Friday, June 1, 2012

Positivity: An Important Component of Brain-Based Teaching

            Positivity is a powerful tool in ANY classroom! When the social and emotional systems of the brain are engaged in a positive way, learning is much more likely to take place. Complex thought takes place in the frontal lobes.  Information “must pass through the reticular activating system and the limbic system to be acknowledged, recognized, connected with relational memories, patterned and ultimately stored in long-term memory” (Willis, 2007, p.18). Positive emotions open this pathway, while negative emotions and stress causes the pathway to go into survival mode (fight or flight), which in turn restricts flow to the frontal lobes making complex thought difficult if not impossible. Our goal as teachers is to maintain a positive, optimistic classroom to keep the learning pathway open.
            With a positive learning environment in mind, there are many brain-based strategies we can use to increase learning. I consider brain-based strategies during lesson planning, while keeping in mind the learning styles and intelligences of my students. If during a lesson I notice that I’m beginning to lose their attention, I will adjust my strategy or pause for BrainSMART BrainObics or another crossover activity (see a demonstration of BrainObics here on BrainSMART’s website).  I begin the year by stressing the importance of optimism and positive thinking on the brain, and then continue teaching and modeling the other BrainSMART thinking for learning skills which include: optimism, listening, focus, understanding space, understanding time, systematic search, systematic planning, memory, comparisons, and courage. Working on these skills together, with optimism (positivity) being the overarching theme, has made a remarkable difference in my students success.  I teach them metacognition and we participate in Brain Awareness Week activities. They are so aware of optimism that they can tell you about a study that showed a pessimistic fourth grader presented with a difficult task would see his or her thinking reduced to that of a first grader. They will go on to tell you that an optimistic fourth grader will have the courage to continue or seek help to solve the difficult task (Wilson & Conyers, 2011). They cheer each others successes and offer support and encouragement when a classmate struggles. My students even tell their parents to be optimistic and courageous. 12 of my 21 students were reading below grade level at the beginning of the year. Now, NONE of them are below grade level (two are a mere one month behind where they should be), and ALL of them are effective metacognitive learners. That is powerful. That is optimism and courage!
            I think strategies for increasing positive emotional involvement must include the thinking skills mentioned above. When students have the necessary tools to learn, they feel better about themselves. Success breeds confidence. Teachers must model and refer back to the strategies often. The I Feel Good strategy (also shown on the video linked above) is another important and effective tool to return students to a positive and optimistic state. Students can do the strategy alone or as a class.  Success mapping (keeping track of student successes) is another go-to strategy for positive emotional involvement. When losing student focus, BrainObics is an amazing way to get the two sides of the brain working together and the blood flowing. I also use the opportunity to refocus students on metacognition by reminding them each time why we do BrainObics. BrainObics  keep the energy of the classroom flowing. Probably the most important strategy to keep the energy positive and upbeat is by being that way yourself! I am a high-energy teacher. That is the only way to keep the attention of many classes. Moving around the classroom, being animated, doing BrainObics, and allowing state-changes (Scaddan, 2009), are all important contributions to the positive energy of my class.
            It would be difficult to model authentic positivity if I were not feeling that way myself. One reason to feel so positive is that a teacher's job has meaning!  We have the future of the world sitting in our classrooms every day. How exciting is that! If you model and teach optimism and positivity every day, you will see amazing results flow! Positivity is a powerful contribution to any classroom.

Conyers, M., & Wilson, D. (2011). BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning. (4 ed.). Orlando: BrainSMART.

Scaddan, M. A. (2009). 40 Engaging Brain-Based Tools for the Classroom. Thousand Oaks. CA: Corwin Pr.

Willis, J. (2007). Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
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  1. I never heard of BrainSMART until reading this post. I think this is an AWESOME way to reach out to and encourage students. I believe that projecting positivity and optimism is the most effective way to communicate with students. "Success breeds confidence" is one of the most powerful statements I have heard. This really gives me to motivation I need to finish my education program.

  2. Diane I am awarding your blog the Leibster blog award :) If you would like to learn more I am posting about it today on my blog.

  3. I love your attitude! I love how you say "We have the future of the world sitting in our classrooms everyday." because I say that all the time when talking about teaching and technology. I am so motivated by your post! I love how you think about how positivity affects the brain and makes children want to learn more. I will definitely remember BrainSmart for my future classroom. I am intrigued at how you perceive teachers. I also think we have meaning! I'm so glad that the children support each other and motivate one another if one is struggling. That is so heartwarming to hear because now all you hear is about kids bullying one another and committing crimes in school. All this positive energy really rubs off on me because I want that in my classroom and will do all that I can to get that energy when I begin teaching again! Thanks for your wonderful post and resources!

  4. Thank you so much for your comments. I'll be interested to hear how you apply the strategies. Keep me updated! You sound like wonderful motivated teachers!

  5. I will definitely keep you updated! I'm apologize because I didn't introduce myself! I am a student at the University of South Alabama and I am enrolled in EDM 310 and was assigned to comment on your blog! I must say I am so glad I got yours! Love all your ideas! Thanks again for sharing!

    Courtney Blackmon

  6. Diane,

    I think a lot of my followers would be interested in the BrainSMART program! I am awarding your blog the One Lovely Blog award and linking to your blog by posting your button

    You can learn more about it on my blog
    Miss L's Whole Brain Teaching

  7. Mrs. Dahl, I am also a student from The University of South Alabama enrolled in EDM310! A few of my fellow classmates have also been assigned to your blog. I found your post truly inspirational. I hope to incorporate and enhance my future classroom with the tools you have mentioned within this post! I look forward to your future blog posts and am eager to see additional teaching tools and techniques.

  8. Miss L,
    Thank you so much for the blog awards! You are so sweet...and I LOVE your whole brain teaching blog!
    I will pass these awards on too.
    Thank you again,

  9. Hi Hannah,
    Thank you for your comments! I'm glad you guys have been assigned to my blog also. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you... gr8arteest(at)

  10. Diane,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog, I especially enjoyed how when you notice your students are losing focus, you bring the back to focus and remain optimistic, rather than getting frustrated with them.

  11. Hi Diane!

    My name is Snehal and I’m a former educator. First, I love this post and some of the philosophy behind BrainSmart's approach. Browsing through your blog I like many of your other posts also. In my current role as the founder & CEO of Sokikom, I get to explore teacher blogs to seek out innovative teachers and strategies to learn from and spread to more classrooms around the country.

    As it seems like you’re passionate about integrating technology into the classroom, I wanted to let you know about Sokikom, which is currently a free online tool that teachers use to (1) improve student behaviors and (2) differentiate math instruction. Our program is underpinned by research in the areas of positive psychology and intrinsic motivation. We’ve built Sokikom based on the feedback from teachers - as I browsed through your blog it seemed like you might be interested so I thought I’d pass it along. We’ve gotten an incredible amount of feedback from teachers using our product, but are always looking for new suggestions as well, so if you decide to give it a try, please don’t hesitate to reach out me personally with questions or feedback! (snehalp AT sokikom DOT com)