Before I get started on why I’m a fan of Whole Brain Teaching, let me explain why I’m posting on Tuesday. A little less than two months ago, I created The Reflective Educator blog. My goal was simply to share my ideas and experiences as a 4th grade teacher in the hopes that others might benefit from my successes and mistakes. While I secretly hoped that my blog would be well received, I could never have predicted the unqualified encouragement I’ve gotten from other teachers. As I write this post, The Reflective Educator has 8 subscribers. (Full disclosure: one of those eight is my mom.) Originally I had planned to only post once a week, on Friday. However, a combination of too many ideas and encouragement from my colleagues has prompted me to begin posting twice a week – Tuesday and Friday. So here it is…
What is Whole Brain Teaching?
Earlier this month, I attended a three-hour workshop on Whole Brain Teaching (WBT). Created by Chris Biffle in 1999, WBT is an approach to teaching that quite literally activates a student’s whole brain through both lesson design/delivery and classroom management. Dr. Biffle first started using these techniques to teach college students his philosophy lessons. A former student came to him and suggested they modify the techniques for use with younger students and Whole Brain Teaching was born!
The Video That Changed My Teaching
I first learned about Whole Brain Teaching when my mom sent me an email with a link to a YouTube video. The video showed Biffle using his techniques to teach a group of students the classroom rules. He used gestures, interactive dialogue, humor and a quick pace. Click on the video below and watch for yourself!
I saw this video for the first time on my last day of summer vacation. That was good because it meant I could start off using these techniques on the first day of school. That was also bad because I like to have lots of time to plan and think and learn before I begin using something new in my classroom. Shrug. My students needed this, I was sure of it. I couldn’t put my need for a more deliberate pace ahead of their need for the best instruction I could give. I decided to go for it, no matter how imperfect my first attempts were likely to be.
Go For It!
Relying on that one short video, I used Whole Brain Teaching to introduce my classroom rules. I kept to my own four rules rather than use the ones in the video. Mostly because I’d already shared our rules at Open House the week before. Too late to change now. I came up with gestures to accompany each rule and went for it. At the start of each day, we review the rules with gestures. If I forget, one of my students invariably will ask, “Can we do the rules?” Do your students ask to say the rules in each day? Mine never did…before this year.
Free Whole Brain Teaching Training
Fast forward to February. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that the co-directors for Whole Brain Teaching for my state worked in a neighboring school district and that they hosted monthly training sessions for FREE! That’s where I was one cold Saturday morning this month and it was one of the best professional development sessions I’ve ever attended. I’m going again next month and am doing more and more of the techniques with competence and confidence.
The Big Seven
In that one three-hour session, I learned more than I do at most all-day workshops. The presenters began with an overview of the classroom management strategies that are the foundation of Whole Brain Teaching. If you’re wondering where to start, I’d recommend implementing what Chris Biffle refers to as the Big Seven Daily Instruction Techniques:
- Classroom Rules
- Hands and Eyes
Other Whole Brain Teaching Resources
If you can’t attend one of their free workshops, there are still several options available to you. Go to the website (www.wholebrainteaching.com) and register for free. There you can download lots of free e-books and watch live webcasts most Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. (central time). There are also a lots of free videos you can watch on YouTube that show a wide variety of grades and subjects being taught with the Whole Brain Teaching strategies.
Did I Mention That It Was Free?
You might have noticed that the word “free” keeps popping up in conjunction with Whole Brain Teaching. That’s no accident. Chris Biffle is a teacher himself. He knows we don’t have a lot of spare change laying around to spend on professional development. If you attend a Whole Brain Teaching workshop, it will cost you your time (they are usually held in the evening, weekends and summers), and money for meals and/or transportation. 95% of the material on his website is free. All he asks is that you spread the word with other teachers.
Adding It to My Toolbox
Using the Whole Brain Teaching strategies has improved my classroom culture, helped my students retain information and it’s just plain fun. I’ll be honest with you – having fun has not always been a top priority in my life. I’m trying to soften my attitude and enjoy life a bit more now, instead of work, work, work. Whole Brain Teaching has helped with that. My years in education have made me leery of any claim that there is one magic bullet, one secret strategy that will teach every student every time. Whole Brain Teaching makes no such claims. It is, however, a very powerful approach to teaching students that has proven results. I plan to add it to my proverbial “teacher toolbox” and use it with enthusiasm!
My next post will begin a new series on the methods I use to teach students how to write. Posts in that series will be published every Friday while my Tuesday posts will address a variety of topics…basically whatever is happening in my classroom!