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Teachers should be wary of brain-based claims

By John Higgins Published: July 12, 2012

Whole Brain Teaching is a charismatic, high-energy teaching method to get and keep students' attention using humor, gestures and imitation. But teachers and administrators who are drawn to this approach should be wary of Whole Brain Teaching' s claim that its techniques are "validated by contemporary brain research." 

 I wrote about a local Whole Brain Teaching conference at Walsh University in today's Akron Beacon Journal.

The story quotes David Daniel, executive director of the International MInd, Brain and Education Society, who offered an interesting hypothesis for why some teachers may be having great success with this method.  Teachers get jazzed about a new way to interact with their students. Their students pick up on that energy and reflect it back by being more engaged.

He told me about a principal who came to him once because one of his teachers was having great success with another "brain-based" method that had no grounding in science. The principal wanted Daniel to create a workshop so that all the teachers could do what this one succesful teacher was doing.

 "The change she was getting was real because she was excited about her teaching again," Daniel said. "It had nothing to do with the treatment. A plugged in, enthusiastic teacher is highly correlated with plugged-in, enthusiastic children."

In medicine, that's called a placebo effect.

But what if that energy were invested in something that really was validated by research? Maybe the gains would be even greater, Daniel said.

Readers of this blog know that I've been interested in the intersection of neuroscience and education for a few years.  In August, I'll be leaving the Akron Beacon Journal to pursue this interest full-time in Cambridge, Mass. I have received a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT for the 2012-2013 school year. The James L. and John S. Knight Foundation is the principal sponsor. You can leave Akron, but never the legacy of that great newspaper publishing family.

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