Monday, April 23, 2012


In this book by James Zull explores facts about the brain and translates them into facts about learning.  Zull points out that “We can’t get inside and rewire a brain, but we can arrange things so that it gets rewired…An art, indeed!”
Part I focuses on foundations for learning.  An important concept was that “emotion seems to be the mortar that holds things together.”  Good teachers have always realized that the only way to the head is through the heart!
Part II gives specific suggestions about what teachers should do to produce physical change in the networks in the brain.  Prior knowledge is key!
Part III revisits the major parts of the cerebral cortex.  The only way to get information in the brain is through the senses – seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting.  The brain reflects on those concrete experiences and then must act on it.
Okay!  So when I start my car I don’t really care about the engine and how it works.  I just want to get where I need to go.  Here are some specific ways Zull suggests teachers can change brains (page 129):
  1. Watch for inherent networks (natural talents) and encourage their practice.
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
  3. Arrange for “firing together.”  Associated things should happen together.
  4. Focus on sensory input that is “errorless.”
  5. Don’t stress mistakes.  Don’t reinforce neuronal networks that aren’t useful.
  6. Try to understand existing networks and build on them.   Nothing is new.
  7. Misconnected networks are most often just incomplete.  Try to add to them.
  8. Be careful about resurrecting old networks; error dies hard.
  9. Construct metaphors and insist that your students build their own metaphors.
  10. Use analogies and similes, too.

As I reflect on this book I realize once again that “good teaching is good teaching.”  Thousands of years ago, hundreds of years ago, and in years to come teachers will look in children’s eyes and when they see that twinkle they will know that something special is going on in the brain!