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brain-based teaching tips

Brain-based Teaching Tips for Your Homeschool

  |   Parenting/Homeschooling in General, Teaching - all grades, Teaching Elementary School, Teaching High School, Teaching Middle School, Uncategorized   |   10 Comments
Have you seen the term “brain-based learning” thrown around a lot lately? The idea is simply to discover and use teaching methods that align with how the brain learns.  If you’re successful in doing this, according to brain research, your students will be more engaged and what you want them to learn will be more likely to “stick.”  What homeschool momma wouldn’t want that?!   After rabidly reading about this for awhile I’m excited to share what I’ve learned and give you brain-based teaching tips for your homeschool!
This first principle is SO IMPORTANT, today’s post is going to describe it in detail. And it applies to all ages.  So I’m devoting this first post in the series just to Brain-based Teaching Tip #1 and will cover others in the rest of the series!


Brain-based Teaching Tip #1

Help your child have a vision that he or she can succeed.


According to Dr. Eric Jensen of Jensen Learning, research shows that one of the most important indicators of school success is what the student believes about his potential for success.
 [This principle is based on the following research: (Hattie, J.A. (2009). Visible Learning. Routledge, London, UK.]
Does that surprise you that what your student believes about his potential for success is more important than… his vocabulary? His math scores? His reading level?
If your student’s belief in his ability to learn is crucial to his success, then one of your most important jobs as his teacher is to help your student believe that he can succeed in academic learning.
Maybe your students love to learn and already are confident in their academic abilities.  Or maybe you have a student who struggles. Who has a difficult time learning. This is the child for whom you need to read this post.


Side note:  I am not talking about children with learning disabilities in this post. I’m not qualified to know how much this topic could influence a child who learns differently.  If you are a mom of a differently-abled child, please know that I don’t want to sound as if I am minimizing your child’s issues.



So how can you help your students believe they can be academically successful?

There are a couple of parts to this:

  1. Believe in them and demonstrate  that through your positive, specific praise and encouragement
  2. Help them set academic goals that are a little beyond their reach and give them the tools to reach them
  3. Make your homeschool a safe place where your students are free to learn and make mistakes — even if they don’t always live up to your and their expectations
  4. When there are issues with motivation and getting the work done, you enlist their help to deal with the issue

We’ll take these one at a time.

Believe in your children’s abilities

One of the most fascinating research findings on the brain is that it can change. They call this neuroplasticity. Hear this — our brains, our “level of intelligence”– is not fixed, even though for many years we were taught that what intelligence we were born with (or developed by about age three) we’d have forever. 


But now we know that this is not true. We can improve our intelligence and abilities even into adulthood!  Pretty phenomenal, don’t you think?  And if we can do this as adults, you know your children’s brain power and intelligence isn’t set in stone, either.  So don’t give up on your kids.  Everyone matures in different areas at different times, so do your best to stay optimistic about their abilities!


In fact, as parents, we help our children form those ideas of their ability.  What we say to them, how we treat them when they don’t do as well as we’d like ….  you, homeschooling mom and dad, more than anyone else, have the power to help your student believe he (or she) can be successful. And if research shows that what your children think about their ability shapes their ability, you need to do everything you can to help your children see themselves as successful.  



But how? 


So how do you use affirming, confidence building words with your student? How can your words help instill confidence that he can succeed?

1. You pay attention and praise him specifically when he does something noteworthy. You base your praise on real information, making it more believable to your child and less like “you are just being mom.” Point out the positives of his behavior, in specific terms.
  • Instead of just saying this: I’m so proud of you.
  • Say something like this: I love the way you had such good concentration when you worked on your copywork today.  I’m proud of you for working so carefully and neatly, and your copywork is excellent because of the effort you put in. 
You’re probably used to saying Good job! to your new reader as he’s learning to decode words and learn sight words. But can you be more specific?
  • Instead of saying: Good job reading!
  • Say something like this: You’ve made such progress in reading since last year! Your diligence in reading every day and carefully sounding out words is paying off! Your reading is getting much smoother and more confident.
When a student does well on a test:
  • Instead of saying: Great test!
  • Say something like: Woohoo! Your persistence in putting in that extra work to go over your homework mistakes this week was a great strategy that helped you do much better on your Algebra test!
Does that make sense?  Do you see that when you praise your kids for specific, positive efforts you help them make the connection between their efforts and their successes?

brain-based teaching tips

2. Help your students set academic goals that are a little beyond their abilities and give them the tools to reach them

By helping your students set goals a little beyond what they think they can do and helping them reach those goals, you are reinforcing that they can be successful.  They are essentially proving it to themselves with what they are able to do.

For a younger child, this may be learning write a solid paragraph.  For an older child, it could be a big project with several different parts, or a research paper for a high school student.  In all of these examples, you would break the task down into small steps, help him schedule them with deadlines, encourage persistence, and praise them like crazy for their hard work when they reach their goal.  Then set the bar a little higher for the next one!
Don’t be afraid to challenge your students. Help give them the tools to do the thing, and then praise them for how they accomplished the task when they do. This gives them the confidence to try the next hard thing as well as helping them believe in themselves.


3. Make your homeschool a safe place for your student to “fail” or not do as well as you and he expected. It’s okay to make mistakes, rather than an occasion for stress or any blaming or shaming.


This may take a shift in attitude and behavior on your part first. Were you met with disappointment or even disgust as a child when YOU didn’t do well in school?
If so, it could be hard for you not to react similarly, especially if you felt your child wasn’t doing his best. Unfortunately, we all bring a little baggage with us into parenting. That’s okay. You can work through this.  Remember that your students’ brains are still in the process of maturing, and you can help them develop more of a “learning mindset” by the way you deal with those less-than-successes.
You can teach yourself and your children how to look at failure differently than they may have looked at this in the past. This is a “mindset” issue – and what we tell ourselves is true influences our behavior. So if you believe you are a bad teacher, you will be a bad teacher, unless you learn more about teaching and learn to think differently about your ability.
If you need help in this area, I suggest a book that can help you understand the importance of how you look at things and “what you tell yourself” about them. It can help you learn to see things differently than you may have in the past. It’s well worth the time to read Mindset, by Carol Dweck.
The ideas in this  book will help you to provide a SAFE environment for learning. A place where it is OKAY not to do things perfect every time.
Here’s an example of how you might be positive with a student who doesn’t feel he’s a good writer:
  • You know, Sam, one definition of the word “Fail” is First Attempt In Learning. I know you don’t think you are a good writer. But you don’t know how to write an essay yet; you are just learning. With this essay assignment you’ll write a few different drafts, and each draft will get better. It will take effort, but I know you can master this. I’ll help you. Before you know it, you will have this down. Writing just takes effort and practice, and I know you can do it!
Here are some more examples of what you might say to a student who didn’t do well on something:
  • I love the way you jumped right in to do your Algebra lesson today. Yes, I know you missed several questions, but that shows us exactly what we need to work on. Your persistence in working on this until you have it figured out is going to pay off big time in college and in your future career.
Or maybe that Algebra/Spelling/Science test did not come out so well… Try something like this:
  • I know you worked hard on this and your score disappoints you. But that’s okay. It’s only a number. We will take it question by question over the next day or two and with regular review you’ll get this. 


4. When there are problems getting the work done, involve your student in strategizing ways to work on the issue.


I had one that really didn’t like Spanish, so we had a conversation like this:
  • I can see it is difficult for you to learn Spanish, and that makes you want to avoid it. But since avoiding it is not an option, how can we strategize so you complete your Spanish lesson more regularly?
Maybe you discuss it and then come up with a solution like this…
  • Okay, we’ll do a Spanish lesson every day right before lunch. We’ll set the timer and stop after 10/15/25 minutes (depending upon the age of your student). Then after lunch and our break we’ll have a short review of what you learned just before lunch. We’ll stay on that schedule for three weeks. Then see if it becomes easier to get your Spanish done.
In conclusion, it’s when you believe in your student and he begins to believe in himself through his own successes, that the magic happens!
You’ll see more cooperation and motivation to learn, more enjoyment and engagement in school and you’ll become more of a coach and a cheerleader than an grouchy taskmaster!


But even more important, your students will learn to believe that they CAN be successful — an attitude that will pay many dividends through school and beyond!
 So what part of this post is a new idea or resonates with you?  Tell me in the comments below!
  • Kathryn | Apr 27, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    This is an awesome article, Dana! Thank you for posting! I’ve done a lot of research lately on brain-based learning through music education. Here’s an article I published about it — it’s called “Build Your Child’s Future NOW: How Child-Parent Play Enhances Brain Function.” https://www.mymusikathome.com/blogs/news/building-your-childs-future-now

    • Dana | Apr 28, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      Thanks for the compliment, Kathryn! The more reading I’ve done about brain-based learning and teaching, the more captivated I am. Do you feel the same? I’ll enjoy reading more about it from your perspective as well; thanks for including the link to your article and for stopping by!

  • Aliece | Apr 19, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    Even though I don’t have a school-aged child yet, this is helpful information in general to apply as children are always learning! Thank you!!

    • Dana | Apr 20, 2018 at 7:28 am

      Thank you, Aliece! Glad it was useful!

  • Rose Anderson | Apr 19, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    This is great, Dana, thanks! Very applicable in lots of other situations, too! Ö

    • Dana | Apr 19, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      Thank you, Rose!

  • Shelly Roy | Apr 19, 2018 at 9:07 am

    “Everyone matures in different areas at different times.” Thank you for reminding me of that truth! It is easy to forget in the day to day challenge of teaching my 17 year old Asperger’s ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic student. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever get through high school-whew! And he has recently begun talking about home schooling college! Help! (just kidding :), we will do a college degree the same way we have done every other step, one day at a time). Thanks again for your wisdom Dana!

    • Dana | Apr 19, 2018 at 2:06 pm

      Oh, Shelly~ I’m so happy that it encouraged you! You do have your hands full. One day at a time is certainly the wise way to live. < >

  • Lisa Waldron | Apr 19, 2018 at 7:48 am

    This is what I need to learn and apply. Thank you. I will be checking out that book as well.

    • Dana | Apr 19, 2018 at 8:47 am

      You’re welcome, Lisa! I think we all would do well to practice this kind of encouragement with our kids. Glad to have helped. ?

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