There are really helpful diagrams and details about the chemicals in the brain and how they work together for each learner.
If you have not read about the first chapter, check out Ellie's post here.
I'm going to give you a quick recap of Chapter 2, which is all about Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset and how important the classroom culture and environment are for the success of differentiation.
Chapter 2 started with a really interesting sample scenario in which the teacher has different expectations of two different students. I had thought that I never did this to students until I saw this sample in which the teacher barely reacts when one student did not complete homework, but is surprised and disappointed when another student did not complete it.
I realized that I have actually done this! It made me feel horrible, but we do need to think about how we react to different students. Every student should feel that the teacher has confidence in his or her ability.
If an under-performing student hands in a blank test, the teacher should not just shrug it off as if it's what they expect from that particular child. The teacher needs to react and respond to the situation just the same as if it was a high-achieving student. Students are SUPER aware of the fact that we are surprised at a behavior from one student while we accept it from another.
The book led into a discussion of mindsets. Even the most perfect teacher has a set of assumptions and expectations regarding student behavior and performance.
My biggest takeaway from the mindset portion was that BOTH the student AND the teacher have to have a growth mindset. If EITHER of them is in a fixed mindset, there is a decreased level of student learning.
We, as teachers must believe that all students truly want to succeed.
This chapter also discussed the safety and security of the learning environment. There was a great diagram representing the hierarchy of response to sensory input.
Summarized, it showed that since the limbic system takes over to handle emotional responses, the brain focuses its attention first and foremost on data that affects the student's survival. If the child does not feel safe, the brain will never move beyond that point. If the safety criteria is satisfied, the brain will then turn its attention to input that causes an emotion.
This is SO important for us as teachers to realize and remember.
Essentially, this means that if we cannot offer an EMOTIONALLY safe environment, then our students' brains physically cannot learn.
This is especially important to overcome in a middle or high school class. Student brains are receiving so much input that affects them emotionally throughout the day.
It is only when the survival/safety AND the emotional needs are met that the brain can turn to focus on the data for new learning. This sweet spot is where we must strive to keep our classroom environment.
When a student is in a healthy learning climate and feels emotionally safe and respected, the body releases chemicals that are called endorphins. The endorphins flow through the blood and heighten the student's mood. The frontal lobe of the brain works to help the student learn. He or she can then classify the new learning material as important and store it in his/her memory.
However, when a student is in a stressful environment, cortisol is released into the bloodstream. This causes an anxiety-based reaction. The brain shuts out what it considers to be low-priority input. Unfortunately, this includes the learning objective of the lesson!
I have not finished the book yet, but am really enjoying peeking ahead at the specific strategies that teachers can use to optimize the classroom and increase effective differentiation. So far, its the best I've read on differentiation. If you are interested in working on differentiation this summer, check it out (amazon affiliate link):
Ready to go on? Check out what Brittany at The Colorado Classroom learned in Chapter 3.
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