Brain-Friendly Intervention

My post today is more a book review. A colleague and I recently decided that we wanted a book study this year that focused on our learners as much as our content or instruction.  We chose Thomas Armstrong’s 2016 ASCD publication, The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students.  As I read the first two chapters, I chased my own teenage children around the house telling them how amazing their brains are, how challenging it is to be an adolescent (so it IS all in their head, so to speak), and warning them of the side effects if they don’t use their mental capacities before their brains start the “pruning and wiring of circuits involved in decision making.”  The adolescent brain’s “pruning” process is introduced with a quote from Jay Giedd that summarizes the concept well:  “You are hard-wiring your brain in adolescence.  Do you want to hardwire it for sports and playing music and doing mathematics–or for lying on the couch in from of the television?”  When sharing this idea with my son, I might have switched out the word television for the term video games.  With his active teen brain, he understood my point.  Even though he passively said, “Okay, Mom,”  he is choosing to spend fewer hours hunting down zombies. Sometimes all adolescents really need is awareness provided as a friendly FYI, versus commands that say they can’t draw their own logical conclusions.

116017b

As an educator, this book piqued my interest and increased my level of concern for how we engage students’ brains.  In a seven to eight hour school day, imagine how much we must contribute to or detract from effective hardwiring as our adolescent students build brains for adulthood.  I often refer to interventions classes as thinking classes.  Is that really true?  Do I or other teachers in our intervention “thinking classes” provide “brain-hostile” environments or “brain-friendly” environments to grow brains needed for college and career?  As I contemplated our intervention program for 6th through 9th graders and observed classes with Armstrong’s list of brain-friendly practices in mind, I wasn’t surprised that many intervention teachers make sincere efforts to engage students with brain-friendly instruction.  Although Dr. Armstrong provides eight brain-friendly practices, each with its own idea-packed chapters,  I am exploring the five recommended practices I see most frequently in interventions classes I’ve taught or observed.  We could very effectively use all eight practices, but I’ll leave the other three to your own reading exploration.

Below, I provide some examples of how I or my colleagues are striving toward brain-friendly practice.  Based on my knowledge of our work,  I can often think of more we all can do. When reading The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students, you’ll find extensive support for your own efforts to develop a brain-friendly learning environment, no matter what content/skills you teach.

Opportunities to Choose
What our students are doing:

    • Choosing independent reading materials
    • Choosing collaboration partners for metacognitive strategy practice
    • Developing class norms

What we could help our students do more of:

    • Allow students to choose topics for strategy articles
    • Facilitate student choice of roles for collaboration
    • Provide choices for demonstrating skill proficiency  

Self- Awareness activities
What our students are doing:

    • Responding to and reflecting on a reader self-perception survey
    • Responding to and reflecting on a reading attitude survey
    • Identifying personal learning goals
    • Reflecting on personal assessment data
    • Writing about personal strengths and weaknesses based on data and work

What we could do more of: 

    • Reinforcing a growth mindset over a fixed mindset
    • Helping students track their own growth
    • Exploring age-appropriate social-emotional topics

Peer-learning activities
What our students are doing:

    • Collaborating to make meaning of text in reciprocal teaching groups
    • Engaging in games to explore vocabulary

What we could do more of: 

    • Participating peer-to-peer feedback/ coaching.  
    • Reflecting on the use of strategies
    • Modeling effective thinking with and for other students

Affective learning
What our students are doing:

    • Honoring high expectations offered through consistency and care
    • Experiencing one-on-one conferences about skills, interests, and needs
    • Learning in safe environments that allow for risk and mistakes
    • Connecting to books that explore their own personal obstacles

What we could do more of: 

    • Providing students with articles and texts for strategy practice that connect to what matters in their lives immediately
    • Celebrating learning and growth

Metacognitive strategies
What our students are doing:

    • Setting their own learning goals
    • Tracking their own learning goals
    • Practicing metacognitive strategies with many opportunities for authentic application 

What we could do more of: 

    • Reinforcing growth mindset over fixed mindset
    • Coaching/conferring with students individually to make connections between personal effort and personal success
    • Monitoring growth with students in small groups and individually and adjusting practice as a result
    • Providing more opportunities for students engagement in authentic metacognitive strategies across disciplines (through effective co-teaching)

If you are a literacy intervention teacher, what would you add to these areas?  If you are an intervention-minded individual or an advocate for all students, what would you like to see added to any of these areas of brain-friendly instruction?