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Brain-based Teaching: Part 1

Author: Steve Hiles

"Brain-based teaching" is not just a fad in the education world; it is a scientifically based understanding of how people learn. Scientists and educators are now collaborating on
studies of the human brain as it relates to learning with applications to disabilities and "Special Needs" students. There are specific practices emerging from brain research that teachers can use to enhance learning by all students.

The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities is one place to look for resources. Their website lists hundreds of excellent articles and websites for further research. The National Association for the Education of Young Children is another that focuses specifically on elementary (primary) school education.

I would like to share with you a bit of what I have done with respect to brain-based research as I applied it to my classroom. I have used a variety of techniques that scientists have shown make a real difference to the brain and student learning. Among these are the use of music in the classroom, making deliberate changes to mental states, and specific ways to give directions to student learners to achieve positive results.

Music in the Classroom


Kids today are exposed almost constantly to music of various kinds on television, in malls and office buildings, on their own cellphones or computers. As movie makers know, music can set the mood for any scene. Playing music during classes can change the atmosphere of the class from noisy to quiet, from chaotic to organized. It is an important tool that is not used as much as it could be by teachers.


As far as the type of music that I have played in the classroom, it's mostly from Eric Jensen's CD collections of music. Jensen has become internationally recognized for his "brain-based" publications for teachers. He links current brain research with strategies to improve student achievement. Music is one of the key tools he uses to stimulate positive feelings in the classroom.

He suggests considering the emotional state you are trying to elicit, the age of the listener and the types of music that are most familiar to them. Songs with words should be reserved for special occasions or games; Jensen suggests relying mainly on instrumental music of various kinds.

To celebrate the start or completion of tasks, something upbeat can get students inspired. For lengthy writing tasks, calming music with a slow rhythm can aid concentration.

According to various brain studies, beats per minute (BPM) can have profound effects on the human body and brain. Jensen writes:

"Songs in the 35-50 BPM range will be more calming, while those in the middle 55-70 BPM will be more moderate for seatwork. For activities, the pace might be 70-100 and for energizers, maybe 100-160 BPM will REALLY rev it up."


I bought an expensive Bose IPOD music system that I have used regularly in the classroom. Now I am not saying that teachers need to spend a lot of money. I would suggest going to Wal-Mart and picking up a CD player for around twenty-five dollars -- or if your school offers Audio-Visual equipment, to request that a CD player be made available to you in your class every day. Alternatively, you can attach good speakers to a computer or smartphone - just be sure that they can put out sufficient volume to be heard bay a classroom of excited, noisy kids!


The point here is that it is not the cost of the system but rather that appropriate music can assist students with a given activity  and that you will want to be able to access music as a teaching tool at any time.

Stay tuned for Brain-based Teaching part 2, as we will discuss music to match specific activities.

All the best,
Steve