The concept behind whole brain teaching and learning is to engage as many parts of the brain as possible to enhance learning. Someone observing an elementary classroom in which the teacher is engaged in this method would see a scene similar to the following: “Young students repeating words back to a teacher in unison, waving hands or conducting other movements, and turning to their neighbor every few minutes to share. ” The proponents of this teaching technique maintain that they follow brain principles as a general theoretical foundation of brain-based learning. They believe that including physical activity into lessons helps students learn better. If students are mirroring actions and repeating words and phrases, they are more likely to be focused and attentive, and therefore retain information.
However, some neuroscientists are not convinced about this teaching method. Melina Uncapher, an assistant professor in neurology at University of California, San Francisco states, “Shifting your attention all over the place is going to be, most likely, drawing your attention away from the learning goals themselves,” As director of the Education Program at UCSF’s Neuroscape, which researches brain function and technology, she is among neuroscientists who believe that not enough research has occurred to endorse the theory. She does believe that explaining to children how they learn does has positive effects. This is the concept of neuroplasticity. “If teachers are talking about the brain to the kids and empowering them with information around how your brain learns, and you have control over what you learn and how you learn, that in itself is a powerful message,” she says. “That’s actually a fundamental message to the growth mindset intervention, and why those can be so effective.”
Studies have pointed to the positive effects of recess on learning for elementary school children. “They support their argument for the importance of recess with theory and with experimental and longitudinal data showing how recess breaks maximize children’s cognitive performance and adjustment to school.” However, neuroscientists currently hesitate to endorse including physical movement into the classroom.
Is whole brain teaching effective for every subject? Does it work for certain grade levels? Do students with certain learning styles benefit more than their classmates with whole brain learning? Researchers and educators are still searching for answers.