Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Brain Books: The 10 Essentials

When Brain Books were integrated into our learning environments, we saw a dynamic impact.  Students were empowered by their moment-to-moment interactions in our classrooms, making authentic connections among content areas and within their own lives. Brain Books immediately guided students in the direction of personalization, providing frequent opportunity to connect new learning with past while focusing-in on individual goals and interests.  Students were given the opportunity to attack learning through their own style, consistently applying strategies that worked the best for them to aid in retention.

As Brain Books were intended to be a student-centered tool from the beginning, we were very cognizant of our tendency to “take control” of the resource in a way that matched our personal learning styles and organizational preferences.  We really had to coach each other through the process of “letting go”.  It was very important to us to separate Brain Books from direct instruction and teacher-driven strategies.  Brain Books became a simulation of individual brains learning, so they no longer served the same purpose of a one-size-fits-all journal or notebook.  We didn’t want their Brain Books to be carbon copies of our “model notebook,” instead we wanted individual learning styles and strengths to shine within our diverse learning environments.

In sharing with other colleagues, we have found the following aspects to be imperative in keeping with the authenticity of a truly personalized notebook.  These 10 essentials help Brain Books to remain a student-centered tool, empowering students to take ownership for their learning in a way that best fits them as a learner.

The 10 Essentials

1.      This is a Personal Book:  OF the student, BY the student, FOR the student.
Each and every student’s Brain Book should be completely different, mirroring the students’ individual styles.  Each and every student chooses what goes in their Brain Book, where it goes, and when to expand their book.  Each and every student should see the Brain Book as a necessary
resource for themselves.
    Pondering Questions:
·         Is this artifact for me or my students?   Remember the words of Sousa, “The brain that does the work makes the most growth!”  
·         Will engagement increase with a student created resource?

2.      Independent Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences must be known.
Teaching students about each of the styles/intelligences allows them to understand their own personal strengths and challenges within the academic setting, so they approach each learning task with success.

     Pondering Questions:
·         Do I promote self-awareness in my students?
·         Am I continuing to do my job teaching all learning styles/intelligences so my students continue to use and benefit from their Brain Books?

3.      Frequent modeling by teachers and students must be used.
For students to understand the potential of the resource modeling must occur, along with intentional teaching around the Brain Book.  Students must also understand the WHY behind Brain Books.  Continuously sharing sample Brain Book pages and possibilities is important.
      Pondering Questions:    
·         Do my students understand the importance of a personalized resource?
·         Will my students benefit from creating a resource that is customized each and every day to meet their own learning needs?

4.      Organization by the student is key.
This is really the place where “letting go” was the most difficult for us as teachers.  But honestly WHERE students put information in their Brain Book and WHY they choose to organize it the way they did really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  What matters is that each student has the opportunity to experience, investigate, and understand what works best for their learning style.  Their Brain Book allows them to experience learning from their own perspective, adding to and changing the format of the book as their knowledge increases and connections are made.  By using a personalized organizational style, meaning is connected to the learning.
     Pondering Questions:
·         What type of “meaning making” will come from students discovering what organizational practice works best for them?
·         Can independence of thought and purpose be supported by Brain Books?

5.      Open-ended access to Brain Books is necessary.
By permitting open-ended access to this resource, students are allowed to make natural connections, value information individually, and reinforce what they learn over time. The Brain Book is a STUDENT resource, therefore, once classroom expectations are set for the culture and learning environment and students are taught the complete and possible use of a Brain Book, the resource should be seen and valued no matter the time of day.  It is okay for Brain Books to appear during instruction if the information going into them is on topic.  They should stimulate conversations and connections constantly.  Brain Books will be completely different from one another, which is why they should be THE choice resource- students will feel as though their own thinking is relevant, important, recognized, and appreciated.  Thus, assume these books to travel everywhere and always be in the hands/backpacks of their owners!

    Pondering Questions:
·         Do I see Brain Books as a resource that encourages metacognition?
·         Do I keep in mind students’ feelings of ownership and value of their own work in order to increase their engagement and purpose in learning?

6.      Brain Books should become a natural resource in the Classroom Community.
This resource should be referred to often in order to review previous learning, make connections, and add relevant information.  Students should also access their Brain Book often as a go-to reference tool.  They will also document their progress, displaying evidence of their learning related to their individual goals.  Reflections will be stored in their personalized notebook to recognize their growth, innovative ideas, and associations.  This resource should also be used to share learning by way of comparing notes, sharing connections, and asking questions.  

    Pondering Questions:
·         Is reflection a common process in my classroom?
·         Can I encourage, then in turn trust, my students to use this resource effectively for themselves?         

7.      Books should be added as the brain naturally “grows”.
Adding additional notebooks to the original should not be a forced, time oriented, or teacher directed process.  Only a student should decide when another book needs to be bound (duct-taped) to their Brain Book.  The student needs to decide when their own brain needs additional space to work with.  Imagine being given lots of extra space prior to needing it.  For some students it may be overwhelming and cause anxiety to figure out what to do with it.  However, on the flip side, if you restrict a student from expanding their book because you deem it unnecessary it may cause the same effects.  Some brains need to feel as though there is enough storage space for what is to come and like to prepare in advance with 2-3 blank sections.  As we recognize that our brains do not increase in size as we learn, the students love this metaphor and play-on-words of adding notebooks as their brain is filled with knowledge.  It is a visual reminder for them of all they are learning, as well as a celebration of their personal growth. 

     Pondering Questions:
·         Am I cognizant of the adage that each child develops at their own pace?
·         Do I believe that Brain Books can assist in recognizing, promoting and celebrating this?

8.      Daily rituals should be used to value the thinking within Brain Books.
In our classroom, we have established 2 rituals for reflective thought and discussion:  One to start our day (Brain Breakfast) and one to end our day (Brain Snack).  Our Brain Breakfast is the brain food we need to get us going in the morning.  Our Brain Snack is the brain food we need to snack on as we head home for the day.  Both involve very strategic prompts/activities/conversation starters that integrate and infuse previous and future learning, along with all content areas.  We also carve in 2-4 additional reflection points throughout the day to allow students to confirm learning, self-assess, and/or make connections. 

     Pondering Questions:
·         Do I establish rituals daily for my students to reflect, discuss, and share? 
·         Am I intentional about minimizing teacher talk and maximizing student thinking?

9.      Brain Books should never be scored.
This resource plays a very powerful role in recognizing and appreciating that learning is a process.  When students feel safe and valued, they are more open to “muck around” in the learning process.  Thus, putting a mark on their resource would defeat the purpose.  We have stuck to not scoring, grading, checking-off, or collecting their Brain Books.  The message has been clear that this is a resource for them and not us.  As they bring their books everywhere with them, we often see their documented/gathered thinking first hand.  But they are in control of these moments.  We truly want them to own their learning, especially during the articulation/communication process.  Students should feel the power in exploration of the topic and their journey towards meeting their learning goals.  They should be empowered by their own thinking, allowing them to rise from mistakes and wrong turns along the way.  The purpose of this book is for it to be a resource:  a place to store thinking, connections, new knowledge, private thoughts, goals, dreams.  To put a score on any page would devalue their brain and the personal thinking that is occurring. 

     Pondering Questions:
                  ·        Am I clear with the message that this book is for them and not me?
                  ·         Can I help my students feel comfortable with putting their ideas and thinking in their book because it is for their brain?

10.  Brain Books are a vital component of a student-centered classroom.
Students who believe their teachers really listen and care about what they think results in students being more engaged and invested in their own learning, their classroom, and their school.  Our philosophy is to empower students through frequent choice, reflection, self-assessment, voice, and providing opportunities for them to take on the role of the teacher.  Brain Books facilitate all 5 of these strategies to occur seamlessly within our learning environment.

    Pondering Questions:
·         Do I ask my students for feedback regularly? 
·         Am I recognizing Brain Books to be a highly effective way of documenting learning and valuing student thinking?

~Celina and Ann

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