Growing dendrites?! Sounds like a bad science experiment, doesn’t it? It’s not. (Although I think my kiddos would give it a try!) Dendrites are the secret to helping your students learn. They are the connections in our brains that enable us to remember information. I’ll give you an example. Ever ask your students to identify the noun and they just give you a blank stare? You know that their previous teacher taught nouns, but they act like it’s a foreign word. The answer is that their dendrites simply aren’t well developed for this particular piece of information.
How do you grow dendrites in your students so you no longer get the blank stares? Repetition, repetition, repetition. That’s the easy part. The challenge comes in the fact that because our classrooms are full of unique individuals, each one of whom has a different level of repetition they need to strengthen their dendrites. (Being a teacher is not for the faint of heart!) I know it seems boring to you and me, but remember – your students don’t have the decades of education and experience that we enjoy.
All Modalities of Learning
I never really understood the need for what feels like excessive practice and review until I was introduced to Whole Brain Teaching. Their system of posting Power Pix on the classroom wall and regularly reviewing the knowledge really changed how I structure my instructional time. What I love most about Power Pix is that they access all learning modalities – visual, auditory and kinesthetic.
Knowledge On the Walls
As I teach my way through the curriculum during the school year, the Power Pix are posted in designated areas on my classroom walls. I have sections for Grammar/Writing, Reading, Math, Science and Social Studies. Part of our daily routine includes reviewing the information on our walls. By the end of the year, my entire 4th grade core curriculum is in full view! Of course, it all gets covered up during the state standardized achievement tests, but it has to come down anyway for next year’s class.
When I begin teaching math, for example, I have already previewed that day’s assignment. I know exactly the kinds of problems students will encounter and which Power Pix have the core knowledge they need to successfully complete the assignment. The lesson begins with a quick review of those specific Power Pix I’ve identified as necessary for that day’s assignment. Here’s what it sounds like:
- Me: “Mirror Words, class!” (Hold hands up, palms outward.)
- Class: “Mirror Words, yes!” (They mimic my actions throughout.)
- Me: “What is the vertex?” (This is one of our Power Pix posted on the wall.)
- Class: “A vertex is the common endpoint of an angle. Plural is vertices.” (While saying the definition, students are looking at the Power Pix and doing the accompanying gesture.)
That’s it. We work our way around the wall reviewing the math concepts I’ve previously taught in only 5-10 minutes.
Weaving in Power Pix Review
It’s easy to weave in this review time throughout your day. Do it when you’re lining up to go to special area, or during the last few minutes of the day. I like to start or end my lessons with a quick review. Sometimes I even have students lead the review. Having Power Pix on the walls of my classroom reminds me that teaching a lesson is never a “one and done” experience. Students need many, many repetitions to thoroughly acquire all the skills and knowledge they are expected to learn in this era of high standards and endless rounds of testing.