(This post has been under construction for a week (that's how busy it is here). Hence, the dates are off a bit)
I got back to Honolulu yesterday after attending the west coast Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco. There's a lot to process and disseminate after three days of learning about the latest in neuroscience research and how it's applicable to education and specific classroom practices. Of course, the first people I wanted to talk to about all this were my students. So I shelved Catcher In The Rye for a day (maybe for a few more days) to empower them with some understanding of how they can leverage their intelligences, learning styles, emotions, and the plasticity of certain parts of their brain. Here's what I did:
Monday morning, I announced pop quiz on the first three chapters of Catcher In The Rye.
As they reacted in fear to my announcement, I explained that I wanted to let them in on some secrets about their brain and the way they learn. Their emotional and physical reaction to my announcement was a change in their brain chemistry. Cortizol had washed their brain, hindering their ability to learn and access their long-term memory. The best thing they can do about it is drink water.
I explained that this was a two part quiz, and there was no way to fail. Part 1: List ten summary statements about what they read over the weekend. Look for details.
Part 2: They had to clap out a rhythm together, then go around the circle giving new facts about the chapters.
The rhythm engages the right brain, the summaries engage the left. To do both forces connections between the two hemispheres, which foster better long-term memory learning. Not to mention that it was fun and active. We continued to talk about leveraging their brain chemistry and identifying what they can do for themselves.
Now that I had their interests piqued, I wanted to connect more brain secrets to effectively exploring The Catcher In The Rye, so I asked them to free write about specific emotional highs and lows in their lives. The homework extension was to collect visuals symbolic of their highs and lows and construct a "high/low" collage.
The next day, we had a gallery walk to view everybody's collages. Specifically, I asked the students to look for and record patterns they see in the collages. Next, I asked them to translate their observations into questions about what it's like to be a teenager. They came up with questions like: why are friends so important to happiness? Why are so many emotional lows connected with anxiety over grades? What is the importance of outdoor activities in a person's life? And so on.
My pitch was that now that they are invested emotionally in a thinking about their experiences as a teenager, they are better equipped to interact with the novel they're reading.
I learned that the most effective learning environment for teenagers is social, interactive, and emotionally engaging. Reading, as my students agreed, can easily be none of these if not properly framed. So not that they were engaged, I led them through some active reading strategies that would help create interaction with the text and put them at the center of the reading experience.
flickr photo credit 1: krischall
flickr photo credit 2: revcruz