Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 11/11.3.2

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Brain-Compatible Teaching and Learning


Melissa M. Hendrix


Early in the 1990's a new form of schooling began to emerge that was based on neuroscience, it was known as brain-compatible teaching. "Brain-compatible learning is the understanding and teaching based on what we have learned directly from studying the brain. Brain-compatible teaching is the application of principles and strategies that appear to be compatible with what we know about the brain."(Jensen,2007)

"The process of brain building grinds on at the guesstimated rate of 10,000 new cell-to-cell contacts forming every second." (Ebner,1996)

"Studies of the brain's electrical activity and metabolic activity" allow us "to see which techniques and strategies stimulate, and which impede, communication between the parts of the brain where information is processed and stored."(Willis, 2007) Our brains are constantly changing, as we experience new things, and learn new information & skills our brains form dendrites which stem from neurons to form pathways to other parts of our brains. The brain is divided into four lobes: the frontal lobe controls things such as judgment, language production, working memory, initiation of problem solving; the parietal lobe controls things such as spatial sense and short-term memory; the temporal lobe controls language and vision; and the occipital lobe is responsible for vision (receiving & processing.) "The brain is also divided into 2 hemispheres: the right hemisphere learns in sequences, works with parts, is better with language, and acts as "interpreter to our daily lives"; the right hemisphere learns randomly (sequencing is unimportant), works with wholes, and is better with pictures, space, and color."(Jensen,2007) Studies have shown that the brain remembers the information at the beginning & end of a lesson best.

The Female Brain vs. The Male Brain[edit]

Neuroscientists have developed certain characteristics of male and female brains, these characteristics may vary depending on factors such as hormone levels. There are many differences in the male in female brains such as:

  • "The female brain develops the left hemisphere earlier than the right, while the male brain develops the right hemisphere earlier than in females and has a left hemisphere that develops later than the right
  • The female brain has a larger corpus callosum
  • The female brain has monthly fluctuations in the two hormones progesterone and estrogen, which causes shifting scores on spatial, math, verbal, and fine motor skills tests
  • The male brain maintains higher testosterone levels, which aid skills in abstract manipulation, spatial, science, math, and sports, while the female brain has 20-30 percent more serotonin, which is correlated with fearfullness and lower self-confidence
  • The male brain is more compartmentalized and less distributed in functional areas, while the female brain spreads thinking function over a wider area of the brain
  • The female brain can distinguish faces and photos earlier and better as well as learning to speak and read earlier than male brains"(Jensen,2007)

Principles of Brain Research[edit]

"In conclusion, brain-based, learner-centered, professional development, combined with a larger set of systemic changes, leads to both better student performance and significant shifts in the culture and operation of the system itself." (Caine,2006)

Brain-based research teaches us that there are three critical age groups in which the principles used should vary. These three age groups are Mediation(birth to 5), Young Children(5-11), and Tweens to Teens(11-18). Principles of brain research say that all brains have the ability to change. There is no one correct way of teaching, everyone learns differently which is why information should be presented in multiple forms so that students have a better understanding. Presenting information in multiple formats also goes along with brain-based learning, in that, proponents believe "the more ways that the material is learned, the more memory pathways are built(Willis,2007)". Socialization is a major part of learning. Being around other people helps us learn behaviors that are acceptable in society, how to deal with our emotions, and much more about tolerance, diversity, and cultural "norms". Everything that happens in our life, emotionally, physically, and in many other ways, affects our brain and the way we learn. Our sleep patterns, the way we eat/drink, the environment in which we are taught, and knowing about our brains & the way we learn all influence the way in which we retain information. Also, there are limitations to the amount and content that the brain can learn. Educators should keep all of these principles in mind when working with students of any age.


Active learning is when we learn through doing something. "The brain learns best with active rather than passive learning (doing vs. absorbing)."(Prigge,2002) Active learning works because the brain can better recall information from experience rather than items from memorization that we cannot relate to anything. "Relational memory occurs when students learn something that adds to what they already have mastered; they engage or expand on "maps" already present in the brain."(Willis,2007) Graphic organizers are one way in which we can use our relational memory. Also, teaching information in separate groups helps with relational memory, for example, the way we learn phone numbers or social security numbers.

When we learn through working with other people or in groups that is known as cooperative learning. When we work with other people we are able to hear thoughts and ideas that we may not have thought of but help us to remember a topic better. Cooperative learning is based on the principle of social learning.

A learning environment is created when the educator considers the look and feel of the classroom. Some things to consider when setting up the classroom are colors and creating an environment that promotes the topics that are being taught. Using music and laughter in the classroom are also ways to create a better learning environment. These two things touch people emotions and also stimulate relational memory because normally when your emotions are brought to the surface it reminds you of a particular place and time in your life.

Learning through physical movement is also a strategy of brain research. Getting students out of their seats to get their blood circulating helps to break up the monotony of the lesson and keep the children focused. One example of the physical movement strategy is Brain Gym. Brain Gym is based on activities that are done to stimulate the brain. The main premise of the activities are crossing the midline of your body to get both the left & right hemispheres of the brain working together at the same time. Another belief of Brain Gym are lengthening activities which are basically stretching. Proponents believe that these lengthening activities help to refocus the brain. Many neuroscientists, however, consider this to be pseudoscience, as there is no actual evidence for the claims made.

Opponents of Brain Research[edit]

Many opponents of brain research consider it a "popular mix of fact, misinterpretation, and speculation.(Jorgenson,2003)" Opponents feel that much of the information represented by brain research is unfounded and that many of the people who promote brain research do not hold credentials in neuroscience. "There's a whole industry of brain-based education based on no research at all."(Jorgenson,2003) Challengers of brain research question such principles as the "right brain/left brain", "critical period or window of opportunity", and the "Mozart effect" saying that there is no evidence to prove increased brain activity. These techniques have led to reports of success but "it is difficult to know whether the improvement is due to "brain-based" theory, increased attention paid to hands-on activities and engaging teaching strategies, improved teacher awareness and attention to student needs, the pressure of a unified district mandate with support throughout the chain of command, or one of many other variables contributing to increased student achievement."(Jorgenson,2003)

Multiple Choice[edit]

1. What information does the brain remember best?

 a. Information that is presented first
 b. Information that is presented last
 c. Information that is presented in the middle 
 d. Information that is presented first and last

2. Brain-based teaching should include the following:

 a. multiple ways of learning the same material
 b. hours of power point lectures
 c. high-stress environments
 d. high-stakes testing

3. The male brain:

 a. develops the right hemisphere earlier than in females
 b. has 20-30 percent more serotonin
 c. maintains lower testosterone levels
 d. the male brain spreads thinking function over a wider area of the brain

4. Proponents of brain research believe:

 a. sleep does not affect the way we retain information
 b. adding relationships to information already known helps the learning process
 c. learning is not affected by the environment in which you are being taught
 d. physical activity has nothing to do with learning

5. Opponents of brain research:

 a. believe the principles of "the Mozart effect"
 b. believe all schools should use brain-compatible strategies
 c. believe that much of the information represented by brain research is unfounded
 d. believe that many of the people who promote brain research hold high credentials in neuroscience


Caine, R. N. (2006). Systemic Changes in Public Schools through Brain-Based Learning. TechTrends, v. 50 no. 2, p. 52-3.

Dennison, Ph.D., P.E, & Dennison, G.E. (1994). Brain Gym (Teacher's Edition). California: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc.

Ebner, F. F. (1996). Teaching the brain to learn. Peabody Journal of Education, v. 71 no. 4, p. 143-51.

Hileman, S. (2006). Motivating Students Using Brain-Based Teaching Strategies. The Agricultural Education Magazine, v. 78 no. 4, p. 18-20.

Jensen, E. (2004). Brain Compatible Strategies (2nd ed.). California: Corwin Press.

Jensen, E. (2007). Introduction to Brain-Compatible Learning (2nd ed.). California: Corwin Press.

Jorgenson, O. (2003). Brain Scam? Why Educators Should Be Careful about Embracing 'Brain Research'. The Educational Forum, v. 67 no. 4, p. 364-9.

Prigge, D. J. (2002). 20 ways to promote brain-based teaching and learning. Intervention in School and Clinic, v. 37 no. 4, p. 237-41.

Willis, J. (2007). Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students' Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success. Childhood Education, v. 83 no. 5, p. 310-15.

Multiple Choice Answers[edit]

 1. d
 2. a
 3. a
 4. b
 5. c