Preparing a lesson for each and every class provides some monotony and a lot of work. Each lesson cannot be perfect, but as a teacher – with preparation – I can strive for it to be pretty close to perfection. Time and schedules prevent every day from being great, but by following John Medina’s rules it can be a whole lot easier. Specifically, following chapter four or attention from Brain Rules can provide teachers with a nice template to follow with lesson plans.
Medina outlines the brain and attention in this manner:
- Emotions get our attention
- Meaning before details
- The brain cannot multitask
- The brain needs a break
What does this mean? Well, Medina proposes breaking up lessons or lectures into 10 minute segments. This involves beginning each ten minute session with the core of the lesson or segment. In many ways this represents the objective of a lesson that fits with the SPU lesson plan template. As I finish my ten minute segment, I must find a way to get their attention back. This points to Medina’s first point – emotions get our attention. I think there are small ways to do this in a class. Movement can elicit emotion as students must find you and see where you are – especially if behind the class. Volume can do it as well. I use my voice to get attention at times. Lastly, humor can do this. I utilize humor a lot in the classroom.
By using the SPU template and Medina’s fourth rule of attention, teachers can create idealistic lesson plans. By planning in movement, partner work, group work, and new material every ten minutes, we can keep the attention of students throughout the lesson.
While reading John Medina’s fifth and sixth chapters from Brain Rules, I found myself reflecting on classroom experiences and the significance of memorization. Since I teach world and American history, I inevitably face the memorization challenge on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I try to steer away from heavy memorization of facts, dates, and names as that usually makes people hate history in my experience. If you ask the average person how they liked history, most will say, “it was a bunch of dead people and dates I had to memorize!” Not effective teaching, right?
Yet I realize that much of knowing what happened in the past must involve some memorization. How do I balance memorization with significant learning experiences? Medina gives me some insight to how I can make this possible.
Memorize here or at home?
In terms of short term memory, Medina points out that, “retrieval may best be improved by replicating the conditions surrounding the initial encoding” (Medina 113). This can be pretty difficult at school. Our system is set up in many ways for students to study and read material at home and thus memorize material. They then are tested on that material in school! This does not replicate the conditions! We have a base level challenge that will be difficult for students to overcome. Although this challenge in not impossible. By having students study names or a list of terms in the classroom on their own during my teaching time, I may be setting them up for future success. They can continue to study outside the classroom, but the initial encoding happens right there where they will take the quiz or test. This happened recently with a terms of Islam exam I gave to my freshman. They worked on learning the terms in partners in class and almost all of them did very well on the quiz.
While the initial encoding environment is important to memorization, the significance of the material proves to be the most important aspect of the process. As Medina states: “We know the information is remembered best when it is elaborate, meaningful, and contextual” (Medina 114). This is how I strive to teach history. My philosophy never revolves around memorization. I try to use memorization to aid in the process of making meaning out of events in history. The more meaning students can attach to the history, the more they will remember.
As I read John Medina’s 12th Brain Rule entitled “Exploration”, I realized that in my first year of teaching I really lived out his philosophy. It was just two years ago (although it seems like much longer) that I began teaching at Seattle Prep through a variety of odd circumstances. As a Program Tutor in our Learning Resource Center (our program for students with learning differences), I interacted and worked with students on a daily basis. While it was rewarding in many ways, I wanted to get into a classroom and teach. The school gave me that opportunity with one class – Economics. Senior Economics. While I enjoyed that class, I am not sure I would recommend teachers with virtually no experience begin their career with a senior class.
Six weeks into the school year, the principal at Prep presented me with a new opportunity. A teacher was leaving the school and they wanted me to fill his spot in Junior Collegio, as a history teacher. I jumped in, a little hesitant, with two feet and began my teaching career. So what does this have to do with John Medina? Well, as Medina states, medical school may be the best model for schools of education throughout the country. Medina highlights three aspects to the model that would help teachers:
- Consistent exposure to the real world
- Consistent exposure to people who operate in the real world
- Consistent exposure to practical research programs
I hit the first two pretty easily in my first couple years of teaching. I not only had exposure to the real world of teaching, I was the real world! That hands on experience early in my teaching career in many ways prepared me to enter a teaching program. I almost feel bad that there are people in my program at Seattle Pacific who are just teaching for the first time. What if they pay $20,000 to find out that teaching isn’t the right fit for them? I found out quickly that despite the hard work, stress, and feeling of being on stage all the time in a classroom, I love it. It is my calling. So I entered the SPU program to become an even better teacher.
Now I feel fortunate to be studying Medina’s Brain Rules alongside Meece’s chapters on Cognitive Development. I begin to see the research behind the real world application. I begin to match the philosophy with the application. The best part is because I have tried things in the classroom with my lessons, I can now directly apply my learning from SPU classrooms to action. I am pretty sure Medina would love that.