Have you seen the terms “brain-based teaching” and ”brain-based learning” around a lot lately?
It’s true. I geek out over learning research! But brain research has had such amazing findings in the last several years, why shouldn’t homeschoolers take advantage of learning research and teach the way that brains learn? So to that end, this is the first post out of four where I share several brain-based teaching tips you can incorporate into your homeschooling.
That’s all that brain-based teaching is: discovering and using teaching methods that align with how the brain learns. If you’re successful in teaching the way your kids’ brains work, 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?!
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? 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. One 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:
- Believe in them and demonstrate that through your positive, specific praise and encouragement
- Help them set academic goals that are a little beyond their reach and give them the tools to reach them
- 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
- 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.
1. 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 brainpower and intelligence aren’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 other words, don’t let your thoughts default to, he’s lousy at math, or she can’t write a lab report that makes any sense.
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.
So how do you use affirming, confidence building words with your student? How can your words help instill confidence that he can succeed?
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 my 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?
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 to 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.
Not only will this help YOU look at life more positively, but this will also help you teach your children to do so.
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 perfectly 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 does not only help you with this algebra — it’s also going to pay off big time in college and in your future career.
Or maybe that Math/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 lessons 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.
It’s when you believe in your student and he begins to believe in himself through his own successes, that the magic happens!
If you use brain-based teaching tips like this all-important first one, 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 a grouchy taskmaster.
So what part of this post is a new idea or resonates with you? Tell me in the comments below!
#3 Brain-based Teaching Tip #3: Turn Listeners into Learners by Priming Their Brain