingest serotonin directly. You have to either ingest the raw materials for making it, or stimulate the production of it somehow. The raw materiall for making serotonin is an amino acid, tryptophan. Foods with higher tryptophan levels include bananas, milk and turkey.

      Dietary supplements are available at health food stores. Tryptophan may be purchased separately or bought in forms such as 5-HTP or St. John’s Wort. All safe, all natural. BUT always check with a doctor IF you are taking any other meds. For example, you do not want to take a serotonin agonist (which would boosts it) AND be taking another drug which is a serotonin antagonist (which lowers it).

      You also do not want to raise serotonin if it might undermine another medication you are taking. Interestingly, complex carbohydrates may also enhance tryptophan levels, but they do it indirectly.

      Actually, I was thinking of this research for parents, the upcoming summer and their kids. If parents make some alterations in their kid’s diets, they may get less impulsive behaviors. In addition, this dietary change may help support those who say a specific diet can reduce the affects of AD/HD. One of the AD/HD symptoms is impulsivity, so this may be a partial, non-medication key to solving that puzzle.

      This study is one of hundreds of top quality, peer-reviewed studies  that strengthen what we know about the food-behavior link. Another bit of evidence that suggests that what you eat does influence your behaviors. This is why a brain-based approach to learning is better.

      Source: Nicolas Schweighofer, Mathieu Bertin, Kazuhiro Shishida, Yasumasa Okamoto, Saori C. Tanaka, Shigeto Yamawaki, and Kenji Doya (2008) Low-Serotonin Levels Increase Delayed Reward Discounting in Humans. J. Neurosci;28 4528-4532

    • #15033
      Cid Schumpert

      Anyone who has been in education over the last 30 years can attest to the fact that students’ have certainly decreased in their ability to delay gratification. Also, the number of children diagnosed as ADD or ADHD has skyrocketed. One has to wonder about the role of the average student’s diet in the increase in troubling student behaviors. The list of foods high in tryptophan looks like and advertisement for Whole Foods Market, while most students consume a steady diet of fast food, ramen noodles, and chips. This study is great “food” for thought!

    • #28780
      Cid Schumpert

      In addition to trying to get kids to eat something that is nutritious, a new study published December 2, 2014 in Cell Metabolism, suggests that the timing of food intake may also be important. With hectic schedules, many families dash by for fast food takeout late in the evening when all the afterschool activities are completed. Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor at the Salk Institute, suggests that eating dinner late in the day may be detrimental. Salk’s team found that mice that were fed a high fat diet but only allow access to the food for eight hours a day were healthier and slimmer than their counterparts who had access to the same food and same number of calories over the whole day. Although the study has not been applied to humans, it may have profound implications for the fight against obesity and diabetes.

      Here is a link to the article:

    • #38840
      Jean Seville Suffield

      Dear Eric,

      I have begun to work with adolescents in my biofeedback practice and will start and Q & A on this but it is overwhelming [although I have not done a research study] how many youngsters are reacting to chemicals in the environment, additives in food, perverse energy, to name a few. Biofeedback is accompanied by coaching to start educating both students and parents about nutrition and brain function. One Mom changed the diet for the whote family of 4 children and noted significant changes in the manner in which they related to one another. The children were calmer, able to focus and concentrate, and accomplish tasks without arguing. Remarkable!


    • #40475

      Regarding food and nutrition, the grade 5 – 6 building in our school district has began highlighting nutrition each week. There is one focus for the week that is integrated into morning announcements, classroom activities, and the food service program. My 6th grade daughter sometimes thinks the emphasis gets tiring, but she also realizes that the message is for all 900 students and not just her. The key to the initiative from the perspective of the nutrition team is to remain balanced – chocolate or sweets aren’t bad when combined with nutritious food, healthy living, and activity. The message is slowly permeating the hearts and minds of 900 students through one announcement or relative application of learning at a time.

    • #40996
      Dr. Margo Turner

      “More of them and less of me”…I time how quickly I can get the students interacting on meaningful questions or prompts. within 1 minute is my goal from class start and I utilize strategies like “GLP walks” and “find someone who…and share 2″…last week I handed out index cards and had the students write 2 connections they had with the content on the front side of the index card then pair up and share these…then the next step was to come up with 5 key points from the content on the back. The students said this was a very meaningful way to hold them accountable to the reading but also allow them to connect personally and interact with other classmates – lots of good brain-based applications!

    • #41112
      Lezley Lewis

      Using Kagan cooperative learning structures to change the brain states is a great application of BBL in the classroom. I observed a teacher who used music with Kagan’s hands-up, stand-up and pair-up structure to advance students through a transition of learning activities. A student who was frowning, sitting with his arms crossed and noticeably disengaged, transitioned into a smile and skipping with his hand up in the air when Happy by Pharrell begin to play. Adding music and movement is powerful in the classroom!

    • #62834
      Rinnah Esprit-Maduro

      I teach the module “Introduction to Psychology” to first year students of the General Faculty department of Teachers at the University of Curacao. For the preparation of the students for their exam, I used the following strategy. The class was divided in small groups of 2 or 3. Each group was assigned a chapter of the content to be studied for their exam. Each group had to come up with the 3 main questions of their respected chapter. They had to also write the correct answers on the back of the sheet. When finished, the groups were divided into an inner and an outer circle. The outer circle is fixed and the inner circle will move clockwise. They get 5 minutes at each stop to post the questions to the other couple and vice versa. After 5 min. the inner circle moves to the next couple. This strategy worked well for repetition and preparation for test. The students enjoyed the challenge.

    • #62931


      Since you were working with university students, how did their stamina last in this strategy? I use inside outside circle with smaller kids for review of known material or for activating prior knowledge. 5 minutes a person would seem long for what I do, but I never have the opportunity to use the structure for adults.

    • #63002

      I must say, the students were all in. It was novelty for them and at the same time there was the challenge to try to have as many correct answers as possible. 5 minutes was actually too short but I did keep it 5 min: higher concentration and urgency to complete the task. The exercise was done in pairs, so they stimulated each other. In the end I evaluated with them and these were some of their responses: great team effort (two stronger than one) , deeper thinking, help for review and repetition (they could analyze exactly which subjects needed more attention

    • #63124

      How do we encourage students to deeply engage in content and not simply skim the surface?

      Check this out:

    • #63196

      Dr. Turner: Thanks for the index card activity. I came into education thinking it was a great opportunity to share with others what I had been privileged to learn. My mother greeted me with, “Don’t use those 50-cent words on me!” That should have been a clue. Thank you for the reminder that less of me and more of them is the operative process. Perhaps reframing it to fishing with just a little bait and catching a big fish will be a great reminder I do not have to throw in the whole bait bucket or dump the whole load of hay for the year on the cows at one time.

    • #63203

      John: Appreciate the article about getting students to think. The word “make” I do not think fits. Not sure that we can ever MAKE a person do anything. What was described in the article is the curiosity that gets students moving, motivated to learning. The knowledge gap is just like the synapse gap or even the electrical spark gap that occurs as one side of a circuit gets overloaded with charge and jumps to the other side, causing work to take place. Same with learning in overloading knowledge and then watching it transfer into memory, action, questions, and applications. I remember someone once saying give students more than they can handle, like throwing someone into the river to learn how to swim, waiting for them to come to the surface and start working with the knowledge. Was a good analogy until I learned that was my mother’s first and only swim lesson in the Brazos River in Texas.

    • #63237

      The human being is in such a way that the main functions are rhythmically built up: the heart beat and the blood flow. One strategy I use that I get positive respond from the students is when I use rhythmical approach, not necessarily music instrument, but my voice. Elementary teachers often use this form spontaneously. At the secondary level I encourage the students to listen to their heart beat/pulse. Then work in pair and use the same rhythm as your heart beat to study a portion of a subject to be learned. At the end you can let a few of them do a presentation in front of the classroom. It is great for learning, reviewing and FUN.

    • #63250

      Thanks Rinna for the feedback. I’ve got a graduate class that I’m teaching this spring, I’ll try inside/outside circle intentionally and play with it. I’ll provide you some feedback at that point! Happy New Year!

    • #63251

      I love the article. It is actually already saved and ready for me to use in an upcoming teacher workshop here in the district. It gives some great rationale for us considering multiple ways of differentiation and motivation. At the district we just hosted Rick Wormeli for about 2000 teachers. This is a great follow-up article and conversation. Appreciate it. clc

    • #63274

      I started promoting classroom interaction by using Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures. Soon enough I noticed that there many different “structures” that are used by different people in different field of work. They been term differently – Craig mentioned about inside circle/outside circle – it is known as Shuffle left, Shuffle Right in “A Teachable Moment” by Michelle Cumming and Jennifer Stanfield.

      Interestingly, structures as teaching strategies promotes the following in classroom:

      a) Engagement
      b) Discussion among students
      c) Deepen thinking
      d) Listening to different perspectives
      e) Open to different perspective
      f) Expressing individual thoughts and point of view.

      Best of all, students are the one doing the learning 🙂

      For those who want more “structures”, these are possible sites to explore:

      a) Experiential Education: structures are commonly term as Debriefing Tools or Techniques
      i) “A Teachable Moment” – book by Michelle Cummings, Jim Caines, Jennifer Stanchfield
      ii) Active Review: By Dr. Roger Greenaway

      b) Making Thinking Visible – lots of thinking routines

      c) Cooperative Learning

      d) Process Facilitation – such as Affinity Diagram, Forcefield Analysis, Positive/Negative/Interesting Table

    • #63311

      Another strategy that I found that really helped adult students perform better was to let students choose a partner whom they will work together during a test. They will study together and make the test also together. The test is very practical where cases are presented based upon the topic they had to study. They had to write down their approach and action steps. Great interaction in pairs. This is a strategy for older students, since they will be talking with each other. You will also need a large classroom with good acoustic in the room.

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